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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Trader Joe's Spud Crunchies

For a moment after opening the bag, I thought, "Oh, bummer! There's no resealable ziplock on this package." A moment later, I realized why. These things won't last long enough to get stale. Oh, and that whole "4 servings per container" there on the nutrition info IS A BIG FAT LIE.

You'll be lucky to get two servings here. Especially if there's more than one person involved. Not just because two people eat twice as much, but because eating the bag becomes a race against the other person. If you snooze, you'll lose your share.

And I should mention that the picture right below this paragraph was taken near the end of the bag. I had opened the package with every intention of taking a picture right out of the gate, but we actually plowed through nearly the whole thing before we remembered we hadn't taken a picture. As a result, the crunchies you see here aren't perfectly representative of the ones in the bag—they're somewhat smaller than the average sticks you actually get.

A long time ago, there was a mini-discussion about another TJ's product that emulated "zombified McDonald's French fries," Trader Joe's Veggie Sticks. We were a fan of those snacks, but somehow, by some miracle of science, Trader Joe's got their hands on an even better product.

There are significantly fewer ingredients here. These snacks feel even more potato-y because they're not made of potato flour, wheat flour, and other weird vegetable "powders." These delightful, snacktastic sons of mothers are made with "potato," and in my opinion, they even more accurately approximate an age-old McDonald's fry, but miraculously, they do it with more flavor.

They're quite salty, which totally works here. As mentioned before, they're also very potato-y, and you can taste and feel the canola oil as well. Texture-wise they're definitely similar to an ancient fry, but ever so slightly in the direction of a potato chip. They're less starchy than long-forgotten fast food fries, and perhaps slightly more crispy.

This is just a fun, tasty snack all around. Would make a great after-hike treat. Two bucks at the local Joe's. I'd buy 'em again.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Trader Joe's Extra Hot Habanero Ghost Pepper Salsa

It's that time of year again. There's so much to love about weather, baseball playoffs, crockpot dinners, hoodie sweatshirts, pumpkin patches. So on and so forth. It's my favorite season of the year by far.

But, it's not perfect. There's the one big thing that always comes, always stands in the way, the one thing I cannot avoid or shake no matter what.

Pity me. It's man cold season.

Starting around now, and ending sometime in April, I will almost always have a cold, or at least some semblance of one. The sneezing, the cough, the know what I'm talking about. Between now and Easter I'll probably guzzle a pallet of DayQuil. No matter what,  though, I can never shake it.

But I maybe have a secret weapon now: Trader Joe's Extra Hot Habanero Ghost Pepper Salsa.

This may be a bit premature, but I may be cured only about 8 days into man cold funk season, all thanks to this super spicy salsa. The cactus  on the package has it right - this is some fiery sauce. I will admit, I was a little scared to try it. But once I did, the sinuses cleared. The head unfogged. Even the cough went away. Musta been burned out of me. And it's stayed out.

The salsa doesn't smell too intimidating, with an almost more chipotle kind of essence than anything else. It's almost enough to lull you into a false sense of safety, as the heat kicks up right from the first bite. It's not upfront - since it's refrigerated, the physical coolness of the salsa kinda tempers it a bit - but right as it's going down the hatch, the spice ramps up. Pure heat - enough to make you cough or have your eyes tear up. But the thing is, unlike some spicy fare, the heat doesn't seem to build and build with successive bites. Instead, it plateaus from the start - granted, a pretty high plateau. Which is a good thing, as it makes it much more snackable than the salsa would appear at first bite.

Aside from the habenero and ghost peppers, there's plenty to like. There's a very fresh feel to the salsa overall, almost as if it were almost homemade. It's not quite chunky, but not quite smooth either. There's some tomatoey sweetness and a little garlic and some other bits of flavor here and there, but even with the spice, it's not enough to completely overpower your food. That being said, I'd advise using sparingly.

Both Sandy and I enjoy the super hot salsa enough to make this a probable repeat purchase, especially if it can keep those cold symptoms at bay. Look for the tub in the refrigerated section, and if I recall correctly, it's about 3 bucks. Cheaper and tastier than DayQuil, for sure.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Extra Hot Habanero Ghost Pepper Salsa: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, October 16, 2017

Trader Joe's Curried Carrot & Cashew Dip

I think the pumpkin craze may have finally reached its apex and is starting to experience a bit of backlash. Can't put up a pumpkin review these days without at least one person remarking "I'm so sick of pumpkin!" With pumpkin spice hummuspumpkin flavored dog treats, and even pumpkin spice cough drops on the market, it's pretty clear society has reached a saturation point. Even Trader Joe's seems to have slowed down the release of new pumpkin products this year. There are definitely a few additions, but on our last TJ's run, all we saw were the same sixty items that were available last year. So we'll just take a breather...for today, anyway.

So we turn our sights to another unique orange concoction: Trader Joe's Curried Carrot & Cashew Dip

It's NOT what I expected.

Our last adventure involving a tub of Trader Joe's curried veggies was surprisingly successful in my book, as have most of our other forays into the Indian-inspired land of curry-laden culinary creations. This one...I, personally, am not nearly as enthused about.

There aren't any suggestions for how to serve this condiment. It's packaged in one of those distinctive, clear, round hummus containers. Are we to smear it on a piece of warm pita? Is it a chip dip? Or is it a marinade for meats on the grill? 

We tried it as a chip dip. Interesting. But I wouldn't go out of my way to buy it again for that purpose. On bread? Okay, I can see it taking the place of hummus, but I'll take most hummus over this dip any day. Served with veggies, riced cauliflower, and chicken? Better still. But again nothing I'd crave over a "normal" condiment. 

I was expecting the curry flavor to dominate this product, but it certainly doesn't. In fact, carrot is the primary flavor coming through. It's essentially a tub of creamed carrots, with a few miscellaneous spices and vague cashew flavor throughout...not sweet. Certainly not what I was hoping for. I swear there's a strange, funky, almost mildewy essence in our tub. Sonia doesn't detect it at all.

To make matters worse, there was a single white glob of....something in our container. At first, we thought it might have been a cashew. But it wasn't. It was fairly firm, somewhat powdery, and...not at all like anything else anywhere in the tub. Sonia suggested it might be a ball of corn starch, as corn starch does indeed appear on the ingredients list. She seemed perfectly fine with that notion and proceeded to eat around the object in question. I began referring to it as "the tumor" and like any good amateur scientist decided to dissect it. Its middle looked like something in between white meat chicken and the inside of a nut of some kind, though much too large to be a single cashew. You can see it in two halves there toward the right side of the product photograph. 

I dared Sonia to eat a piece of the mystery blob—which, shockingly, she did with remarkably little coaxing. She just popped it in her mouth, shrugged, and said "it's fine."

I couldn't let her be a braver eater than I am, so I hesitantly cut a little bit with my fork and tasted it. It felt like a curd of cottage cheese and tasted completely flavorless. I still don't know what that thing was, but it grosses me out just thinking about it.

Unfazed by the incident, Sonia continued dipping various foods into the little tub and mixing it into her food. She said, "I enjoy it. What do you think?"

"I'm not feeling it," I muttered, backing away from the table.

I might have mustered two stars if not for that...wad of...stuff. One and a half stars from me. I haven't disagreed with the wife this strongly on a TJ's product in a long time. Four stars from Sonia.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Trader Joe's Boneless, Stuffed Pork Chops with Apple Almond Stuffing

"Impulse meat."

Yeah, those are some quasi-cringe worthy words...but that's exactly what Sandy and I had on our shopping list for TJ's the other night. What it meant was, we didn't want to dip once more into our Costco sausage stockpile or have chicken again or anything too ho-hum. Nah, we wanted something that looked good and sounded tasty and not in our normal rotation, something that our not-terribly-carnivorous would probably eat without much complaint. Something we could all enjoy.

Something, apparently, like Trader Joe's Boneless, Stuffed Pork Chops with Apple Almond Stuffing. Spotted. Acquired. Prepared. Consumed. Mmmm, impulse meat. At risk of sounding like that gravelly voiced Arby's guy, it's instinct.

And now, reviewed.

Easy enough to prepare, despite my demonstrably limited cooking talent. The instructions say to brown on each side before baking for 25 minutes. I, um, made the executive decision that they'd taste better a little blackened...yeah, that's it. No matter, the end product still tasted pretty great. the pork chops themselves were meaty and tender, and certainly weren't too tough or stringy. Aside from the natural goodness of the pork, there was a slightly sweet flavor, as if the chops were marinaded in some apple cider or something of the sort.

And, of course, stuffing on the inside. I'm not gonna stretch the truth a bit and say it's super high quality stuffing that Martha Stewart would sign off on. Decidedly, it's more on the Stove Top end of the spectrum. Doesn't mean it can't be tasty. Growing up, my mom would sometimes cut up apples and put them in Stove Top, other times raisins. So maybe it's more nostalgia then actual critical quality, but man, I liked it. The slivered almonds added small, earthy, crunchy bite that worked very well with the soft stuffing and meat.

It's $6.49 a pound, which isn't an awful deal. Our package seemed representative with two large medallions which were more than enough for the two of us and our girls. In all, they made for a good autumnal dinner alongside some squash mac and roasted Brussel sprouts. The stuffed chops might not be a regular buy, but for an impulse, not bad, not bad at all. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Boneless, Stuffed Pork Chops with Apple Almond Stuffing: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Trader Joe's Cocoa Filled Pinwheel Cookies

It's what's inside that counts...

And in this case, "what's inside" is Nutella-esque deliciousness. 

Trader Joe's does offer their own jar of Nutella-esque deliciousness, although it's almond-based, rather than hazelnut-based like the original. However, these happy, round little roulette-looking fellows boast a hazelnut cocoa cream, virtually indistinguishable from actual Nutella. I'm a big fan of both hazelnuts and almonds, and in the end, I couldn't care less which nuts are in my cocoa long as it tastes like cocoa...and it does.

So if you like cocoa cream, you'll like the filling in these. 

It's what's outside that I wasn't as big a fan of. The cookies were more crumbly than "crispy" in my humble opinion, and a tad dry apart from their scrumptious centers. The outer cookie layer is slightly sweet, but overall not particularly flavorful, rich, or memorable in any way. I must confess I didn't attempt dipping them in coffee or milk or anything—and I should have. I could see them being highly dunkable, which might have greatly benefited these cookies in terms of their slight dryness and dullness.

Sonia didn't mind the outer cookie layer as much, and she thinks it blended well with the cocoa filling. She's certainly not wrong there, but I'd just as soon take any other decent crispy cookie or shortbread cookie and slather them with cocoa spread, rather than return to these elegantly-packaged and pleasantly-presented "pinwheels."

But don't get me wrong, I'm not hatin'. They're still delicious on the inside—worth every penny of $1.79. I had forgotten they were so inexpensive. 

The lovely Sonia shall bestow these pinwheels with four out of five stars. Put me down for three. 

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Trader Joe's Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

For a few months off and on now, we've been making a big deal of how versatile cauliflower can be. Who knew a vegetable I detested as a child could have so many tasty applications? Not me. Cauliflower has absolutely redeemed itself.

Now that it's fall...can we turn our attention to butternut squash?

Squash is something I hated as a kid. Don't know why, and can't recall ever really eating any growing up. I think it was one of those horrors I heard about from other kids, like not being allowed to watch The Simpsons or listen to MC Hammer, or even worse, being forced to go to dance recitals. Though I was stuck going to my older bro's marching band competitions. Blahh.

Anyways, back to squash. The past few autumns have featured some squashy-themed deals from our favorite grocery store (some good, some not), and this year has a new entry: Trader Joe's Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese.

One word: Yummmmmmmmmmm. So much comfort going on here.

Everything about this dish screams "hearty." The rigatoni is big and reasonably firm for a frozen entree, and is kinda underrated, but enough about that. Let's talk that cheese sauce. It's really something else. Made with a holy trio of gouda, cheddar and parmesan cheeses, it's thick and creamy and oozes that comfort vibe. It's a hint smoky and ever so slightly sharp, and accented with some pepper and cayenne that add a small, welcome, savory kick. So good as is, I feel no need to add anything else to it. This TJ's mac is legit.

Almost makes me forget there's butternut squash pureed in to the sauce. Seems to add an extra hearty, earthy oomph, but the squash is otherwise unobtrusive overall. My kids had no idea it was in there.

It's $4.99 for the tray, which given the premium cheeses and whatnot involved, seems to be a reasonable value. It's easily enough for two folks in there. And all it takes is a few minutes in the microwave or oven, and a good stir to get that tasty sauce out everywhere. Convenient and comfy, this may be a fall freezer staple. Make room, cauliflower - you got some company.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, October 6, 2017

Trader Joe's Pumpkin & Roasted Pepitas Cookies

New coffee-flavored products, fruit preserves, and 85 degree heat in the northeast? What season is this anyway? Even the fall foliage is behind schedule. If this pattern keeps up, we'll be celebrating harvest time in December and all these corn mazes and hayrides will feature Santa Claus instead of scarecrows.

But enough complaining...for now, anyway. These cookies are decent enough snacks to curb my pumpkinsatiability into next week at least.

They're a lot like those gluten-free cookies we checked out last year, but with pumpkin spice instead of ginger...and gluten instead of...not gluten. If I weren't looking at the ingredients list right now, I might assume that this was rice flour instead of wheat. But I'd be wrong. Hey, there's a first time for everything. This is the crispiest wheat flour I've ever had.

Sonia thought the cookies were going to be salty and not necessarily sweet since, you know, pepitas tend to be present in salty stuff. But she was wrong. But that didn't surprise me since she's wrong all the time.

—At this time I should point out that I am very much JOKING about my wife being wrong since a good part of our readership is female. I, like all husbands, know that wives are NEVER wrong. I don't want to get on the wrong side of the Mommy Blogger Mafia.—

So yeah, like I was saying, these cookies are indeeed...well, cookies. So they're sweet, slightly buttery, and pumpkin spicy. When I eat more than two or three at once, I get the faintest warm tingly sensation at the back of my throat from the pumpkin spice. It's not altogether unpleasant, but it's a little unusual for a cookie. The pepitas add some extra crunch and a hint of nuttiness—but they don't even come close to being a dominant flavor.

If you like pumpkin spice and thin, crispy cookies, these should most definitely go on your shopping list. I'd love to try a soft version of this recipe some day. You'll pay $2.49 for a five ounce bag that your family will probably go through pretty quickly. Three and a half stars from me. Sonia gives them four.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Trader Joe's Organic Reduced Sugar Cherry Preserves

This originally was gonna be a post about Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Scone Mix with Maple Flavored Frosting. Cuz, you know, it's seasonal and all, and I for whatever uncharacteristic reason am on some sort of pumpkin spice kick, and given the Rodgers' historic oven-related troubles, Sandy and I figured we were the ones for the job. But somehow in between taking pictures and transferring to my computer, they got eaten. The pictures, not the scones. Well, the scones did get eaten too...but that's another story, and won't go into too much detail on them in case they get revisited later.

Late night scrounge the fridge time then, gotta find something to review...well, hey, here's Trader Joe's Organic Reduced Sugar Cherry Preserves. What else are we gonna do? Got a lot of time left in pumpkin spice season after all.

You might remember that a little while back us yinzers here went on a whole spree with the blueberry preserves. That stuff was the bomb, so would that make this a...cherry bomb? Eh, not quite. I'd say the overall quality of the product is about there - similar mouthfeel, similar texture, spreadability factor high, etc - but at the same time, it's missing a small something, and what it is, I'm not sure.

It's still very good. There's a mild, smooth tartness that ends with a slightly sweet finish. It's almost - but not quite - just like eating straight cherries, except without the pits, of course. But maybe that's it right there. Fresh, juicy ripe cherries are sweet and tart and vibrant and just downright delectable in almost every way. That's not that sense here, not in the same way as the blueberry preserves. Some of the potency gets a little lost in translation.

No matter. It's the current jam of choice for our oldest daughter, who loves it matched with some sunflower spread for a school lunch sandwich. Sandy and I will slather some on some fresh baked bread from our local coffee shop, and really, we've been slacking on the opportunity to put it on a grilled cheese sandwich. Our youngest daughter hates it, though, which I think is hilarious. I *think* she normally like cherries...she's a little weirdo. Eh well. Decent enough jam, and maybe it's a last little remnant of summer to bring into the fullness of fall. Pumpkin spice can wait.

 Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Reduced Sugar Cherry Preserves: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, October 2, 2017

Trader Joe's Cold Brew Coffee Chocolate Bar

Relax. Those stains on the packaging aren't real. Trader Joe's makes it look that way on purpose. Trust me, I wouldn't put a hot cuppa on this product for fear it would melt the chocolate. 

Have you seen "The Arrival," starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner? It's one of my favorites from last year's batch of Best Pic noms—even if it did have globalist undertones and subtle "I for one welcome our new alien overlord" themes. What can I say, I'm a sucker for sci-fi. Turns out these coffee stains are part of an intergalactic language used by weird "heptapod" creatures. For those of you not well-versed in this alien tongue, I'll translate the marking on the cover of this product. It reads: "BUY ME AND EAT ME NOW."

So we did.

And now we're having flashbacks to the spring. What? Have you forgotten about Coffeepalooza already? 

After missing sleep for approximately two and a half months, I finally returned to a normal 6-8 hour a night sleeping schedule, and here TJ's goes messing that up again...I thought we were doing pumpkin and apple stuff right now. Guess they forgot to pull this one out of the stockroom back in April, so here it is! Enjoy the wonders of insomnia once again, friends!

For all you coffee-cravers, I could see this $1.99 candy bar being a repeat purchase. Thankfully, I've developed a healthy fear of coffee products since the events of Coffeepalooza and I'll probably be able to stay far away from this item—especially with all the fun fall stuff to keep me busy.

According to the description on the product's packaging, both the chocolate and the caramel filling are infused with coffee. In the chocolate, it's more subtle I think. Sonia claims she can't even really taste coffee with the outer chocolate layer, but she does like the not-too-bitter dark chocolate they chose for it. I'd say there's a hint of something mocha-ish there, but I'll admit the filling boasts significantly more coffee taste.

I'm not sure if the coffee flavor in this chocolate bar is distinctly cold brew or if that's just the way they decided to market it since cold brew is "in" right now. Either way, it's a tasty chocolate bar. Sonia says it does have that unique, light cold brew essence—slightly smoother than traditional roasted coffee. Seems like she knows what she's talking about, so we'll go with that.

I'm not the biggest fan of coffee in the world, but just as I did during the days of Coffeepalooza, I'll try to project a score on behalf of all you coffee-lovers out there. We'll go with four out of five. Sonia concurs.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.