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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Trader Joe's Milk Chocolate Truffles

As you may recall, ice cream is a certain kind of currency in our family, good for all kinds of bribery...

Well, what about candy?

Candy is an oddball in our family. There's two main divergent views. The one I employ is, eat it all right away. Candy rarely lasts long around me. It's...kinda a bad thing. I've learned that, by in large, I need to avoid buying it or it will go down the hatch way too quick.

But candy around my wife or daughters? My goodness, explain to me what is wrong with them! They never eat it. Well, that's not exactly true...but almost. Sandy has candy leftover from last Easter that's still in her designated treat box that I am strictly forbidden from touching. Our girls have candy leftover from two Halloweens ago, I swear. We end up routinely tossing it out.

But somehow, if I were to consume it, even if we've had it for six plus months, they'd all know within 14 hours of its sugary demise and I'd be in the doghouse. Personal experience. Been there, done that.

So what's the ultimate fate of Trader Joe's Milk Chocolate Truffles?

Not sure. They're pretty decent candies overall. Sandy says they're pretty close to Lindt Truffles overall, which somehow I recognize but am not familiar with their overall quality. Around Easter, I'm more into jellybeans and Reese eggs than anything else. But I guess pretty similar to those aforemntioned Lindt balls, with a milk chocolate shell surrounding a rich, creamy interior. At about the size of a large marble, they go down pretty easily. One or two go a long ways, too.

I'm not completely in love with them. Nothing wrong, per se, but just a preference. But they're just a little basic and plain. With the different foil wrapper colors, it'd be cool if they contained different flavor creams, but nah, all the same. For me, they'll make an adequate occasional sugary treat, so I won't be surprised if I peck at them here or there, but if there's other candy around up for grabs, I'd go for them first.

If Sandy winds up stashing them in her box, though? They'll probably become family heirlooms. "Wait 'til you can savor them," she'll tell our great-grand kids.

Neither of us are big on them. Kinda meh. Kinda basic. Nothing too wrong, nothing too right. Going right down the middle here in all fairness.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Milk Chocolate Truffles: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Trader Joe's Vegan Kale, Cashew & Basil Pesto

I've never been a huge fan of pesto. I was never sure why. Something about the flavor just kinda rubbed me the wrong way. And I've often been told by readers that I'm not allowed to review foods that I don't already appreciate because my score will be unfairly biased against the product.

But this product is a prime example of why I still try foods that I "know" I don't like. In this case, like so many others, the devil was in the details. I never bothered looking at the ingredients of traditional pesto. Usually, there are pine nuts. And I hate pine nuts. To be fair, if Trader Joe's ever offers a bag of plain pine nuts, I'll refrain from reviewing those—unless it's some new species of pine nuts or ones coated in wasabi or cookie butter or something crazy like that. 

Cue the reader comments that tell me TJ's does offer a bag of plain pine nuts. And a version where they're covered in wasabi. Wouldn't surprise me. Readers, we love your comments. But anyway, I digress.

The point is that this product employs cashews instead of pine nuts. And I like cashews. And that makes all the difference in the world to me. I mean, the product doesn't taste a lot like cashews per se—I just prefer them as an ingredient to pine nuts. Also, I'm not sure that most pesto contains kale...and I like kale, too. The texture is like a mushy vegetable puree. It's thick, soft, and spreadable.

I'd eat this stuff on pasta, potatoes, sandwiches, crackers, pita, or even as a chip dip. Sonia liked it enough that it inspired another short video review. $3.69 for the tub. Four stars a piece.


Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Trader Joe's Crunchy Cinnamon Squares Milk Chocolate Bar


Rereads package several times

Well, I'll be...

Alright, listen. I have no idea what the actual name of this product is. It might be Trader Joe's Crunchy Cinnamon Squares Milk Chocolate Bar. It might be Trader Joe's Milk Chocolate Bar With Bits of Crunchy Cinnamon Square Cereal. It also may be Trader Joe's Crunchy Cinnamon Squares Milk Chocolate Bar With Bits of Crunchy Cinnamon Squares Cereal. That last one is straight from the Department of Redundacy Department...but it is what the packaging of this particular candy bar suggests, isn't it?

I guess, no matter the name, it's clear its from Trader Joe's, its a milk chocolate bar, and it has something to do with crunchy cinnamon square cereal as well. Well, dang it, count me in.

Well, it's a pretty decent candy bar, though not without a flaw we'll get to here in just a minute. Unfortunately Sandy, the kiddos and I kinda devoured the thing before taking a better pic of the actual product, but it's a gridded up choco-bar, easily breakable into 24 pieces. So it's perfect for sharing with all sorts of group sizes. It all looks like a pretty normal Hershey's relative, save for a gritty, dusty undercoating of cinnamon and sugar., typical milk chocolate. I prefer dark, mostly, but it's an agreeable enough base. The cereal chocolate bar definitely emphasizes the cinnamon, though - it's heavy. My first reaction was a little of a turnoff - seemed a bit strong, too soon, but by the end of my allocated portion I was just beginning to enjoy the overall flavor. The cinnamony bite is pretty balanced out by the choclate, and it makes for a fun flavor, not too much unlike Mexican hot chocolate.

But there's a problem. I expected there to be cereal here. But...there isn't. The "bits of crunchy cinnamon square cereal" the packaging promised aren't there, at all. At the very least I would have hoped for something like a typical crisped rice/Nestle Crunch kinda deal, with lots of crunchies everywhere, if not big actual cereal chunks. Yeah, nope. The couple little specks of cereal here and there are few and far between and add nary a textural variant. It's kinda disappointing in that regard, so there's some mega point deductions there.

Overall the bar tatstes about right, if you like cinnamon, of course. But it just doesn't feel right. There's just too much untapped potential here. For a couple bucks, the cinnamon cereal chocolate bar with cinnamon but not really cereal made an alright buy, but it's not a purchase I'd seek out to repeat over and over. Meh.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crunchy Cinnamon Squares Milk Chocolate Bar: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Infuse Spirits Broken Barrel Bourbon

"Are you having fun?"
"I'm having bourbon," replied Jessica Jones.

Ah, the power of suggestion. I'm not sure if everyone's like this, but Sonia and I have noticed that any time we see someone eating or drinking a particular type of food or beverage on TV or in a movie, we instantly get cravings for said food or beverage. We see Seinfeld at the Chinese restaurant, we want Chinese. We see Kevin order pizza while he's home alone, we want pizza. We see hobbits with pint glasses at the Prancing Pony, we want ale. 

Case in point: Jessica Jones Season Two on Netflix. She drinks bourbon/whiskey like it's water. Neither of us could ever chug 95 proof the way JJ does, but the ubiquitous presence of the spirit on the show finally got to us. The combination of us binge-watching this latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the advent of St. Patrick's Day led us to crave some good, old-fashioned barrel-aged bourbon. 

As fate should have it, just in the nick of time, we discovered this: the smoothest whiskey we've ever had—not that either of us is a connoisseur exactly. Just like any other product we find at TJ's, we're not subjecting the product to 50 points of intangible criteria or reading about what some whiskey snob says about it. We're simply listening to our taste buds and perhaps measuring the product against other comparable offerings we've tried from other brands. 

And virtually every other American whiskey I've ever had went down kinda funky. And when I say "funky," I mean there was almost a chemical kind of flavor either in the body or the aftertaste, along with an unpleasant burning sensation in my sinuses. Those other brands were fine when mixed with a cup of egg nog or coffee or...basically anything else, but when served neat or on the rocks, they were pert near unpalatable to me. Not this.

This is the first time I've truly enjoyed a whiskey as a stand-alone beverage, and I've tried a number of major brands of bourbon and other American whiskeys. Now don't get me wrong, this beverage has a kick to it—but it goes down super easily. There are hints of sherry and a distinct and pleasant woody, oaky flavor here, no doubt from the French and American "broken oak staves" mentioned on the bottle. The color is a nice caramel brown, and I'd swear I taste something caramel-esque in there as well.

$29.99 for 750ml. We should also mention that as of now, this Infuse Spirits brand product is apparently only available at select Trader Joe's in California, although you might be able to track it down in other wine and spirits stores throughout the country. Sonia was recently back in her native SoCal for family reasons and well...she's a sucker for nice packaging. She raved about the presentation of the bottle as she proudly exhibited it to me. I must admit, it's impressive—stately, even...much like the taste of the bourbon.

Four and a half stars a piece.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Trader Joe's Chocolate Whole Milk

We're beginning to approach the end of my oldest daughter's first formal year of schooling, and I'm continually amazed by how much she's learning. I'm sure every parent feels this way, to some degree, but man - my kid is smart. Just this past weekend, as I drove around town with her buckled up in the back of the minivan, I listened as she read off words she recognized on road signs and could read. "Car wash." "Burger." "Ice cream." And so on. And it was without any hesitation whatsoever - she read them as easily and breezily as any of us would. She's gonna be like Sandy, I think - a really good reader, her nose always stuck in a book somewhere. We already pack our bags full at the library on a regular basis, and most nights she'll beg for the light to left on as long as possible so she can keep on reading as late as she wants....

Which reminds me. I should probably move Trader Joe's Chocolate Whole Milk to a higher shelf in the fridge, out of the sightline of a five and a half year old. If she knows this is in our house, it's game over, and I want it all for myself. FOR ME!!!

It's been years since I've drank milk on any sort of regular basis. It's just not my thing any more. And whole milk? That's not what I grew up on. We were 1%, occasionally 2% family growing up. Certainly never skim - that always seemed a little pointless - but whole milk? Nah. That seemed a bit much.

But this milk? Holy cow. Almost literally. Maybe I'm still in sugar shock and a little buzzed, but I almost cannot believe how utterly delicious it is. Words kinda fail. It's just...try it. If you haven't already. Apparently this version of TJ's chocolate milk was available years ago, then discontinued and just brought back. Big Joe, whoever made that decision, give them a bonus!

It's thick and creamy and undeniably smooth, almost like drinking chocolate pudding or ice cream. Except even better! The chocolate flavor is rich and decadent, but is decidedly more towards cocoa than chocolate if that makes sense. It's a very pure kind of flavor, without being overly sugary tasting or too cloy or sickeningly sweet. Yes, I'm aware of all the added sugar. No, I do not care. It's called "treat yo' self." It's the kind of flavor that only a rich creamy base like whole milk would work with - anything else would be too thin to really flesh out the depth of flavor here abounding from each sip.

Even better, from personal expereince, it mixes well with a little Kahlua and vodka for a...well, I'm not sure what that'd be called. A mocha Russian? I'm sure there's many other alcoholic possibilities here - creme de menthe, anyone? If you got any other ideas, share away.

Anyways I have no doubt that my kiddo could at least read the words "chocolate" and "milk" and she's got just enough juvenile mischeviousness to try and guzzle away at some when ol' Mama and Dad are strugglin' out of bed in the morning. She's self sufficent enough to make her own breakfast half the time, which explains why she and her sister each ate three freezer waffles the other morning. She could figure out how to pour herself a cup, or beg us relentlessly...and sometimes Dada just wants to be greedy. Fortunately at $3.99 for the half gallon carton it's not exactly a costly fridge filler. Both Sandy and I cannot think of even the slightest of complaints or suggestions or anything - it's just some pretty darn good chocolate milk. Better than that, even.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Whole Chocolate Milk: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Friday, March 9, 2018

Trader Joe's Cauliflower Tabbouleh

Despite my familiarity and affinity for most Middle Eastern cuisines, I've only had tabbouleh once before sampling this cauliflowerized version from Trader Joe's. I remember liking it all right but not becoming obsessed with it like I did chicken shawarma. Nevertheless, the "Levantine vegetarian salad" is very popular among various Middle Eastern cuisines, and is nearly as ubiquitous as shawarma, pita, and hummus in ethnic restaurants here in the US.

I like traditional tabbouleh just a little more than this offering from Trader Joe's, but not for the reasons you might assume. The primary difference between this tabbouleh and one you might find at your local Lebanese restaurant is that they've substituted bulgur wheat with cauliflower, rendering a product that is not only vegan, but also gluten-free. As a result, the taste is slightly less nutty—less bready, if you will. But both Sonia and I agree that the cauliflower affects the texture of the tabbouleh significantly more than the flavor. The whole dish is soft and wet to begin with, and if anything, the cauliflower makes it softer—but it also lends a sogginess to it that might be off-putting to some.

The flavor is nice and fresh, citrusy, and subtly oniony. This dish reminds me very much of pico de gallo, but with cold riced cauliflower mixed in. And like pico de gallo, this tabbouleh can be used with Mexican dishes as well as Mediterranean ones, or it could simply be served with tortilla chips as an appetizer. Tell your guests it's "Mexican-Middle Eastern Fusion," even if it's just because you didn't have pita bread on hand.

That brings me to my next point: like pico de gallo, this product is full of raw tomatoes. I don't remember the tabbouleh I tried long ago containing so many pieces of tomato, but I guess it must have, since they're one of the main ingredients in almost any tabbouleh recipe. I'm not a huge fan of raw tomato, and I'm sure I'd have appreciated the flavor a little more if there weren't so many in there. I did my best to eat around them and pick them out and give them to Sonia the tomatophile, who was happy to gobble them up by themselves or mixed in with the rest of the tabbouleh.

This product works as a side for Mediterranean foods, as a condiment for chicken dishes that might need spruced up, or as a dip for chips, crisps, or pita bread. I'm sure it would do well as a substitute for tapenade—you could surely use it to top off bruschetta. I'd throw this on top of burritos or nachos. Eat it with fish. I could go on...

Accessible to vegans, vegetarians, and the gluten intolerant, TJ's has provided a very versatile dish here. $3.69 for the tub. And yet another Trader Joe's cauliflower product gets the thumbs up from the WG@TJ's team. Three and a half stars from me. Four from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Trader Joe's Organic Vanilla Fudge Chip Ice Cream

Oh ice cream, what would we do without you?

This is a serious question.

Listen, if I want anyone to do anything in my family, bribery is required, with ice cream being the promised booty of choice. Want kids to clean their room and not complain too much? Promise ice cream. Do Sandy and I (okay, mostly Sandy) have a huge pile of laundry to slay? If there's ice cream when we're done, no problem. Need to motivate ourselves for a run or to get other chores or if we need to celebrate a milestone or feel better about a crappy day or sometimes just because? Yup, ice cream on all those counts. Nothing puts a smile on our collective face better than a lil ice cream, especially if we say we're giving an "extra little bit" when scooping.

Yep, we love our ice cream out here...but we don't love Trader Joe's Organic Vanilla Fudge Chip Ice Cream.

It's a pretty simple, classic construct. Kinda obviously, it's vanilla ice cream and fudgy little chips, and not much else. When there's such simplicity it can make your shortcomings all the more apparent. Other TJ's vanilla ice cream has taught me how absofreakindelish that plain ol' vanilla can be...this stuff is kinda the other end of the spectrum. It's just kinda amiss all the way around. It's not particularly creamy or flavorful or anything. Instead the ice cream kinda tastes and feels like somewhat chalky, cold dairy-like substance that vaguely tastes like the cardboard carton it comes in. That's not exactly high praise.

But the fudge chips? They're pretty good! Something seemed a little different yet familkiar about them, that I couldn't place until scanning the ingredients...coconut oil! Sandy has made some desserts made mostly from cocoa powder and coconut oil and some other stuff too, I'm sure, that these chips kinda tastelike. Coconut and chocolate almost always go great together, and even though it's pretty subtle here, the chips (of which there are plenty) are fairly choice and help pick up the rest of the dessert.

It goes without saying that our kids love this TJ's ice cream, as they're pretty easy to please with anything sugar related, but Sandy and I? Not huge fans. There's bonus points for being organic and whatnot, but man, if it doesn't feel or taste quite right, it ain't right. If this were our sole means of motioation, we might not get out of bed in the morning. No, wait, that's what we use coffee know what we mean. We'll play nice and give it a five between us.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Vanilla Fudge Chip Ice Cream: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Trader Joe's Shawarma Chicken Thighs

During my days in Hollyweird, California, a Lebanese restaurant called Roro's was brought to my attention by a co-worker. Not only was it affordable and delicious, but it happened to be situated exactly halfway between my apartment and my place of employment. 

I walked to work in those days, so I could easily pop in and out of the tiny hole-in-the-wall establishment without having to battle chaotic L.A. traffic and the tragically undersized and congested parking lot of the building in question, which I fondly referred to as "Satan's Strip Mall" by virtue of its address at 6660 Sunset Blvd—not to mention the apparently demon-possessed folks who frequented the area. 

It was there I fell in love with chicken shawarma. I never got anything else. I ate it for lunch or dinner at least once or twice a week for a number of years.

Since then, I've tried chicken shawarma from a few other places. Each was tasty, but there will always be a place in my heart for Roro's. And if you live in the Los Angeles area, but have no desire to venture into the Dark Land of Mordor, AKA Hollywood, Zankou Chicken is a close second-favorite of mine for shawarma, with locations conveniently scattered about the Southland.

And then there's this stuff from Trader Joe's. I have mixed feelings, as does Sonia.

Flavor-wise this offering lacks the tang of the chicken shawarma that I'm used to. I'm accustomed to shawarma marinated in yogurt with a good bit of lemony zing. Most chicken shawarma recipes you'll find online include a significant amount of lemon juice, and while this product does include "lemon juice" in its ingredients, I think the citrus flavor gets lost under the rest of the spices. And, alas, no yogurt. There's almost an Indian spice flavor here. Maybe it's the turmeric?

It's not a bad flavor. It's just not quite what I was expecting.

The texture is even further from my expectations. This chicken is much thicker and chewier than any shawarma I've ever had. The instructions do say to "slice" before serving—something we neglected to do with our first serving (pictured above). With subsequent attempts, we sliced it as thinly as we could, and I will say that the product works much better with smaller chunks of chicken, particularly when they're mixed with other Mediterranean foods. But still, there's just enough fat or gristle content in most pieces of chicken (at least in the package that we obtained) that it lacks the melt-in-your-mouth perfection of restaurant-quality shawarma.

All in all, the chicken still went well with Trader Joe's Apocryphal Pita and Roasted Garlic Hummus, as well as some tabbouleh. The meal wasn't unsatisfying at all, despite the product's shortcomings. I think I'd have enjoyed it far more if I'd never had good shawarma and lacked any expectations. It could be that TJ's offering mimics Turkish shawarma or some other regional variant of the Middle Eastern dish, while I'm primarily only familiar with the Lebanese version. 

Our package was $6.69, but price will vary by weight. Ours was one of the lowest-priced that we saw. We were able to get about four reasonably-sized servings out of it.

I'll be generous and throw down three and a half stars. Sonia gives it three and a half as well.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Trader Joe's Chocolate Caramel Yolkies

So if chocolate milk comes from chocolate cows...chocolate eggs come from chocolate chickens, right? That's gotta be how that works.

Don't laugh. Easter is coming up soon, and among many other things, that means it's Cadbury Creme Egg season. They have to come from somewhere. A factory? That's laughable. A chocolate chicken farm must exist, even if only in some Wonkaified version of reality, with those choco-chickens laying choco-eggs, and occasionally one or two of them drop and crack...

...because where else would we get Trader Joe's Chocolate Caramel Yolkies from? It's science, right?

All kidding aside, here's our first somewhat seasonally themed installment of yet even more holiday candy. You know, because the recent gauntlet of Halloween, Christmas and Valentine's Day wasn't quite enough...I digress. These eggies appear to be a fun novelty type item, and hey, it 's chocolate, can't be a bad thing, right? Right?


"Bad" isn't the right word for the TJ yolkies. But "delicious" isn't quite yet either. As you can see, it's milk chocolate exterior, with a pool of white chocolate inside, with a yellow mounded candy melt-type construction atop, all made to resemble some sort of egg/square hybrid. The whole shebang is a little heftier than they look.

Oh, and inside that that yellow dome is a teeny itty bitty squirt of caramel sauce, to be resemble something like a runny egg yolk. It'd work....if there were more caramel. There's barely any! That leaves the whole candy seeming like a big square of, in all, fairly nondescript chocolate. Good chocolate, but pretty plain.

I could see these being a fun toss in for a kid's Easter basket. At $2.69, it's not an awful price for something kinda fun. Most likely though, it'd leave something to be desired for us big kids. Sandy didn't even bother finishing hers and said, somewhat dejectedly, "I feel like I wasted my treat tonight." Ouch. I'm not quite that forlorn, but I'd be okay with them not coming around again, either. No offense to the chocolate chickens, but they definitely did kinda lay an egg here.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chocolate Caramel Yolkies: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Trader Joe's Zucchini Spirals

Like many children, when I was very young, I was turned off by most vegetables. I ate the basic stuff kids ate—peas and carrots, maybe some steamed broccoli here and there. But I remember being terrified of zucchini. I'd heard of zucchini bread and wondered what kind of sick person would ruin something as delicious as bread by baking a vegetable into it. After eating pan-fried zucchini from our garden once or twice and being relatively impressed by it, I got brave enough to try zucchini bread, too. I thought it was scrumptious. It works for the same reason pumpkin pie works: it's a unique vegetable surrounded by bread and sugar. 

On its own? It may not be quite as dessert-like, but as long as there's some oil and seasonings involved, it's certainly not bad.

Some of you might remember the carrot spirals we looked at last year. Same concept here, except with—you guessed it: zucchini!

I didn't feel like the zucchini was quite as versatile as the carrot, quite honestly—at least in terms of the product pairing with pasta sauces and that sort of thing. When I first heated the zucc spirals per the instructions, I felt the result was a bit too chewy. There was a subtle crunchiness to the vegetable, but there was also a slight stringiness. 

You can see in the picture above that the zucchini maintained its green and white colors after heating on the skillet for about nine minutes, as per the instructions. It still appeared essentially the same as when it's raw. Sonia pointed out that zucchini is a much fleshier vegetable than carrots, and for that reason, she thinks the carrot spirals are the superior product. 

When I fried the zucchini spirals in olive oil, they browned up nicely and got a bit more crisp and flavorful, in the manner of zucchini fries, albeit much longer and thinner. At that point, I was fine eating them with just 21 Seasoning Salute and a bit of extra sea salt, although I'm sure there are plenty of other sauces, dressings, and maybe even grated cheeses that might go with them.

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

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Trader Giotto's Organic Spinach & Ricotta Pizza

"Pizza night."

Oh goodness, I love those words.

There's so many things that those words signify. For our family, that almost always means it's Friday night, after a long week of work, and right before a weekend full of familial nonsense like Costco runs (more pizza!) and stuff like kid birthday parties (usually even more pizza!). It means it's time to kick back and relax a little, and chow down on some comfort food. I mean, it's tough to beat pizza. Ask my kids - it's one of few foods we don't have to beg, borrow, and deal with them about. They'll happily chomp it right on down. Easiest dinner this side of mac and cheese, or ice cream sundaes. Eat pizza, pizza yum. Good times.

Yes, we love pizza and what it means...but when I think of pizza, I don't think of pies like Trader Giotto's Organic Spinach & Ricotta Pizza.

I mean, organic? Spinach? That sounds...kinda healthy. I prefer stuff like buffalo chicken or pepperoni or sausage or basically any kind of meat. I want me greasy comfort, not healthy freshness. And ricotta? I have a love/hate with ricotta. Mostly, I love avoiding big globs of it, because I hate big ol' chunks of it. It's one of those "less is more" type deals for me, for sure.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed this particular pie, though. It's not a new favorite, by any stretch, but it works. The key seems to be the sourdough crust - first of all, it tastes fantastic. It's not overly sour, but has just the right touch to offset the thin coat of marinara and play off it a bit. It also helps that the crust is thick and doughy and a little chewy while still getting a little crispy on the bottom. Sandy says she wishes she baked it a little longer than the box instructions dictated to be a little crispier, but nah, was great as is.

And as you can see, there's plenty of spinach atop as well. Nothing too overly special about that - I mean, it's just spinach, but I was pretty happy with how much there was. It helped hide the ricotta a bit. I guess if you're a ricotta aficionado, you may be disappointed with the small crumbles here and there. But for me, I was happy. With the ample mozzarella, it seemed to be more a light creamy touch here and there, without overly affecting either the overall flavor or feel of the pie too much. That's a plus.

Both Sandy and I had to shake a little red pepper flakes to liven up the spinach ricotta pizza a little, which worked great. As you can imagine, without the flakes it was a little plain tasting overall. But in all, it's a solid pie, if not my ideal version. Bonus points for it being a Giotto product - I miss all the different names, and they seem so few and far between these days. It'll be an occasional pick-up for our many pizza nights, I'm sure.

Bottom line: Trader Giotto's Organic Spinach & Ricotta Pizza: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, February 23, 2018

Trader Joe's Mexican Style Corn & Quinoa Salad

One of the best parts of being in an intercultural marriage is coming to understand and appreciate the other culture just a little deeper than one might have been able to otherwise. I still don't embrace things like feeding dead relatives on Dia de los Muertos—but then, Sonia never did either. But the food? Mexico has some of the greatest culinary traditions on the planet. And in Sonia's own words, "Mexicans don't eat bland food." She's not claiming that every dish has to be scorchingly spicy, but that it should at least boast bold flavor.

We see plenty of ingredients here that one might find in dishes from south of the border: cotija cheese, corn, cilantro, poblanos, jalapeños. But the overall effect? Not particularly flavorful.

The salad was fresh, and there was a good mix of cabbage, quinoa, rice, and corn. They were a bit stingy with the cotija cheese, as we've seen in at least one other TJ's product.

There was a narrow tube of dressing included with the salad. It was thick and green, quite similar in appearance to the Green Goddess we just looked at. It tasted like creamy cilantro, so...if you like cilantro, I guess that's not bad—but for a dressing that supposedly included poblano peppers, jalapeño peppers, green onions, and garlic, it was shockingly tame. Not only was there no detectable heat, but there was very little flavor overall. I understand poblanos aren't super hot, but jalapeños have a bit of kick to them. Onions? Garlic? Not even enough in there to sully your breath before a business meeting—which could be a good know, if you had a business meeting...

Five bucks for this salad, which allegedly includes four servings. 560 calories and 28 grams of fat in the whole container—significant, considering the subtleness of the flavor. And one more complaint: I found it very difficult to mix the salad around in the container without spilling elements out of the tub in every direction. It's not the end of the world, particularly if you're eating this at home. But on the go? At work? Might be a little inconvenient.

There's plenty of roughage and fresh, quality ingredients in this product. There's nothing particularly wrong with it. This salad's just not tasty enough to call "Mexican Style" or to warrant a repeat purchase. Two and a half stars from Sonia. Three from me.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Egg Fettucine Pasta

As a family that has no gluten sensitivities or celiac concerns, there's invariably and irrefutably one factor that makes or breaks a gluten free product for us: the texture. Most GF items we've had taste fine or just good enough, but if it feels wrong, ugh. Or conversely, if the texture is just fine, that's an absolute bonus.  A recent family snack favorite (non-TJ's division) has been Snyder's of Hanover Gluten Free Mini Pretzels. Not only do they taste awesome but they have a terrific, tight crunch that's even better than a regular pretzel. We gobble them down, and are an absolute winner.

And yes, we are aware that TJ's has a gluten free snack pretzel option. I don't believe they've been reviewed, but we've had them. We just like the Snyder's better, so there's that.

But what Trader Joe's does have is Trader Joe's Gluten Free Egg Fettucine Pasta.

Egg noodles really are the best, aren't they? A little firmer, a little doughier, some more girth and whatnot. They're classic, and you don't mess with classics. That's why I never acknowledge that Jack Sparrow was also once in a chocolate factory...point being, here's a little bit of a risk. Making an all out, long thick noodle that will undoubtedly be at the center of any dish it's prepared for leaves little wiggle room for error....

Nailed it.

I'd be hard pressed to notice a difference AT ALL between these gluten free noodlers and the plain ol semolina variety. It's nearly a perfect copy. Even more impressive considering the first ingredient is rice flour, which I typically liken to making stuff taste and feel like wet newspaper. I would think might some sort of corn conglomeration would do it, but nope, rice. Amazing.

I wish I could really go into more detail, but think of a really good egg noodle, and that's exactly what these guys are like. What more can I say? What higher compliment? I can think of none.

Even our kiddos loved them. M, our oldest, enthusiastically gave them two thumbs and 10 toes up, and she's normally the first to grimace about anything. It may have helped we had these for dinner in butter sauce with shrimp, which are two of her favorites. We all wolfed them down. Which brings to one slight negative - it's only three servings per bag, which is kinda an odd number. For our fam, and perhaps yours, two bags would have to do it for dinner, especially when our kids' appetities will rival ours. Regardles they were fairly inexpensive and readily available in the refrigertaed section, as these are fresh noodles that cook in literal minutes. Which makes them even better for our busy fam. As ones who choose to forego gluten when possible, these will become a staple I'm sure. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gluten Free Egg Fettucine Pasta: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Trader Joe's Green Goddess Salad Dressing

When Trader Joe's offers up female-themed, gender-specific products like this one, I always have to do a self-induced Man Card check. 

I mean, one could argue that Trader Joe himself is a dude, and that nearly every product in the store has a dude's name on it. But a chick purchasing Cowboy Burgers or Cowboy Caviar? Nobody bats an eyelid. I buy Cowgirl Bark—and the female clerk that rang me up actually called me out on it. Other parts of that classic review were indeed fictional—and me calling my own review "classic" is absolutely meant to be as tongue-in-cheek as you were hoping it was. But the part about the Trader Joe's employee wondering why I was buying Cowgirl Bark instead of the "boy" version really, truly, honestly happened.

So now, when "goddess" type products pop up on TJ's shelves, to prove to myself how secure I am in my masculinity...

I send my lovely Sonia in to purchase them while I wait in the car.

I mean, I'm well aware that food-blogging about salad dressing isn't quite as manly as, say, felling mighty cedar trees with a hacksaw or driving a monster truck through a massive, fiery explosion, so I'm demonstrating some level of security here anyway, right? I've reviewed mango, pumpkin spice, and even light beer products. I'm secure as heck...right? I guess if I even have to ask you, then I already have my answer. Oh well.

Insecure or not, I must say I do like this dressing. It's super thick, but relatively smooth, and it tastes as green as it looks. It coats everything it touches, so you don't have to use much with each serving. 

It's decidedly avocado-y. There's a bright citrusy zing from the lemon juice, too—and underneath those dominant flavors is a subtle, but remarkably unique blend of garlic, spices, and apple cider vinegar. It worked very well on salad, but I think there are plenty of other applications here.

It certainly doesn't taste exactly like guacamole, but it could probably serve in the same capacity. It's delicious as a chip dip, and I imagine it would be stellar as a sauce for fish tacos, sandwiches, baked potatoes, or nachos.

$3.69 for the small bottle. Even with teeny-weeny serving sizes, it'll go fast, because you'll want to eat it with everything. No weird ingredients, low in calories, vegan. Definitely avoid if you hate avocados or guac. I wish they made a version with some heat. I'm not sure what will pair just right with it... jalapeños? Tapatio? Cayenne pepper? We'll just have to experiment. Four stars from me. Four and a half from my "goddess," Sonia.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Trader Joe's Glazed Walnuts with Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup

Congrats, it's been done. It was bound to sooner or later.

After eight years and hundreds of reviews, I've been thoroughly stumped as to how to otherwise start a review of a TJ's product.

Usually I have a slice of life or dumb joke or mini info-burst about something that at least tangentially has to do with something, but not this time with Trader Joe's Glazed Walnuts with Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup. I've been mulling it over for close to a week, but I got nothing.

Nothing new to say about snacky nuts or bourbon or maple syrup or anything that has to do with these nuts. No great stories. No puns or jokes or anything. Just me and a bag of nuts that sound pretty amazing.

I'll grant that these bourbon maple glazed walnuts are good...but odd. There's a definite added buttery taste (it's the second ingredient) that adds an unexpected creamy blast, with all sorts of added sugar too. And not maple syrup-kinda sugar...just sugar.

So these are some pretty sweet walnuts, practically candy. There's some sweet maple taste at the end, for sure, but it's really tough to pick up on any bourbon aspects. The package says something along the lines of "earthiness" which isn't there, either, aside from the inherent nutty taste. It's some pretty good quality walnuts, by the way - nice and chunky, definitely munchy, a little roasty.

They're tasty by the handful, and would probably be good in things like brownies. The package recommends atop salad as well - in the right kind, that could work. Still, I feel as if the buttery coating holds back the product from it could fully be - some more straight up bourbon-y maple would be fantastic. Eh well. Still pretty tasty, and both Sandy and I had to hold ourselves back from chomping down the whole bag - they're pretty snackable for sure, so watch out.

For $3.99 for a half pound bag, it's a fairly respectable value as well. I'd get them again for sure, and maybe by then I'd think of some sort of wittier intro...but right now, it's just driving me nuts.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Glazed Walnuts with Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Trader Joe's Coconut Water with Pineapple Juice

It seemed to me I'd heard once that, in a pinch, one could use coconut water as IV fluid. I opened up Google and started typing "use coconut water" and sure enough, an auto-fill option popped up that read: "can you use coconut water as IV fluid". Apparently, the answer to that unpunctuated question is... "kinda."

There are actually multiple anecdotal reports of doctors successfully administering coconut water intravenously in cases of extreme dehydration when traditional IV fluids were absent. For some reason, I'm thinking these were cases of final desperation, rather than calculated medical maneuvers, but hey, I'm no doctor. I guess the bottom line here is that coconut water is just really darn good at providing hydration to the human body.

Now I'm guessing the addition of pineapple juice is a big "no-no" when attempting to inject the liquid directly into a vein, but when ingested orally, it makes coconut water a moderately enjoyable beverage, as is the case here. And when I say "moderately enjoyable," I mean that as a relative term. I mean that people who just barely tolerate the taste of coconut water (like me) will tolerate it with significantly less of a grimace on their face now that it's available with pineapple juice mixed in—unless, of course, said person is also not a fan of pineapple juice.

Sonia generally enjoys regular coconut water and thinks this mix is even better. "It's like a really watered down pina colada," she says. I won't argue with that, though I'd emphasize the "really watered down" part. It's about $4 for four small cans, which isn't cheap. Sonia would like to point out, though, that while sick with the flu, she used this beverage to stay well-hydrated. Not only that, but there's a good bit of vitamin C in there, too. So if you think of it as medicine, the price point seems more reasonable.

Sonia gives this coconut water 4.5 stars. I give it 3.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Trader Joe's Creamy Tomato Soup Seasoned Crackers

My wife doesn't always believe everything I tell her.

For whatever reason, I'm struggling to think of a concise, simple example of this that I'm openly willing to share. And I'm not talking about a nefarious, relationship-straining kinda doubt. It's more the "have to hear it from someone else" kinda deal. In all, it's pretty harmless, and it's never been over something too deeply serious.

I'm gonna use Trader Joe's Crwamy Tomato Soup Seasoned Crackers for an theoretical example, actually.

This actually didn't occur this way...but if I were somehow to get my hands on a boxful and try them out before she would, and told her that they taste like pizza, she'd probably be reluctant to try and may not even. She's not a tomato fan at all, and abhor tomato soup, so this is a product that would take some convincing for her to try.

But, I guess these soup-flavored crackers made their way on a TJ's fan page somewhere, where a few people all said "These crackers taste like pizza!" and so with that, she made sure to get them, probably mostly for a snack for our tomato soup lovin' girls, but she was pretty pumped to give them a try without any prodding from me.

I disagree, though. These crackers do NOT taste like pizza.

Sure, there's a vague similarity. The earthy soup flavors with a zesty spice flair (pepper, garlic, etc) could be construed as marinara-esque. I didn't pick up on it much, but folks with more attuned taste buds *might* be able to pick up on the asiago cheese. Primarily composed of rice flour, these crackers are light and ultra crispy with a sizable crunch, with the bonus of being gluten free.

But like pizza? Nah, not's something else...

Pizza Combo filling.

Obviously, in a different form and all, but to me, the similarity is there. Well, maybe less salty. But everything else? Yup. I'm not talking about the pretzel tube part or whatever else, but just the filling in the middle. Tomatoey with generic spice and a hint of cheese. It's there, and it's not necessarily bad, but if these crackers taste like pizza Combos, but if pizza Combos really don't taste all that much like pizza, the transitive property states that these crackers don't taste like pizza. Although I can see why people would think that way...

Am I mad? Crazy? Would this argument hold up in court? I have no idea. You tell me!

In all, our family enjoys them just fine. I like them as a snack that I feel no need to binge on, as does Sandy. But like pizza? Nah. Maybe you'll just to believe me...

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Creamy Tomato Soup Seasoned Crackers: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons   

Friday, February 9, 2018

Trader Joe's Cherry Chocolate Chip Soy Creamy

It's a rare condition that I link to the same seven-year-old post twice in a single week, but that's what we're gonna have to do here. Because in that post, Mr. Shelly states that the Mount Rushmore of Ice Cream would include Ben & Jerry's legendary Cherry Garcia. At the very least, the Vermont-based, Penn State-educated duo set the bar for cherry-flavored frozen desserts with their famous offering. Russ and I are both far too young and drug-free to be considered true Deadheads, but I do appreciate the ice cream as well as its late, great namesake and his music. By the way, Ben and Jerry, when will Bob Weir get an ice cream named after him?

But seriously though, as I scour the web for some background info during my brief prep for writing this post, I am dumbfounded by two revelations: 

1) Ben & Jerry's offers a non-dairy Cherry Garcia made with almond milk, and... 

2) This particular product was available at Trader Joe's at least A DECADE AGO. See: this blogspot food review.

In cases like this, it's anybody's guess as to whether this product was discontinued and then re-released, or whether it's been available all these years, somehow eluding our sights there in the frozen aisle. This recent tweet made me assume it was a new product.

If it has been there all these years, quite frankly I'm shocked that we didn't hear more about it, because it's pretty fantastic. In some ways, the slight nuttiness of the soy milk blends with the chocolate and cherry flavors even better than traditional dairy milk does. I'm eager to try B&J's almond milk-based version now, as that might work even better still. But as it stands, I'd hold this Soy Creamy flavor in higher esteem than the vanilla flavor we tried a while back.

There are plenty of chocolate chips, and the cherries are pretty awesome. They're basically just sugared cherries—as sweet as maraschino cherries, but without the formaldehyde and radioactive Red 40. Plenty of 'em, too. The overall flavor is sweet, but not too sweet, with very little aftertaste.

Sonia is a little under the weather right now and admittedly can't taste very much. She did like the bit of flavor she could detect, and of course she enjoyed the texture. Four stars from her. As someone who generally prefers dairy milk over soy milk, I think this product is worth 4.5, especially if you're lactose-intolerant or vegan.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.