Search This Blog

Friday, September 22, 2017

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Marble Mousse Bar


Ah, the first day of fall is finally here. Sure doesn't feel like it yet, though. It'll be nearly 90 degrees here in New Jersey for the next few days. I'm eagerly awaiting temperatures cool enough to wipe out the local mosquito population—or at least temperatures cool enough that I can spend some time outside with long pants and long sleeves on so the little jerks can't bite me as readily. You should see my legs. It looks like I have some bizarre skin disease...but I'll stop right there since this is a food review blog and talk of skin disease and mosquito bites isn't particularly appetizing.

Know what is appetizing? Pumpkin pandemonium at Trader Joe's. We can just stay inside, crank the AC, eat fall foods, and pretend it feels cool outside. Fun stuff.


Pumpkin cheesecake over a fudgy brownie base? Yes, please! Looks delicious!

Except once you bite into it...it's not terrible...but really? That's cheesecake? I tried just the top part of the product by itself—the "mousse" section. It's nothing like cheesecake in my humble opinion. It tastes and feels like pumpkin pie filling. And that, of course, isn't a bad thing in and of itself. But I was promised cheesecake. Also, the fudgy brownie part isn't very fudgy. It's just...there.

There's a vague chocolatiness to the brownie base and an even more vague pumpkinniness to the crown, but overall, it's not particularly pumpkin-spicy or creamy or chocolatey. It's just an orange and brown dessert that, again, isn't terrible. It's just not terribly good or unique, either. The product's name makes it sound super gourmet, but the taste and texture just don't quite live up to our expectations—especially in light of the $6 price tag.


On the plus side, the presentation is stellar. These would look great on the dessert table at a fall party or something. The bars are very simple to prepare: just thaw, cut, and serve. And as Sonia pointed out, all of the constituent parts are quite moist and soft.

We'll easily be able to finish these bars over the course of the next few days, but if you're excited about Trader Joe's pumpkin products, this is not the first six bucks you should spend there.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Trader Joe's Organic Spicy Taco Sauce

You know what Trader Joe's Organic Spicy Taco Sauce would probably taste good on?

I'm gonna go out on a limb here...and say tacos. Just a wager, I suppose. Something tells me that idea just might have some merit.

Yup, here's a review of taco sauce not actually taste-tested on tacos. Not for lack of desire - tacos aren't just for Cinco de Maya and Tuesdays. They'd be everyday chow if I had my say. Not my fault TJ's came out with this on a non-taco designated week here. Or as I call them, only half-kiddingly, the Week of Sadness.

So for what offlabel purposes did we try spicy taco sauce?

Mostly, on eggs in the morning and stirred into our chili. Why not? Taco sauce is, after all, basically hot sauce. It's thicker, and with more base comes more flavor potential, yes, but really...it's slightly goopier hot sauce.

And ya know what? It works. Really, really well.

There's a lot more to the sauce than just flavor fuego. There's the heat, yes, but also smoke and sweet and tang. Taking a spoonful straight up is like a jousting competition - it's the vinegar then tomatoes then cumin and cayenne back to garlic then over to jalapenos. Another bite, and it'll be all jambled up a different way. It's great. Tasted awesome on the eggs, and since for the sake of our kids we have to make our chili pretty tame, once a good couple squirts got mixed in our bowls...almost perfect. I might have a new chili cheat. Bonus tip: Excellence of cornbread crisps when matched with chili: confirmed. I'd personally love to try the sauce on some homemade mac 'n cheese.

Lots of good stuff going on here. I can't even think of any real complaints. Some with a tamer tongue will probably find the TJ taco sauce too spicy, while those who are super-adventurous may wish it were even spicier...I will admit that the potency decreases somewhat when actually consumed with food. But for a storebrand hot sauce that wishes to be neither too wimpy nor too picante (and certainly not too vinegary!), the TJ's sauce straddles a near perfect line. For only a few bucks a bottle, it can make every night taco night. Even when it isn't.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Spicy taco Sauce: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, September 18, 2017

Trader Joe's Apple Cider Jam


Today's sign of the apocalypse: Russ reviewed a pumpkin item before I did, and I'm reviewing the first apple cider product of the year. 

But I certainly don't regret it. Because this stuff's deee-licious.

Yep. There's more to the tastes of fall than just pumpkin spice. And honestly, I was more eager to try this fascinating condiment than any of the new "Pumpkin Joe's" items I've seen so far. Haven't you heard? Apple cider jam is the new cookie butter.


My goodness. Where do I start? It's absolutely bursting with apple bits. Chunky style. It's still quite spreadable, but there's more than enough apple pieces to make it substantial. The syrup is sweet, but not overly so. And it actually tastes like cider, not just apples or apple juice. They really nailed the blend of fall spices if you ask me. Just the smell from the jar alone is enough to make you want to put on flannel and jump in a pile of autumn leaves.

Sonia says it reminds her of the filling in a McDonald's apple pie. Really, my love? I mean, sure, there are apple chunks and golden syrup in both cases, but I'd argue the quality here is head and shoulders above those cardboard-clad fast food confections. Plus, there's not a whole lot in the way of a spice blend there with the Golden Arches' offering.


She's also hung up on the price. $3.99 for a small jar does seem a bit steep. We're going through it fast. Like, it'll be gone somewhere between 24-48 hours after first opening it—which is both a testament to its delectability as well as its diminutiveness. Honestly, I could eat the stuff straight out of the jar with a spoon and be perfectly happy. But this jam really shines when served on toast with a little butter. It turns an ordinary slice of bread into a first-rate fall pastry.

Upon my initial taste, I was really thinking this spread was headed for the Pantheon. Sonia was slightly less enthused. She was torn between three and a half and four stars. I went ahead and selected four on her behalf. I'll throw out four and a half myself. 

Now I'm eagerly awaiting Pear Cinnamon Cider Jam and Honey Crisp Cider Jam.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Trader Joe's Organic Pumpkin Spice Granola Bark

It's mid September.....where's all the pumpkin spice!?!?!?!?

Seems to be a later debut this year for the everything pumpkin spice product glut that routinely churns out in the waning days of summer. It is still summer, technically...but seems like most years the yoga pant and Uggs-clad line at the Starbucks at Target is in its third week of being backed all the way up to the Taylor Swift albums by now. Gotta get those PSLs! Not so much this year...and that's alright by me. Never been a huge pumpkin spice guy, never will be, but will dabble some here and there when something intriguing pops up.

Something like Trader Joe's Organic Pumpkin Spice Granola Bark.

Trader Joe's is chief offender for pumpkin spice productopalooza. I mean, look at every pumpkin spice foodstuff we've reviewed...that's not exhaustive, despite the best efforts of the Rodgers clan and our little growing fam here in Western PA. It's gonna get worse this year, I'm positive, so might us well bite the bullet and get it started.

Better yet, I'll take another bite of the granola bark, please.

It's legitimately good. And serious. This isn't kid stuff or some pseudo-nutro Nature Valley type of deal. I mean, just take a look - big, thick, hefty squares of granola, tightly packed with rolled oats and pureed pumpkin, 75% enrobed in a respectably thick layer of 66% dark chocolate, then sprinkled with big ol' roasted pepitas. Each bite is dense, thick, stiff, chewy...don't be like me and accidentally swallow a small unchewed shard, cuz it HURTS. But the granola is very satisfying to gnaw on, and once it settles in your belly, it'll keep ya full.

Even the pumpkin spice accents are a nice touch. I finally figured out that it's the cloves that can make or break a pumpkin spice product - a little too much is way too much. Here, the cloves seem nicely balanced with the ginger and cinnamon and nutmeg to add a nice little warming glow to the otherwise slightly sweetened granola. Earthy oats and all, with a little maple syrup for sweetness, a little spice sprinkled in...it works, nicely. A little more cinnamon would be appreciated but not necessary.

The flaw, albeit minor, is the interplay of the dark chocolate and pumpkin spice. They've always seemed odd bedfellows...the two don't jive for me. Must be a popular enough combo for most folks, but it's a little confusing to my taste...is it supposed to be sweet or savory? The answer's probably both, but the two competing essences cancel enough of each other out to leave it somewhere in the middle.

Oh well. Sandy and I have enjoyed this purchase and I'm sure we'll pick it up a couple more times until pumpkin spice season goes back into hibernation in a couple months. For $3.99 for a respectable sized bag, it's not a bad deal. Good snack, and in a pinch could be used as a morning psuedo breakfast with some coffee and maybe some yogurt or an apple or something. Not bad for our first foray this year.

Bottom line: trader Joe's Organic Pumpkin Spice Granola Bark: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Trader Joe's Chocolatey Cats Cookies For People


The classic Cats Cookies For People have somehow eluded our vast catalog of Trader Joe's brand food reviews these past seven years. Honestly, I've never even tried them. Then there were Ginger Cats Cookies...also, apparently, for people. We managed to avoid those as well, unintentionally, of course. Looks like the Ginger Cats Cookies have been discontinued. I haven't found a definite word on the original flavor, but I must say that I haven't seen them around the store in quite some time.

Then spring of 2014 saw the advent of an even bolder product, Trader Joe's Dog Food...For People. We nailed that review immediately, thanks to an exclusive sneak peak courtesy of Big Joe himself. We're still not sure why the product never launched nationwide, because it was freaking delicious and fun to eat.

But thankfully we're not entirely bereft of biscuits inspired by our favorite furry friends. Chocolatey Cats Cookies are currently in-stock and on the shelves...at least at all the TJ's we've been to lately. They're low fat, inexpensive, and relatively tasty.


I love how Trader Joe's has to actually put the words "for people" on the label so they'll not be sued for negligent homicide of countless American felines. I'm sure just a single cookie here and there wouldn't kill even the tiniest of kittens, but if people got the wrong idea, it's entirely possible some poor cats would be fed a diet of solely "cat cookies." At $2.99 for the tub, it certainly wouldn't be the most expensive cat food on the market.

And I guess I should insert the following disclaimer here: Sonia and I aren't cat experts. We're dog people. To the core. We've both known and loved a few cats in our day, but we've always owned and adored dogs. We know cat people tend to be thoughtful, creative, and—for lack of a better term—WEIRD. And we are most definitely those things. But we're also emotionally-needy people. We already walk around feeling rejected by countless humans every day, and coming home to an apathetic, indifferent pet would just do us in. Cats are too cold. That's not to say when we completely lose it in a decade or two we won't have a few fuzzy felines around to torment us and our dogs, but as usual, I digress...

As mentioned above, these cookies are low fat. And they kinda taste low fat, but not in a bad way. They're crispy and snackable, but don't feel overly indulgent, which is nice. They flaunt a light, chocolatey, tide-me-over vibe. They certainly won't spoil your appetite unless you eat like half the tub at once. They remind both Sonia and I of some other snack we've both had, but we can't quite put our finger on it.


They pair extremely well with milk or coffee, and they make decent dunkables. You could almost use them as cereal if the bites were just a tad smaller. Also, they seem fairly resistant to staleness, thanks to both the solid plastic packaging as well as their basic composition. 

We'll easily finish this tub in a week or two, but aren't sure if we'd purchase them again any time soon. We could see these being a big hit in families with young children. Three and a half stars a piece.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Protein Granola

Granola. For dinner. Ummm...yum?

We have a busted refrigerator to blame for that. Or, I hope to say, had. Something something was something somethinging the something (or so I understand, as explained by the Sears repair guy and filtered thru my wife) making the bottom of our fridge leaky and pooling water. Been doing it for months, actually, and just got it fixed earlier today...but at time of writing this, we're now on the evening of Day 2 with an unplugged icebox in the kitchen. Been eating down whatever supplies from the fridge all week. Can't restock quite yet. No spare fridge on site. Thought we'd be able to use it by tonight, and already kinda spent our eating out budget at Red Lobster last night...

...so granola for at least part of our dinner. It's what we had. Living the dream.

Granted, evening sustenance and main course is probably not the intended use of Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Protein Granola. As with most granola, it's definitely one of those snack-on-the-go type deals, or an easy morning breakfast with a little yogurt or something. Also never a horrible idea to have a bag tucked away in the desk drawer at work for midday munchie.

But, I'm not convinced this pb granola is all that great. It's not really horrible, either, but there's something a little off about it after a few bites. Tough to explain, but it gets that taste in your mouth, you know, the one that resides in the little pouch between your teeth and cheeks. Bittersweetish, almost metallic in some ways. You know that one? It's what I get.

Which is a shame, because this stuff has some potential. The granola comes in all different sized chunks with an appropriate crunch - hard enough to give the molars some work to do, crumbly enough to not make it unpleasant and tastes reasonably like an decent peanut-based product. The rolled oats and pea protein crisps get along nicely with each other for an agreeable bite, if not a bit bland. Seems headscratching to me that there's eight grams of added sugar per serving...how would the granola taste if not over 10% bonus sugar content? Doesn't compute. The texture is spot on, but the flavor just doesn't

Probably not a repeat buy. Even as a peanut butter aficianado and a general granola fan, there's just not enough here to make me want to come back. It fills a void and that seems to be about it. Sandy's not impressed either. "Meh" is about all we said about it. Might be more enjoyable with some cold milk...we'll get back to you on that.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Protein Granola: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, September 8, 2017

Trader Joe's Curry Cauliflower Quinoa Salad


It's official. Cauliflower can join coffee, mango, pumpkin, and cookie butter as the fifth great love of Trader Joe. He's clearly got an obsession.

Cauliflower is a product that has proven its extreme versatility repeatedly, particularly in the past year—plus it's arguably the healthiest of "The Big Five." 

Quinoa is still working on its star status, but it has played some interesting roles in the past, too, generally as a supporting ingredient, but rarely a main attraction.

Curry is...well, curry is usually awesome...and this product is just another great example of its awesomeness.

Throw cauliflower, quinoa, and curry together, and you have this unique creation. I'm not sure why it works...or even if most of you will agree with me that it does. But I devoured this tub like it was going out of style.  Sorry. That's a really weak mixed metaphor. But yeah. I devoured the tub like it was...expiring soon...even though it wasn't. That's a better metaphor. But it sounds even dumber for some reason. You feel me, though? I loved this stuff.


There are a lot of calories in there, for what is essentially Indian-spiced rabbit food. But curry always packs a high calorie count. I guess I'd rather be eating curry powder and canola oil than some goofy trans fats, though. The quinoa and cauliflower were just so fresh and hearty that I just kept craving this salad over and over. It was very filling, and I think you could space this small tub out to even more than three servings, as suggested on the packaging, particularly if you're just having it as a side dish or a between-meal bite. It makes a great tide-me-over, pick-me-up type snack. If you're having it as a stand-alone meal, like for lunch or whatever, then three servings is probably too many to expect from the tub, however.

The curry isn't overpowering. It's there, but there's still plenty of room for the nuttiness of the quinoa and the caulifloweriness of the cauliflower to come through. What is that actually called—caulifloweriness? Gardeniness? Plantacularity? I don't know. But it tastes more like actual cauliflower than many of TJ's experimental cauliflower derivatives, and that's not a bad thing if you're okay with the taste of cauliflower.


Sonia thoroughly enjoyed it as well—like four and a half stars kind of enjoyment, her highest score in quite a while. Her only complaint is the price. $3.99 for the tub. It's not outrageous, but she thinks she can somehow approximate the mixture herself by purchasing quinoa, cauliflower, and curry individually. Seems like a lot of work to save a buck or so. But if you're so inclined, go for it, wifey.

I give it four stars. Again, I don't know if this will have the universal appeal that some other Trader Joe's cauliflower offerings have had—I'm guessing there will be a significant faction of haters on this one, but I'll go out on a limb and tell you that if you think it sounds good at all, you should probably give it a try.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Trader Joe's Sunflower Seed Spread

September! Back to school time...or for Sandy and me, time to get our firstborn daughter, M, off to kindergarten. Time flies...seems like just yesterday I wrote this.

M impresses me. She does, for real. Like when we took her grocery shopping for lunch supplies for school. We got a big packet of info for the upcoming school year, discussing all the different school rules and policies. Understandably, there was some space spent on peanuts and nuts, etc. The school rule is, for lunch, things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are allowed to be brought in...but those who are allergic to peanut butter and can't be near it have to sit at a different table than everyone else. It's probably not a perfect solution, but it's what the school can do to keep everyone appeased.

Anyways, we kind of explained of this to M as best we could. Now this girl has no food allergies and loves peanut butter and jelly. Loves it enough to rival mac 'n cheese. So there we were, at Trader Joe's, near the PB shelf and presented M with a choice: Get peanut butter like she'd be allowed to get, and only sit with some certain kids...or try Trader Joe's Sunflower Seed Spread and be able to sit and make friends with anyone at lunch time.

She chose the sunflower seed spread.

Granted, it's not awful. But I'm a PB guy, through and through. This particular seed butter is medium-thick, oily, kinda goopy, decidedly salty, and unmistakenably made from sunflower seeds which I like, but not nearly as much as the earthy goodness of a good ol' peanut. If it seems similar to other TJ's products, you'd be mostly right. Big difference is lack of added sugar as this spread is composed of just seeds and salt. It's more functional than snackable, I guess.

M feels the same. Those eyerolls she tosses out right now when we ask what she considers a dumb question - man, those upcoming teenage years oughtta be a hoot. I got one for the ages when I asked her if she likes peanut butter or sunflower seed butter better. "Peanut butter" she muttered with as much implied "Duhhhh" in her tone as she could muster.

Still, M chooses it every time for her sandwich, simply because this little girl wants to be friends with everyone. She wants to be able to sit down and happily chomp away at her lunch with any set of kids and be able to talk about what happened on the playground or favorite colors or bugs or farts or whatever kids talk about at cafeteria tables. She's willing to meet other kids where they are, and sacrifice some of her preferences and entitlement to do so. She's willing to see that even though some other kids are different than her, they're not wrong or bad or to be avoided. They're all just some kindergartners wanting to enjoy lunch together.

Maybe I'm being particularly sappy and sentimental with her going off to school...but dammit, that's kinda beautiful to me. Maybe we'd all be better off if we could all see the world the way she does when choosing her lunch. I know I'd be. 

When I asked for her opinion of the seed spread, M just gave me a sideways thumb and a scrunchy faced grimace. I think that's actually a slight compliment...so there's that. I feel strangely the same, actually. But I'm glad to slap some on bread with some blueberry jam for her any time she wants for lunch, so she can enjoy with anyone she wants.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sunflower Seed Spread: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Trader Joe's Riced Cauliflower Stir Fry


Trader Joe's has cauliflower filling the shoes of rice, pizza crust, mashed potatoes, and burger patties, among other things. Here, it's reprising its classic ricey role, but this time, it's part of a complete stir fry meal—well, complete if you're fine eating stir fry sans meat, or even fake meat of any kind. Surprisingly, I was more than happy with it that way. Sonia was too.

Not only is it full of peas, corn, and peppers, but there's already a good bit of savory flavor thanks to the blend of tamari, onion, sesame oil, and ginger. I had to look up "tamari." In this case, it's soybeans, salt, and spirit vinegar. Then, I had to look up "spirit vinegar." Is it related to spirit gum? Is it really that close to Halloween? We haven't even started pumpkin pandemonium yet. Turns out it's a vinegar that's distilled from the ectoplasmic residue of ghosts and otherworldly beings. Oh, no wait. That's what I assumed it was before I looked it up...it's actually...well, here's the link I found. You can read it yourself if you're as culinarily ignorant as I am...ahem, was.


The blend of veggies is very well balanced against the base of riced cauliflower. In our case, each veggie was pristine, whole, and was extremely high quality in both taste and texture. The combo of seasonings is subtle, but goes a long way toward making this a stand-alone side dish. I wasn't even craving extra salt or pepper. There's something surprisingly addictive about this product. I mean, I thought the same thing about the riced cauli by itself, but this particular mixture is even more enjoyable in some ways.

We even tried adding it to some leftover food from the local Chinese place since we had run out of white rice. It worked surprisingly well with my Kung Pao Scallops. I'd be willing to bet it'd go just fine with less exotic selections like beef or chicken, too.


A normal bag of riced cauliflower will run you $1.99 at TJ's, and this offering costs exactly a dollar more. Couldn't you simply buy a bag of mixed veggies and stir it into a bag of riced cauliflower while altering the amount of veggies to suit your personal taste? Sure could. And it would probably cost about the same, or maybe even a little less. But as far as pre-mixed concoctions go, I can't imagine a much better blend—certainly not a blend with more universal appeal than this one. It seems pretty safe to me. If you like mixed vegetables and riced cauliflower, you're probably not gonna hate this.

Four stars a piece here.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.


Friday, September 1, 2017

Trader Joe's Gochujang Flavored Almonds

Gochujang.

Gotta admit: Never heard of it. Not sure how to pronounce it. Every time I type it, I've had to look back and make sure I'm spelling it right. Go-chu-jang. I'd butcher that any which way I could, for sure.

Must say something about how relatively sheltered my palate has been that a lot of my exposure to imported flavors have come from Trader Joe's. I mean, I'm a guy who's excited that Panda Express and their legendary orange chicken is finally coming to Pittsburgh. So, once again, forgive me here, as I have no other gochujang experience to relate to Trader Joe's Gochujang Flavored Almonds...

...but holy smokitos, these are some blazing almonds. These just be the spiciest widely commercially available product I've had. These nuts are the kinda deal where it doesn't really hit you right upfront, but more steadily builds and builds with each bite. Sandy's only had a few and has said she doesn't think they're that hot, but trust me...hot.

And, even better, it's a somewhat complex spice as well. Gochujand is apparently the name for a certain type of red chili paste that's a little sweet, a lot spicy, and definitely multilayered. I almost hate making the comparison, but think of the seasoning of Chex Mix condensed down into a more concentrated, potent powder. Some soy/Worcestershire sauce. Garlic salt. A few extra shakes of chili powder. Intensified. It's the best, easily relatable comp I can think of. Even then, it's not quite that. There's just this little sweetness, this little kiss of sugar, that somehow sneaks in through all of that just to keep it all grounded. Also, there's almost like a fermented savoriness at work here - makes sense with what I've learned about gochujang - and it just all ties together unbelievably well.

The almonds make a great base for really showcasing the spice, as well. Nicely roasted, crunchy, very munchable. The gochujang mix doesn't stick to the nuts all that well, which is just as well, as it's very potent...but man, the nuts at the bottom of the bag are gonna be spicy af. I'm looking forward to them, but not without some trepidation.

The bag cost only like $5 for 12 ounces. Not a bad deal. I'd be remiss of my duties that consumers may, like myself, experience some, um, digestive consequences after eating. Nothing so awful I won't go back for more, but there's a, um, pattern that's been established here. Let me keep that at that, please. After all - fermented product. I honestly have no real complaints and will probably snack on them and buy as long as they're available, and I'm sure I can get Sandy hooked on them too.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gochujang Flavored Almonds: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons