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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Monday, March 30, 2015

Trader Joe's Raw Shelled Hemp Seed


How many substances are there in the world you can eat, wear, and smoke? Not many, that's for sure. But hemp is one of them. As of the time I wrote this post, I've done exactly two out of the three. That's right, I've never smoked weed. Not that I'm judging you if you have. But I used to wear a hemp necklace made by a friend, because I liked the hippie look...and just recently, I started eating a bag of hemp seed from TJ's. To be fair, I think the smokin' kind of hemp comes from a different variety of cannabis plant, but still, that's one multi-talented weed.

At $5.49 per package, it's not cheap. You could probably buy an ounce or two of the smokable stuff for that price. Well, not quite...but still these hemp hearts are pricey little devils. We probably wouldn't have checked them out if it weren't for the fact that they were Spotted on Shelves last week and our ever-present desire to please our loyal readers. Russ, Sandy, Sonia, and I would try anything for you guys. If you don't believe us, just stay tuned for even more outrageous products this week.

But back to the hemp seed. It's nutty. Tastes like other seeds I've had...unsalted sunflower, in particular, but perhaps a bit more planty—a bit more "green," if you will. The texture is softer than a normal seed. It's almost like a cross between a sprout and a seed. And they're very, very tiny—about the size of an average bread crumb. Holding a handful, they kind of feel like silky, supple grains of sand.

The back of the packaging suggests eating them with yogurt. I tried that, but I wasn't particularly enthused with the outcome. The subtle nutty flavor was overpowered by the fruit flavor in the yogurt, and the combination of textures just didn't work for me. If you think you'd ever want to put sunflower
seeds in your yogurt, then maybe it's worth trying with hemp seeds, but I personally would stick to salads and hummus and more savory foods when it comes to mixing in hemp hearts.

They're healthy little buggers, with boatloads of omega 6 and protein in each serving, but be warned, they're chock full of fat, too. I'm pretty sure it's "good fat," and as one reader pointed out, carbs tend to make people fat more than fat itself does. They're very natural, with only one single solitary ingredient: raw shelled hemp seed. All in all, not a bad investment for adventurous eaters and health nuts. Have some floss on stand-by, because they do get stuck between one's teeth quite readily.

3 from me. 3.5 from Sonia.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Trader Joe's Chocolate Coconut Cream Cupcakes

After my review earlier this week of bacon-ated popcorn, a commenter asked me if I were fat. I gotta admit, the question made me pause for a minute to try and figure out what the motive was behind the question. Jest? Semi-anonymous Internet mockery? Something else? Meh, I answered honestly and straightforwardly: Nope. Well, my BMI says I am, slightly, but since August I've dropped sixty (as in six-zero) pounds by following a mostly Paleo diet, watching portions (usually - the bacon popcorn did not count!), and running every other morning (I'm training to run two legs of the Pittsburgh marathon relay in early May - anywhere from nine to twelve miles - at this time last year I could run/walk maybe a mile before wanting to pass out!). Feels so good to have found something that works for me after being of the chunky variety pretty much my entire existence thus far - my other health barometers besides weight are looking much, much better, too.

After some reflection and a polite exchange, I get where the question came from, though: We review a lot of junky food on this here blog. It probably gives the impression that I/we eat a lot of crap. The reason we do so is simple: a review on some healthyish juice, for example, will take all day to get the same number of hits that a review on whatever new-fangled cookie butter concoction* will get in a good hour. Supply and demand. While there's a lot of passion and love behind what we do, there's also a business side here.

All that to justify another junk item: Trader Joe's Chocolate Coconut Cream Cupcakes. We got these the other week, the same night as our ill-fated gamble sushi excursion. Perhaps in addition to being our allotted one treat for a week to string out over several desserts, I bought them as motivation to muster through whatever part of my dinner I could.

Well, they're decent. I wouldn't say great. But not bad. The real highlight of these cupcakes is the frosting and filling - I mean, go figure, right? On top there's a thick double layer of fudgy chocolate, with a little squirt of coconut cream, topped off with a chocolate covered almond. Imagine crossbreeding a Mounds bar with an Almond Joy, and that's pretty close to what we got going on here. Thick, rich, sugary and delicious. Texturally there wasn't too much of the typical coconut feel - indeed, pretty creamy.

And as you can see by the photo up above, in the middle of the cupcake there's a reservoir of even more coconut cream. Similar in taste but not consistency with the stuff on the summit, it's a good little touch, albeit a little ho-hum. I don't think that's the filling's fault, but rather the actual cake part. The cake itself is an average chocolate example at best - I think I've made better from a box mix. It's just kinda dull and dry and it mutes most bites instead of framing and balancing well.

Still, everything but the cupcake part of the cupcake was pretty tasty. They're not tempting enough to make me want to break my diet by any stretch, but the cupcakes did serve as a nice little cheat a few times - usually I split one with my daughter. At $3.99 for the set of the four, they're a decent enough value, I guess, but not astounding. Sandy liked the frosting and all a little more than me, giving these guys a four overall, while I counter with a three.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chocolate Coconut Cream Cupcakes: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons
___________________________________________

* Keep tuned for an exciting product announcement coming next week - can't say anything more than that right now!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Trader Joe's To the Power of Seven Organic Juice Blend

Has it really been five long months since our last beverage review? It's high time we checked out some of TJ's luscious new liquids. I'm gonna skip a lengthy list of links to our favorite drinks and just direct you here: our "beverages" label (always available, for your convenience, in the right side bar). By my quick count, it looks like we've collectively reviewed 70+ beverages right here on this blog. With only a handful of exceptions, I would venture to say TJ's brand juices generally receive favorable reviews from us, with their price tag often being the biggest reason we don't make repeat purchases.

But you get what you pay for. This juice blend is no exception. $4 for 33.8 ounces isn't the highest cost:juice ratio we've ever seen, but this is darn close to the best-tasting, highest quality juice I've ever had. Every one of the seven juices is certified organic: everything from the good old-fashioned grape juice to the intriguing "purple carrot" juice.

Most juice blends like this wind up tasting like some variety of Juicy Juice or an Ocean Spray concoction that I've already had. Not this. It tastes unique to my tongue. I assume, like many other products, that there's a third party that produces this blend and most likely markets it under some different label in other stores, but I couldn't tell you who that is (Perhaps some kind reader will enlighten us in the comments).

It's refreshing, sweet, and fruity, but not syrupy. If I had to nail down one predominant flavor, I guess I'd say cherry, but it's much more complex than the other cherry juice products we've seen from TJ's. One can't readily taste the carrot juice, in the manner of a V8 Splash beverage—don't get me wrong, I think the vegetable juices in those V8 blends work, I just think they blend a little more seamlessly in this case.
 
The texture is medium-thin, smooth, and not at all pulpy or gritty. It's not from concentrate. Even the deep dark red color is beautiful and mesmerizing like a fine wine. There's minimal residue and aftertaste, and it goes down nice and easy. Sonia gives it four stars. I'm giving it four and a half—and an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Trader Joe's Baconesque White Cheddar Popcorn


Here's a recent realization: Trader Joe's is as bad as Target. You know what I mean. You go to Target for some toiletries, some cleaning stuff, and maybe a snack, and instead you walk out with an extra hundred dollars worth of stuff you never intended to buy - that cute kids outfit, the clearance rack finds, the hey-look-this-is-on-sale junk. Happens to us over and over again. There's so no such thing as going to Target for just one or two things, there's at least a couple extra things that will somehow sneak into your cart.

Same way with TJ's. Case in point: I made a quick stop there on Thursday morning last week to simply get some cheesecake bites for my wife's work function that night, and a bag of apples for me. That's it, I said, nothing else. When our shopping list at TJ's is the shortest is when we tend to get the most stuff, somehow, and I was going to stick just those two things, but wait a second....

How can I pass up Trader Joe's Baconesque White Cheddar Popcorn? Look at that awesome packaging! And it contains bacon! Or at least bacon-like substance! And it's popcorn! If Sandy knew I passed this up, boy oh boy, would I be in trouble, right? Fortunately, at $1.99, it's a pretty mild splurge.

And darn it, is it one worthwhile one. Sandy and I cracked this open in the car, and in the less than 10 minutes we spent in transit between TJ's and her work, early in the morning, we ate half the dang bag. No lie. It was kinda strange, though - when we first ripped the bag open and gave it a whiff, hoping to partake in a deep olfactory experience of all that is "baconesque" - we were met with little to nothing. Instead it smelled just like regular white cheddar popcorn, which is a yummy smell, however, by definition is baconly barren. But once we popped in our mouths, that's where the bacon experience began. Granted, it didn't taste exactly like some bacon right off the griddle (it's impossible to replicate that), but it had a lot of the same essence - the smokiness, the saltiness, a little mesquite. Combine that with the white cheddar (typical of the genre) and it makes an intoxicatingly good flavor combo that's balanced out. I for one really enjoyed how the smokiness cut through the cheesiness and added depth to the flavor profile. Although a serving contains a lot of salt, I'm kind of surprised each bite didn't taste saltier than it did, as it didn't taste like sodium overloadium. Each kernel was appropriately fluffy and firm, without too many (if any) widows.

My goodness. This is such a brilliant snack idea - why did this take so long? And it's easy too. About the only better idea than bacon popcorn would be something like popcorn bacon - hey, they have popcorn shrimp and popcorn chicken, why not an easily assessable and mobile munchable bacon? I suppose bacon jerky could fill that void, which if you can stand the heat, TJ's has a ridiculously delicious one. Hmm...maybe if there's a way to get actual bacon in here...I digress.

The bacon flavoring does one heckuva bang up job. And the bonus is - the deeper into the bag you get, the more baconlicious it gets. Trust me, the last handful I dumped straight from the bag into my mouth was close to pure heaven, and it'd be worth all sorts of domestic unrest for me to get it. If a Partially Popped Popcorn version comes out, hypertension, here I come. The Baconesque will be one of those danger purchases for us regardless - it'd take a miracle for a bag to last more than few hours around here, and to put that in perspective, we've had those cookie butter cheesecake bites haf finished in our freezer for over a week now. This is some seriously good, borderline Pantheon-worthy popcorn. Proceed at you own risk.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Baconesque White Cheddar Popcorn: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Trader Joe's Crispy Cookies Filled With Belgian Chocolate

Russ and I have reviewed so many of TJ's foods, that I'm starting to think that one could project a score for just about any Trader Joe's brand product just by looking up previously reviewed products here on our blog. Take for example, these cookies. Just break down the product into its constituent parts and then type each one into the Google Custom Search Box individually. First, type "Belgian Chocolate" and you get Trader Joe's Belgian Dark Chocolate Bar, with a score of 7 out of 10. Then search "Crispy Cookies." You get Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies and Crispy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, both with scores of 8 out of 10. With this knowledge, one can safely assume that most TJ's "crispy cookie" products will be in the ballpark of 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons or stars (depending upon which of us is reviewing the product) and that Belgian Chocolate will score in the ballpark of 7. So let's make a simple equation: 

(Trader Joe's Belgian Chocolate + Trader Joe's Crispy Cookies) ÷ 2 = 7.5 stars

Obviously, if you were calculating the score for a product with, say three constituent parts, you'd look up three different search terms and divide by 3 instead. And some types of products will lend themselves to this system more readily than others. I'm thinking it will be easiest and most accurate with snacks and desserts, simply because we often concentrate on those. Just look what happens when we step outside of our snacky comfort zone—when we try things like Sushi Sensations and Pad See Ew. Maybe less fatness, but also less happiness.

Now most of you who've been reading a while and know my sense of humor have probably figured out that I'm only semi-serious about this method of pre-calculating scores. Most of what I write on this blog is tongue-in-cheek. And of course, TJ's offers plenty of healthy-esque things that are tasty as well. But at least in this particular case, it's a system that would have worked quite well. We're seeing exactly what we've seen before in terms of crispy cookies: great crispy, crunchy texture, nice moderately sweet flavor, all in a classy presentation and practical packaging. I'm not sure if the Belgian chocolate is technically dark chocolate or milk chocolate in this case, but if it's milk chocolate, I'd say it's on the darker, richer end of the spectrum. Less sweet than a Hershey's bar, but more sweet than unsweetened cocoa powder. The rectangular shape lends a bit of class to the whole production, and at $2.79 per package, it's comparable to other less-sophisticated name brand cookies. 4 stars for these opulent oreo opposites from me, 3.5 stars from Sonia, who states that they're much better when dunked in coffee or hot chocolate.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Trader Joe's Sushi Sensations

Like those Snickers commercials allude to, when you're hungry, you're not yourself. Case in point: Mid-Sunday evening, the family and I standing in the brand-spankin' new McCandless Crossing Trader Joe's in Pittsburgh's North Hills. Nice store, grand opening weekend, it's kinda busy, we're getting the lay of the land, and all of us are h-u-n-g-r-y. All we want is an easy dinner, but we can't figure out what. M, our increasingly rambunctious two and a half year old, wants "nuggets and mac and cheese." Easy enough for her...but we eat that way too often to have that sound palatable for us. For whatever reason, I have a real hankering for onion rings, but they're nowhere to be found. Sandy's eying up the wraps, as am I, but they're pretty well picked over. We don't feel like pizza. We don't want to put much of any effort besides maybe roasting some veggies into dinner. Nothing frozen catches our eye. And the rumble in our tummies just grows and grows.

And then...

Listen, I have no idea what propelled me to even consider Trader Joe's Sushi Sensations. It's not that I'm against sushi. It's just that I've never heard anything good about Trader Joe's. Google "worst things to buy at Trader Joe's" and their sushi will almost always be mentioned. Years ago, in an article on The Daily Meal, I even said I never, ever wanted to try their sushi. Yet, here it was, in my hand, mulling it over....and even more amazingly, Sandy even said she'd eat some with me if we also got her a buffalo chicken wrap as a back-up. I've never seen her near sushi in the seven-plus years we've known each other. This was going to be an interesting night.

Well...there are some positives. I guess. In true amateur foodie-hack fashion, I'll admit, I'm neither a huge sushi fan nor anything close to an expert. But even I could tell this wasn't exactly top-notch fare. There's four types of sushi laid out for sampling here: Shrimp Nigiri, California, Spicy California, and Tempura Shrimp. There's also some dipping sauces: a slightly spicy "dynamo" (not to be confused with the juice), some sweet, some wasabi, and a packet of soy sauce, as well as a small bucket of crispy Panko bread crumbs. The nigiri were reasonably okay, though nothing special, as well as the shrimp tempura. Some common complaints regarding TJ's sushi is the quality and texture of the rice - there wasn't too much (if any) sliminess present, and the shrimp had a good firm texture and taste. Each paired well with the variety of the sauces (although we skipped both the plain soy and the wasabi) and the breadcrumbs also added a nice, little touch.

If those were the only rolls in there, we would have been reasonably fine with dinner and given a middling to solid score. But...the California rolls. Ugh. This is what California rolls are supposed to look like. These TJ impostors? Not close. Instead, the filling and the insides looked like some sort of cross between seafood salad and cat food - just a mishmash o' mush shoved inside some seaweed and rice. And I mean "mush." I didn't realize that the sticker with the nutrition label and ingredients was missing, and I can't find a picture of one online, but the filling tasted like all sorts of fake seafood-type junk smushed together. If there was a shred of authentic seafood in either one of those rolls, I;d be shocked. The "spicy" and regular had no discernible taste difference either. Sandy took one bite of one of them and nearly spit it right out for the texture being so offsetting. I'll admit that I was able to eat the rest...I must've been really, truly hungry and the sauces and breadcrumbs helped cover a lot.

For a couple deliriously hungry sushi novices like us, the Sushi Sensations platter made a somewhat passable dinner, but barely. This is what you get when you pay $6.49 for a large sushi plate - we should have figured and gone for something else. At least I can say that I've overcome my fears and tried it out, all to say you'll probably want to stay away. This is not going to be purchased again.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sushi Sensations: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons


    

Monday, March 16, 2015

Trader Joe's Blarney Scone

Before moving to the greater Philadelphia area, which has a huge Irish population, I was unaware of the existence of Irish soda bread—or other authentic Irish traditions like "Irish Potatoes," corned beef sandwiches with sauerkraut, and Shamrock Shakes. Okay, I'm just kidding about the Shamrock Shakes. 

And to be fair, Irish Potatoes aren't Irish either—they're...Philly-ish. Not really sure about corned beef. It seems like there might be some contention as to whether that's an Irish tradition, or an American one...or possibly even an English one. The very fact they eat it with sauerkraut might even give the Germans some stake in the matter, and...well, I've digressed far enough already.

But, Nathan, you say—with your extreme whiteness, red features, and "MacFarland" for a middle name, aren't you super Irish? No. I'm not. I mean, not strictly. On one side, I'm descended from Scottish Presbyterians that lived in Northern Ireland for some time in order to persuade the stubborn Irish that the King of England wasn't really that bad and that the Pope in Rome wasn't really that great, and that shaving off a third of their island was a small price to pay to avoid having their butts kicked repeatedly by the Brits. So...Irish in a sense, yet probably not at all popular with proper Irish folk. And now that I've publicly made myself a target for the IRA, here ends the digression. I promise this time.

A clever play on the words "Blarney Stone," this loaf of high-rise bread is not a true scone, at least not in the sense that I think of. It's not particularly sweet, except for the raisins scattered throughout the bread. It's not at all like "raisin bread" either, in that there's no cinnamon and very little sugar. It tastes similar to rye bread to me—but with no marbling of any kind. What makes it "soda bread" is the presence of baking soda as a rising agent, rather than yeast...and it might be my imagination, but I want to say you can taste that difference pretty clearly. It's nothing spectacular in the flavor department, but not at all unappealing, either.

Texture-wise, it's a nice, soft bread, but very crumby. Too crumby. It was extremely difficult to cut individual pieces off of the loaf, and nearly impossible to place said pieces in a traditional toaster without losing most of the bread to the fiery recesses of the sweltering appliance. I enjoyed just grabbing chunks from the sizable 10-serving "scone" and eating them plain. I must say, it goes well with cream cheese too, if you're craving a bit more flavor. The $4 loaf was a decent value and fun to try, although don't expect anything super exciting in tastebud-land. This isn't really a dessert. 

Double 3.5's and Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn

"Oooooh these are going to be trouble," Sandy said the other night when we finally ripped the bag of Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn open. "You know this is gonna be good."

No doubt, wifey. Few things beat out popcorn made on a stove top, but one thing that can, at least for her, is the all the leftover little kernels that didn't quite pop in time. The "widows," as I've heard some people call them. For me, I find them a little too hard and crunchy to truly enjoy. It also might be that I'm too mindful of the dollars I've invested in my mouth to keep it semi-functional and toothache free. I like the idea, though, and the Partially Popped Popcorn packaging promised them to be "easier on the jaw," so these were a must buy on our last trip, along with that new-fangled cookie butter confection all you kids are raving about.

Now, I'd have no idea how to even make such an item possible, but fortunately, Trader Joe's provides a patent number and Google provides the rest. Here's Patent US7579036. If I'm reading this correctly, the corn kernel gets soaked to a certain moisture point before popping. The result? The patented popping protocol produces palatable partially popped popcorn precisely perfect for perfunctory party or proper peaceful powwow pickings. Phew.

By that, I mean, these are some seriously snackable suckers. It's been a while since I've had a bad case of trigger food syndrome, but these brought it back. First, the crunch and texture. They're much unlike the Peruvian corn we reviewed a few months back (think: mummified maize), but instead hold very true to the kernel. Yet, there's the edge taken off, and what's more, while still very crunchy, the inside has a softer fluff to it. I was going to use the analogy of perhaps a twice-baked potato, but I don't think I can pull that together too coherently. So, instead, imagine if, at the very nanosecond of popping, as that kernel precisely at the very start of the abrupt phase change from crunchy seed-type-thing to fluffy, glorious popcorn....the whole process just stops. It's frozen in time. Like a note from Clarence Clemon's saxophone, it's pushed right to the very verge of bursting wide open but instead, somehow, it keeps entirely contained.


There is some white dusty glaze on the outside, visually and texturally reminiscent of the stuff on Muddy Buddies, except it's salty and buttery instead of sugary. It's not quite "move theater style" flavor, but is still very salty and buttery and comfort-foody like that. It leaves a slight greasiness on your fingertips, but not as much as a handful of chips, so don't let its appearance sway you.

Sandy loves these. Her only complaint? She wishes they would come in different flavors. "Cheese!" she says. "These just need some cheese and they'd be perfect!" I personally would love a little cinnamon/sugar combo, or perhaps some caramel. Maybe we can compromise and ask for a Chicago-style mixed bag - we have no such qualms as our eastern counterparts. Still, for a measly $2.49, we may have found a new favorite salty snack at TJ's. Until they put cookie butter on it, at least. Matching 4.5s.



Bottom line: Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons   

  


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites

If it isn't time to file a class action lawsuit against Trader Joe's for their obvious attempt to kill us all, then I'm just not sure what course of action to take. But we must do something. They could be spending their time and energy making more tasty fruit snacky things or bags of heroic kale...but it seems like nearly half of all their new products are cookie butter-oriented these days. Cookie Butter Cookies, for cryin' out loud! And as if it were necessary, they developed something that could be more easily shoveled down their customers' gullets than the original Cookie Butter Cheesecake—which was quite possibly the best-tasting item I've ever had from TJ's, or maybe anywhere.

I fully realize my own role in this sick scheme—bringing more fame to the fiendish cookie butter phenomenon and lavishing these indulgent products with perfect scores and glowing reviews, sending word about these addictive substances all across cyberspace. Believe me, I'm not proud. And why even review this product at all? Don't we already know everything we need to know about this sinister cheesecake?

Well, yes and no. Aside from the obvious size and shape difference, TJ's has found a way to dramatically reduce the calorie-count in each serving down to a measly 90. (Hooray! This is practically diet food!) But that's probably due to the fact that each serving is an extremely tiny square—a square that will do nothing but make you want to eat at least 5 more. The price has dropped from about $7 for the original cheesecake down to $4.49 for these bites at our local store—but there's less than half as much cheesecake in there (10.6 oz as compared with 22.5 oz).

The cheesecake bites still have the same signature speculoos cookie crust and the same amazing cheesecake base, but the cookie butter topping is significantly different. If you look back to the photo of the original Cookie Butter Cheesecake, you'll note that it was a firm, solid mass spread evenly across the entire crown of the cake. Now with these bites, you'll find a creamy cookie butter swirl unevenly applied across the top of the cheesecake. Honestly, I like the swirl a lot better. And because of that, I can't lower my perfect score. The value isn't as good, the size and shape is less practical—unless, as one reader put it, you're looking for "built-in portion control" (Good luck with that, my friend). BUT, if it were possible, I'd say the cookie butter swirl topping results in an even more pleasing taste and texture. Sonia prefers the original topping and will dock half a point for the drop in the cake:cost ratio. But still, I feel obligated to bestow this decadent dessert with Pantheon status. I've had some extremely delicious cheesecake bites in my day, but these Speculoos Cookie Butter Bites take the cake.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Trader Giotto's Kale, Sweet Potato & Butternut Squash Pizza

Ciao, Trader Giotto, it's been a while!

Seriously, it has been. Last time we saw Giotto was nearly nine long months ago. Is it just me, or do the different foreign Trader Joe names seem to falling out of use a little bit more? We rarely see Trader Jose, Trader Ming, Baker Josef or any of them. Anyone remember Thai Joe? We do... barely.

There's also an ampersand. Those also seem to be falling a little bit more to the wayside in favor of "and." Give me silly, stupid character names and rarely used punctuation along with your Hawaiian shirts...oh wait, crap, I can't remember the last time I saw a crew member wear one! What's going on!?!?!

Anyways, here's a throwback name for a decent little pizza: Trader Giotto's Kale, Sweet Potato & Butternut Squash Pizza. You can tack on the "With Parmigiana Reggiano Cheese" portion of the title (or not) at your own discretion. While it's certainly better, this particular pizza won't get me rapping like the last Giotto pie we reviewed. But it'll probably get our repeat business.

There's a lot to like here. Let's start with the crust and go up. Ohhhh...the crust. Crispy, crunchy, cracker-y, light and airy but a firm foundation. I can't recall ever having a crust so crunchy without charring the bottom to a blackened stump. While the crust could use a little more dough and girth, it was still solidly tasty if not a little basic otherwise. As you probably could guess, instead of a red or white sauce base, it's a sweet potato puree for the saucy layer, topped by ample chopped kale and chunky butternut squash. All that seems to work together alright - the squash does seem a little sweet, without a counterbalance, though.

As for the cheese, there's a plus and a minus. The plus - I've had Parmigiano-Reggiano straight from the source on several occasions (courtesy of my wife's coworkers, who have gone to Reggio, Italy on business trips several times). It's been a while, so a direct comparison would be tough to pull off , but neither Sandy nor I would ever confuse it with the stuff from a green shaker. It's definitely not "Parmesan." That's good, but there's not quite enough. There were three or four flakes and shreds, but that was really about it. A little more, please.

Overall, though, it's a good, light pizza. I do mean light. Sandy and I made it for dinner, along side some roasted broccoli, and even though we're both increasingly cognizant of portioning, it just wasn't quite enough. If we were characters on Oregon Trail, this would classified as a "meager" meal - certainly not "bare bones" but far from "filling", and now I'm paranoid one of us will get typhoid and the oxen will run away. Great. At least we had some ice cream sandwiches deep in the depths of the freezer to combat all of those healthy things we just ate.

For $3.99 (I think), it's tough to argue with, but that doesn't mean complete satisfaction. Sandy likes it a little more than me, to the tune of a four. Loves that crust. To me, it lacks just enough in a few key departments that I can't go much higher than a three.   

Bottom line: Trader Giotto's Kale, Sweet Potato & Butternut Squash Pizza: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Trader Joe's Kettle Popped Sweet & Salty Popcorn Chips

Trader Joe's Kettle Popped Sweet and Salty Popcorn Chips, Whole Grain with Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds, Whole Quinoa, Sunflower Seeds.

That's the entire title of this product. It's like a paragraph by itself. I mean, not technically. I just mean it's really long. In a way, it's all you need to know about this product, and it's all printed right there on the front of the bag. If you like all that stuff, you'll like this product. But I guess the point of a food review is to tell you whether WE liked these popcorn chips or not.

And the answer is YES, we did. I REALLY like the ingredients list. Nothing I can't pronounce. Nothing I needed to Google. 

They're low in fat, salty and sweet, just like the bag says. Plus, TJ's has found another creative way to stick quinoa in our junk food. But as "junk food" goes, these chips are fairly low-guilt. Even the sodium isn't excessive. And as far as Sonia and I can tell, the taste doesn't suffer at all.

Not sure who the supplier is for this product, but like most TJ's items, it undoubtedly comes from a third party. Regardless, I think this type of product is what attracted me to TJ's in the first place: stuff that effectively curbs the munchies with significantly less bad stuff than traditional snacks. I mean, I LOVE the cookie butter stuff like most of you, but those treats just can't be everyday snacks unless you workout like a madman or are cool with weighing 300 pounds.

These popcorn chips have a nice light flavor that lets the natural grains through, but it has just enough cane sugar that it tastes indulgent and satisfies the sweet tooth. The flavor is more complex than other popcorn chips I've tried because of all the "ancient grain" type ingredients. The texture is crispy, crunchy, and just about perfect. $1.99 for a bag is a pretty reasonable price point, too, if you ask me.

Sonia was an even bigger fan than I was—she really digs the whole sweet and salty thing and thinks these chips nailed it. Four and a half stars from her. Four from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.