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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Trader Joe's Mexican Style Roasted Corn with Cotija Cheese

The spiel on the back of the bag here claims this dish is inspired by elote, a style of Mexican corn often sold by street vendors. Every time I've seen it sold on the street, it's been on the cob. I had my first ear of elote some eight years ago when I lived in Southern California. Delicioso. There are definitely some similarities here and maybe a few differences. Let's take a look.

First of all, each kernel of corn is pristine: whole, plump, robust. They're far more perfect than anything I've witnessed on the streets of L.A. It is kinda fun to eat corn straight from the cob, but you can scoop the niblets into your mouth at least twice as fast with this Trader Joe's offering, provided you have a big enough fork and spry enough food-shoveling hand. And the kernels are all in various states of roastedness—some are deeply charred and black, some are yellow and barely scorched at all...but most are somewhere in between, not unlike traditional elote.

With the TJ's Mexican corn, there seems to be a lot more oil and sauce. With traditional elote, you might have butter, chili powder, hot sauce, lime, and a few other seasonings. The overall flavor is very similar, but I prefer the texture of the traditional seasonings to the unusual dissolving pellets of sauce that come with this product. I didn't dislike them by any means, but I'd still prefer to administer my own personalized amount of seasoning from the shaker(s) of my choice.

But by far the most disappointing aspect of this product is the exceptionally tiny packet of cotija cheese. It provides a delightful zip to the dish, but there's simply not enough of it to go around. I immediately found myself zeroing in on the clumps of corn that had the most cotija within them and quickly depleted my dish of the coveted cheese while more than half of my corn remained. The corn isn't terrible by itself. The sauce/seasoning alone makes the dish enjoyable, but the mixture isn't nearly as memorable without the cotija cheese. In my humble opinion, at least twice as much cheese is required here.

Sonia likes the corn and says it reminds her of her childhood, but she insists the sauce isn't spicy or flavorful enough. She agrees that more cheese is needed, as well.

Three and a half stars from this gringo. A meager three from a Mexican-American woman that grew up eating elote on a regular basis.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Trader Joe's Cauliflower Pizza Crust

At this point, I think we all gotta admit it: The world's most versatile vegetable is cauliflower.

Who woulda thunk it?

Sure, some others deserve credit/honorable mention. Like, say, carrots, especially in light of their incredible noodle impersonation. Never saw that coming. Zucchini can do a similar trick, too, of course, and is tasty in all sorts of preparations.

But cauliflower? Maybe because it's otherwise so bland and nondescript, it's too easy to adapt into healthier versions of a lot of stuff. Cauilflower rice is a good thing, as is stuff like kung pao nuggets...

...but now pizza crusts? You can do that? That seals it right there. Please see Trader Joe's Cauliflower Pizza Crust. Took me a minute to comprehend it myself.

Advantages: gluten-free, if that's a concern you have. Less carbs. More fiber. When covered in toppings of your choice, the inherent caulifloweriness of the flavor kinda fades to the background and makes an almost believable bona fide pizza crust.

Disadvantage: See picture. Flippety-floppety, soft and bendy.

We followed the "for a crisper crust" prep method on the box by placing the frozen cauli-corn disc directly on the oven rack. To my amazement, it didn't disintegrate and leave a crumbly Superfund-level disaster zone on the oven floor. The thought of scrubbing out scorched pizza remains definitely crossed my mind, but thankfully it did not come to pass. It browned a little, but remained soft and floppy....if this were a regular crust I'd say soft and super-doiughy, but that's not quite right. It did, though, stay intact.

All that being said, both Sandy and I liked it, as did the kids. Both kids didn't believe us that the crust was made of cauliflower, so this might be a way to sneak some extra veggies in your youngin's. We'll probably pick it up again and see if baking the crust by itself first before adding toppings makes it a little crisper to our liking. Cost $3.99, which sounds like a lot until you consider how involved it would be to make your own. Use for pizza or making flatbreads or breadsticks....all without the bread, of course. More power to the cauliflower.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cauliflower Pizza Crust: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, May 22, 2017

Trader Joe's Boatswain Chocolate Stout Bar

Sonia thought this chocolate bar was from Botswana.

It sounds silly, but if you don't read the type carefully, the two words are only a couple letters off, so it's an easy mistake to make. And I mean, how many of us really use "boatswain" in our daily lexicon? Not I, certainly. Indeed, I had to Google it. It's the dude that maintains the equipment on a ship, apparently. What he has to do with stout and/or chocolate, I'm not sure.

Now, I've had chocolate stouts before. But this here's a stout chocolate. And I'm a stout man. And by that, I mean both that my body type is somewhat thick currently, as well as the fact that I do enjoy a good pint of stout or porter from time to time. It's a double entendre. Get it? Funny? No? No you don't get it, or no you don't find it funny? Whatever.

Anyway, on with the review. This chocolate is dark. 70% cacao, as we've seen quite often before at Trader Joe's. It apparently goes well with stout, coconut, black sea salt, and bacon, among other things. And at least in this case, Sonia thinks it's the perfect choice. I always prefer sweeter chocolates. If people aren't scolding me, telling me my chocolate isn't really chocolate, then I probably don't like it that much. Except in this case, there's a vague stout-ness about the product that keeps it interesting—but overall, it's just too dark for my tastes. Yes, I know that stout tends to be bitter as well, but somehow that works for me. I like my beer bitter and my chocolate sugary. But I'm weird like that.

Even the caramel here is dark and slightly bitter. It seems thinner than most caramels, as far as consistency goes. It's comparable to the caramel in the cara cara caramels in that sense. The thinness makes it even more messy, since it wants to run out of the chocolate bar quickly—almost more syrupy than caramelly.

The bar is made of eight big squares of chocolate. It has a very low profile. I want to say it's less than an eighth of an inch thick, but I don't have a ruler on me, so...don't quote me on that. It's thin enough that most bites will dissolve on your tongue in short order.

Sonia loves the flavor and would buy it again, although she claims she doesn't taste much stout here. Four stars from her. I think the way the subtle stout flavor blends with the chocolate is the most unique and noteworthy aspect of this product, but it's just not really my thing when it comes to desserts. Three stars from me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Trader Joe's Organic Hibiscus Agua Fresca

Mid, moving to late May. You know what time of year it is. This is when it begins to get hot. Maybe not consistently quite yet, but the past couple days out here in the 'burgh - yup, hot. Get the iced coffee for the mornings, for those fortunate enough to have AC in their house, crank it a smidge. For more simple folks like us, open the windows, turn on the fans, circulate some air, hope for the best.

At least it ain't August yet. That's the worst.

Anyways, you gotta get your cool drink game plan down. Do it now, while there's still a chance at some seasonal forgiveness from the heat barrage that's sure to happen.

And may I humbly suggest adding Trader Joe's Organic Hibiscus Agua Fresca to the rotation?

Admittedly, this a bit out of the comfort zone for me. I know that "agua fresca" means something along the lines of "cool water" in Spanish, and that a hibiscus is one of the many boring plants at the flower shows I used to get dragged to as a kid. I may have had a legit "agua fresca" in Mexico a few years back - papaya if I recall correctly. Tasted more like hot dog water. But I figured I had to give this a try.

Glad I did. The "subtly-sweet juice beverage" description is fairly accurate. There's a lot of flavors at play here, but sugar for the sake of sugar is, thankfully, not one of them. There's a cranberry-esque tartness from the hibiscus that carries much of the way through, with a slightly citrusy finish. There's also a definite brewed tea-type element. But it's a light, clean, crisp flavor, that doesn't linger at all. Nor does it sink and feel a little heavy like juice sometimes can. It's good.

I haven't given the hibiscus agua fresca the "just mowed the lawn" test yet, but I think it'd pass with flying colors. Will try this weekend and report back if, somehow, it fails.

Both Sandy and I enjoyed it quite a bit for the coolness, the crispness, the cleanness. Not too tart, not too sweet - instead, it just seems to balance everything just right. This just might this summer's hot new cool drink.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Hibiscus Agua Fresca: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Trader Joe's Carrot Spirals

"Them carrot spirals are good!" remarked an enthusiastic Russ on a recent WG@TJ's team email thread.

The Rodgers wholeheartedly agree.

"But aren't they just carrots?" you ask.

That's a good question, the answer to which is " sea salt."

However—and this is a big however—something magical happens to carrots when they're sliced into noodle-esque spirals. They become more delicious and more fun to eat. I don't understand the science behind it all. But it works. Just trust us.

They seemed to taste sweeter than regular carrots for some reason, and their essence was just a little more intense. The good flavor might also have something to do with the olive oil we used when we cooked them or the 21 Seasoning Salute we used on one batch, or the Francesco Rinaldi Alfredo Sauce we used on the other. What no Trader Giotto's? No. We do occasionally shop at places other than TJ's.

The look and texture of the spirals is somewhat similar to spaghetti squash. When served with the seasoning salute, they seemed slightly more springy and fresh than when served with pasta sauce. The Alfredo made them heavier and a tad soggy.

Sonia preferred the spirals with the seasoning, and I did too at first, although the Alfredo version grew on me by the end of the dish.

35 calories per serving (without Alfredo sauce, obviously) as compared to around 200 in a comparable serving of pasta? Heck yes. Four solid stars a piece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Trader Joe's Campfire S'mores Bar

"Oooh it tastes just like camping!"

Those are the words I would have expected to hear come out of my wife's mouth after a few bites of Trader Joe's Campfire S'mores Bar. Not like we're big campers...I think we've camped twice together ever. One fun night carcamping at a local state park, the other time an overnight at Joshia Tree National Park...where she was sick all night long. Something like too much In 'n Out after a massage plus fear of killer bees roaming the park and disappointment of not seeing a big horned sheep. Like I said, something like that.

That's not what she said, though. Much to my surprise.

It was more along the lines of "Eh, it could be better."


There's not a whole lot necessarily wrong with the TJ's s'mores bar. It's a thick slab of decent milk chocolate, with large crunchy chunks of graham cracker and soft, gooey, pillowy marshmallows mixed in and on top of the base. So there's little doubt that the final taste is at least fairly suggestive of the outdoorsy classic.

Except that "outdoorsy" part, of course. Those marshmallows aren't even toasted, let alone blackened and crispified from being set ablaze. No bugs. This is about as "outdoors" as camping at a Motel 6. There's nothing truly "campfire" about it at all.

Sandy would have preferred more of an inside-out s'mores bar type deal though. I'm positive she'll correct me in the comments below, but I interpreted her construct of choice as being a solid graham cracker with a similarly thick coat of chocolate all the way around, marshmallows embedded here and there. That also sounds tasty and perhaps with better cracker to chocolate ratio.

Overall, it's good, not great, not bad. Not as intense as actual camping...get it?...intense..."in tents"...Imma gonna stop this right here.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Campfire S'mores Bar: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Trader Joe's Chocolate Cara Cara Caramels

When saying the word "caramel," apparently just about any pronunciation will fly. But in the US at least, there's no debate about the pronunciation of "cara cara," as in a cara cara orange. So just for the sake of consistency, let's all go ahead and continue the whole CARE-uh speech pattern into the word CARE-uh-mel. Use the long A sound in all three words, for crying out loud. It's just so cacophonous to say "CARE-uh CARE-uh KAR-uh-mels" and heaven forbid you say "KAR-muhls" when pronouncing the name of this product. But whatever.

I suppose the whole thing is moot point since all of this is written and not spoken and why on earth would I start a debate when there's simply no reason to stir up discord? I guess I'm grumpy because my Caps choked in the second round of the playoffs for the millionth time and I just paid four bucks for ten little candies at TJ's and I'm not even really sure I like them that much.

But I definitely don't hate them either. 

They're unique. Made with cara cara orange juice concentrate, the flavor is surprisingly unlike that of a chocolate orange. These are much saltier. And made with darker chocolate. And caramellier. Which isn't even a word. But gosh dangit, if people are allowed to pronounce "caramel" any old way they please, then I'm going to use "caramelly" as an adjective with "caramellier" as its comparative form and "caramelliest" as the superlative. Dangit. <drops mic>

<long pause>

<awkwardly shuffles back on stage and picks mic back up>

Ahem. I wasn't done talking about these caramels yet.

If you really pay attention, you can taste the orange juice in the caramel, which is a nice touch. Any sweetness in the product is balanced out with the aforementioned saltiness as well as a delicate bitterness. The chocolate is firm and rigid, and the caramel is fairly smooth and runny—almost juicy if that makes sense.

This product really grew on Sonia. At first bite, she wasn't sure if she liked them that much. But after a couple pieces, she ended up appreciating them more and more. She's going to settle on a final score of three and a half out of five. I'll go with three out of five since they're expensive. Plus if I'm going to have candy, I'll head for white chocolate over this stuff any day.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Trader Joe's Organic Jalapeño Limeade

Oh, this would have been perfect last week, with it being Cinco de Mayo and all, right?


There's a couple common misperceptions about Cinco de Mayo. I'll be open to correction here. But I always hear it referred to as "Mexican Independence Day." Uh...nope. Cool idea and all, but seems, much like St Patrick's day, to be American appropriation of foreign culture with a big excuse to drink heavily. No disrespect to the actual meaning behind Cinco de Mayo, of course.

Listen, you don't need excuses to drink margaritas and eat tacos. And something that may go well in said margarita or alongside said taco is Trader Joe's Organic Jalapeño Limeade. 

+1 to TJ's for not labelling it Trader Jose's. 

As for the drink itself, it's interesting. In an interesting way. Admittedly, to my very gringo self, at first there was a "Mexican" vibe to it, mostly because nothing goes better with most Mexican dishes to me than a little spice and a little citrus lime twist. And that's more or less what the limeade tastes like - sweet limeade, without much bite, smoothly transitioning down to a spicy afterburn courtesy of the powdered jalapeños. The heat factor seems to waver a bit from sip to sip - some seem relatively mild, others with a deeper burn - but to my taste, never delved into unpleasant territory. Your mileage may vary, of course. 

That's kinda the crux - the jalapeño. It will make or break the drink for you. To me, it kinda limits the appeal somewhat. When I try to discern how refreshing a drink may be, I think if I'd want to drink a beverage after doing a few hours of yard work on a hot day. With that spice, I think this would score rather low...but I'm willing to be wrong. 

As a plus, that burn mixes nearly seamlessly with a little booze poured in. So there's that. 

At this point, Sandy and I are both more or less indifferent. There's apparently a Minute Maid jalapeño lemonade that she prefers. Good chance I'll be drinking most of this, slowly but surely. I'm okay with that, but it'll last a while. Nothing much else to say, muchachos. Solid threes from us both. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Jalapeño Limeade: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Monday, May 8, 2017

Trader Joe's Birthday Cake Bar

White chocolate lovers, rejoice! All others, go about your business as usual.

All three of us in the world that appreciate white chocolate—no, wait...we did get a comment recently from a gal who loves white chocolate, so there must be at least four of us—should totally try this bar. It's great quality white chocolate, very sweet and creamy. What else is going on here? Not a whole lot. But simple is good. Let's take a look.

In addition to delectable white chocolate (I'm not a white chocolate supremacist, it's just my personal preference) there are colorful sprinkles and cookie crumbs which give the bar a fun appearance and crunchy texture, although the cookie crumbs are especially hard to detect visually since they're white on white. But make no mistake, they are there. And not only do they add a crispity-crunchitiness, they add a subtle amount of birthday cake flavor, too. 

The sprinkles just add that magical unicorn rainbow happiness that tends to make grown men smile and giggle. No? That's not a thing? I meant a magical unicorn rainbow happiness that grown men tend to be completely indifferent to. Ahem. <Clears throat and continues narration a full octave lower than before.>

There's no kale in here. No bacon. Nothing super weird, although TJ's—or TJ's third party supplier, as the case may very well be—did find a way to work in some interesting ingredients like beet juice and turmeric for color in the sprinkles (or "jimmies" if you prefer) and rice and potato flours in the crumbs. I guess the overall effect is vaguely birthday cake-ish, but mostly, it's just white chocolate.

The bar comes in six squares, perfect for breaking off a piece and saving the rest for later, although the product isn't particularly large to begin with. I could have easily polished off the whole thing by myself in one sitting. I did share with Sonia, however, even though she wasn't as impressed as I was. She doesn't like white people that much—er, I mean white chocolate that much at all. She prefers dark and occasionally milk chocolate like most of you silly humans.

I would have been tempted to push this product into at least the "really darn good" category just by virtue of it being made of white chocolate, but in light of its relatively small size and price tag of $1.99, it's not the best candy value in the store. I still give it four stars and an enthusiastic thumbs up, but my take on it will be offset by my wife (and 99.999% of humanity) with her lackluster three star rating and a thumb not down but sorta in the middle somewhere.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Trader Joe's Pepperoni Pizza Mac & Cheese Bowl

Let's have some fun here and talk guilty pleasures.

C'mon, what's yours? I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours...

Okay, fine, me first. Let's food breakfast sandwiches. "If I Could Turn Back Time." Jackie Chan movies. Meatloaf. No, not the dinner classic, nothing to be guilty about that. The singer. No one can deliver such hokey lyrics with such powerful conviction as he. Sandy chimes in with Babysitter Club books.

I bring this up in reference to Trader Joe's Pepperoni Pizza Mac & Cheese Bowl, because, well, look at it. Looks ridiculous. Perhaps borderline genius. But really, whose name would you expect to be on such a concoction, Trader Joe's or Guy Fieri's?

Thought so. Note: Guy Fieri is decidedly not a guilty pleasure.

Anyways, take another look, this time at the product picture. Looks like the cheese and pepperoni slithered off the crust of an average run of the mill pizza and on top of a pile of mac and cheese. And that's really more or less how it tastes. There's some faint cheese flavor to the mac and cheese, and I'm sure it's actually pretty decent stuff underneath. But the pizza portion kinda overwhelms everything, with the greasy marinaraesque mozzarella making up the bulk of the flavor. Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that. The pepperoni is pretty average and nondescript, a little wimpy in my opinion. I would have loved some thicker chunks over the skinny slices.

Mash up a freezer pizza with a box of Kraft, and that's more or less what the outcome is. That might be a slight under-evaluation, but not by much.

All that being said, I really enjoyed this more than I should have. Two classics mixed into one. There's so much comfort food vibe going on, and that's even from nuking it - baking it would have been even better, almost undoubtedly so. Sandy and I could both eat the whole tray ourselves, it's a good thing we shared.

In all, for two all time greats in one go, it's not quite Bowie-Mercury, but certainly not Bowie-Jagger either. It's a guilty pleasure, through and through, and every once in a while, is that such a bad thing? Nah. Between the two of us, Sandy and I appreciate it enough to give it a score a tad bit higher than it probably deserves. Don't judge too harshly, and dig in.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Pepperoni Pizza Mac & Cheese Bowl: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Trader Giotto's Misto Alla Griglia

A couple things about this product mystify me. The first is the defrosting instructions. They say to defrost from frozen at room temperature for two hours, and then to serve. I'm not sure if we just keep our home a little on the chilly side, but after two hours, these vegetables were still very much on the cold side of room temperature. Even at the two and a half hour mark, they still wanted to crunch a little from the ice crystals left within them. 

Another thing I don't get is that they recommend serving these at room temperature in the first place, rather than hot. After having tried them both ways, I still greatly prefer them heated—while Sonia preferred them as the instructions specified.

Sonia thought maybe that heating them in the microwave would be detrimental to their texture—that they might get more leathery or chewy in the microwave. And while I wasn't a fan of this product's texture in either case, I must admit the veggies, most notably the eggplant and zucchini, were slightly less chewy when not heated in the microwave. But something about eating them hot, particularly when served with pasta, made them just barely palatable. My gag reflex wanted to kick in when attempting to consume them lukewarm or cold.

The best thing about this product was the marinade of vinegar, oil, and spice, which gave the mixture a nice savory flavor and enhanced the natural flavors of the grilled vegetables. When eaten with pasta, the herby tang of the misto alla griglia spread out beyond the vegetables and served as a nice subtle dressing for our linguini noodles as well. No other sauce was needed—although we did throw in a bit of the 21 Seasoning Salute.

But still, I preferred each bite to contain very small bites of the veggies and plenty of pasta, because otherwise I found the texture unbearable.

There's always the possibility that we got a bad bag and that your eggplant and zucchini will simply melt in your mouth. We've already seen eggplant from Trader Joe's go both ways. Click here for a big eggplant win, or here for a big eggplant fail. At $3.99 for the bag, Sonia thinks it might be just as cost effective to buy and grill your own vegetables. Of course, it would be a bit more work, but grilling your own eggplant, zucchini, and peppers might be more fun than thawing this nonsense for a full day in your fridge or half a day on your counter and still not knowing if it's the right temperature. I'm pretty sure this won't be a repeat buy for us.

Three stars from Sonia. Two and a half from me.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Trader Joe's Chocolate Sunflower Seed Drops

"Better than peanut M&M's," says Sonia.

I won't argue with that assessment.

The sunflower seeds provide a decidedly nutty flavor, and there's just the right amount of, of course, a colorful candy shell on each drop. They're crunchy, addictive, and fun to play with. Makes you wonder why none of the big mainstream candy companies have offered chocolate-covered sunflower seeds yet...

We were inspired to make another short video. Please enjoy our crude attempt at stop motion animation.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Trader Joe's Shaved Cheese Blend

Cheese is an absolute currency in our household. It's an easy bribe for the kiddos, and if I give them even the teensiest nibble of cheese to one of them, without them asking, their excitement rivals what mine would be if you handed me a crisp $100 bill. Pretty please with a piece of cheese....yes, that's a thing here. Just another part of the fun of having a couple kids in the 4-and-under crowd.

But man...I love cheese too. Even when I was doing hardcore paleo a few years back, it wasn't chocolate or bread or anything else I really missed. It was cheese. Good cheese of course. Don't insult me with a block of Velveeta.

Trader Joe's Shaved Cheese Blend makes the cut as good cheese, in both mine and my kiddos' eyes. It's a simple yet sophisticated mix of toscano, "unexpected" cheddar, and Parmesan. Unexpected cheddar? If the tub tells me it's in there, I kinda expect it to be....unexpected cheddar is something that as far as I can tell exists solely in the world of TJ's and is a blend of cheddar and Parmesan. So think of the whole shebang as toscano, cheddar, and a double shot of Parm.

It's sweet. It's nutty. It's sharp and dry with a small touch of creamy. There's not an overabundance of saltiness or anything, and is decidedly not all that mild. But in all, it's a very smooth, even flavor, with the small crumbles being just as scrumptious as the big flakes. It melts pretty decently as well, though it seems perhaps a touch of flavor gets lost in that process. Regardless, deeeelish.

Most mornings, I'll toss some of the shaved cheese in some eggs with kale for a filling get-up-and-goer. I'll also admit to having a few pinches here and there, and to giving my two year a spoon to eat the last few crumbs straight. She was in heaven. Aside from that, I can't imagine the blend not working with almost anything. Salads. Pasta. Mixed into homemade bread and melted on top. Mac and cheese. Chicken dishes. Mixed into burgers. All that awesome stuff. Yes.

Sandy more shrugs about it, preferring the world of feta a bit more for all those aforementioned uses. No problem here, just her preference, and it pays off as it means more for me. As long as I can pry it away from the kids. It's a major winner, and at $2.99 for a 5 ounce tub, a pretty decent value.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Shaved Cheese Blend: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, April 24, 2017

Trader Joe's Vietnamese Coffee Caramels

So at this point, you must think I'm pretty daft to keep reviewing coffee items. Sure. Well, I'm not denying the fact that I'm a fool, but there's a little bit more to it than that, since I'm quite aware that most of you, like us, are sick of coffee-flavored things at Trader Joe's and have already made up your minds about most of these coffee products anyway. 

But as some of you may know, as of late, Sonia and I have been nomadic. And as we pass by Trader Joe's locations, we just buy up as many hot new items as we can at the time and try to make them last for a few weeks. During our last TJ's run, the vast majority of new products we saw were coffee-flavored. But I must point out at this juncture that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I believe (don't quote me on this) that this will be our last coffee item review for a while. So don't touch that dial, coffee-haters.

And now that we've gotten that silly disclaimer out of the way, we can go ahead and review these Vietnamese caramels. What makes them Vietnamese, I'm still not quite sure. And there's no uplifting spiel on the side of the tub to enlighten us any further, I'm afraid. I did a little Googling into the matter, as I'm known to do from time to time, and I did find out something about "nuoc mao," which is apparently a nearly-burnt caramel sugar sauce—a cornerstone of Vietnamese cooking. But as far as I can tell, there's nothing nuoc mao-ish about these candies. 

However, the image on the front of TJ's tub did provide a clue about the Vietnamese inspiration for these candies. Apparently, it's a Vietnamese coffee press, used in making Vietnamese iced coffee, which strikes me as being akin to one of my favorites: Thai iced tea. But anyway, I think Vietnamese iced coffee is what they were going for here.

It's a sugary, milky coffee flavor that's well-balanced and works perfectly as an after dinner sweet treat. It leaves a faint coffee aftertaste in the mouth. The texture is very similar to saltwater taffy—not quite as "stretchy," but just as soft and pliable. Both these caramels and saltwater taffy contain sugar, water, butter, and salt, so even the flavor is similar. There's no ground coffee here, which is good. Real coffee might have ruined this product's smoothness. We do have "natural coffee flavor," though, which seems to work just as well.

Neither coffee nor caramels are really my thing, but I found this product to be a pleasant surprise. So did Sonia. Three and a half stars from me. Four from her.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Trader Joe's Matcha White Chocolate Bar

The topic of "punishment meals" have been brought up before on this blog. The short version: days that us kids were being brats, my mom would make us a dinner we'd be sure to hate just to get back at us. usually it was tuna fish casserole. Blecccccccch.

Well, a punishment meal can have a punishment dessert, right?

Unfortunately, that pretty much exactly sums up how both Sandy and I feel about Trader Joe's Matcha White Chocolate Bar with Matcha Green Tea Filling. Sounded intriguing enough to plunk down $1.99. I really wish we hadn't.

First off, look at our product shot inside the wrapper. There's so much wrong with that picture. First off, it looks like that bar got runover by a dump truck. I get that shipping and transit is what it is, and stuff happens, but seriously? That's a bit much. Then the colors...ugh. Maybe I'm jsut much too basic, but chocolate is not supposed to be that color. It doesn't even look appetizing. Then there's that filling, oozing out everywhere, looking like little puddles of melted green Army guys. Appeal factor definitely went down a few notches there.

A lot of that can be forgiven if tasted No. No. Look, kudos for effort, I guess, but swing a miss here. The chocolate portion is actually decent enough, decidedly on the sweeter side, with a hint or two of green tea mixed in. Or maybe that's its that greenness playing tricks on me. Regardless, it's not the problem. It's the filling. Very strong green tea flavor. Very herbaceous. You could have told me it was spinach jelly and I would have believed you. And it alternately doesn't jive that well with the rest of the chocolate casing while also in conjunction with that chocolate tasting like way too much green tea.

Dark chocolate with the green tea filling might have worked. Green tea white chocolate with a regular chocolate filling would have worked. Or heck, even like a berry filling of some type with that green cocoa concoction. But as is? Too much...and I like green tea. So does Sandy.

Check here for the nutritional stats and ingredients...we neglected to get a pic before trashing the box. "Good," Sandy said. "It's awful and no one should eat it anyways." She's going with a 1 for the inspiration, but, man, that execution...ugh. I gave it a second try right before writing it and really could not think of anything all that positive to say. Candy so bad it gets thrown out in my house? Must be pretty awful.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Matcha White Chocolate Bar: 2 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Trader Joe's Vienna Coffee Meringues

These things are cavities just waiting to happen. 

There's something chalky about the texture that makes biting into these meringues like the dental equivalent of nails on a chalkboard for me. Due to their brittleness, many of the cookies were broken before we even opened the tub. They generally disintegrate into a chunky tan powder upon first bite, and they leave behind a tacky residue on fingers and lips. 

The parts of the meringues that do make it into your mouth are somewhat crunchy, but since they consist of mostly sugar and egg whites, they have a melt-in-your-mouth quality that's fairly pleasant. Their flavor is that of a sugar-sweetened sweetness with a bit more candied sugary sugar on top. There's a hint of coffee in there somewhere, too. And normally, I think we'd want the coffee flavor to come through a tad more, except that we're a bit coffee'd out right now.

We're well aware of Trader Joe's Vanilla Meringue Cookies, the predecessor to this coffee variety—one product that's been in that "After Heating Up These Dinners You'll Need To Gorge Yourself On Lots Of Candy And Cookies" aisle for years, and yet somehow has eluded our sights on this blog. A reader mentioned that these are very much like those, except for the faint coffee flavor, of course.

Sonia appreciates their visual appeal more than their flavor or texture. She says, "They're pretty, but they're not very tasty." She also likes the label on the packaging. How very graphic designery of her.

For that reason, they would be nice for a party or something like that where a bunch of people would just have one or two and then move along to graze on another snack. I can't see these being gobbled down by the dozen by very many people, but usually when I make claims like that, I turn out to be wrong. So who knows? These weren't Sonia's favorite, and they're definitely not mine, but if you want to sing their praises in the comments below, be our guest.

Two stars from me. Two and a half from Sonia.

Bottom line: 4.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Trader Joe's Southwestern Chopped Salad

It wasn't until sitting down right now to type this review that I realized that the little "look in window" on the salad bag was shaped like a cowboy boot.

Cowboys. Eating salad. Mmmmkay. Not exactly what comes to mind.

But I guess if cowboys can eat chunky salsa and even chunkier chocolate bars, well, there may be room for salad. After all, they may have a soft spot for veggie burgers, of all things.

On to the salad. It's a darn good one. With one major caveat: You gotta like cilantro - a lot. Because that's really what every single bite tasted like - sharp, biting cilantro, accentuated even a bit further by green onion. I happen to enjoy cilantro to a moderate degree, and I was beginning to get close to a breaking point. Really, a fleshy, sweet addition - think grape tomato or even roasted corn - would have helped keep it all in check.

But everything else is pretty spot on. Good, crisp greens. Mild cotija cheese. The little baggie of mix-in tortilla strips and pumpkin seeds (I hate the word pepitas, call them what they are) added good texture and crunch with a little saltiness in there. And of course, the dressing. I'm not a huge salad dressing guy, Sandy's not all that into avocados, but we both loved it. There's a slight heat to it, so it's a bit like a soupier medium guacamole, which works really well with the rest of the salad components.

If only so much of the sald weren't drowned out by those ubiquitous cilantro sprigs.

We ate our salad with some grilled chicken strips, which made a pretty fulfilling meal. Some beef or grilled steak strips would another great addition, or even some tofu or black beans for a little protein. Would also recommend tomatoes and/or corn depending on your tastes. So it's not quite a "complete salad" kit in my estimation, but it'll get you most of the way there with a little room for customization to boot. Not bad for $3.99.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Southwestern Chopped Salad: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, April 14, 2017

Trader Joe's Coffee Toffee Shortbread Cookies

There's something very Girl Scout-esque about these cookies. At least part of it is the box and packaging—a long rectangular cuboid with a cellophane sleeve and plastic carton thing. And although I've never tried them, I know the Girl Scouts offered a toffee shortbread cookie not long ago called "Toffee-tastic." By some miracles of science and Girl Scout magic, those were rice-based and gluten free. Here's one entertaining look at them in case you're eager to learn more like I was.

This Trader Joe's selection is wheat-based, glutenful, chocolatey, and vaguely coffee-ish. If I use my imagination, I can detect some toffee candy sweetness, too. But mostly, I'd say it's a dark chocolate and shortbread kind of vibe here.

They're crispy and crumbly, and the chocolate coating and drizzle acts as a waxy covering to these otherwise grainy morsels. The texture isn't entirely unpleasant, but the chocolate coating insulates these cookies a little too well from the sometimes-welcome wetness that stems from a brief dip in your hot beverage of choice. In other words, these don't make great dunkables in my opinion, because they're simply too "weather-proof," for lack of a better term.

The flavor isn't bad, but it's not particularly memorable, either—especially after a month or so of gorging myself on boatloads of coffee and mocha flavored products for the sake of this daring TJ's blog. I should probably break up this java jones nonsense with bread that isn't coffee-flavored once in a while.

But at any rate, I'm not alone. Sonia was underwhelmed as well. She doesn't even think the shortbread is very tasty. We're not hatin'. We're just not going to buy these cookies again, because there's nothing that we really want to hang on to here. If they had slurped up our hot coffee the way those Joe-Joe's did, these cookies might have been well-worth their $2.99 price tag—which really isn't unreasonable if these are your thing. We're just gonna bet that for most people...this isn't gonna be your least not in any meaningful way.

Three stars a piece.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Trader Joe's California Style Sprouted Wheat Bread

Happy Pesach!

Yes, yes...there is a certain irony to starting a review about bread, presumably leavened, with Passover greetings. I mean no disrespect. Originally, I had in mind to review chocolate coconut macaroons until at the last minute I realized I had already reviewed them two years ago. Those are Kosher for Passover, and having been more exposed to Jewish tradition and cuisine over the past two years through my daughters' preschool, I have a little more respect for them...not like they could beat homemade from Bubbi or Zaida but they're better than I gave them credit for previously.

That and Nathan snagged the other review item I had in mind this week already, so by default, here's Trader Joe's California Style Sprouted Wheat Bread.

At least I can make a tenuous tie to JudeoChristian sensibilities with this loaf of bread by saying it's similar to Food for Life's Ezekiel 4:9 bread. At least, that's like, the common healthy bread standard, right? Except for the fact it tastes like a cross between bird suet and 40 grit sandpaper, but man oh man, is it healthy.

TJ's take is better. Much better, in my opinion. It's softer, for one, with a still grainy texture not unlike most multigrain breads. Which is pretty awesome, for everything that got stuck in there: wheat, barley, millet, oats, soybeans, lentils, corn. I mean, that sounds like a mouthful, and it is, but it's really a pleasant texture, especially when toasted with a little butter melted on it. If you're used to just plain old white bread, it might be a rough adjustment, but if that's your thing, you'd never pick this up anyways. There's a slight fibery chewiness, with a little crispiness mixed in from presumably the millet bits. It's like it actually has to be chewed a bit, which is fantastic to me. I'm a white bread convert from my youth.

As for taste, I have no real complaints either. It's wheaty and grainy with a lot of nutty and earthy in there too. Between that and the aforementioned mouthfeel, there's nothing for me to really bristle at.

Couple extra benefits: It's filling. Quite filling. A piece or two of the sprouted wheat bread toasted and buttered, with a couple eggs with kale, and man, I'm stuffed til lunch. And, well, my digestive system seems happier too. I'll leave it at that.

Sandy has no real complaints either, and in fact I'm pretty sure this will become a regular staple in our house, especially at it's fairly reasonable price point of maybe $4. That Ezekiel bread? More pricey. We're both huge fans, with no real suggestions for improvement, and hope this is one deal you won't pass over.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's California Style Sprouted White Bread: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, April 10, 2017

Trader Joe's Mocha Crunch Cremes

Leading up to these mocha-fied treats, six out of our last seven posts contained the word "coffee." I'm not sure if the Trader Joe's packaging people just got tired of typing the word "coffee" (I think all of us at WG@TJ's have), but they certainly could have slipped it into the title of this product if they had wanted to since there are actual ground coffee beans within each candy—in fact, most, if not all, of these coffee-laden commodities we've been looking at recently have contained actual ground coffee beans. 

Another fun fact: eleven of our last thirteen posts have been coffee or mocha-themed. So we're getting to be old pros at analyzing, assessing, and taste-testing coffee-infused snacks and desserts. I can bust out a three or four paragraph review after just a single bite of a Trader Joe's coffee product, because A) the caffeine makes my brain speedier, and B) I'm good at pulling useless fun facts out of my backside to use as filler. (See: this post up to this point).

But without further ado, I promise to start talking about these crunch cremes. Ready? Here we go. To the melody of the Tiny Toon Adventures theme:

They're crunchy, they're creamy, they're just a little dreamy.
They're not like sashimi, but they're totally gourmet.

That's all I got. If you want a complete review that's written as song lyrics or poetry, we've got a few of those. Try the Five Cheese FrustaPanettone Classico, or Nduja Spread. Word.

As for this review, you'll have to settle for my substandard prose.

The crunch cremes are appropriately both crunchy and creamy, with an emphasis on the cream side of the equation. The crunch is understated, for sure. It comes from the coffee beans which are most definitely already ground. There are no actual beans or even partial beans—just tiny granules of the aforementioned ground up substance. Flavor-wise, they're a pleasant mix of chocolate and coffee, with hints of caramel, vanilla, and coconut. The whole thing melts in the mouth easily, leaving just a few bits of ground coffee on the tongue. The texture is complex and hard to describe, flaunting everything from silkiness to grittiness, yet still somehow providing a cohesive snacking experience.

Sonia wishes there were more coffee in them. She thinks they taste too much like plain chocolate. I'm fine with the amount of coffee here, but maybe that's because I don't like coffee as much as she does. Three and a half stars from her. Four from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.