Search This Blog

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