Search This Blog

Friday, October 31, 2014

Trader Joe's Harvest Blend Herbal Tea

This awesome autumn season isn't over yet, but it never hurts to venture outside the pumpkin patch once in a while to see what other goodies are out there in TJ's land. But don't worry, the 73% of you that love pumpkin won't be disappointed. Stay tuned for more pumpkintasticality next month! I just had to try this harvest blend because I've been looking for a nice caffeine-free way to wind down at night. Plus, whenever you see an animal on a Trader Joe's brand box of tea, you know you're in for a treat. I'm thinking elephantslemurs, and now foxes.

This beverage is almost like a subtle cinnamon cider mixed with chamomile tea. And it actually has apple in the ingredients! Like an apple cider, it works both hot or iced, although I think you get more of that soothing chamomile effect when it's nice and steamy. Perfect for those long, dark late autumn nights—which reminds me, don't forget to "fall back" this weekend, folks!

The flavors are balanced beautifully, with a calm core of chamomile rounded out by flavors like ginger, hibiscus, chicory, and orange peel. The cinnamon isn't overbearing, and believe it or not, you can totally taste that aforementioned apple. I've never heard of such a thing before. Apple in tea. It's an understated essence, but it lends a nice hint of faint fruitiness to an otherwise herbal aroma.

Sonia and I both like it, and I must confess, I'm not the biggest fan of chamomile. But in this context, it's absolutely welcome. This is a very relaxing, delicious tea. Have a hit of the Harvest for homely hibernation. It's a four and a four for the fabulous Mr. Fox.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Trader Joe's 100% Honey Crisp Apple Cider

It's like I've been heard by the Trader Joe gods, who have chosen to smile upon me.

As a voice calling out from the pumpkin-goodie riddled wilderness, I, Russ, the increasingly long-bearded prophet, have stood firm against the gourd-gorging ways of society that befall every autumn. Okay, with that one exception - more gingerly than pumpkinny, but anyways...Moving along...I have cried out for the need of a fall-time product that is delicious and satisfying and has nothing to do with any silly orange thing that grows on a vine. Additionally, I've mentioned  my love of honey crisp apples, and have referenced my semi-adhered-to Paleo diet far too often, and have hoped that somehow, some way, Big Joe would hook a brother up.

BOOM.

Trader Joe's 100% Honey Crisp Apple Cider. That's right. All juice. No added sugar. No sweeteners. Not from concentrate. Nothing added. Nothing taken away. No nothing except the sweet, sweet nectar of God's most delicious apple. Caveman friendly (though, like most things, not in excess). There's few things more delicious in the world than chomping into a sweet, crunchy, juicy honey crisp apple right off the tree - as a family, we ate half a peck in just over a week and our jonesin' for more. So darn delicious that I salivate just at the thought.

And this cider? Listen, it's not the same...but it's close. It's everything except that satisfying bite, without the resulting stickiness in the aforementioned facial hair from excess juice. It's tart yet sweet, and very clean and smooth tasting since it's just one apple variety, not a blend like a lot of other ciders. The cider tastes wonderful both cold right out of the fridge and hot in a mug - it's a delicious, satisfying beverage that paired well from dishes from a lamb stew I made the other night to a simple chicken/sweet potato fry dinner from a Target bag - really, for $2.99, it's real good stuff.

I'm not here to say the TJ's can compete with the local, fresh-pressed stuff from an area farm or a place like Cold Hollow up in Vermont, because I don't think it can, but for a cider that's commercially mass-produced, it's pretty darn good. Almost perfect, I'd say. Sandy enjoyed the cider as well, saying after we polished off the last of the bottle that she wished she had the chance to infuse some with a little cinnamon. Well, when we go back to TJ's, I know what we're putting in our cart, so dear, you'll get your chance. Definitely worth a repeat buy all fall long.  

Bottom line: Trader Joe's 100% Honey Crisp Apple Cider: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, October 27, 2014

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea Latte Mix

Of all the pumpkin products I've tried this year, I think this one's the most underrated. It certainly doesn't have the internet buzz that many other fall foods do this year, but sometimes the best things come when they're least expected.

This beverage certainly isn't much to look at. But dishwater gray or not, this stuff is sweet and flavorful, and in my opinion, exactly what you'd want a pumpkin chai to be. There's still plenty of classic chai spices in the mix, like clove and cardamom, but they blend very nicely with the more pumpkinesque spices like nutmeg and allspice. And it seems as if both types of drinks traditionally contain ginger and cinnamon. Mix it all together with sugar and a base of black tea, and you have yourself one tasty, exotic brew.

I'm generally into cold beverages more than hot ones, so I followed the directions for a "cold chai latte," pouring the drink over ice after mixing. I substituted water with milk. I tried both almond milk and cow's milk, and I honestly think almond worked best with this mix (although there is powdered nonfat cow's milk in the mix already). You really have to stir this stuff like crazy to get all the little crystals to dissolve in the liquid, but the excessive agitation not only swirls all the ingredients together, but gives the drink the slightest bit of foaminess, too. The tea definitely has some caffeine in it, so get ready for a little buzz with your beverage.

Now I must admit that some of that buzz just might be from the sugar, though. Sonia thinks the mix is too sweet, so she simply used less of the mix in her milk. I guess 23 grams of sugar per serving safely excludes this product from the category of "diet drink," but it's still significantly less than say, a can of coke, for perspective—and sweet-toothed me drank it up like a fat kid at a soda fountain.

At $3.99, a can containing eight quality chai lattes is a decent deal. Sonia is still holding steady with her string of solid four's for this year's pumpkin blitz. This time, I'm going with four stars also.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Trader Joe's Creamy Almond Butter

This probably isn't a surprising revelation, given that this review is now our 575th in our semi-long, somewhat illustrious history, but there are some reviews that I've written that upon further review I wish I could take back. A good recent example? My write-up re: cashew butter a couple months back. I seemed somewhat ambivalent about it at the time, but in the days or weeks that followed, I fell deeper and deeper in love. I'd eat a jar a week, easy, mostly by spreading on apple slices then dipping the knife back in a for extra licks. No one else was eating it, I don't think, so I didn't feel bad. Sure, the first go-around or two from each jar was drippy no matter what (which I dislike strongly) but after that, and a couple days in the fridge, it solidified perfectly. Lots of flavor. Given another chance, I'd be tempted to pantheon that. Too lazy though.

Also, now too knowledgeable: Not paleo.  It has sunflower oil, and the added salt is kinda frowned upon. Doh! I'm still defining how strict I want to be about those kinda things, but I guess if there's an alternative out there that might match those restraints closer, give them a try.

Thus, Trader Joe's Creamy Almond Butter making an appearance in my fridge over the past couple weeks. Ingredients are pretty straightforward here: Just almonds and a small smidge of cashews for whatever reason (less than 1%). No added oil. No added salt. Just nuts, glorious, glorious nuts.

And compared to the cashew butter, it ain't even close. Doh!

First off, no matter how close I get to the bottom of the jar, how much I stir, how long it chills in the fridge - this stuff is a drippy, runny mess. It's ridiculous. Try spreading some on an apple slice without dripping a drop - I bet you can't. I've tried multiple times and cannot. Persistently drippy nut butter annoys me to no end. Who knew almonds were so much more naturally oily than cashews? I sure didn't.

And the taste...well, that implies there is one. Sure, I can taste it if I eat some from a spoon straight, or as it magically transforms surface chemistry as it sticks to the roof off my mouth for ten minutes afterwards. But it just tastes like boring, plain, ordinary, non-jazzy almonds. Almonds are like the cornflower blue tie of the nut world - nothing wrong with them, they're reliable and a classic, but nothing stands out, either. Cashews though...my goodness, aren't they good? Even thinking about walnuts and pecans and hazelnuts accelerate my hungerometer, but almonds? Nope. And any almond taste gets easily overpowered by whatever's being eaten along with it - more than anything else, this butter makes my apples taste like they have funky residue on them.

I've heard the almond butter is one of the most popular TJ's products in terms of annual sales, so maybe I'm completely missing the boat here. Maybe this is a taste I will grow into and enjoy more as my tastebuds reprogram and refine themselves. Don't know though. Maybe me here, lonely on the dock, oar in hand, lifejacket on, will one day figure that out. Have fun without me 'til then.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Creamy Almond Butter: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Trader Joe's Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix

A couple weeks back, with my folks in town for the weekend, I made coconut flour pancakes for breakfast. Look at me, trying to be a fancy caveman on a diet (down close to 30 lbs now!). They weren't that hard to make - a little coconut flour, a banana or two, a henhouse worth of eggs in the blender - but to be honest, they weren't that great, in my opinion. There's a problem, I think, with trying to make one thing taste like something else while omitting a key ingredient or seven - if you know what it's "supposed" to taste like, chances are, you're not gonna be happy with an alternate outcome. Prime example: these not-so-great English muffin wannabes. Granted, perhaps I'm speaking from a position of privilege (no major food issues or allergies or conditions), but to me, given no health restraints, if you wanna eat a pancake, just go make some real pancakes, even if you're on a paleo diet. You'll live. Cavemen would probably still be around if there were a prehistoric IHOP or two. Just sayin'.

With this in mind, when I saw Trader Joe's Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix, I figured it'd be worth a try and a small dietary cheat. Admittedly, at first I was a little enticed with the presumptive hope that they'd be paleo-friendly with the ease of "just add water", but a quick scan of the ingredients revealed otherwise pretty quick. Eh well.

Tell ya what: as a guy who's always been much more eggs-and-bacon than breakfast-carb-centric, I enjoyed these quite a bit. There's not much that's real special, per se, about these flapjacks, except they work in a very simple, straightforward, satisfying way. While the batter is typical hotcake matter, there's ample coconut flakes interspersed throughout that while cooking get a little crispy and add a lot of coconut flavor that stands out. And like a good pancake, the edges got a little crispied themselves (my favorite part) that, despite my very limited pancake-making prowess, turned out pretty well. Making them was a cinch - I've had other pancake mixes that turned into clumpy disasters when aquafied, but not these. A double batch made twelve decent sized pancakes, which were devoured easily by the wife, the toddler, the teenager, and me with a little maple syrup. I'd imagine with the coconut, some tropical fruits or powdered sugar would make a great accompaniment as well.

Sandy enjoyed them right around the same amount I did. "Yummmm....I just wish you were better at making pancakes," she said. Fine, rub it in that I slightly blackened or squished one or two. Not every one can make the fantastic crepes like you can, dear. You should try that with the remaining mix, by the way. Regardless, this mix is a hit - can't go wrong for the couple bucks it'll set you back.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Trader Joe's Pumpkin O's

I really hate to snub yet another vegan-ish pumpkin product, because I know a good percentage of our readers are vegan or vegetarian, and a number of you have already expressed your fondness for this particular cereal. But I just couldn't get into it. It tastes really bland to me. Once again, Sonia enjoyed it—which, of course, makes me feel even more like a jerk. But in the end, I gotta stick to my guns. I bring you truth—truth about TJ's pumpkin flavored products. That's my high calling in life.

And honestly, I think the odds were stacked against this product from the beginning, at least as far as I'm concerned. With one notable exception, TJ's O's cereals have been "fails" for the WG@TJ's team: we've taken looks at Honey Nut O'sFruity O's, and Super Colon Blow O's. And other cold pumpkin cereals found favor with Sonia, but little more than reluctant tolerance from me.

I felt like there was very little flavor at all. There wasn't even much of the grainy, oaty flavor you'd find in plain old Cheerios. These O's are apparently rice and oats-based. Could that have something to do with it? Sonia accurately pointed out that the O's taste more like pumpkin when eaten dry. I agree. It's almost as if the natural flavor of milk overshadows the tiny bit of taste in the O's. That should shed some light on just how "subtle" the flavor is here, folks. And some of you might be into that. That's good. You very well may like these. I hope you do.

They really don't look any different than regular O's, either. But to me, that's a good thing. I never felt the need for my pumpkin-flavored products to be bright orange, as if to scream "You're eating something VERY pumpkinny!!!" The festive pumpkin decor on the box is plenty autumn-riffic for me, and nobody really needs a bunch of artificial colors in their system. And on another positive note, the texture of the O's is pleasantly crunchy and sog-resistant.

They're nothing to complain about, unless you're a critical, grumpy pumpkin-Scrooge like I am. I'll throw out two and a half stars for these little bowl-bound breakfast bits. Sonia will pull their status up into the realm of respectability with fabulous four-star fall favor.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10
-----------------------------------------------------------
Time for anther poll! I want to know what percentage of you like the pumpkin reviews and want us to do more!


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Joe-Joe's

After our third or fourth pumpkin product review each year, you'll start to see my scores drop dramatically from that first pumpkin product of the season. There are a couple of reasons I can think of for this phenomenon. First, I think we seek out the most-buzzed-about products first, and they tend to be the ones that taste the best. Second, I think our standard for pumpkin products goes up after having a few stellar pumpkin desserts and tasty pumpkin brews. And the third and least likely reason is that we might actually get just a little sick of pumpkin and/or pumpkin spices.

But then there are products that, in my opinion, are simply not that good. This happens to be one of them. I really don't think my low-ish score for this product is due to any of the reasons listed in the previous paragraph. I really just think they tasted weird. They certainly tasted like pumpkin spice, but the flavor struck me as being fake, even though the ingredients do actually list "pumpkin puree." The taste wasn't intolerable. It was just a little off—and not at all like the flavor of other Joe-Joe's. And I certainly couldn't feature myself snacking on these things at all if it weren't for it being fall and them being so seasonal and festive and all.

And that brings me to my next point: Sonia really liked them. She insists that they tasted great and that they had the most intense pumpkin flavor of anything we've looked at so far. But Sonia is a brilliant graphic designer. Is it possible her opinion was heavily influenced by the cute, creative packaging of the product? I say yes. She also swears by the combo of these cookies and pumpkin-flavored coffee. She's not wrong there. The earthy essences in a good cup of java tone down the unusual pumpkintasticality of the cookies. My score would have been much lower had I not tried these things with coffee.

And I must admit, these cookies had a nice texture. They felt fresh and had a nice sandwich cookie feel to them. They weren't at all stale or stiff. So...even though these cookies weren't really my thing flavor-wise, I think they're worthy of at least 2.5 stars. Sonia's gonna go with a solid 4.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Although I haven't tried them yet, I've heard mixed reviews about the recently-released Pumpkin Spice Oreos. I assume they're a very similar concept. Comment below if you've tried those!


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Trader José's Hatch Valley Salsa

So here I am, on one hand, casually mentioning my diet here and there, while reviewing things like new fangled cookie butter and mini ice cream sandwiches and kinda disappointing chips and all that stuff. That obviously doesn't add up. So, what do I eat when not indulging myself for your sake, not to mention my very pregnant wife's?

Let's see...chicken. A lot of chicken. Eggs. Sweet potatoes, but not too often. Veggies. It's kinda surprising to me how much I've come to really enjoy good, fresh spinach. Lots of nuts (except peanuts). A lot of fruit. Black coffee. Water. And that, surprisingly, is about it - no dairy or carbs or anything. Still learning the paleo ropes to a great extent, but the results speak for themselves.

You know what makes almost all of that taste better? Salsa. Lots and lots of salsa. Gotta be careful perusing the ingredients list, which for the longest time left me basically with one TJ's choice (which was okay, it's my favorite anyways).

Well, here's another one: Trader José's Hatch Valley Salsa. I love it when that José hombré comes to town - almost always means a win. This take on a classic salsa verde is no exception. I'll admit, before this salsa, I've been somehow ignorant of the whole "Hatch Valley chile pepper" thang - like, yeah, I've had them, but just the mini-canned version, which don't sway me one way or the other. Not anymore. If this salsa is anything like "real Hatch Valley chile peppers," I have a new vacation spot in mind. Every bite is full of roasted, smoky chili peppers, with a little sweetness from the freshly crushed tomatillos adding a nice little balance. The lime and garlic are a nice little touch, too, giving plenty of flavor before the heat descends. If you're a spice-adverse type person, this salsa is not for you. The heat kinda meekly introduces itself, before beginning to build and build, and by the time you're a couple bites in, it's all there in its smoky spicy glory. Yet even then, each subsequent bite still has lots of flavor, from those tomatillos, etc, and it doesn't overpower your food, either. Me gusta mucho.

I've yet to find anything that I reasonably enjoy salsa on that this doesn't work. Meats? Eggs? Veggies? Even those couple tortilla chips I swore I wouldn't sneak and then did? Ab-sah-lutely all of them. One of our loyal readers, a "stevenp", mentioned in  a comment a week or two ago he used this and some coffee-garlic rub as a steak marinade with amazing results - haven't tried that yet, but I'm intrigued - thanks for the idea!

Sandy's not as enamored as I am. "It's just too spicy for me," she said. I guess this salsa is mas pica than most other salsa verdes, which she routinely chooses for her burritos at Qdoba (mmm,Qdoba....). I couldn't get a definitive score from her, but her voice was telling me she was wavering between a 2 and a 3, so I'm going with that for her. For me, I'm just glad to have another tasty, healthy salsa option that fits in my diet pretty easy. As tempting as it is to five it up, I can't give those out too often, so here's a 4.5 instead.


Bottom line: Trader José's Hatch Valley Salsa: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Trader Joe's Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls

Confession time yet again: Unlike Nathan and most of the Western world, I'm not a big pumpkin fan. At all. Truth be told, and I realize how deeply I may offend you by saying so, but I really don't get the big fuss about pumpkin this and pumpkin that this time of year. Wanna know something crazy? You know what a pumpkin all by its naked lonesome tastes like? NOTHING. It's all the pumpkin pie spices y'all love - the cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves,whatever else. I'll enjoy a piece of pumpkin pie every once in a while, but everything else - your lattes, your pancakes, your mochi (for goodness sake) - you can have them. All of them. Consider me the anti-Linus, a pumpkin agnostic not personally believing in any Great Pumpkin and lacking any faith in any sort of all-powerful, all-good gourd. This time of year, give me a honeycrisp apple straight from the tree, and that's what fall tastes like to me.

Another favorite autumn taste: ginger cookies, much like some spiced wafers my dad always seemed to pick up to pair with some apple cider. It was only because of those memories that I was personally willing to give these Trader Joe's Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls a try.

Man, oh man, oh man....am I glad I did.

These ice cream cookie sandwiches are just about the tastiest dessert I've had from TJ's in a while - even better than that key lime pie I was raving about a couple months back. Not a single complaint from me at all. Much like their semi-minty predecessors, the dominant flavor for these beauteous bites is the cookie itself - soft, a little chewy, super gingery. Perhaps not as gingerish as the triple ginger snaps (the bomb) but close. For a guy who likes ginger as much as I do, they're the idea framework for a tasty little treat. The pumpkin-pie-ish ice cream (not too far off from the Pilgrim Joe variety, if I remember right) is a perfect counterbalance, offering a soft, creamy, kinda sweet kinda spiced filling, that in both texture and taste melds perfectly. For a little extra oomph, let the ice cream get just a little bit melty for a little extra soft creaminess - you won't be sorry.

I love the fact that these are are as small as they are, too. For such a rich, vibrant tasting treat, a normal sized ice cream sandwich would have been too much. When TJ's says "mouthful" here, it's meant quite literally - if I didn't have to worry so much about making a good example for my super-observant two year old, I could easily chomp it down without taking the two or three bites I did. Because they were so small, I can also tell myself they were a "not that bad of a diet cheat" to eat just one (a serving size is two), though, really, I know, that's somewhat debatable.

I've tried pretty hard to come up with any sort of reason to dislike these even a scintilla. I can't. Neither can the wife. If every thing with pumpkin tasted this good, I'd be a much different man. I'd be a believer.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pie Mochi Ice Cream

Regardless of whether you're in the middle of a pumpkin blitz or on a paleo diet, there's always time to take a break for newfangled cookie butter. So Sonia and I did, just like the Shellys, and we concur with their assessment of the confection. But now, difficult as it may be, it's time for me to return to my strict regimen of pumpkin-flavored desserts.

In this particular instance, we're looking at an Asian-inspired treat meets country pumpkin patch meets dairy farm meets Hawaiian-themed grocery store headquartered in California: Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pie Mochi. If you're familiar with mochi ice cream, not to be confused with mochi potstickers, you'll know that it's basically balls of ice cream coated with a thin, chewy, rice-based shell. Scrump-dilly. And just like most other mochi I've tried, the exterior texture of this pumpkin pie variety is soft, gummy, and delicious.

As for the taste, well...they're perfectly sweet, pumpkin pie spice-laden, and creamy. Pretty yummerrific. That is, if you like the taste of pumpkin ice cream. It was very similar to, if not exactly like, Pilgrim Joe's Pumpkin Ice Cream. And if any of you remember that review—or if you decided to click that link just now—you'll know my main issue with that ice cream was a lack of "pie" texture.

Even though mochi shells are nothing like actual pie crust, they served the same purpose. They added a bit of breadiness to a product that would have otherwise been too smooth for me. Plus there were, in fact, a few crumbs of graham cookie scattered sparsely throughout the ice cream. Even though I would have loved a lot more of the cookie bits, they still added an extra hint of pie-ish-ness. So in that way, I found this product to be much more impressive than its counterpart in a quart cup.

Value-wise, you're getting more ice cream for your buck with Pilgrim Joe's, but in my opinion $3.49 for six mochi is well worth the money. Plus, it's a seasonal item, so it's not like you're going to be purchasing it all the time. All in all, I'm pretty impressed with pumpkin pie mochi, and I have to give it a big thumbs up with 4.5 stars, but with one final note: Try letting them thaw for a few minutes before shoveling them down your gullet, if you can. There's enough texture from the cookie crumbs and mochi shell, so in my opinion, the whole product is better if the ice cream is just a tad melted. 

Sonia gives these little guys 3.5 stars, adding that the pumpkin flavor in the mochi wasn't strong enough, and that she needed to eat three of them before the flavor built up on her taste buds enough to tell it was pumpkin.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Trader Joe's Cookies & Creme Cookie Butter

COOKIE. BUTTER.

Seriously. Just when you thought the speculoos train had left the station. Nothing new to see here in Cookie Butter Town, folks. You got your regular. You got the crunchy, err, crispy. You got it in chocolate. You got it mixed with chocolate. There's cookie butter ice cream. And for those who like their speculoos unbutterfied, there's the regular ol' cookies. There's nowhere else to go with cookie butter, right? Right?


Haha. Nope. We've only just begun!

As amazing as speculoos cookie butter is....there's more than one fish in the sea and one kind of cookie in the world. Trader Joe's is aready pretty famous for their Joe-Joe's in all sorts of variations. Combine those Oreo clones with the cookie butter concept, and voila! Here it is: Trader Joe's Cookies & Creme Cookie Butter.

For those familiar with the concept (and if you're not, you're a better person than me), cookie butter is made from squished up cookies mixed with palm oil and all sorts of other bad stuff that tastes so darn good that most of us don't really care. The outcome is typically a spreadable, occasionally crispy butter, and this particular variation is much the same. It's only the chocolately parts that are like that as the white is a creamy, marshmallowy filling much like typical Oreo filling.

Pretty literally, imagine eating an Oreo in a spreadable form that didn't require much if any chewing, and that's almost exactly what we got here. What have you wrought, TJ's!?!?!

So, it tastes good...but what do you do with it? That's the big question for Sandy and I. We sampled the good ol' 'merican way by taking our spoons directly to the jar. With some thought, we came up with waffles (maybe), toast (occasionally), pretzels, mixing into a smoothie or some ice cream, or eating from the jar. When I looked at the jar for perhaps some ideas, the label said all of the same. So, as tasty as the cookie spread is, it might be of some limited use, which as much as I enjoy all the other cookie butters, I see that as their weak point. Particularly tasty, not particularly versatile. We're open for suggestions here, folks.

Also, and this just a small thing, really, but when I saw hazelnuts were an ingredient, I hoped the cocoa swirl would be at least a little Nutella-esque. It's not really. Oh well.

If this really takes off, I can only imagine where the next cookie butter frontier will be. Chocolate chip cookie butter? Sugar cookie butter? Peanut butter cup cookie butter (or as I would call it, "buckeye butter")? For the holidays, my mom makes awesome Andes Candies cookies and candy cane cookies, amongst others...can we have holiday variations? Is there any kind of cookie we can't make into a butter? Is this really a road we need to go down? Is this why we're all fat? Is the entire "cookie butter" mania really just a Belgian conspiracy for total world domination? So many questions...

Sandy and I will enjoy the jar we have, and while it's tasty, it's not tempting enough for me to bust loose on my diet for it (down 20 pounds in about 2 months!), and once we're out, that'll probably be that. For the $3.69, though, it's a pretty good little occasional mini-indulgence. Matching fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cookies & Creme Cookie Butter: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, October 6, 2014

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Seed Brittle

And now, it's time for something pumpkin. Puuuumpkin. <shamelessly drools and makes Homer Simpson-like gurgling noises> Orange autumn harvest-time delectability. I could link each instance of the word "pumpkin" in this blog post to a different pumpkin-flavored product review...but alas, I shall be lazy. You'll just have to type the word "pumpkin" into the search bar if you're really that interested. I think we have 18 or 19 posts about pumpkin at this point, and by the end of this season, we may have double that. 

Near the end of October last year, I received several death threats via email from readers who were sick and tired of pumpkin reviews. So I took a brief reprieve from the pumpkin-mania, only to receive an even larger number of death threats from fans who enjoyed the pumpkin reviews and demanded that I persist in writing them. I told those pumpkinophiles "Sure, but you have to protect me from the pumpkin-haters." They agreed. This Pumpkin Protection Agreement (PPA) carries into Pumpkin Season 2014 by default, just FYI. By reading this blog post, you agree to do everything in your power (which, realistically, may be nothing) to protect me from the pumpkinophobes.

Mmhmm. And on to the review. This really isn't a pumpkin product, strictly speaking. There's no pumpkin "fruit" in it. Just pumpkin seeds. And pumpkin pie spices. I'm sure this product would be absolutely revolting if it had significant amounts of actual pumpkin in it. But as it stands, it's a pleasantly sweet, salty, and spicy snack. If you're into pumpkin seeds and pumpkin pie spices, you pretty much can't go wrong with the taste. The pumpkin seeds are salty and crunchy, the way they should be. The pumpkin spices are definitely there, but not overpowering. There's enough nutmeg and cinnamon to pick out both of those flavors in the mix, but this treat is sweet more than anything else. You folks who are into "salty and sweet" should dig the essence of this pumpkin seed brittle just fine.

On the down side, I wasn't a huge fan of the texture of this product. It's crunchy and brittle, the way this stuff's supposed to be—and the seeds were perfect as far as I could tell. But the candy part was just a little too sticky, if that makes any sense. When touching it with my fingers, there was a noticeable stick-factor. And while chewing the product, that stickiness was even worse. It almost felt like biting down on a piece of hard candy like a Jolly Rancher or something—like it wasn't intended to be chewed. It stuck to each and every crevice in between my teeth and prompted a massive tongue workout as I tried to dislodge the wads of partially-chewed candy from my molars. If I'd had any exposed fillings or dental work, this snack would have certainly instigated an emergency trip to the dentist. If you have caps, crowns, or shoddy fillings, take heed! I realize all brittle candy is like that to some extent, but I felt that this stuff was particularly sticktastic.

But other than the risk of incidental oral calamity—and an overwhelming desire to immediately brush my teeth after consumption—I enjoyed this product. I give it 3.5 stars. Sonia gives it 4.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Trader Joe's Salt and Pepper Pistachios

"I eat because I'm unhappy. I'm unhappy because I eat. It's a vicious cycle." - Fat Bastard

Well, for me, that's not entirely true...but I definitely still "stress eat," one can say. Recent case in point: the other night, sitting in Section 315 at PNC Park, having plopped down  a couple days' pay for the wifey and I to witness the NL Wild Card Game, our beloved Pirates vs. the San Fransisco Giants...just to watch our Buccos go down in flames. Not long after Brandon Bleepin' Crawford hit his fourth inning grandslam I grabbed the half pound bag of gas station pistachios I bought on the way to the game and promptly pretty much demolished them. Then I was so desperate for a beer I gave a vendor $9 for a Miller Lite (which I rank as only slightly better than this swill). If only that Yuengling hawker came by 5 minutes sooner...

Did it make anything better? Of course not. Pirates ended up losing 8-0, with half the crowd leaving in the seventh inning (excuse me, but that's seriously lame, Pittsburgh). And to much a smaller and less disappointing extent, those pistachios, although tasty, weren't Trader Joe's Salt and Pepper Pistachios.

These TJ pistachios are awesome. Although I must warn you right out front: you must really, really, really like-a ze pepper to stand a shot of being able to ingest these. It's not a light little sprinkle of some table variety pepper; it's more like this kinda thing being pushed on your taste buds. The first couple nuts I had, I thought I just picked a particularly strong few by chance - nope. Each pistachio is handily sea salted and black-and-red-peppered with a powerful spicy dose that will clear sinuses and knock out the unsuspecting. Heartburn warning. Yet, despite the potent spice, the taste of the pistachio still shines through in all its natural nutty glory.

Gotta pick a small quibble, though. The 13 ounce bag cost $7.49, which if my math is right (we've never really hit it off) equates to a little over $9.20 a pound. The aforementioned convenience store pickups I wolfed down? Four bucks for the half a pound (so $8 for a full pounder). Granted, the TJ's were better, but if you'd assume a more reasonable price at a historically inexpensive grocery chain versus the gas station mark up, you'd be wrong here. Pepper isn't that pricey...is it? Seems like other TJ nut prices have gone up - don't think I didn't notice that extra buck this past time, cashew butter.

"These get kinda intense," Sandy said as we both munched a couple handfuls down, noting how they made her tongue burn. "It's not exactly what I think of when I think about pepper - it's just really, really strong." Ah, but it's a burn so good, I say. She's going with a three, while I'm going for just a notch below perfection.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Salt and Pepper Pistachios: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons