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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Cheese Pizza with a Cauliflower Crust

A few weeks back, we put out a review of a TJ's cauliflower pizza crust, and had kinda mixed review. Haven't had it since. Main issue was the texture - it just didn't feel like actual pizza crust. Too wet and dense and soggy. Since then, from what we understand, the prep instructions have been revamped to baking before topping the crust, then baking again. Seems like a high likelihood of that working out - we just haven't seen it in stores to try for ourselves. Have you? Let us know.

Semi-relatedly, here's Trader Joe's Gluten Free Cheese Pizza with a Cauliflower Crust. Pizza with all the guesswork taken out of it - slide out of box, insert in oven. No fuss, no muss.

Now, I have no need to follow a gluten-free diet - I have a preference to, when convenient, just out of occasional adherence to a semi-paleo friendly diet.* Helped me lose a lot of weight, helps me keep it off. That being said, it's hard for me to not compare gluten free products to their glutenfull counterparts, and usually, I find them a little "lacking" or "not to my taste" or whatever simply because of what I'm used to.

But...I'm really surprised by this cauli-crusted pizza here. I am going to make the comparison to a "normal" cheese freezer pizza, and feel very comfortable doing so. Mostly because, side by side, i don't think I could tell them apart. Seriously. The crust here gets crispy, a little crackery, while browning up easily and keeping all together. Must be the rice flour and all mixed in. It tastes and feels as "normal" as it can.

Nothing too special about the cheese or sauce - it's the standard fare. One can easily top the pizza with whatever kind of toppings you'd like, and it'd work for sure. Nothing to really stand in the way - it's just a cheese pizza. Which is a compliment, I think.

The pizza cost $4.99, which sounds maybe a little high at first, but for what it is versus comparable products, it's a reasonable enough value. I'm not sure Sandy and I will make a huge deal out of making a repeat purchase of it, but we all liked it enough. Even our now five year old, who easily turns up her nose at anything she doesn't like - she ate almost half the pizza herself. Not too much else to say - a good pizza that's not quite upper crust.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gluten Free Cheese Pizza with a Cauliflower Crust: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons
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* Yes I realize there are very few things less Paleo friendly than a plain cheese pizza. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Trader Joe's Avocado Citrus Greek Yogurt


Avocados are simply delicious. When they're just ripe, there's nothing like 'em. We're huge fans of putting them in salads, sandwiches, burgers, quesadillas, or anything else we can justify throwing them into. And who doesn't like chips and guacamole?

But yogurt? That seems just a little weird to me—almost along the same lines as putting bacon in a chocolate bar or elephant dung in candy bites...well, okay, that last one isn't actually a thing...yet. But you get the picture: it almost seems like certain products carry a bit of shock value just by stating their name. And if it works, great. But if it doesn't...everybody's like, "Um yeah, I didn't think that would work, so why did TJ's?"


Case in point: avocado yogurt. It doesn't sound like it should work, and in my humble opinion, it simply doesn't. The best part about this product is that it doesn't really taste that much like avocados. It's much more citrusy than avocado-y. But there's enough avocado to make your mouth a bit confused. It's sweeter and more citrusy than yogurt-based guacamole, but it's sour and tangy like most Greek yogurt, and then there's still that distinct, earthy, almost nutty essence of avocado—and at least my personal taste buds insist that it just doesn't belong in yogurt.


I gave it the old college try, but I'm not feeling it. Two stars from me. If it had been "Citrus Greek Yogurt with a Hint of Avocado," then maybe, just maybe it could have worked. Interesting concept though, I guess. And I don't feel super let-down, because my expectations for this product were much lower than the ones I had for, say, the PB&J Greek Yogurt

Sonia's only comment: "I don't hate it, but it's just weird." Three stars.

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Trader Joe's Puff Dogs

"I want you to review these just for all the Puff Daddy references you could make."

Love ya, sweetie, but Puff Daddy/ P. Diddy wasn't my jam back in the day. I'm familiar enough with the work of Mr Combs, but enough so that I could off a bunch of references in relation to Trader Joe's Puff Dogs? Nah.

I mean, "Puff Dog" does sound like a mid-to-late-'90s rapper. Probably was one, or could have been like a super dup between the aforementioned Diddy and Snoop Dogg.

As the story goes, the only reason we bought these was at the behest of one of the local TJ's employees, who knows who we are and what we do, and we were strongly advised to buy them. Why that is, I'm not sure, as I wasn't there. I personally wouldn't have. I have nothing against a quality hot dog wrapped up in a buttery biscuit type deal, but...it's easy enough to do on your own if the mood hits. Which for us is pretty rare...I don't think I've done this since college. Maybe even before. Aside from micro hors d'ouevres, of course. Those are tasty.

And yeah...that's what these puff dogs taste like. A fully grown hors d'oeuvres. There's nothing special, unique, or all that interesting about them, to be quite honest. I mean, yes, there's quality to be had here - the smoky beef hot dog in all its uncured goodness is rather tasty, admittedly - but, there's not much to be had otherwise. The puff pastry is standard, run of the mill flaky and a little buttery, and that combined with the beef dog do have a little greasy comfort food vibe that would taste even better after a few beers, I'm sure.

But there's nothing else, really. There's no "Trader Joe's-y" twist to them, like an unexpected seasoning or fancy cheese or some other novelty to them. It's tough to even argue a convenience factor, and at a somewhat premium price ($4.99 for five dogs - a buck per pup), you can get more bang for your buck by buying a pack of frankfurters and a tube of crescent rolls seperately and get much the same result.

Plus - this is probably silly - I hate the picture on the front. That yellow stuff hanging off the bitten-off hot dog? Is that supposed to be nacho cheese or day old scrambled egg? Yes, I know, probably mustard as evidenced by the cutesy mustard bottle up top, but still...there's something unsettling about it to me. Especially with the word "buttery" in close proximity. Yes, I'm weird.

Can't nobody hold me down. It might not be all about the Benjamins, but for the mo' money for these, I don't want mo' problems. Come with me or I'll be missing you...ugh, I can't do this any more. Probably not a repeat buy. They're okay, but what they'd best for is what P Diddy was best at: Sampling.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Puff Dogs: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Trader Joe's Crunchy Nutty Rice Bites with Quinoa & Cranberries

The little description on the back of the bag states: "When a lack of snacks is what ails you, a handful of Crunchy Nutty Rice Bites with Quinoa & Cranberries is the cure." How appropriate after having just watched A Cure for Wellness last night. What a disturbing film—I mean, genius in many ways, but thoroughly psychologically disturbing. What's even more disturbing is that I can readily identify with characters in such films far more than, say, anything that might be considered a normal family film. 

But if you've seen the movie, you'll know why I was immediately reluctant to consume something that a random quack medicine man claims is a "cure" for what ails me. The cover art, featuring one of the crunchy nutty rice bites levitating supernaturally over a pair of hands and radiating some sort of angelic rays, didn't help the case for these mysterious snacks.

But try them I did, and honestly, I'm not sure if I'm relieved at this point, because these things are so addicting, I'm a little worried there's more to them than their constituent parts listed on the ingredients. I mean, I've tried plenty of crispy ricey snacky things before, and plenty of treats laden with cranberries and quinoa, but none have had quite the same appeal as these sweet, crunchy bites—at least nothing in recent memory.

At first glance, some of the nuggets resemble little square pieces of sushi, with multiple muted colors resting on bite-sized beds of rice. But the similarities to sushi end there, as these rice bites flaunt a brittle crispness and surprising amount of sweetness. Tartness from a generous amount of cranberries tends to shine through in most of the pieces.

There's also a nuttiness in the majority of bites which I'd attribute to the pumpkin seeds before either almonds or cashews, or quinoa for that matter. I mean, there's definitely quinoa in there, but the fact that it's mentioned in the title of the snack seems more of a gimmick than anything else. I guess "pumpkin seeds" or "pepitas" just doesn't get the granola crowd riled up like "quinoa" apparently does.

I'm gonna go with four and a half here. 

According to Sonia, they're kinda like "healthy, dry Rice Krispies Treats." That about sums it up. Four stars from her.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Trader Joe's Coconut Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate

"This was obviously made by someone who hates coffee."

That's an actual recent quote from my mom, and in what actual context, I forget. Doesn't matter, I may be adopting it to describe any coffee that I don't like. I'm beginning to realize that I need to have my coffee just the way I like it, or I get cranky. This must be one of those signs that I'm getting older, I guess. File it alongside: Realizing I can play Pearl Jam too loud while in the car by myself. Recognizing the need for supportive walking shoes. Not recognizing anything on the radio except the classic rock station.

Anyways, here's yet another cold brew concoction from our main man here. This time, it's Trader Joe's Coconut Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate. Well, okay. Flavored coffees aren't really my deal, per se - coffee should taste like coffee, ya whippersnapper - but heck I'd give it a try.

I like the idea of cold brew concentrates, mostly because I don't like the idea of paying three or four bucks from a coffee shop every time I want one. But the trouble always seems to be getting the ratio of concentrate to diluent correct - too much of one or the other throws it way off. Seems to be the same case here. I measured, I tried, I recalled my seventh grade chemistry teacher saying to measure the meniscus...still couldn't get it quite right. So there's a part of the problem I'm willing to own.

But the other issue? It's just not very good coffee.

It's the coconut. In theory, it sounds good, but to me, it doesn't jive. The coconut just kinda clanks around, with almost a tinny or metallic taste to it. Ugh. No likey. It's obtrusive. And it's tough to tell for sure, but the coffee almost seems to rely heavily on coconut for flavor, instead of the natural earthy goodness that actual good coffee delivers. If you need to add flavors to make your coffee drinkable, to me, it's just not that good to begin with.

I realize I may be in the minority here. That's okay, fire at will. Sandy absolutely disagrees with me, noting that she liked making hers with sweetened almond milk and ice. I think I took a sip of one of those, and admittedly it was almost passable. A terrible idea, though, is mixing this with something like a  flavored LaCroix...we tried it, it's supposed to be trendy....it also tastes awful.  Sandy would buy again happily, while I'd just as happily mumble about it if it were to reappear. Maybe it's made not by someone who hates coffee, just by someone with a very different opinion than me. Bah. My blog, my score. Get off my lawn.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Coconut Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, July 7, 2017

Trader Joe's Cold Brew Latte Dessert Bars

Nothing but frozen coffee on a stick. No more, no less. Great if you love coffee—not so much if you're craving something a little more indulgent.

Sure, there's sugar and cream. It's not like they used plain black coffee. But if you were expecting something along the lines of a Fudgsicle with a coffee twist, you're in for some disappointment here.

Just like real coffee is mostly water, so too is this popsicle. And it tastes that way. 

I'm no coffee connoisseur, but if I had to wager what type of coffee is employed here, I'd say it's a lighter roast. It's not even a particularly bold or rich flavor. 

The refreshment factor is potentially pretty high, but again, the indulgence factor is surprisingly low. 40 calories per bar says it all.


Kosher, convenient, and inexpensive ($1.99 for five), this product is great for coffee-lovers who want to get their daily caffeine in a cool new way—and possibly to beat the heat at the same time. 

There's nothing chalky, mocha-y, or nutty here, like another recently-reviewed latte product. If I had to wager which item would be more popular with the coffee-craving crowd, my money would be on these java-sicles.

Predictably, Sonia, who loves coffee, enjoyed these bars more than I did. She does wish they were a little sweeter and perhaps a tad creamier, but she can appreciate them for exactly what they are: simple coffee-flavored refreshment. Three and a half stars from her. 

I'm not a coffee guy at all, but I have to have respect for this product just for its simplicity, refreshment-factor, and potential appeal to true coffee folks. Three stars from me.


Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Trader Joe's Organic Cold Brew Mocha Nut Latte

July. Hot hot hot. Or, if in Pennsylvania like me, it's beginning to get humid too. Real humid. Granted, it's not the sweltering unrelenting steam of late July-to-mid-September that feels like a homicidal dishwasher going full tilt with the door cracked open quite yet, but it's coming. You desert people with your dry heat - you're lucky. I've been in 115 degree heat that's been dry and more comfortable than mid-80's and 10000% humidity.

Still need coffee. We've been over this. I don't need to sell you on the idea that cold brew coffee is a great idea for summer months.

So if TJ's comes out with one, I'm gonna try it. So here's Trader Joe's Organic Cold Brew Mocha Nut Latte. Seems to be a break from my normal black brew - not the worst thing in the world, can use some flavor every once in a while, so here's a swig....

....uhhh, what the H-E-double bendi straw is THAT? This isn't coffee. it's not even close. "Brown chalky liquid somewhat resembling coffee" may be a more apt description.

First of all, I didn't see this before sipping, there's liquefied dates in here. As a predominant ingredient, as in, like, right after water. Ugh. Don't get me wrong, I like dates. I've had coffee and dates for breakfast. I like dates with my coffee. I like coffee with my dates. I like going on dates to get coffee. I like drinking coffee to get along with my date, err, I mean, wife. All that being said, I do not need dates in my coffee, especially when it adds this weird chunky pulpy complexion....

...which is only added to by both almond and cashew milk. I have no problem with either individually or mixed together, and prefer over regular cow juice, to be honest, but by themselves they push beverage texture to about its max for me. Inclusion of said dates pushes it over.

There's so much earthy groundlike flavor going on that it's almost easy to overlook the actual coffee aspect. it's there, but not nearly strong enough for my liking. Disclaimer: Usually I drink unadulterated black, so take it for what its worth. There's some vanilla and cinnamon, I guess, and obviously a nutty flavor, but mocha? Not to me. Just weird nutty creamy datey coffeesque stew. Yum. Not.

Not a fan, as you've guessed by now. Sandy enjoys more than I do, but also notes that the chalkchunkpulp issue is a major putoff, enough that despite liking the flavor she stated she will not purchase again. Somehow this warrants a three in her book. Me? Nowhere close to that, and it's not the heat getting to me. It's just not that good, at all. Blah.



Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Cold Brew Mocha Nut Latte: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, July 3, 2017

Trader Joe's Organic Lemon Ginger Herbal Flavored Water

Ah, tomorrow's the Fourth of July. And there's nothing quite as Murican as lemon-ginger-infused water to celebrate Independence Day. Let's take a look.

Imagine you just consumed a plate of lemon ginger chicken. Now imagine you rinsed off the plate and collected the water from it. Imagine further that you had a temporary lapse in judgement or some kind of heat stroke and decided it would be a good idea if you drank said rinse water. 

Ahh, refreshing right? Depending on the temperature of the water...perhaps. But still a pretty weird taste. Yeah. I'm not feeling it. And I like lemon and ginger just fine. And in case you're wondering, no, this product doesn't taste like chicken. I just couldn't think of any other legitimate reason you might have lemon and ginger on a plate.

The ghost of lemon and ginger present here is just potent enough to ruin the super-neutral taste of plain water, and yet it's not strong nor sweet enough to be any kind of delicious chuggable beverage.

And another thing: the write-up on the packaging claims this product is "Hydration with flare." "Hydration with flare"? Did I somehow miss that this water is flammable? Does the water have a high enough alcohol content to serve it flambé? Or did they mean "flair"? Or is this use of the word "flare" somehow acceptable here? Was the water flavored with road flares?

So if you ask me, just go ahead and skip this hippy dippy nonsense and go drink a tooth-rotting, high fructose corn syrup-laden Coca-Cola tomorrow while you watch those fireworks. One won't kill you. Coke is deliciously American, and this stuff just isn't. Fair comparison? No. Apples and oranges? Sure. I'm fresh out of more appropriate comparisons. This heat's getting to me.

Sonia thinks she'd just rather drink plain old water for refreshment—or maybe even sparkling mineral water. I agree. One star a piece.

Bottom line: 2 out of 10.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Trader Joe's Caramel Ginger Popcorn

"Like Cracker Jack for adults."

Those were the first words out of Sandy's  mouth after her initial sampling of Trader Joe's Caramel Ginger Popcorn. And it is kinda the easy comparison - the known American classic that pretty much anyone has at least a vague idea of what it is. Cheap popcorn, heavily coated in corn syrupy caramel with surprisingly few peanuts and a dumb sticker that sticks less than all the kernels leftover in your teeth.

I mean, who really enjoys Cracker Jack?

All that being said, this Caramel Ginger Popcorn is pretty tasty. With a caveat or two, yes, but still....much better than Cracker Jack.

First off, it's pretty decent popcorn - surprisingly fresh tasting for a bagged product. And the coating of caramelized sugar, while a little uneven and thicker at times, is by-in-large thinner and adds a more-crispy-than-crunchy element. Most bites are more sugary than anything else, but not too over the top.

Of course, there's the ginger though...the further you dig into the bag, the more it's there. Other than an occasional hint here and there, there's not much of it about at first. Midway thru, it's almost an every morsel occurrence. But by the bottom, if you don't like ginger - pick carefully. That's where all the crystallized ginger nuggets reside, bursting with ginger heat ready to singe the tastebuds. It's not entirely unpleasant if you like such things, but if you're ginger adverse, steer away.

Sandy really enjoys it, more than I do. "If it only had cashews, it'd be perfect," she said. I agree that'd be a good little addition, even if it meant slightly sacrificing the $3 price point for the sack. I'd wish there'd be a way for more of the ginger to be evenly distributed so it wasn't feast or famine in that regard. Anyways, as it is, here's an above average score. Now if it only had a really bad baseball sticker in there too...

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Caramel Ginger Popcorn: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Trader Joe's Matcha Joe-Joe's


In my ongoing attempts to be a well-rounded human, I repeatedly try things I'm not 100% enthusiastic about at the onset. Once in a while, said things I'm not super enthused about wind up growing on me. Case in point: matcha.

Trader Joe's dessertification of the earthy powdered green tea was a great excuse to give matcha another try. Well, okay, not this candy bar dessertification of green tea. Despite being a fan of white chocolate, that combo still sounds a little weird to me, and I'm glad Russ picked up a bar so I didn't have to.


But matcha in sandwich cookies? That's just weird enough to work. If it worked with coffee, then why wouldn't it work with green tea?

Will the matcha still fight cancer, lower cholesterol, boost immunity, reduce stress, and enhance my metabolism? Somehow, I doubt it. But I'm going to eat these cookies anyway.

Upon first bite, you might not notice the matcha flavor. I mean, it's there, so you might notice it if you're really paying attention, but the vanilla cookies mute the earthy green tea taste to the point where even matcha-haters might be able to stomach this particular iteration of Joe-Joe's.

For matcha lovers—if you want to prove to yourself that these cookies are well-worth their "matcha" moniker—return to your childhood by unscrewing the sandwich cookie and licking the creme center right off the cookie. Bam. It's sweet...but it's unmistakably matcha-y. I admit, it's weird that it works. But it does. Even for me, who, again, isn't super into matcha—it's so sweet that I can't dislike it.

I'm going to surprise even myself here as I toss out three and a half stars. Matcha-liking Sonia will go with four.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Trader Joe's Cashew Apricot Date & Nut Bites with Coconut & Citrus

Oh goodness. Vacation. All. That. Food. And junk. Lots and lots of junk food.

Please tell me it's not just us.

In our regular day-to-day lives, Sandy and I try to reasonably limit our unhealthyish indulgences to maybe a small portion a day. But on our recent vacation - game on. Chips, candies, cookies, pie, cheese curls, whatever else - oh yes. All that. And ice cream. Oh goodness. If you're ever in the area of Penn Yan, NY, you gotta go to The Spotted Duck. We went there regrettably only twice, including our last official trip stop, and I'd easily consider making the 10 hour round trip just to go there again, it's that awesome.

All this to say, I still got a case of the snackies now that I'm home, but I need something healthy to counterblanace all that...so it was great time to discover Trader Joe's Cashew Apricot Date & Nut Bites with Coconut & Citrus.

You could tell me these bites were a Larabar test product and I'd believe you. There's that very similar vibe, with soft chewy dates making up the body of the bar with nuts densely interspersed. I've grown to enjoy that kinda texture from most Larabars, and it's much the same here. Cashews are a great nutty choice - so much better than either peanuts or almonds IMHO - and I like how the dried apricot adds fruity flair and natural sweetness. The zested citrus peel adds a bright, somewhat unexpected finish - a real nice touch that sets these apri-nut bites apart.

Haven't mentioned the coconut yet. That's because while I'm not opposed to its presence, if I had to choose one ingredient to axe, that'd be it. There's so much else going on, the coconut just isn't terribly necessary, and the fibery specks do mess the texture up a small bit. Not awfully much, but enough to make note.

And another small note: the packaging. The outer bag isn't the problem. It's what's inside. Each bite is individually wrapped in a sealed plastic wrapper that's almost big enough for two bites. That's just unnecessary. I get that TJ's wouldn't want the date bites to stick together, but there's goota be a better solution than that.

So aside from a few small quibbles, we like them a bit. I'd consider them Paleo friendly as the only questionable ingredient is rice flour on the dried fruit...meh. Any way I look at it, the date and nut bites are a healthier bet than the half pound of Sour Patch watermelon chewies I gobbled on vacation. Or the quarter of a grape pie. Or the numerous scoops of ice cream. Or the...you get the point. Check 'em out for $3.99 for the sack. Yums.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cashew Apricot Date & Nut Bites with Coconut & Citrus: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, June 23, 2017

Trader Joe's Calamansi Cooler

If you were to juice an octopus or squid and turn it into a drinkable cocktail, it might be a faint clear-yellow-orange color, and you might call it Calamari Cooler.

Because of its unfamiliarity, the word "calamansi" didn't exactly roll off our tongues, so we opted to be silly and call this drink "Calamari Cooler." We'd pour a can into a glass and offer our guests some Calamari Cooler and were met universally with surprise and/or disgust.

Only then would we explain that we were just being weird because that's just kinda what we do and then we'd show them the can. Neither Sonia nor I nor a single one of our friends had heard of the calamansi fruit before encountering this beverage. We Americans are so sheltered when it comes to exotic fruits. Thank goodness for Trader Joe and his daring ventures into Southeast Asia.

It's a strange flavor, especially at first. But it certainly grew on me since my initial reaction. It really does fall very close to a lemon-lime sort of taste, but there's something else there that's very difficult to put my finger on—almost something tangerine-esque. Sonia thinks it might be more like grapefruit.

The flavor is light, refreshing, and not very intense at all except for some moderate tartness. Despite the fact that sugar is the second ingredient, it's not overly sweet.

It's a nice summer beverage for sure. We'll probably buy it again to beat the summer heat. $2.99 for four cans. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.


Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Trader Joe's Kitchen Sink Dunkers

"Comparison is the thief of joy."

I've heard it said and quoted so many times...a quick Google search says its Theodore Roosevelt who coined the phrase. I'm pretty sure I've heard it was someone else...but then that's like comparing sources, and well, that's contradictory to the purpose, is it not? No matter who spoke it, it's no less true.

I say this because - Sheetz Trash Can Cookies. You ever one? If you haven't, and live near a Sheetz, or ever happen to be traveling by a Sheetz on an journey, go get one. Preferably immediately. If you have, i hope you know what I'm talking about - amazing cookies. Soft mealy, with a plethora of ingredients ranging for chocolate chips and Reese Pieces to popcorn and pretzels. Awesome cookies, one of our faves for road trips.

Was really hoping for a similar vibe with Trader Joe's Kitchen Sink Dunkers. The name carries the same implication, a little of this, a little that, and then there's that other stuff. Kitchen sink, as in, "everything but the..." Gotta be a lot of stuff, right?

Can't say they fully delivered. I like the premise, more or less, but the name sets up a little bit for failure. These dunkers are basically oatmeal cookies trying to pose themselves as being a bit more fancy then they actually are. I got nothing against pecans, or sunflower seeds, or chocolate chunks, because they can all make a fine cookie, but mixed all together with some rolled oats, there's not much that stands out or is terribly descriptive.

At least there's no...oh wait, yes there is. Not sure how they snuck in. But there's raisins in here too. So it's a showboating oatmeal raisin cookie. Listen: Nobody I know likes oatmeal raisin cookies. I only eat them when I didn't look close and thought they were chocolate chip, and am then immediately disappointed. Everyone I know thinks the same way, and so must a lot of y'all, because why then aren't raisins mentioned mentioned on the front of the package, hmm? It's a conspiracy 

Of course, as a cookie made for dunking in coffee, the dippy dunkers are pretty rigid when dry but soften in a crumbly way significantly once met with coffee. I personally did not have a chance to sample hem this way, but Sandy said so, so it must be true.

Not awful, not terrific. Could use a lot more pizzazz in my humble opinion. I'll munch on them but not seek them out. Too many other great cookies out there...these dunkers just don't really compare.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Kitchen Sink Dunkers: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, June 19, 2017

Trader Joe's Ranch Seasoned Crispy Chickpeas

Chickpeas. Garbanzo beans. Doesn't matter what you call them. In my opinion, they're nutritious and delicious. I'm a big fan and always have been.

In fact, I put my love of chickpeas on display in a salad dressing review last year. I called my salad the "garbanzaganza." Interestingly, Trader Joe's calls this product "a garbanzo bonanza." I suppose you can and should make the distinction that my fictitious word is a mashup of "garbanzo" and "extravaganza," while TJ's uniquely employed the use of the word "bonanza" for this chickpea product.
Therefore, this product shall henceforth be known as the "garbanzonanza" because I'm big into fictitious words, contractions, portmanteaus, and all manner of linguistic tomfoolery.

Then I began to muse about the squirrel on the packaging. Wasn't aware squirrels were into garbanzos—or any beans for that matter. They're more into seeds and nuts. And that's why I think he's there: because this product has a distinctly nutty flavor. Plus, these chickpeas are indeed crispy like nuts, by virtue of them being fried and dried. Texture-wise, they're very similar to wasabi peas.

Flavor-wise, in addition to the aforementioned nuttiness, they're salty, savory, and do taste vaguely like normal garbanzo beans. 

They're "ranch seasoned," but honestly, they're not exactly bursting with ranch taste in my opinion. It's detectable, but it plays second fiddle to the natural taste of the beans, along with the other seasonings like onion and tomato powders.

$2.99 a bag, a good bit of fat and sodium, but also rich with fiber. Sonia will go with four and a half stars, stating, "I really like them a lot." Me too. Four stars here. Very unique.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Trader Joe's Mango Chipotle BBQ Sauce with a Hint of Salted Bourbon

"But they were on sale!!"

Sigh.

Normally, I like those words just fine. But they were a source of frustration when Sandy was trying to explain to me why she bought St Louis style ribs (read: with bones) as opposed to our usual boneless "ribs" she gets for me to grill.

I can grill wannabe porkchops easily enough. But ones with bones? That requires some skills and patience I don't have - hours of slow, indirect heat? Not when the fam is over expecting dinner any minute, and I just then realized what I was dealing with.

Solution: after charring and burning the outside of ribs while still looking raw in the middle, give up, throw on an extra pack of hot dogs, move ribs to top rack when done, reheat/cook more following night, and rely on Trader Joe's Mango Chipotle BBQ Sauce to salvage dinner. Oh, and with "a hint of salted bourbon." Good for the sauce, maybe, and good for me, definitely.

So, how'd it work?

Ehhhhh.

Seems like it might be a classic case of trying to do too much. I mean, in theory, this sauce sounds fantastic. And in many ways, it's not bad at all, and kinda unique. But it's just so uneven overall. First hit of the sauce smacks sweet mango flavor full on, almost like candy. It's almost too cloyingly sugary, like a dessert type treat almost. Then, that sensation qiickly dissipates and dissolves before a big ol' spice wallop of smoky chipotle hits. Eating straight on (say, if dipped into by a fry or something) the heat seems more fierce, but it's weakened a little by being brushed onto meat and the like.

Both sides of that equation are palatable enough (I prefer the heat over the sweet myself) but there's nothing really bridging those two extremes. Nothing really tying them together. I could see the "hint of salted bourbon" being intended for that, but if it's there, it's not noticeable enough.

It's not a terrible sauce by any stretch, but it's not good/versatile/tasty enough to be used as an all-the-time barbecue condiment either. It'll take Sandy and me some effort and time to finish up the bottle we have - no one else here will touch it, for sure. I'm too ambivalent about it to give it any more than a 2.5, whereas Sandy enjoys it a bit more, so it'll go a little higher for her. Not gonna be ribbing her for that.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mango Chipotle BBQ Sauce with a Hint of Salted Bourbon: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Trader Joe's Pineapple Mango with Natural Mint Flavor Agua Fresca

We've come across obscene amounts of mango products from TJ's over the years, including a beverage or two. We've been braving mango drinks and reviewing them here since 2010. The flavor of this one isn't such a far cry from other authentic mango juices, although this one's much thinner than anything that might be called "nectar," or really even anything called "juice." It's cool, fresh, flavored water.

You really could replicate the flavor of this stuff by taking ordinary mango nectar, adding water, a dash of pineapple juice, and simply brushing your teeth before taking a swig. Same effect. Okay, not really. The mint here tastes slightly more pleasant than Colgate, although it seems a bit out of place somehow. It sounded good when I read it on the label, but in actual practice, I'm not a huge fan.

Sonia grew up with aguas frescas in her native sunny Southern California. Some of her favorites included tamarind, cantaloupe, and watermelon. According to her, even drinks like horchata are technically a type of agua fresca...and I looove me some horchata. 

Russ and Sandy checked out the flower-flavored variety a week or two ago. I tried a similar hibiscus beverage when I lived in L.A. and I wasn't a fan of the taste—but hey, each to his own. I thought I'd fare better with a fruity flavor, but the essence of this one didn't really grab me either.

Sonia likes this drink a lot more than I do. She enjoys the "lightness" of it. I must admit, the lack of sweetness here is very refreshing. It's not a bad beverage, particularly if you consider the refreshment factor. I'm just not digging the overall flavor all that much.

Sonia's interested in trying the other varieties sold at Trader Joe's, but she wishes they offered more traditional flavors like the ones sold in Mexican marketplaces.

Three stars from me. Four stars from the wifey.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Trader Joe's Brownie Crisp Coffee Ice Cream Sandwiches

It's no secret we have a soft spot for ice cream here. Well, to be honest, we probably have more than a few soft spots from ice cream too.

It's just about summer. Certainly feels like it. Not like there's ever really an ice cream offseason, but if there's a time of year meant for ice cream, it's now...

...and there needs to be one just for us adults, right? Let the kiddies clamor for the chocolate soft serve with rainbow sprinkles. Let's claim us a good ice cream sammich, and a little bonus if it gives us adults a little energy shot too.

Go get Trader Joe's Brownie Crisp Coffee Ice Cream Sandwiches. Go get them now. They're $3.99 for a four pack, so basically a buck each.

There is nothing better you can get, anywhere, for a buck. Challenge me. You won't win. For the record, Powerball tickets, even winning ones, cost $2.

In pretty much every conceivable way, these ice cream treats are perfect. There's not a single thing that could be better. Perfect size - palm size, about an inch of ice cream high, with two thin brownie "crisps" playing the bread role. Perfect taste - rich, creamy espresso laced cream. I've had so many "coffee" ice creams that were little more than brown tinted vanilla. So not the case here. Those brownies tho too - legit fudgy flavor with big ol' chocolate chunks in there to add a lot of cocoa oomph. And perfect texture too. The whole bite for these brownie coffee sammiches is flawless. The "crisps" really aren't crispy at all but are instead just rigid enough to hold the whole shebang together while still somehow maintaining a soft, chewey middle in a concoction no more than few millimeters thick. These really are some baking marvels at work with the perfect creamy ice cream with little coffee ground beans sprinkled here and there.

Sandy and I busted out the box over the weekend for a small family get-together and all adults agreed: awesome. No complaints at all, just satisfied "mmm"s across the board. And even better yet - none of the kids wanted a bite! Not like we'd share anyways.

Nothing to add. Nothing to subtract. Perfect as is, as our score reflects below. It's not us growing soft...except from eating more of these all summer long.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Brownie Crisp Coffee Ice Cream Sandwiches: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Trader Joe's Sweet & Salty Granola Bars

Granola bars can fall anywhere on the healthiness spectrum—they can be nothing but organic whole grains glued together with natural honey on one extreme, or they can be thinly-veiled excuses for chocolate bars on the other. In my opinion, these fall directly in the middle: a nice balance of nutrition and taste. If anything, they err on the side of desserty, rather than wholesome. But any way you look at it, they're convenient and fast, especially for those last-minute, late-for-work, eating-breakfast-during-the-commute type situations.

Trader Joe's is once again blatantly imitating another major brand's offering. This time, they're emulating Nature Valley's Sweet & Salty Nut Granola Bars, a product I've been enjoying for years.

As far as I can tell, they're only offering this almond variety at TJ's so far, while Nature Valley makes a number of other flavors, including peanut and cashew. At full price, the Nature Valley bars are usually slightly more expensive than these Trader Joe's granola bars ($2.69), but I've often found the Nature Valley version on sale at the major grocery store chains. Both offerings contain almond butter, almonds, whole oats, and various sweeteners, but the one thing TJ's version boasts that NV's does not: that ever-present Greek yogurt.

If only all of their exports were as ubiquitous as the yogurt, I'm sure those Greeks would have been able to avoid all that financial trouble they got into a few years back. But the fad has not yet died, and at least in this case, I'm grateful, because it works quite well here in this product, providing a nice subtle tang to the sweet and salty base of these snack bars. 

The sea salted almonds are balanced out by sugar-sweetened crisped rice and a confectionary coating, and the overall texture is chewy and soft, except for the nuts, which taste and feel fresh and crunchy.

There are six individually-wrapped bars in the box, and the serving size is just about perfect. I'm hoping TJ's will continue to copy Nature Valley and roll out a full line of these bars with other nuts and flavors.

Four stars a piece for these tasty granola bars.


Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Trader Joe's Nothing But Fruit & Nuts - Date - Hazelnut - Cacao

Busy busy busy. Bizzy. Biz-zay. Bizzybizzybiz.

No matter how you say it, or spell it, that's what we are.

There's the normal everyday grind of errands, jobs, and chores. Then whenever we all have the day off together, we try to have a family fun day. In a span of less than a week not too long ago, Sandy and I took the kids to Idlewild amusement park, the zoo, the science center, and the pool. That'd be a whole month, if not full summer, of activites for me growing up. Here's to reasonably priced family memberships! Sandy and I also finally had a little weekend to ourselves not long ago either, where we packed as much as we could into about two days in NYC - a show, a ballgame, the Met, Times Square, and all sorts of touristy crap like Ripley's Museum.

So busy....we're kinda in need of a TJ's run. Supplies are low.

Fortunately for all aspects of our busy lives (and fortunately Nathan chose another flavor for his review), Sandy picked up a sack of Trader Joe's Nothing But Fruit & Nuts - Date - Hazelnut - Cacao. I'm really not sure if that's the official name of these guys, but no other way seems quite right.

At least I am very sure of the ingredients. Dates, hazelnuts, and cacao - that's all there is, there ain't no mo'. They come all formed together in a medium sized disc, individually wrapped. If you're familiar with date-based Larabars, there's some similarities but also a key difference or two. First, I think there's an even higher percentage of dates in each TJ's nutty cacao date cake thing. I say that because the date flavor seems a little stronger - if you don't like dates, you have no chance of liking these - but also there's a textural difference. The TJ's are a touch tougher as well - perhaps dried a bit more? Not sure. They're still plenty easy to bite through, but it was a changeup from the usual Larabar softness I'm more accustomed to.


There's not an abundance of hazelnuts, but there is enough cacao/cocoa/chocolate flavor slipping in to hit a good chocolate spot. The richness of flavor though seems to come mainly from the dates, however, which isn't a bad thing. The snacks are easily portable and filling making an ideal on-the-go energy boost. All. That. Fiber. With, um, all the effects as well, FYI.

It's $3.99 for the eight discs. While I get I could probably make more of my own for a similar price point, I for one don't mind paying a small premium for convenience. I've made similar stuff to these, and it takes some time, and I think I burned out a food processor motor once. Time is money.

Both Sandy and I like them, and they're be sure to be one of our go-to on-the-go get-up-and-goers for go-time. Go!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Nothing But Fruit & Nuts - Date - Hazelnut - Cacao: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, June 5, 2017

Trader Joe's Fig Walnut Nothing But Fruit & Nuts

Many of the Trader Joe's detractors that I've encountered compare the store to Whole Foods and state that Trader Joe's just isn't as healthy. While the average product at TJ's may be less healthy than the average product at WF, you CAN shop extremely healthily at TJ's if you want to—you just need the willpower to avoid the cookie butter aisle. Apparently, you can find pretty much anything else made of cauliflower now.

And my argument is and always has been that the average product at Trader Joe's is healthier than the average product at an average grocery store. Whole Foods was never an option for me because I don't make seven figures a year...yet. If you really wanted to, you could do the majority of your shopping at TJ's whether you're whole organic, kosher, low carb, low fat, vegan, pescatarian, or whatever—and do it for far less money than you could at Whole Foods.

That brings me to my next point. These little guys might be kinda pricey for some of us at $4 for the bag of only eight little snacks. That's 50 cents per disc. But at Whole Foods, a comparable product would most likely be twice as much. I'm not hating on Whole Foods or their shoppers at all. Just, again, I'm not a rich man and Whole Foods is a rich man's store so far as I can tell.

But regardless of which grocery store it comes from, a product flaunting only two ingredients is usually pretty darn healthy. I guess you could hold out for organic figs and walnuts, but you'd be looking at an even heftier price tag. I know I'd be a lot healthier if everything I ate contained only two ingredients. But enough talk of health and grocery stores and price tags. How do these happy fig discs taste?

Surprisingly...they taste like figs. I guess that FIGures <ba-dum-bum-TSHH>. 

They're very sweet. Figs definitely steal the show here. Walnuts are present and provide just a hint of nutty flavor and crunchy texture, but if you're not a fan of figs, you're not going to enjoy this product. These circular, snackular fruit and nut bites are very soft, very moist, and in my opinion, very tasty.

Sonia likes the taste at least as much as I do, and she likes that they're only 70 calories a piece. She points out that even though they're fairly small, they're very dense and satisfying—more than enough to keep your blood sugar up and curb your sweet tooth cravings. Four stars from her.

Again, I'm mystified that these are imported all the way from Turkey. I guess Turkish figs are, like, really good? I wish there were more walnuts, and I wish they were somehow a little cheaper, but all in all, this is a solid healthy snack. Three and a half stars from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Trader Joe's Mashed Cauliflower

It's funny, seeing the most popular posts on our blog here. There are two product types that, without fail, bring you readers out in droves.

In one corner: cookie butter. Enough said. If there's cookie butter in it, and we review it, it's time for clicks galore. We all love it, and even if you say you don't, we all really know you're just in denial.

The other: cauliflower. Whether riced or pizza crusted, it matters not. Never knew that cauliflower had such a rabid fan base.

Two such opposite pulls...cookie butter and cauliflower....why not put them together into one?

Yes, yes, I know, Trader Joe's Mashed Cauliflower really isn't cauliflower cookie butter. There's no such thing as cauliflower cookies anyways....yet. But it's cauliflower in an easily spreadable form, right? There's at least a somewhat plausible similarity, right?

Well, if the mashed cauliflower were to be marketed as cookie butter, I'm not sure if it'd be more "chunky" or "creamy." It's certainly not "crunchy" but there are various sized hunks of cauliflower all in and through out that require a little jaw effort. I can see this presenting a textural challenge for some. It doesn't help that when prepared as directed with the requisite four tablespoons of water, there's a certain drippy wateriness that kinda brings the word "gruel" to mind.

Mmm, gruel.

The cauliflower tastes alright though. There's a slightly buttery inflection, with a fair amount of creaminess and a little garlic too. For something that's supposed to be mimicking the subtle comfy goodness of mashed potatoes, the dish does a relatively good interpretation. That being said, a good dash of black pepper helped out, and you'll want to season as you wish, though it's already so liquidy that gravy doesn't seem a viable option.

But in the end, mashed cauliflower really isn't that hard to make. Heck, we've made our own, and both Sandy and I were more satisfied with results from our own versus the the TJ's stuff out of a bag here. I can't even make much of a "convenience argument" here, I don't think. The bag cost $2.99 and while it won't be unwelcome in our freezer, I'm not convinced it'll be a usual pick up either. Sandy liked it more than I did, noting the texture could have been fluffier, giving it a four. Sorry, love, but that's entirely too high...if only it were cookie butter.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mashed Cauliflower: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons