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Friday, August 18, 2017

Trader Joe's Seed & Bean Medley

Seeds and beans...beans and seeds...I love me some beans and seeeeeeeeds.....

No? Don't know that tune? Good, means you didn't hear it bouncing around in my head.

Thank you for not being in my head. It's a scary enough place without you there, too.

Actually, it's just my lame attempt at making a tune for Trader Joe's Seed & Bean Medley. Other products lend themselves to song parody much more easily. There's not much to really sing about here.

And not that much to really say, either. These kinda snacks must have their own little niche market, with a devoted following, because it seems like every couple months some sort of new dried veggie-type concoction comes up and on shelves and then just as suddenly disappear. Some are hits, others....not.

This one falls somewhere in the middle. Really, the highlight here is neither the seeds nor the's the corn. Those big, crunchy kernels are reminiscent of other snacks, and are pretty popcornesque sans any trace of fluffiness. I like them, and the flavor of them blend nicely in with the assorted pepitas and fava beans and other stuff that seem more or less  indistinguishable if you're not looking at them.

The major drawback? Again, neither bean nor seed...but the peas. Silly legumes. Really, they're the morsels that stick out the most - there's an almost earthy sweetness to them that kinda stands out unevenly from the rest of the crowd. Not awful...but not exactly terrific either. I jusr didn't like them.

The oily crunchy saltiness is the overarching flavor, as would be expected. But a little something else to them would have been appreciated - maybe a little ranch or something a little spicy - but na, just salt. And why isn't this labelled as gluten-free? Cross-contamination concerns that bad at the factory? Jeez.

Our fam was split on the snack bag o' beans and peas. Sandy and our oldest daughter thoroughly enjoyed the mix, while our youngest and I kinda took a bite or two before dismissing it. Meh. Not my thing, but could be yours. And at only like $2 or $3 for the bag, it can be...for practically a song.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Seed & Bean Medley: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Trader Joe's Organic Purple Carrot Juice

I'm aware purple carrots are a thing. I've seen them, heard about them, and have even eaten them cooked on one occasion. But somehow, my fleeting experience with them didn't quite prepare me for the taste of this beverage.

If you're someone who's a huge health nut, eats organic, and is quite familiar with purple carrots and their flavor, I'm sure this juice will be far less disappointing for you than it was for me. For a foodie-hack reviewing his way through Trader Joe's offerings—everything from organic quinoa to cookie butter cheesecake, I must say, this product was on the more unpleasant end of the spectrum. If I'm going to pay four bucks for one liter of juice, it's nice to know that it's good for me, but I was also hoping I could stomach the taste a little better, too.

Both Sonia and I immediately noted the similarity to beet juice. No, not beetlejuice. Beet juice—which thanks (or maybe no thanks) to Trader Joe's, we're familiar with as well. Must be the purpleness that makes it taste like beets. Am I right?

It also does taste vaguely like traditional carrots, but not quite as much as I expected it to. The splash of lemon is barely detectable. A bit more of that tartness might have helped, but I doubt it would have done much to influence the overall essence of the drink.

The WG@TJ's team has encountered carrot juice in the past. Even purple carrot juice once before. But in each of those previous cases, the beverage was heavily sexed up with more palatable juices like grape, apple, and/or orange. I think that's what we need here. I'm happy this beverage is organic and healthy and all, but the drinkability factor needs a little help.

Sonia's been trying to do that thing where you drink like two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar a few times a day for weight loss and heath, and she thinks this product is barely more drinkable than raw vinegar. However, she wants to like it and assumes that the taste will grow on her. It won't. I know her. But she gives it a generous three stars anyway.

I kinda want to like it, too. But I don't. I'll give it two stars since it's organic and "good-for-me." 

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Trader Joe's Cornbread Crisps

Somebody please explain the appeal of hot soup in the summer time to me.

In the fall when the leaves are turning and there's that cool crispness in the air? On a blustery cold wintry day? Even in the springtime, when it's not all that warm yet? Sure, soup to you on all those kinda days? But summer? Precisely what makes soup great on all those other kinda days is what makes soup awful for the summer - that warm, full, salty, brothy feeling in your stomach. That's the last thing I want when it's pushing the 90s for both degrees and humidity.

Yet I see people eat soup all summer long. Even when complaining how hot it is outside. Even when living in a 100 year old brick house with no AC. I don't get it.

Yet...I've never wanted to make a big ol' crock pot of chili or potato or chicken noodle soup in August like I do right now. All thanks to Trader Joe's Cornbread Crisps.

These better be around come autumn, or me and Big Joe will have some words. Serious words. These chips are all the classic comfort taste of high quality cornbread in a highly snackable form. If you have bad impulse control, you may want to avoid - there's some serious binge-eating potential here. Think cornbread, with it subtly earthy sweetness and salty, greasy vibe, mixed with a crumbly Wheat Thin, and that's about what we have here - but better. Crispy, crunchy, and light, but with every bit of cornbread essence, even down to the grittiness of cornmeal in the last bite or two. Delectable, delicious, delightful....devine even? Not that far of a stretch. At first it felt odd to make the Wheat thin comparison, but then I saw wheat flour was the first ingredient - apologies to the gluten-free crowd - so it's not too far off base.

These crisps are begging for soup to be crumbled atop. They'd be perfect alongside my chili. Sure, there's some other, much more summer friendly applications possible, like tossing in with a salad, eating straight, serving with some cheese, or even smushing some up to use as a pie crust. My only disappointment is that the crackers didn't match quite as well with either my family's new favorite fruit jam or my favorite store bought salsa as I would have hoped.

Definitely try them out, and maybe some stock up on some for when it's crockpot meal weather. Can't say there's much wrong. Double fours from the Mrs and me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cornbread Crisps: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, August 11, 2017

Trader Joe's Mango & Sticky Rice Spring Rolls

To be fair, I've only ever had sticky rice one other time, and even that instance was just snagging it off a friend's plate at the end of a Thai meal we had in Los Angeles, circa ten years ago. After doing a little Google research, I stumbled upon this informative article that not only refreshed my memory about the fun Asian dessert, but also illuminated much about its history, origins, and typical methods of preparation. Among other things, I learned that sticky rice is also known as "glutinous rice," and despite the sound of the name, it does not contain gluten. This product does contain gluten, however, since there's a wheat-based covering on the spring roll. 

Not surprisingly, there's nothing about sticky rice spring rolls in that article, nor have I ever heard of such a thing before.

But as Trader Joe's is well aware, just because something doesn't exist, doesn't mean it shouldn't exist.

Enter: Trader Joe's Mango & Sticky Rice Spring Rolls. The photo on the box makes it look like the filling is mostly a mango-based jam-like substance. The filling is mostly sticky rice, but there's plenty of actual mango in there, too. And the mango gets slightly gelatinous, surrounded by all that yummy stickiness, but not to the point the cover art would have you believe.

And that's just fine by me. There's plenty of authentic mango flavor as it is. The sticky rice is nice and sweet, and the "wrapper" on the spring roll gets warm and crispy when heated on a skillet with oil.

While the spring roll version of sticky rice isn't necessarily traditional, it apparently is traditional to serve the sticky rice covered with coconut milk and mango, both of which are present here. It's a great combination, and I look forward to having it in its more traditional form next time I find myself at a decent Thai restaurant—or Laotian restaurant, should I be so fortunate.

This dessert (or appetizer, as the case may be) is dense, heavy, and filling. The rolls are surprisingly structurally-sound, as they never completely disintegrated as I ate them with my hands. Even the mango pieces stayed right where they were supposed to, in the middle of the rolls.

$2.99 for five rolls—more than enough dessert for two. I'd definitely consider purchasing this one again. It's got a great, unique flavor, quality ingredients, and it's easy enough to prepare. Double fours here.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Trader Joe's Organic Kosher Hot & Spicy Dill Pickle Chips

Alrighty, confession time: it had been weeks, perhaps even months, since I'd last stepped foot inside a Trader Joe's before I went there a few days ago. Kinda surprising, but kinda how we roll, too. My lovely wife, in all her semi-stay at home mama madness, already goes to TJ's probably three or four days a week and makes a regular route to scout out anything new or exciting. I (and you, the readers) reap the spoils.

Anyways, she and the kiddos left town for a few days to visit my folks, leaving me here by myself and in need of sustenance and supplies. Off to TJ's for me! Off to wander and frolic along the aisles once more, foodstuffs untasted, yearning to be brought home with me in my week of bachelor mayhem....

Nothing. Nothing new, exciting, interesting, or untried. I looked hard, everywhere. Maybe I'm off my game. Or maybe TJ's is in that weird "prepare ye the way of pumpkin spice" mode they seem to do every August and so there's not much new til then.

While I briefly considered picking up a big hunk of some cheese so my Week of Russ could mirror the Summer of George, I settled on a jar of Trader Joe's Organic Kosher Hot & Spicy Dill Pickle Chips. Woohoo. See, dear, I told you I was behaving myself.

I like 'em, quite a bit. There's few simple little simpler pleasures than a good pickle sometimes. Kosher dills that are closer to cucumber than overly pickled ones are the best IMHO, and that's the case here. Fresh, firm, fleshy, with a little crunch - yum. The heat level is pleasantly a little spicier than anticipated - imagine a fairly feisty banana pepper, and that approximates the heat level emanating from pretty much every chip. Of course, they are decidedly more pickle-y and vinegar-y than a pepper, but it's close enough. The heat blends well with the garlic and dill to make a smooth, even, pleasant taste.

Anything that you'd like pickle chips on, these would work. Burgers, sandwiches, straight from the jar like I did for dinner last night...hey, don't judge, not my fault there was leftover pizza at work and I needed something to go with my Mountain Dew...bachelorhood for the win. And for only a couple bucks for the jar, it's a quality pickle chip too. Good times. I have nothing overtly critical to say about them one way or another - I'm not in love with them, per se, but I certainly recognize their goodness and tastiness. Just me, so I'm doubling my score.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Kosher Hot & Spicy Dill Pickle Chips: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Trader Joe's Organic Strawberry Lime Agua Fresca

Ah, with all this rain we've been getting here on the east coast, we haven't had quite as much need for refreshing beverages as of late, but here and there we still have hot days, and lawns still need mowed, and shrubbery that's been left to grow wild, untrimmed, and unchecked by unruly tenants still needs clipped, and houses with no air conditioning and cat urine-soaked carpets still need cleaning on the needless to say, we still work up significant cravings for liquid refreshment on those days.

Sonia's very happy we reached for this flavor of agua fresca to quench our thirsts. I'm still not blown away, but this is my personal favorite flavor so far.

In case you missed either of them, our crack team of Trader Joe's product-reviewing extraordinaires has already reviewed the Hibiscus variety as well as the Pineapple Mango Mint flavor. As for this Strawberry Lime edition, it seems to me one could just take a sweeter beverage—say, the now-defunct Trader Joe's Pomegranate Limeade or Trader Joe's Organic Strawberry Lemonade and simply dilute them with one part water for every one part juice and come up with a very similar effect...or maybe just leave a glass of one of those beverages out in the rain for an hour or two. 

You could come back, and be like, "Oh look! God has miraculously multiplied my delicious fruit juice and given me twice as much!" And then if a friend pointed out the obvious fact that it was the rain and not necessarily a miracle, you could act all injured that your friend was insulting your faith and then point to the additional miracle that not only did your beverage grow in quantity, but it changed from a sticky, sugary-sweet diabetes trap guessed it: agua fresca!

Sonia likes the lightness of the flavor but does add: "It's not like Mexicans don't like sugar." That's her way of admitting that the flavor could be a little more intense and sweet. Nevertheless, she gives it four and a half stars, an impressive score indeed. In light of her very high score, I'll match this product with the last agua fresca we looked at and throw out three stars.

Finally, here's a short video "review" that plays more like a spec spot for Trader Joe's. Wanna hire us for some TV or internet ads, Big Joe?


Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Trader Joe's Chicken & Mushroom Pelmeni

Let's see...Ravioli. Pot stickers. Won tons. Gyoza. Dumplings. Pierogi. Samosas. Bao. Tamales. And the undoubtedly all-American addition, the Totino's Pizza Roll.

Yes, there are all sorts of stuffed dough pocket-type constructions from all over the world. Obviously that's a short top-of-the head list. There's some differences, of course, from dough to stuffing material to size and prep methods, but it's a very common concept. Mostly because it's tasty. But until now, I've never heard of the Russian contribution to this realm, pelmeni.

Well, here's Trader Joe's Chicken & Mushroom Pelmeni on my dinner plate. All these little bite sized little dumpling deals all up in my bowl. Please God, no borscht in here....not that I have any idea what borscht really is.

Whew. No borscht! We're already ahead here!

As for everything else, it's a tasty enough bite. The dough is thin and kinda eggy but good in a comforty, nondescript way. As for the middle filling, the chicken and mushroom and whatever else gets rolled up up in some sort of soft meatball-type morsel that, strangely, doesn't taste all that much like either chicken or mushrooms. It's just kinda there. And it tastes good, again with a comfort type-vibe, but I wouldn't be able to tell you what it was. It's kinda salt and mild seasonings.

That's kinda the issue, I think. Again, nothing all that wrong with the pelmeni, but in a crowded field with so many similar products (most of them more familiar to the presumed typical consumer palate), there's nothing settting these apart. I wouldn't mind eating them again, and I'm not upset we still have a bag and a half of them in our freezer. But I'd never make a big fuss about getting them again, either.I couldn't tell you what the difference between these a regular bag of potstickers except maybe the pelmeni are more square.

Sandy and I both liked them for a midday lunch date at my work place. Our kids stuck to their cheese pierogi, because God forbid they ate something out of the usual. Then again, I can't say we really did, either. Eh well.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chicken & Mushroom Pelmeni: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Trader Joe's Pollo Asado Burrito

As much as I love the English language and champion its practicality among all the tongues of the world, I've always admired Spanish for placing the noun before the adjective. Just think about it. The noun is generally more important, therefore, should come first. In this case: chicken grilled. Those of you from the west coast will know El Pollo Loco, or as I like to call it, "The Chicken Crazy," which by the way, never offered a chicken burrito quite as tasty as this one, in my humble opinion.

Sonia might disagree, and while nobody's personal assessment is more or less valid than another's, hers goes quite a long way in terms of deeming what is "authentically Mexican" and what is not. Like offerings from Qdoba and Chipotle, this burrito is highly Americanized, but still brings some distinctive Mexican, or at least "Tex-Mex," flavors. For that reason, I liked it. It had plenty of peppers, black beans, corn, and rice, and I noticed a decent amount of shredded, grilled chicken, too. Sonia didn't think there was enough of that pollo—or at least that it wasn't flavorful enough to be noticed. 

The burrito was surprisingly sweet. I'm not sure where that was coming from, although "sugar" is listed on the ingredients in at least three places. See what I mean? Americanized. Muricans gotta throw sugar into everything.

My biggest complaint, though, was a decided lack of heat. This burrito wasn't spicy at all—which was disappointing because "salsa" is mentioned right on the wrapper. I know not all salsas are five alarm fires, but I generally hope for at least a little extra kick. Not here, unfortunately. 

At just about four dollars, this isn't the cheapest grocery store burrito you'll find at Trader Joe's—or any other marketplace, for that matter. However, when compared with those above-mentioned "Mexican grill" type restaurants, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything this cheap. And quality-wise, I'd say this offering should be compared to those restaurant burritos, not the average frozen thing at the grocery store—primarily because this burrito does not come frozen, but rather, refrigerated. For that reason, I think it tastes a great deal fresher than frozen burritos with similar ingredients.

I was lazy and crass enough to heat this item in the microwave rather than the oven. But neither Sonia nor I think that would have made much difference here. Any way you slice it, I was gonna wind up liking this burrito con pollo asado, and Sonia was gonna wind up going "meh." Four stars from me. Two and a half from her.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.