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Monday, September 17, 2018

Trader Joe's Candy Corn Popcorn

I'm not a huge fan of picking up Halloween products before the leaves have turned and the air gets chilly, but TJ's releases these things in September, and we've got to strike while the iron is hot. Also, we're reviewing this sooner than later for the benefit of you readers. Knowing Trader Joe's, they'll be sold out next week, and they'll discontinue the product forever, and you'll be pulling your hair out, shopping for it on eBay at some obscene markup. I mean, hopefully, that won't happen, but if you're a fan of candy corn and/or caramel corn, I wouldn't take the chance...

Because this stuff is pretty yummy. It does, in fact, taste like candy corn. I think it tastes like caramel corn, too. But it's a very high-quality kind of caramel corn. It's on par with the Pumpkin Spice Caramel Corn we checked out just about exactly two years ago. I'm not even particularly fond of regular caramel corn. Never have been. But fancy, flavored, gimmicky, sexy, newfangled caramel corn? Yes, please.

As far as candy corn is concerned—as a kid, I was obsessed with it. I waited all year for those waxy, triangular sugar drops, and I'd inhale as much as my parents would allow during the season. I'd pray for lots of little bags of it during trick or treating, and they were among the first of the confections devoured on Halloween night. 

Sonia? Not so much. She thinks candy corn is kinda gross. But she still enjoyed this product because, in her words, "the candy corn presence is subtle." I see where she's coming from. It's not really an overpowering flavor. Candy corn haters may enjoy it despite an aversion to classic candy corn.

On the texture front, we're looking at nice, big, whole, popped corn kernels. They're fresh and crunchy. They'd be fluffy white if not coated in that slightly waxy, firm, sugary glaze. There are three colors in the bag: yellow, orange, and clear. I wouldn't have minded if they were three different flavors...but I guess that wouldn't be true to the candy corn theme.

It's a nice combination of two classic junk foods. It's a little addictive, too. Two people just might polish off the bag in one sitting. $1.99 for 5 oz. If I were rich, I'd hand out whole bags of this to the trick or treaters.

If your local store is sold out before your next TJ's run, you could always try melting a bunch of candy corns in the microwave and then dumping them over a bowl of popcorn, but I doubt it would turn out this well. Double fours for this product.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Trader Joe's Carrot Cake Spread

A few posts ago, there was a link in there about wine "experts" having their opinion swayed by the label. Product presentation affects perception, right? Seems like kinda no-brainer. Tell me what it is, I can judge adequately. Blind taste tests are tougher (yet perhaps fairer) in that something can be judged on its own merits. And maybe labels can make you "taste" something that kinda isn't there.

Mentioning this in reference to Trader Joe's Carrot Cake Spread because, honestly, if I didn't know it was trying to taste like carrot cake, I probably wouldn't have guessed it right off the bat. It's kinda an odd concoction...but oddly good.

Let's do this hypothetically blindfolded. First words I would say are chunky, almost like a marmalade. Except it's little bits of matter instead of orange peel or whatever. But there's absolutely a jammy marmalade vibe. Then, sweet. Very sweet. I'd pick up on apples right away, then probably pineapple for a slightly tart taste. Then, spicy. Not overly. I'd say ginger primarily, maybe a little cinnamon too. Then, super sweet, lots of sugar. Almost too cloyingly sweet but it sorta reins it in a smidge.

Blindfold off...hey, what are those little orangey doodads mixed in with pineappley tidbits? Are they...carrots? I guess? Wha?

Makes sense, I guess. Carrots really don't taste like much by themselves, and there's enough other stuff going on here.

Does it taste like carrot cake then? Meh....not sure. When I think carrot cake, my mind defaults more to it being a vehicle for cream cheese frosting inhalation, not a super sugary cake by its lonesome. Indeed, nekkid carrot cake would sway more towards savory in my opinion, while this TJ's carrot spread is undeniably sweet and sugary. So I wouldn't say it tastes just like carrot cake...but seeing the label, a little, I can see what TJ's is going for here. It kinda works.

All that aside, though, it's a good spread. Sandy and I spread some out on graham crackers for a post-dinner snacky that our kiddos turned up their noses at. Sandy's plotting a bagel and cream cheese run to use so we can try that, and she's intrigued by the jar's suggestion to try on pork. All that seems like it'd work to me, so why not? Most other uses you can think would probably work, exccept probably not as the J in a PB&J. I kinda want to mix it up with a can of cream cheese frosting, get a big spoon, and get shameful myself.

Still, I just can't shake that the carrot cake jelly is a bit too sweet and perhaps a little off the mark. Maybe if labelled as Spiced Pineapple with Carrot or something goofy like that, I'd be a bit more on board with the general concept. You see, it's messing with me here...quitting while I'm somewhat ahead.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Carrot Cake Spread: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Trader Joe's 100% Arabica Cold Brew Coffee

That cold brew coffee is so hot right now.

I won't deliver my usual spiel about how I'm not a regular coffee drinker. I'll let Sonia take the helm for this review. By that I mean this post will be mostly me interviewing my wife and transcribing her thoughts, since she's the resident java expert in our household.

Sonia has had cold brew coffee from Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, and Wawa, among others. As far as brands on our local grocery store shelves, she's sampled Stumptown, Stok, and Califia. She thinks this one is among the best, flavor-wise, but in terms of overall value, she'd put this at the very top of her list, with this one quart bottle running $4.99 at our local Trader Joe's.

The flavor is "smooth," as the packaging would suggest, but it's not particularly "bold" in Sonia's opinion. "The flavor is full-bodied, but it's not overly strong. It says 'bold,' but the taste is actually pretty subtle," says Sonia. "A lot of brands taste a little too earthy for me—they leave an almost cigar-like aftertaste—but this one is nicely balanced, with low to moderate acidity." She's fine with this brew straight out of the bottle by itself, but often she'll add a small amount of almond-based creamer that includes some sugar. 

This cold brew uses 100% arabica coffee beans from Colombia, home of Juan Valdez and, apparently, some other folks connected to Trader Joe who know how to make decent coffee.

Personally, I've always measured the success of a coffee by how much sugar and cream I have to add to make it palatable. I could stomach this offering with no additives whatsoever, but it's still not my very favorite. This is an instance where a hint of some kind of flavor would have worked for me. I'm well aware that most coffee purists would disagree. Sonia was fine with it this way, although she admits she'd try a mocha, hazelnut, or vanilla variety if they offered it.

We both prefer cold beverages in warmer weather, and we've still got a bit of that here in South Jersey, although we'll both welcome fall with open arms whenever it decides to show up. With highs still in the 80s around here, cold brew coffee serves us well. Sonia gives this product four and a half stars. I'd probably only go with three, but I'll let Sonia's opinion temper my low score and I'll go a little higher with three and a half.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Trader Joe's Sparkling Coconut Water with Yuzu

It's merely a fact of life that sometimes things come a little too late.

Such it is with Trader Joe's Sparkling Coconut Water with Yuzu for us.

It's gearing towards mid-September here, but last week, it was HOTT here in the 'burgh, like in the mid-90's and very humid. Such a day would have been notable but acceptable in, say, June or July...but September? After Labor Day? Awwww heck no! Though not equinoxically correct, summer's over by then! I spent the day going from place to place to scoree free AC without getting cited for loitering.

Two days later...our local TJ's gets this new cocount water in. It screams summer refreshment...but we just spent a whole weekend in the 50s and low 60s, extremely rainy to boot, almost jeans and hoodie weather. I'm not complaining about that one bit, really, but as much as I like this coco-water, I'd like it even more when it's hot and sticky.

Oh well. Gotta dance with which you've been dealt. It's delicious water, really. There's just enough carbonation in there to keep me from guzzling the whole somewhat dimunutive can at once, which is a good thing. It's certainly not as carbonated as a soda or anything like that.

But, man, the flavor...good stuff. The coconut flavor really shines through with sweetness, though not overkill by any stretch. And the yuzu adds a perfect accent. This isn't our first TJ's yuzu product, so I kinda knew a little what to expect, but if you're not familiar with the fruit, here ya go.  It kinda tastes like mild grapefruit with maybe a little orange or lemon, but not bitter or overly acidic or anything. It's a very mild, pleasant flavor that's uber refreshing when ice cold.

There's parts of me that wishes it came in a larger can. At $3.99 for the 4 pack, it's a comparable price point for most other beverages of its ilk, but I somewhat feel it's a little small for a buck per can. That's probably just me being cheap, though, and it'll be a repeat buy for sure. As is, if I let it settle for a bit, there's enough water in a can to quench my thirst and kinda fill me up a little too because of the fiber from the coconut. So it's probably a proper size...I just like it too much, is all.

Go get some before it's too late!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sparkling Coconut Water with Yuzu: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, September 7, 2018

Trader Joe's Riced Cauliflower Bowl

I move that the standard bean ingredient serving as the cornerstone of all vegan/vegetarian meals be changed from soybean to garbanzo bean. Do I hear a second? Anybody?

Not that I hate soy or tofu or other soy derivatives. I just like chickpeas better. And then when rednecks are trying to insult vegan/vegetarian men, they'll call them "garbanzo guys" instead of "soyboys." Doesn't sound quite as demeaning. Confession time: I'm originally from Pennsyltucky, so I'm still part redneck. Also, I'm not even full vegetarian. I might be more inclined if we can make that chickpea initiative happen.

Fortunately, there are delicious marinated chickpeas in this dish. There's also a good bit of soy-based tofu. Sonia thinks there's not enough of it. I disagree. Sweet potato, kale, and onions round out the veggie combo for a unique mixture of flavors. I find the tahini sauce to be somewhat acrid and acidic for my taste, while the wife is more than fine with it. 

Sonia thinks some of the vegetables are a bit too tough. I can see where she's coming from, although, overall, I think the texture is nice—particularly the chickpeas. Plenty of riced cauliflower here, too. Serves as a nice low-carb base for the dish.

For a quick, zappable, vegan lunch, $3 isn't a bad deal. The taste and texture are good, but not outstanding, in my opinion. Sonia is a little more enthusiastic overall. Says she'd definitely purchase it again. I think I'll go with three and a half stars here. Sonia will dole out four.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Gastronomiche Casa Milo Squid Ink Spaghetti

It doesn't happen often...but it does. I'm actually talking about two different things here.

First, a review of a non-TJ's branded product on our blog. Over 90% of a TJ's is their own house brand so there's plenty to choose from...but there are exceptions.

And kids begging for something for dinner that doesn't involve the words "mac 'n cheese."

By some wizardry and magic, those two worlds coverged upon a single product: Gastronomiche Casa Milo Squid Ink Spaghetti. Available at your local Trader Joe's...maybe. Sandy follows a bunch of TJ's Instragram and Facebook pages and has seen a lot of buzz about this particular black pasta, as well as scores of pictures of empty shelves with the product tag and a sad face.

So apparently it's a big deal, so good enough for a review for me.

I think I get the appeal from my kids' standpoint: It's black! Spaghetti usually isn't! This is new and exciting and kinda spooky! I'm sure there's all sorts of creative Halloween-themed dishes you could make with this to have it be even more fun. Although both kids kinda forgot about it in the couple days between purchase and preparation as they both asked why their noodles were black. I just told them that I burned them.

What about us adults? I tried figuring out the benefits or plusses or anything that made squid ink pasta stand apart from the regular ol' semolina fare (aside from appearance of course) and came up with two things: it has more antioxidants and it tastes a little different. I'm not gonna argue about anything with antioxidants - the less oxidants I have to fight on my own, the better - but different taste? Really?

If anything I was surprised by how similar the squidghetti tasted to the usual. It took a few slow, careful, plain bites to discern a small difference, and even then I'm not sure it wasn't a case of me trying too hard. Really, for all intents and purposes, at least to me, it tastes the same, especially when adding garlic and EVOO and shrimp like we did.

Worth a try? Sure. Will it change your pasta-pounding world? Probably not. If you want a dark colored pasta that's truly different, here's another option. But I'm not intimidated by squid ink spaghetti anymore, at the very least, so perhaps I can be a little fancier if I ever see it on a menu somewhere. 'Til then, this will be in our occasional rotation I'm sure for the two or three bucks a package.

Bottom line: Gastronomiche Casa Milo Squid Ink Spaghetti: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Trader Joe's ABC Bars

I'm Always Buying Crack at Trader Joe's—not literal crack, just highly-addictive substances that happen to be nice and legal. ABC could stand for so many things here. I might refer to them as they're meant to be called: Almond Butter Cocoa. Or I could ask Sonia to Absolutely Bring the Chewies on our next hike. They're definitely Addictive Bars, Creamy. They're vegan, so they're free of Animal Byproducts, Completely.

Flavor-wise, I might call these Amaretto Blast Cookies. The flavor is almondy—but it's such a sweet almond flavor, I think it tastes a bit like amaretto—though not alcoholic in the least. I think they taste more like amaretto than either almond butter or cocoa, quite honestly. Sonia thinks the cocoa dominates the almond butter slightly. I'm not sure if I agree or not. They're just sweet—but not overly so, nutty, buttery, and not unlike confectionalized amaretto. Scrump-dilly.

Texture-wise, they're surprisingly soft. I might describe the mouthfeel as A Bed of Comfort. They're definitely chewy rather than crunchy, but there's a much greater "melt-in-your-mouth" factor than, say, most "chewy" granola bars or cookies. 

They're gluten-free, so...Absolutely Buy'em Celiac-sufferers. Price-wise, ABC is easy as 1, 2, 3 dollars, with a total of six in the box. That makes them about 50 cents a piece. They are kinda small, but they're rich, dense, and more filling than you might expect. Sonia and I would put them on par with the average Clif, Luna, or Balance bar in terms of hunger-curbing capacity, with a slightly better overall value.

This is another thumbs up from both of us. Sonia will dish out her second four and a half stars in a row. Put me down for four again.

Awesome Bars, Conclusively.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Trader Joe's High Rye Bourbon

If you ever find yourself passing through Louisville, KY on a Tuesday afternoon with a few hours to kill, and a crew of small kids in tow, and you're a little thirsty either before or after going to the absolutely awesome Lousiville Slugger Museum and Sandy and I found ourselves recently...may we suggest the Evan Williams Experience?

Seriously. Few distelleries are open on Tuesdays, even fewer are kid friendly. EW is the exception. Friendly folks, interactive tour that's fun and informative (will even keep kid's attention for the most part), capped off with a short tasting of different EW offerings at the end. It's really when tasted side-by-side that different charcteristics of different bourbon offerings stand out. It actually kinda hit for the first time the difference between the even keel of a typical base mixed barrel offering versus the milder undertones of single barrel. We picked up a few bottles there for sure...

...then headed over to the Louisville TJ's for even more bourbon, because, you know, Kentucky. Why not? Can't exactly get TJ's hard stuff just anywhere.  We picked up an old favorite but in spirit of adventure also chose Trader Joe's High Rye Bourbon. Not a bad price at $19.99.

And of course for sake of comparision I had to try the two side by side. Did that again just now. So the rest of this review oughtta be fun.

At 84 proof, I expected more burn to be honest. But it's not here in the rye variant. The regular ol TJ's straight sure can, as I semi-coughingly reminded myself. Nah, it's much more even and mellow here, with still a semi-fiery undertone. But man oh man...the rye. There's a lot of it, as one would expect. I'm learning to appreciate it, slowly but surely. I feel like it may be somewhat akin to hoppy beers, in that bourbons high in rye would also be a somewhat acquired taste. The mix mash here is 70% corn and 30% rye, so there's definitely a heavy-handed grainy taste here that I'm not accustomed to. Most bourbons seem to be 10% rye or less. A little ice mellows it out, and blossoms some slightly sweet elements.

And sorry, but I laugh at the label note that says "aged in new charred barrels." That's literally every bourbon. It's like listing Cherrios as cholesterol-free, in that it's a given. It's an actual legal requirement for any bourbon to be considered a bourbon to be aged in a newly charred barrel.

It's a sipper meant to be enjoyed slowly, for sure. If I were still into cigars, I'd imagine the two going well hand-in-hand...but I haven't smoked one in years. I've been working my way thru the bottle slowly, as it does go down easily enough, but at the end I'm not sure I'll make it a point to seek out more rye bourbons. I feel it's a drink I can respect and appreciate for what it is, but not completely savor, if that follows. Sandy does enjoy bourbon but more or less is taking a pass at this one. I'd say it's decent enough for what it is, especially at a fairly reasonable (to me) price. Thanks Pennsylvania and your government-run spirit shops. Gonna go with a seven here overall.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's High Rye Bourbon: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Trader Joe's Thai Tea Mini Mochi

I'm not sure when I was first introduced to it, but I've been a fan of Thai iced tea for a long time now. If you're ever at a good Thai place, definitely try the Thai iced tea. Some restaurants make it better than others, but when it's good, it's absolutely delicious. I'm pretty sure it's a type of black tea, but with plenty of coconut milk and sugar up in the mix. When it's served, there's a cool layered effect with white at the top, black on the bottom, and a nice orange-brown in the middle—check out the photo in this article.

These mochi bites captured the flavor fairly well, but both Sonia and I thought it was a little less sweet than the Thai iced tea we're used to. Sonia was fine with that. Since they're definitely a dessert food, I wouldn't have minded them a little sweeter, but they're still pretty tasty the way they are.

I also thought they overdid it with the flour on the outside of the gelatinous shells. The mochis were absolutely covered in the stuff. At first, I thought it might have been powdered sugar, but it wasn't sweet. A couple times, I actually coughed from inhaling some of it. 

The pic above was taken immediately after our 25 minute drive home from TJ's. They melted a little in the sweltering heat and a tiny bit of ice cream jumped out of their shells—fortunate for the sake of the pic in that you can see the color and texture of the actual ice cream there in the top two corners of the tray.

Other mochis we've tried from TJ's are all significantly larger than these. I guess that's why these are called "mini mochi." You could theoretically pop the entire mochi ball into your mouth in one bite, but you might suffer some serious brain freeze. I preferred to eat them in two small bites. 

With a serving size of 6 pieces and 210 calories, this is one of the more satisfying dessert foods we've seen in a while. Also, they're dairy-free, using coconut milk instead of cow's milk, but they're still nice and creamy. The tapioca and rice-based shells are soft and thin, just like we've seen from other Trader Joe's mochi offerings.

Sonia gives these ice cream treats four and a half stars. I give them four. $3.49 for 15 mini mochi balls.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Trader Joe's Black Licorice Treads

Tire treads can be awfully scary or just plain awful.

Two quick stories: Couple years ago, got on the PA Turnpike. Less than five minutes into a 300 mile drive, an 18 wheeler blew a tire as I was passing them. Tread tore right off and flew right towards our windshield. I thought we were goners...but some real nifty air current wind tunnel vortex-type voodoo (or just maybe the hand of God)  caught it and sailed right over us and onto the empty lane behind us. I don't think I breathed for the next hundred miles.

Another time, not as dire but didn't work out as well: Totally ran over a tire tread on the highway and busted up the whole underside of our car. Stopped at a truck stop for duct tape to make it the rest of the way home. Got "bit by an alligator" in trucker lingo, apparently. Almost $1000 in damage in an instant.

Fortunately, Trader Joe's Black Licorice Treads are of a happier variant. I mean, it's candy. They'd never make a candy version of anything harmful or awful or anything, right? These are totally candy sticks! 

Anyways, think a flattened out black Twizzler plank, and that's about what we got here. I'd approximate each TJ tread at about three Twizzler's worth, maybe four. Biting into a piece definitely gives about the same satisfaction as biting into multiple Twizzlers but is a little softer and less thick overall. Maybe it's the lack of airtube in the middle, which sadly means I can't make double use of them as a straw. Doh.

The flavor is a little different, though. I'd admit I'm used to black licorice being flavored mostly by anise, and there's a little bit of that to be had here. But most of the flavor seems to come more from actual licorice root, with which I'm not as familiar. I wouldn't say it's rich or vibrant or deep or whatever adjectives the packaging uses. It's more subtle and subdued, and it takes a few chews to get really worked out. Maybe it's only because it's a little different from a Twizzler and it has TJ's name on it, but I kinda want to say almost "more refined." Interpret as you wish, I'm an unabashed TJ's fanboy.

Good licorice treads for real. Would have been ideal for our recent road trip, on which we somehow avoided any vehicular shenanigans of any sort. As my family says when it's all good, "No dents, no tickets." Good approach here, as these are pretty good snackers I probably won't tire of. Give them a spin. Hoping I'm not inflating too much when I say double fours. Okay, this is getting worn out...

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Black Licorice Treads: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, August 24, 2018

Trader Joe's Chipotle Vegetable Quesadillas

"If they're called 'vegetable' quesadillas, there should be more vegetables," stated Sonia. "I want sliced-up zucchini or eggplant or peppers in there. Corn and beans aren't enough."

This is coming from the only human being I know who eats plain cheese quesadillas for a meal—nothing but a tortilla with melted cheese—on average about twice a week. If she'd add beans, corn, and chipotle sauce, I could probably live off her quesadillas, because I enjoy the taste enough, and also, I'm guessing, there'd be enough nutritional value in there.

Likewise, I could live off these quesadillas. I really like their simplicity and flavor. I'll admit we heated them in the microwave, but I was more than pleased with the result. 

Sonia? Not so much. Sometimes I think she feels threatened by Trader Joe's Mexican offerings—as if I'll suddenly ask her to never cook again and demand the freezer be stockpiled with Trader José's comida Mexicana. Where is José these days, anyway? Don't worry, wifey. I'll never get tired of your salsa de queso.

Sonia's other major complaint was the price. $3.49 for two quesadillas. I'll admit they're not exactly giving them away, but each quesadilla could stand as a meal in and of itself. That seems like a pretty standard price point for frozen foods to me. I think Sonia has a problem with it because she can make about 500 of her plain quesadillas with an inexpensive stack of corn or flour tortillas and a hunk of cheese from the grocery store, and they wind up costing about 15 cents each.

The balance of corn, beans, and cheese is on point here in these "vegetable" quesadillas, and the chipotle flavor is almost perfect, too. There's a hint of heat, but it's not overwhelming. If I were in the mood for something with a significant kick, I would have to put some kind of hot sauce on them, but for most occasions, they're perfect just the way they are. 

Sonia didn't really have any specific complaints about the taste or texture. She just thinks they'd be better with another ingredient or two. Fair enough. Two and a half stars from her. 

That's a painfully low score for these, in my opinion. Four and a half stars from me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Simpler Wines Rosè

For my family, we seem to have a pretty set vacation template for a good time. Go somewhere to go to a zoo, a baseball game...and a Trader Joe's. It's just what we do. We're not particularly outdoorsy or beach folks or lounge all day by a pool or go fancy-schmancy stuff. And yes, we do hit up Trader Joe's in other states as much as we can. We just got back from a southern swing and added on three new states (North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky) to our growing list. By my count we're up to 16 states.

What's the appeal? Hard to exactly say...but we need to eat and get snacks and well, you never know what you might see or find, or who you might encounter. It's cool to see the different set-ups and artwork and have the kids look around for the animal...although Nashville, you don't have one? That's odd.

And of course, since we live in an oddball state a little too dedicated to its Quaker heritage by not allowing most grocery stores to sell alcohol, there's a whole branch of TJ's beverages we can't get on the regular around home. Got a fair amount of them while out and about which we'll be drinking and reviewing our way through in the coming times.

First up: Simpler Wines. AKA wine in a can. Though not branded as "Trader Joe's", as far as I can tell it's a TJ's exclusive and related to Simpler Times canned lager which replaced it's "Name Tag" line I *think* it's TJ's enough. Plus, it's wine! In a can! How cool is that?

I'm not gonna lie and say I'm a wine expert. Most wine experts aren't all that expert-y either. So I'm just going to ask myself a simple question: Did I like this particular rosè, can and all?

Yup! Sure did. It's light and floral and subtly sweet, with perhaps a bit more carbonation than anticipated. Perhaps it's because it's from a can so my taste buds are thinking more soda/sparkly water. Regardless, the rosè is a pretty decent, refreshing summer drink, and at about 10% it carries a little punch.

And of course, since it's in a can, this potent potable's potential portable possibilities prolong past previously prescripted parameters. Primarily, picnics. Perhaps parks or for pedestrian pastimes. No glasses needed - just pop open and enjoy, all with any local open container laws in mind, of course. Plus, well, wine in a can is still kinda novelty, so why not?

It's $5.99ish for the four pack of 250mL cans. A liter of decent wine for $6? Not bad at all. In addition to the rosè there's also canned chardonnay. Both Sandy and I enjoyed after getting the rugrats in bed for some late night Netflix and chill - another vacation classic. Double fours.

Bottom line: Simpler Wines Rosè: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Multigrain Bread and Trader Joe's Spanish Olive Cream Cheese Spread

I think my lovely wife fulfilled the creativity quota for this review in the short video below, so I'll just jump right in to the nitty gritty of these products:

We've seen sliced gluten free bread from TJ's before. This stuff is even better. The flavor is richer, nuttier. The texture is even closer to traditional multi-grain offerings than the previously-reviewed "Whole Grain" variety. It's roughly the same price at $4.49 for the loaf, and it might just be the best gluten-free bread I've ever had. Four and a half stars a piece on this product.

The cream cheese is moderately olivey. I think it tastes more like "olive juice" than actual olives—like they just mixed the olive brine water with cream cheese. It's not bad, though. There are very tiny pieces of olive in the mix. I wouldn't have minded them a little bigger—or maybe even olive slices rather than teeny-tiny little bits. Sonia seemed to like the creaminess and lack of olive chunks more than I did. It's an earthy, salty, savory flavor mixed in with the milky creaminess of traditional cream cheese. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

For more of Sonia's thoughts, check out the video review below!

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Multigrain Bread: Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Trader Joe's Spanish Olive Cream Cheese Spread: Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Trader Joe's Ramen Soup

Might not yet be back-to-school time for all the pre-college crowd, but university arrival is in full swing out here in the 'burgh. As home to several major schools in close proximity to each other, the local Targets and WalMarts are overflooded right now with masses of aspiring scholars getting their futons and table lamps and God knows whatever else.

And chances are, ramen noodles too. Need your stockpile.

Amazing I didn't suffer from malnourishment during college, as for three years I literally lived off of ramen and Papa John's pizza. Can barely touch ramen since, let alone it's slightly fancier cousin, that Cup o' Noodle feller.

There's a new twig on the ramen family tree: Trader Joe's Ramen Soup. There's presently two varieties as you can see: miso and chicken. Not that typically "flavors" matter for ramen - it's supersalty cheap carbs. It's only a matter of what color the seasoning packet is, right?

Well, I've admittedly only tried the chicken variant, but even from it, I can tell these soup cups are a decent buy. There's not just a seasoning (read: salt) packet inside, but also a small flavoring oil baggie, which when mixed with hot water makes a frothier, almost "creamier", slightly richer soup broth. The noodles are pretty basic ramen, with nothing too fancy about them, so the decent broth is a real nice plus.

A word about the noodles, though: There's two ways these can be prepped. You can either pour in tap water and microwave, or pour in hot water and let it sit. Sandy said the second non-nuking method seems to work better, as the noodles seem to "cook" better and have a better texture to them.

At a little over a buck each, these TJ ramen cups seem a little pricier than any I'd remember from college...then again, everything's more expensive than 15 years ago and I was being spoiled by 1o packages of ramen for a buck back then, too. Haven't really kept tabs on ramen market prices since then. We'll be picking these up, especially as the weather finally begins to cool, for a quick and easy lunch / small carbo-loading boost at work type deal. It's not the fanciest in the world but for what they are, they're pretty good. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Ramen Soups: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Mac & Cheese

This isn't the first gluten free mac and cheese we've looked at on this blog, but this is the first frozen gluten free mac and cheese at which we have looked.

If you've been reading this blog for a long time, you'll know that Sonia and I consider ourselves "gluten-sensitive" but haven't been diagnosed with any actual conditions that would warrant a strict gluten-free diet—although non-Celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a legit condition, and eating bread can cause schizophrenia, apparently, among other things, in just about anyone. Every once in a while, we'll choose gluten free because we're not anxious to feel any uncomfortable bloating, but after reading articles like this one, I'm thinking it might not be a terrible idea to avoid gluten as often as possible.

But still, there's the matter of taste. It's hard to eat something that doesn't taste good or have the right texture. All four of us at WG@TJ's are more than happy to take one for the team and try gluten free and vegan items not out of necessity, but for the sake of intrepid food blogging. We know many of you have more dietary restrictions than we do, and we respect that. Plus, we can provide a comparison to the "normal" counterpart of any special diet items. How does this offering fare? Read on.

I'll tell you right now Sonia is a huge fan of this product. I have mostly positive sentiments, but I do have my share of reservations. Let's start with the good stuff first.

What they got right: the four cheese combo. The cheese here is delicious, and there's plenty of it. They didn't skimp. Every piece of pasta is slathered in that scrumptious blend of cheddar, swiss, havarti, and gouda.

It's a good thing, too, because the pasta itself doesn't bring as much to the table in terms of flavor. It's pretty bland. Not sure why wheat pasta tastes a little better than this corn and rice-based offering. Maybe we're just more used to wheat. Or maybe it's all that yummy, schizophrenia-inducing gluten. Or maybe it's just the voices in my head telling me that wheat pasta tastes better.

As far as texture is concerned, Sonia says this pasta is slightly more rigid than traditional pasta, and that regular wheat pasta is "more chewy than this." I felt the texture of this pasta was not unlike that of wet paper—thick wet paper, mind you, but wet paper-esque, nonetheless, however, not to the point where the dish became unpleasant or difficult to eat. It simply had a texture I'm not used to.

Finally, we noticed that, despite a generous amount of flavorful cheese, there was very little oil or grease in the product. I mean, there's plenty of fat in there. But I'm always turned off when it's the kind of fat I can actually see pooling up on the top of my food.

All in all, we'll both recommend it, but Sonia will do so much more heartily than I will. We might purchase it regularly if it were just a bit cheaper, too. $3.49 for the frozen, microwaveable meal.

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

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Trader Joe's Chocolate Chunk Cantuccini

As I'm offically entering the later part of my thirties, I'm learning more and more that adulthood is a series of learning to embrace and enjoy different shades and forms of bitterness. It's not exactly a bad thing. Like coffee, for instance. Or alcohol. Or, even, disappointment. Those are all cups from which I drink often.

I'm on a small disappointment streak with TJ's products, and Trader Joe's Chocolate Chunk Cantuccini are just a continuation of that trend. I can partially pin all this on me. The other night, while semi-listening to my lovely bride prattle on about her most recent TJ's trip, I heard her say "blahblahblah chocolate something-chini biscotti blahlblahblah" which my mind instantly, without though, translated into chocolate zucchini bread-inspired biscotti. Now that sounds intriguing and seasonally appropriate, and maybe something zany that ol' Joe would whip up. If you haven't had good zucchini bread ever, I don't know what to tell you.

So, imagine my disappointment when I popped one of these kinda Italian mini biscuits in my mouth...and tasted just a regular old chocolate chip biscotti. Except smaller.


Cantuccini is what I should have heard, not zucchini. Not familiar with the term? Me neither, but apparently it's an almost interchangable term with biscotti (i.e., biscuit), except cantucci are apparently more from Tuscany, and the -ini means they're smaller. Meh.

It's small chocolate chip biscotti. Nothing more, nothing less. Kinda almondy and earthy, with a vague sweetness, without quite the flavor of a full blown chocolate chip cookie...yup. No icing or any extras, with only a few small chocolate bits to vainly try to break the monotony. And they're smaller, making them less handy to dunk into coffee or tea or milk or anything. They also seem crunchier, maybe due to their condensed size. Sandy said they didn't seem to soften up when dunked either.

Blah. Disappointment. I really wanted to love these bitty biskies, but nope. There's nothing special about them, nothing to set them apart. In a word, they're boring. I'm disappointed. But I can embrace that, I guess, along with some coffee. Such is life. Matching twos from our house to yours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chocolate Chunk Cantuccini: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Trader Joe's Sun Dried Apricots

Every time I eat apricots, I think of my childhood pet, Apricot. She was an apricot-colored miniature poodle. I called her Apricot because she was, well, apricot...and I'm a writer.

In my defense, though, I was only 6 years old when I named her. Also, for those of you who think poodles are sissy might be right. But they're also hypoallergenic for people like my mom who had a sensitivity to most breeds' fur and dander. I was just an elementary school kid who was very happy to have a dog at all. Apricot was my best friend until she passed away many years later while I was off at college.

Maybe that's why I don't eat apricots all that often. So sad. Apricot.

But these apricots are sun-dried, packaged in bright colors, and flaunt fun graphics and a whimsical font—one of the most cheerful-looking products I've seen in a while. There are three sections that break apart for easy travel with a peel-away top. Each little container has about 8-10 dried apricots, each roughly the size of a quarter. And to be honest, the packaging is the best part of the product.

Most of the apricots look pleasant enough, but Sonia and I both immediately observed that they're a bit more leathery than other dried apricots we've had. I know dried apricots tend to be a tad chewy, but I felt this offering was just a little too tough—not to the point where they were hard to chew once you had a piece in your mouth, but tearing off sections felt a bit too much like eating stiff beef jerky.

Flavor-wise, they were plenty sweet. There was nothing unpleasant about the taste at first, but we both agreed there was a slight odd aftertaste, almost as if there were a little too much of the "sulfur dioxide," which I assume is there as a preservative.

The three sections are super-convenient, and the price is reasonable at $1.49. If you need a blood sugar boosting snack that will easily fit in a small pocket, this isn't a bad product to reach for. We just can't tell you we were madly in love with these apricots. Three stars a piece here.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Trader Joe's Cold Brew Coffee Bags

Hot coffee in the hot summer time? Who does that?

Not me. Just can't. There's so little worse than it being hot and sticky, only to get hotter and stickier by ingesting copius amounts of anything warm. I'd personally be happy to not eat or drink anything that wasn't hovering around frozen from June to a week or so into September. We don't have AC, so don't judge.

Still gotta drink coffee cold brew does it. Gets pricy buying it one cup at a time. Source: my barren bank account. Sandy and I bought a mason jar filter contraption for make-at-home cold brew, which works well, but we'll sometimes resort to concentration-type concoction, or in this case, Trader Joe's Cold Brew Coffee Bags.

It's a simple concept, really. Put seven cups of water into a pitcher, stick in a couple of these coffee beanie bags, let it steep and chill overnight. It's premeasured and convenient and all that - it should be idiot proof. We know enough from experience now that if ratio of bean to liquid is off, it'll ruin the whole cup.

And by coffee beanie bag, I mean, think of a tea bag, or some coffee grounds sealed inside a filter. Works, right? Right?


I'll say this. It's a good concept, but not the best results. Neither Sandy nor I really enjoyed the coffee. It just tasted flat, dull and like dirt, which I wasn't fully expecting from the write up on the bag. It sounds like pretty premium beans. And I'd expect more flavor and depth and character, I guess, based on my at-home or at-coffee shop expereinces.

Then it hit me. The fatal flaw. And it's rather obvious. The coffee is pre-ground and has been ground for days if not weeks or longer by the time we're using it. You can't beat fresh ground coffee beans, which is what I'm used to. Actually, you can, if you also roast your own, as my dad does, but that's another story. It's not to say that these are stale, gross coffee - it's not - but there's a lot that's lost to time here.

All that being said, if you're the type who tends to doctor up your cuppa joe all orange mocha frappucino type, or add loads of cream and sugar and whatnot, this might be an okay base. It's not like you really taste coffee then anyways. But if you drink it black, as I do, you'd be better off with one of those aforementioned filter guys for an at-home batch. It's just as easy and convenient.

Eh well. These TJ cold brew pods cost like $5 for the four pack, which is enough for two large batches. So it's a decent value, but it's unlikely to be a repeat buy. Double twos here.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cold Brew Coffee Bags: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Trader Joe's Toasties

On some mornings, I stumble out of bed feeling like a complete wreck of a human being—like using the term "hot mess" to describe myself would simply fail to capture the sheer magnitude of all the insecurities and secret vulnerabilities I hide from the world with marginal success on a daily basis. It's nothing unique to me—at least I hope it's not. And it's definitely not all the time. But certain steamy Tuesday mornings in August, I'm just not ready to face all those minute little challenges that life dishes out from all directions: from those work files that just magically disappear from Google Drive, to my uncanny knack of grabbing the shopping cart with the squeaky wheel, to my unfortunate inability to spread butter on a piece of toast without destroying the bread—and a similar ineptitude at splitting bready products like this one right down their middles. 

In fact, that's really my only complaint about this product: each piece should be just a tad thicker, and they should come pre-sliced. That was Sonia's first comment as well. There's a thin seam along the outside edge of the toasties that indicates that they might be pre-sliced, but upon further inspection, one finds that they most definitely have not been.

I have problems cutting bagels down the middle, let alone something this thin. Yes, I know they make bagel slicers, but I don't consume bagels with enough regularity to justify buying one. These "toasties" are even thinner than English muffins. And splitting English muffins has always been one of those life challenges that makes me wish I'd stayed in bed instead of braving the kitchen in search of breakfast. "You've failed as a human being, Nathan Rodgers," that little voice whispers, as bread crumbs and muffin chunks spill across the counter and onto the floor. As far as this product is concerned, we'll just say that the picture of the product in the middle of this post wasn't my first attempt at slicing and buttering these happy sweet bread rounds.

Now eating this bread is another experience entirely. After tasting it, I stopped feeling pathetic and frustrated, and began enjoying my day. 

There's a bright, tart, citrusy flavor, and a nutty whole wheat taste, as well. I'm not a huge fan of orange peel by itself, but it works here since it's subtle and faint, and is mostly overshadowed by the cranberries. The sunflower seeds are a nice touch. It's like they baked a trail mix into a loaf of bread.

The consistency of this product is more similar to a regular loaf of wheat bread than it is to either English muffins or bagels, but I guess those keep coming to mind because of the comparable round shape. It's nice and soft, and it toasts well—as long as you can manage to keep each slice in one piece.

I liked mine with plain old butter as the only topping. There's plenty of flavor present in the bread, even without any condiments. Sonia experimented with various jellies we had around the house—I don't think she was quite as thrilled with the flavor as I was, but in the end, she'll give the product a thumbs up as well. Four stars from her. Four from me. $2.49 for six toasties.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.