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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Trader Joe's Spinach & Kale Bites

Trader Joe's Spinach and Kale Bites are about the size of golf balls. I know because we've had a golf ball kicking around the house for the past few weeks. During a walk through a park near the Jersey Shore, our male dog, Alfred, discovered one. He picked it up, carried it with him, and has been inseparable from it since. At least a few times a day, he drops it at my feet, wanting me to throw it for him. It's a bit grass-stained from being tossed around on our freshly-mowed lawn so often, and it kind of resembles these little veggie appetizers. That same dog has an affinity for almost all green vegetables. He loves spinach, kale, lettuce, broccoli—pretty much anything we give him to try, but oddly, he was only moderately interested in these kale bites.

But this isn't a pet food review. This is a people food review. And the people in this house are fairly impressed with these little green appetizers.

The flavor isn't too far from that of creamed spinach or a cheesy spinach dip. There's a decent amount of parmesan cheese taste, but there's also a good bit of egg, yielding a flavor not unlike that of a frittata or quiche. There's a good vegetable-base to the taste, as well, but there's enough of the heavier stuff to keep it interesting as an appetizer. 

The texture is different, though. It's creamy and soft, but the whole "ball" is held in place with panko breadcrumbs. The spinach and kale are shredded into small pieces, so there's never a point when it tastes or feels like eating a salad. The overall vibe here is decidedly "snacky" or "hors d'oeuvrey."

Once again, the baking time went well over TJ's suggested instructions. I basically had to double the recommended time in the oven—and the product was MUCH better with more cooking, in my opinion. Apparently, this is a trend. There are a couple comments on my last post noting that others have observed the same thing: many Trader Joe's products wind up needing significantly more time in the oven than the packaging indicates. 

First world problems. What are you gonna do?

$3.99 for ten bites. Pretty standard. Sonia was quite enamored with the taste of these li'l buggers. Four and a half stars from her. I'll admit, they were tasty, but I don't think I'd buy them on the regular if it were just me. Still, a respectable score is in order. Three and a half stars from this guy.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Trader Joe's Uncured Ham & Swiss Cheese Flaky Croissant Dough Squares

"I'm a simple man. I like pretty, dark-haired women and breakfast food."

I'll admit to have never having watched a minute of Parks & Recreation. Who has the time to watch TV? I barely do - pretty much only in cases of new seasons of Stranger Things coming out. I mean, it's been a good five years that Sandy and I have sworn we'd get caught up on Dr. Who - hasn't happened. TV room in our thrid floor attic is way too hot in the summer.

But that quote up top, from Ron Swanson, is quite a good one. I agree wholeheartedly. I think I'd like him quite a bit - maybe not as much as breakfast for dinner, and definitely not as much as bacon, and absolutely not as much as bacon for dinner - and maybe one day I'll finally plop down and see what all the fuss is.

Until then, for dinner, we had Trader Joe's Uncured Ham & Swiss Cheese Flaky Croissant Dough Squares.

Here's one breakfast food that decidedly ought to stay at breakfast. It's not that these ham and cheese dough squares aren't any good. They're certainly pretty tasty. There's four per box which bake for about 15 to 20 minutes in the oven, and as one would expect from a croissant-inspired pastry of sorts, they get all light and flaky and crispy and a little greasy. There's such a satisfying bite to a good croissant, and that's what we get here, even if in dough square form. The melted Swiss cheese adds a lot of slightly salty, greasy comfort vibe, while the bits of cubed ham taste actually more sweet than salty, but they work well with the rest of the dish.

I think they'd work great for a light breakfast, alongside some coffee and some fruit. There's enough here to have you get up and go. But as dinner? Nah. Too light, I'd say. It's not the croissants' fault - I mean, they are what they are and it shouldn't have been too surprising - but if I had a voracious enough of an appetite, I probably could eaten the whole box. As it was, I was sneaking bites from my kids, who were surprisingly slow at chowing them down despite their proclamations of loving these ham, and cheese squares. My three year old wants to give them 21 Golden Spoons despite struggling to eat half of hers.

Also, the name...doesn't it strike you as a little goofy? "Flaky Croissant Dough Squares." I mean, it's a proper description...but I'd go with something else, maybe like "Open Faced Croissants" or something along those lines.

In all, these TJ's ham and cheese squares are certainly decent, to almost pretty darn good. There's nothing utterly spectacular to them, and I'd say that maybe they're missing a small something, like a little spinach or a fancier cheese or a small flavor sprinkle of some type. But for a good, solid, kinda basic croissant-type deal? Not a bad deal at all for about $3.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Uncured Ham & Swiss Cheese Flaky Croissant Dough Squares: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Friday, July 13, 2018

Trader Joe's 8 Mini Raspberry Pastries

So what we have here are essentially Belgian Danishes. How exactly does that work? Mightn't the Danes be offended that the Belgians have been ripping off their signature multilayered puff pastries with fruit filling? Are the Belgians no longer content just being known for waffles and cookie butter? Could such an offense start an international conflict of sorts? Even a war?

Probably not. The Danes and the Belgians seem like relatively peaceful folk to me. Northern Europeans have left their ancient Viking ways behind them. If there were a conflict between the two nations in question, it would most likely be settled on the football pitch—er, sorry, "soccer" for all you Yanks. Both squads, particularly Belgium, were looking like pretty good contenders for the World Cup—right up until this past week or so. But hey, there's always Qatar 2022.

Back to the food review. The picture on the packaging clearly depicts round Danishes—I mean pastries. But when we opened our bag, we found little frozen squares. After baking, they were more like squares with rounded edges. Our pastries required a little more time in the oven than the instructions called for (20 min.) but the first batch was still on the undercooked side. After removing them from the oven, they stuck tenaciously to the foil that lined our baking sheet.

Sonia says the pastries are "very buttery." I'd call them "oily" or "greasy," but I guess that's basically the same thing but with a slightly more negative connotation. The breading is soft and flavorful, and the raspberry filling is plentiful, sweet, and full of real raspberry. The fruity taste of the filling tends to overshadow the bready flavor of the actual pastry. I like fruit filling just fine, but I think these could have had just a tad more bread and a tad less fruit. Didn't think I'd ever have to make that request, yet there it is. I'm sure plenty of people would be more than okay with the amount of fruit here. It's just the carbivore in me craving more bread.

Eight pastries in the bag for $3.99. Eight servings in the bag. Serving size one pastry? I guess that's not quite as ridiculous as "half a cookie," but these Belgian Danishes aren't even as big as normal cookies. Most people aren't going to stop at one unless they're sampling other desserts or turned off by the oiliness. Also, the name: 8 Mini Raspberry Pastries? Lame. I think they should have played up the Belgian Danish angle and called them Trader Joe's BelDanes or something catchy and quirky like that. I know, I must have missed my true calling as a marketing guru. Such is life.

Four stars from Sonia. Three stars from me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Trader Joe's Almond Butter Coconut Greek Low Fat Yogurt

There's a few classic blunders and major pitfalls out there. You know most of them already: reading the comments on almost any Internet article (except here, y'all are great), getting involved in land wars in Asia or going up aginst a Sicilian when death is on the line. No duhs on any of those.

Another one or two is true in our house; Sandy and I have a rule we don't really talk about anything too in depth before we have coffee, and to not nag her for a bite of anything she's eating, especially on a busy morning after she's refueling from a marathon training run, and before she has a long hot day with our kiddos. Plus, please, our kids always want to eat what she's eating, so she doesn't need me to ask her for a bite of anything...

...except a smallish blunder was made on her part, when she bought only one cup of Trader Joe's Almond Butter Coconut Greek Low Fat Yogurt. I needed something to review, and apparently this stuff has been all the buzz on TJ's related Instagram, so I broke all sorts of household rules in order just to get two measly little bites from which I am basing this entire review, along with help from my lovely bride.

This TJ's Greek yogurt is much like others: creamy, a bit tangy, appropriately thick. Kinda par for the course in that regard. In my albeit limited tasting, the flavor strayed a lot more towards coconut than almond butter, which to me makes sense given the general comparative richness of the two. Almond butter has always been a very sublte flavor for me. But, definitely heavy on the shredded coconut. Along with some fruit and coffee, I could see this being a very filling breakfast, though perhaps not one I'd be inclined to do too often. I'm just not cultured enough to be much of a yogurt guy.

Sandy, though, disagrees with me. She said the almond butter is a much stronger flavor, whereas shemore "felt" the coconut. That doesn't jive with my experience, but I'd be more inclined to believe her many spoonfuls to my few.

But we both agree it's good, not earthshattering yogurt. Perhaps it was her endorphins winding down or her caffeination not quite kicked in yet, but Sandy was pretty ho-hum about it. "It's good," she said. "I'd definitely buy it again, but it's not going to be my new go-to yogurt." Make of that what you will, and before any more blunders are made, let's wrap this up.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Almond Butter Coconut Greek Low Fat Yogurt: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, July 9, 2018

Trader Joe's Almond, Cashew & Macadamia Nut Beverage

If you're looking for a delicious drinkable dessert, look elsewhere. If you're looking for a nut-tastic vegan alternative to animal milk, this might just be the product for you.

On the plus side, the beverage is surprisingly NOT chalky. It's smooth—and it's about as nutty as I ever imagined a beverage could be. Both Sonia and I wanted to call it "creamy" at first, but after thinking about it, we realized it's a much thinner liquid than anything we'd call "creamy." Not a bad thing. Just not as thick as other types of "milk." Maybe that's why it's a "beverage" and not a "milk." Color-wise, it's...well, milky—but perhaps a bit grayer than other milks and nut beverages.

Taste-wise? It's not sweet at all—like regular cow's milk with its lactose milk sugar is significantly sweeter to my tongue than this stuff. No sweeteners in that ingredients list at all. At only 30 calories per cup, I don't exactly think Trader Joe's is targeting the cookie butter crowd with this one. 

I will say that it works well on cereal, especially if the cereal is a sweet one, or one that's already got a nutty flavor to it. It'll tone down the sweetness of a super-sweet cereal, and in the process, the nut beverage will get a little tastier with that cereal sugar on it, making it even better when you slurp the excess from the bowl. Nut-based cereals with this beverage on them shall be elevated to über-nutty status.

I was surprised to see there's very little protein in the beverage, since nuts tend to have a good bit of it. I guess all the protein gets squeezed out in the liquefying process..? 

Soy milk seems to be on the decline as far as alternative milks go. And filling the void are cashew and almond beverages. Combine those two and add macadamias? Brilliant. It's a little difficult to detect all three nut flavors individually. Sonia seems to think she detected macadamia the most. I felt like they all just blended together. At $2.29 for a quart, it's priced comparably to other alternative milk products. I probably wouldn't reach for this after a day out in the 100 degree summer heat, but I'd be perfectly happy pouring it on my corn flakes or in my coffee. Four stars from Sonia. Three from me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Trader Joe's Blue Cheese Stuffed Chalkidiki Olives

You've heard of the summer of love...this summer just might be the summer of olives here.

Years ago, if you would have told me that my lovely bride would like olives that weren't just of the canned and black variety, I would have laughed. That's just not what she did...along with many other foods.  Like meatloaf or steak or most red meats or Thai food or chili or pickles or most veggies or anything. I remember asking with trepidation when we were dating if it'd be okay if I made her chocolate chip cookies. I had a really picky girlfriend, apparently, which really adds to the confusion of why she ever picked me.

Now she loves all that stuff, pretty sure me as well, and when she does something like pick up some olives and other cool goodies off a grocery store salad bar to bring home for dinner, it's just not terribly surprising. We've done that a few times recently. The slightly pickled garlic cloves? Awesome! Time changes you, I guess.

Still, Sandy's pretty hesitant about Trader Joe's Blue Cheese Stuffed Chalkidiki Olives. She hasn't tried them, still kinda sticking to her claim that she doesn't like green olives.

I'll get her to, though. Oh I will. Unless I eat all of them first.

I've never heard of a "chalkidiki" olive before. Apparently they're named after a region of Greece and are basically just big and green. That's more or less how they taste as well - big and green, and perhaps a little firmer than the smaller, pimento stuffed olives I'm more accustomed to from growing up.

The creamy cheese filling is pretty delicious, too. Took me a second or thrid read when I noticed the lack of usual bleu cheese bite...but it's not "bleu" cheese, it's "blue" cheese." Well, whatever. It's soft and creamy, a lot  like cream cheese, and jives really well with the olive to make a cool, refreshing, salty snack or addition to antipasto platter.

And typing this I just realized the true appeal to me...

Growing up, on occasion, my mom would make us cream cheese and olive sandwiches. Maybe that sounds odd, but they're delicious. Granted, they were made with those aforementioned pimentoed olives and Philadelphia cream cheese, and the ingredients in these Greek-inspired TJ's olives are perhaps a little fancier than that. But there's still a familiar, yet fancier vibe. I dig it.

It's only a couple bucks for a huge jar. I think it's about $3 or $, but I've misplaced the receipt so I'm open to correction. It strikes me as a decent enough value, and something I hope we pick up on a regular basis this summer as we swelter through and hot dinners just don't sound as appetizing while living in a 100 year old, well insulated brick house with no AC. It's like a Thermos. Great in winter, but not right now. Unlike this olives...if it's the summer of olives, bring it on.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Blue Cheese Stuffed Chalkidiki Olives: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Trader Joe's Grilled Jerk Chicken Thigh Skewers

I know it's kind of juvenile and gross, but I just can't get the idea out of my head that these are somehow gophers or other small rodents just plopped on sticks and fire roasted au naturale—like something you'd see Bear Grylls whip up for supper in a far-flung mountain range. I mean, clearly, they were cooked on a grill (I hope), since they come with grill marks already on them, but their size and shape—and even their texture to some degree—suggests that they could be something other than chicken.

I'm not saying they ARE any of those non-poultry animals. When the ingredients say "chicken," I'm not so cynical YET as to simply disbelieve it outright. I'm just saying there's something foreign about the texture here. It's not a bad texture, it's just an odd texture for chicken if you ask me.

It's mysteries like these that are steering Sonia and I away from meat altogether. Sonia actually sat this one out, proudly waving her newfound pescatarian flag high. At this point in the game, I'm more "flexitarian," happily seizing the opportunity to review jerk chicken for this blog as my only meaty meal in the past week or two.

So yeah. Unusual, but not terrible, in the texture department. The chicken was super soft. It came off the sticks in juicy little bite-sized chunks and didn't need a lot of chewing. Not rubbery in the slightest. Still, there was the suggestion that the chicken was processed along with a good bit of fat, gristle, and skin, and wasn't just traditional dark meat thigh pieces.

Flavor-wise, these aren't nearly intense enough to bear the label "jerk chicken" in my humble opinion. I've only had Jamaican jerk chicken twice in my life, and both times, there was a much more significant kick to the spice. There's just enough here to be flavorful. There is a mild lingering heat to this product, though, that shows up a little late to the party. Especially when masked by the semi-sweet mango chutney, there's very little spiciness up front. For that reason, I would have just as readily consumed the skewers with some good old-fashioned barbecue sauce as I would something so exotic as pureed mango and chutney spices.

Six skewers in the box for $5.49. Decent value. They're better than the other chicken skewers we used to see around TJ's, but that's not saying a whole lot. I doubt I'd get them again, but glad I tried them. I'm torn between 3 and 3.5 stars, so we'll go with one of each since I'm scoring on behalf of Sonia.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Trader Joe's Mini Dark Chocolate Mint Coins

Is it okay to admit that I'm not fully understanding of the entire concept behind the new Trader Joe's Mini Dark Chocolate Mint Coins?

This much is easy to grasp: there's a direct, and fairly easy, comparison to be made between these cookies and the all time classic Girl Scout Thin Mints. As if the "chocolate covered chocolate mint cookie" isn't obvious by its lonesome, the TJ's packaging hones in by showing a campground, tents, a sing-along campfire song on the side (because why not)...and even a cut out "hibiscosity" merit badge of sorts. That's cool and all, I get it.

Seems like the word "coins" throws it all off though. Having never been a Girl Scout myself (and flaking out of Boy Scouts not long after making Tenderfoot class), I'm not aware of any connections between scouting and coins...I could be wrong and ignorant, and perhaps somewhat rationally so, but it seems a better name would be something like "badges" or "try-its" or even just plain "cookies."

Although on the other hand, I do somewhat get the coin label, as the cookies are about quarter sized in diameter, and they were minted at point of's a bit too confusing. Ayy.

Back to the Thin Mint deal. There's a lot of similarities between them and these TJ's chocolate mint discs, but I'll focus on the differences. First, the size. TJ's minty wafers are definitely smaller and perhaps a bit thicker. They also taste a little different...can I say "fudgier"? That's the word that comes to mind. It may be the darker variety of chocolate. There's also seemingly a small dent/reservoir of extra chocolate in the middle of the TJ's cookies that adds a slightly richer element. So while I'd say the two are close, I wouldn't say they're completely identical.

Although both are really good frozen, which is especially nice this time of year.

One knock: the packaging. Inside the TJ's box, these cookies are kept in a little plastic bag, as one would expoect. Thing is, the bag looks only half full. Listen, I get the "sold by weight, not by volume" and "some settling may occur" but it's like these are fragile cookies that got smashed into bits, freeing up previously filled space. Nah...instead, whether fair or not, the half baggie of coins gives the perception of getting shortchanged.

Regardless, these are pretty delicious cookies, as one would expect. At only a couple bucks, these coins won't set you back a lot of change. Glad to have scouted them out for you.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mini Dark Chocolate Mint Coins: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Trader Joe's Camel Milk Soap and Trader Joe's Mouth Wash with Tea Tree Oil & Cool Mint

We're just taking a brief break from food here and trying something different. If you like it, click the Facebook "like" button below and share the post with your friends. If you don't like it, click the Facebook "like" button below, share it with your friends, and leave a comment letting us know what a stupid idea it was.

In all honesty, I'm very picky about mouthwash. I like Listerine—or more accurately, generic Listerine that comes from Dollar Tree. If it doesn't burn my mouth like crazy, I'm highly skeptical of its antiseptic and breath-freshening abilities. I'm not saying my breath wasn't minty after using Trader Joe's Mouth Wash. But it left an odd aftertaste long after I rinsed and brushed my teeth.

The soap had a faintly sweet odor. I thought it was reminiscent of oatmeal soap with a hint of honey. It left Sonia's skin silky smooth. I didn't feel like it made much of a difference on mine. Another interesting property of the soap: it dried off very quickly. Other soaps remain slippery and slimy for a long while after being wet. This soap felt oddly drained just moments after being wet—still waxy and smooth, but with a complete lack of that slippery slime.

For Sonia's thoughts, check out the short video below.

Bottom line: Camel Milk Soap with Olive Oil and Honey: 7 out of 10.
Bottom line: Mouth Wash with Tea Tree Oil & Cool Mint: 6 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Trader Joe's Peaches & Cream Tarte

So..anyone have an interesting story or anecdote or joke or anything about a peach tart?


Me neither.

So that makes the kickoff of this review of Trader Joe's Peaches & Cream Tarte a little more difficult and less fun...until the Internet came to the rescue, yet again.

Here I was, just brushing up on the differences between pies and tarts, when I came across this potentially interesting info burst: this tart (pardon moi, tarte) is really more a gallete than anything else.

Rounded, kinda non-defined in form, fruit filled with crust folding over a bit and baked on a sheet? Yes to all of the above. Call it what it is, TJ's - this is a gallete.

Aside from the inadvertant culinary education and cultural refinement, there's not much this peachy pie parodist really offers. I mean, it's okay and all. The crust seems the right amount of flaky and firm, the peaches won't be confused for picked fresh or canned, and the cream portion (if I can even call it that) is a bit underwhleming. Sandy actually wondered aloud about the last part - really, it's just a thin spread between the fruit and crust, and it can be easily overlooked.

The fruit filling borders on a bit too syrupy sweet, though. I've had this weird lingering aftertaste for the past while after having a slice, and it's not entirely pleasant. Maybe it'd be dissipated if served with a little vanilla ice cream or something.

But yeah, not that special, not that great. The TJ peach and cream tart cost about $5 and took half an hour in the oven to warm up, and for that, I'd say it's probably not worth it. I'd hate to ding too much, but I'm struggling of outright positive things to really say. Sandy can't muster any more than a middlin' three, and I feel compelled to be a little lower. I mean, if it can't even be called the right thing...

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Peaches & Cream Tarte: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Trader Joe's Peach Bellini Jam

It's the new PBJ that you put on your bread. No, not peanut butter & jelly. Peach Bellini Jam.

As you might have heard in the recent Repeat Customer podcast episode, it has real Prosecco wine in know, like an actual peach bellini cocktail. Sonia and I had a friend back in California that made a mean peach bellini drink, with real peaches and a nice peach wine. I don't think I've ever had one at a bar or restaurant or anything like that, but Jenny, if you're reading this, know that I miss those peach bellinis.

This jam is full of pureed peach bits, giving it a nice fruit base, but it's closer to the texture of marmalade than that of the similarly-packaged and marketed Apple Cider Jam. It's sweet like a real peach, but honestly, I was pretty surprised at the lack of cloying, syrupy stickiness. It takes some restraint to make something this well-balanced, relying on the true flavors of the peaches and the wine, rather than just dumping loads of sugar in the jar and appealing to a consumer's sugar habit. Don't get me wrong, cane sugar is the number one ingredient—but it's just exactly as sweet as it's supposed to be, IMHO.

For you Puritans who steer clear of spirits, don't worry. There's just enough white wine flavor to be detected, but there's absolutely nothing to suggest even a hint of harsh alcohol taste in the product. 

It goes well with butter and bread, and you could probably use it as an ice cream topping, smoothie ingredient, basting sauce, and Trader Joe's website even suggests drizzling it "on a salad of summer greens." Neither Sonia nor I have many complaints. I'm cheap, and I have trouble justifying the purchase of a gourmet condiment that will possibly be gone in just a day or two, but $3.99 is a very reasonable price for a product with such high-quality ingredients. You do get what you pay for. And this product is just peachy.

Double fours on this one.

As a friend of mine used to say as he exited the room, "It's time to make like jelly and JAM."

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Trader Joe's Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

Half a cookie.

Wait. Half a cookie?!?!?!?!

I'm a guy, and aside from the bathroom paint job that's sat idle the past couple months, I don't do anything halfway, much less when it comes to one of the best things ever: food.

I don't eat just half a burger. I don't drink just half a beer. I may on occasion eat only half a pizza, but that was mainly back in college. That hasn't happened for a while. And I don't drink just half a coffee, unless it's the tepid brownesque swill from the work pot.

And I sure as heck don't eat just half a cookie.

Unfortunately that's the serving size for a Trader Joe's Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookie, and to doublr down on my woes, my lovely bride is the serving size enforcer. It says half, you get half. I had the indignity of having to share my cookie with her the other night, so tonight, right before writing this, when I had the chance to go whole cookie all by my bad self, I manned up and did it.


These choco-squared TJ's cookies are no joke. A little crisp, a little moist, a little chewy,and they're definitely heavy on the chocolate, as one might expect. It doesn't really hit how potently choco-licious these cocoa-concoctions are until eating a whole the end I had had enough. The big choco-chunks made a nice varient to the overall doughy softness, that had a just a little greasy crisp to the outside. It reminded me of something, but couldn't quite think of it...

"Like the corners from a brownie pan," Sandy said.

Yes. That's almost precisely it.

As one may expect, these cookies are atrocious for you. Gotta treat yo'self sometimes and after having salad for two meals, one of these didn't hurt too much from a caloric intake perspective. My taste buds begged to differ - by the last bite, it was enough. Not that I'd ever admit that, and if given the chance I'd eat another whole one...but if my wife or kids asked for a bite, I may choose, out of my grace, to not be so greedy as to keep the whole cookie for myself.

Not too many negatives. Sandy wishes she could eat a whole one without feeling guilty, limitng her score to a 3.5. A couple bites I had tasted a little salty - not necessarily in an unwelcome way, but it was definitely a little uneven. The four pack cost around $4, so it was a mid-level value at best. I'll go with a 3.5 as well.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Trader Joe's Rainbow Wrap

Taste the rainbow, friends. Other than Skittles, this is probably the most colorful thing I've eaten in a while. Actually, I haven't had Skittles in years. This might be one of the most colorful things I've eaten period. Let's see: we've got red beets, orange sweet potato, yellow hummus and chick peas, green spinach, and a purplish tortilla. What? No blue? No indigo?

Whether Roy G. Biv approves or not, this is a great lunch for a hot summer day. It feels and tastes fresh, and it won't weigh you down too much. There are plenty of savory and earthy flavors here, and the sweet potato lends just enough natural sugar to keep it interesting.

The beets weren't overly beety. They're not pickled, so they simply lend a bit of earthy crunch to the mix. The curried hummus was flavorful but not overbearing. The chick peas? I've mentioned how I feel about chick peas before. If anything, I'd just ask for more of 'em.

Sonia wanted the sweet potato chunks to be just a tad softer than they were. They were much firmer than either of us expected, but unlike my loving wife, I was okay with it. They were somewhere between the texture of a water chestnut and that of a chunk of regular potato in a potato salad. We both see why they might want them that way—the wrap may have seemed a tad "soggy" if the sweet potatoes had been too soft. As is, they provide a little body and texture, and contribute the most "meatiness" of any of the ingredients.

Granted, we had some other snacks along with it, but just this one wrap was enough for Sonia and I to share for lunch, and it was quite filling. We're eating less and less meat these days, and feeling better about it all the time. This vegan item is $4.49 at TJ's. Four stars a piece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Repeat Customer Podcast: Beyond Cookie Butter

A few weeks ago, our very own Russ and Sandy Shelly got to be guests on a brand new podcast called "Repeat Customer." They showed the podcast's host, Toronto-based Mio Adilman, around their local Pittsburgh TJ's—his very first visit to a Trader Joe's store.

Also check out the podcast on iTunes and Zendesk!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Trader Joe's Butter Spreads

Must be butter because we're on a roll.

Butter. What else can be said? Whether or not any of us really should, we all like butter in some way, shape or form. It's an essential ingredient, and makes almost anything taste better. I mean, dry toast? No thanks.

Flavored butter? Even better. So here we go with two new varieties, Trader Joe's Roasted Garlic & Herb Butter Spread, as well as Trader Joe's Brown Sugar & Cinnamon Butter Spread. One savory, one sweet. Life is good.

There's not much reinvention or novel interpretation here. It's butter...with stuff in it.

But man, both are good. Let's start with the roasted garlic and herb. There's a heavy hit of garlic right upfront, as one would expect, with both roasted and crushed garlic puree mixed right in. The overall creaminess mellows it out, though, and gives way to onion and basil and whatnot. That's really about it to the butter, but the applications, of course, are endless. It's garlicky enough to McGyver garlic bread if toasted with an appropriate loaf. Over noodles, rice, veggies, anything else...yup, that'd all work.

Much the same with the cinnamon sugar variety. "Cinnamon toast without the effort!" Sandy exclaimed. I'm...not really sure what effort she is referencing. Nonetheless, that's a great idea, although the idea of melting over some sweet potatoes is a pretty enticing idea. I'd say there seems to be more cinnamon than brown sugar, at least in the bites I've had, but the balance seems right. I mean, butter, sugar, cinnamon...there's no way this can be bad.

Both TJ's flavored butters are pretty decent, and for $2.49, not a bad price either. There's nothing too terribly extra special or "Trader Joe's-y" about them either, so I'm not going to rave too highly. Liking the ampersands in both product names, though - they seem to be making a comeback, and I fully support that effort. Fours all the way around for each.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Roasted Garlic & Herbs Butter Spread, and Trader Joe's Brown Sugar & Cinnamon Butter Spread: 8 out of 10 each

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Trader Joe's Crunch Dried Honeycrisp Apples

Our sweetness streak continues with this applicious snack, but in this case, there's absolutely no added sugar, and you definitely can't say we're not getting some fruit in our diets...

I've had apple chips before, but none have been as sweet or as flavorful as these. The Fuji Apple Slices received less than a stellar score here on the blog, but I think this honeycrisp variety might work slightly better for people craving something a little more sweet and a bit less tart. 

They flaunt the same delicious honey-esque flavor of a honeycrisp apple. Very little is lost in the drying process. Obviously they lack the juiciness of a real apple, but taste-wise, I think they're remarkably close.

The largest apple slices were big enough to be called "chips," but as we neared the middle of our bag, the pieces were more like "shards" of apple. Toward the bottom, we found what I'd probably refer to as "bits" or "crumbs." They were pulverized, presumably in transit, to the point where they became difficult to eat. 

That's really my only complaint about this product: only the largest pieces could be called "slices" or "chips," and those were by far the best. Pouring a bag of apple dust into your mouth isn't nearly as convenient as snacking on dried fruit chips.

The texture is crunchy, crisp, and brittle. They're less rigid than, say, banana chips, but slightly firmer than other dried apple chips in my experience.

Who says you have to wait for fall apple harvest to enjoy apples? I'm pretty sure this product was just released this spring. Even in light of the shattered pieces, I'd buy this bag of dried apples again since it's tasty and not particularly fattening. Also, the "Best By" date on our bag is October 24, 2020. Might not be a bad idea to stock up in case that long overdue zombie apocalypse finally occurs.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Cartwheel Cookies

Sorry, everyone...but apparently we're on a sugar high here. Nothing but desserty-esque goodness for review last week, and here we go again. It's a one way ticket to Diabeetusville here. Please see Wilfred Brimley for your box on your way out.

One of these days we'll go back to reviewing salads and some healthyish type kinda stuff like vegan cream cheese alternatives...but not today. Not when there's Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Cartwheel Cookies to talk about.

Give me peanut butter, or give me death. I'm a total complete junky. I could go all Hurley from "Lost" on a jarful at any time...and cookies? Forget about it. I'm helpless here.

Really helps these are some most excellent pb cookies from TJ's.

These particular cartwheely confections are unlike most peanut butter cookies I've had. Instead of just fork smashed flavored batter with or without chips, the approach here is a literal resorvoir of nutty goodness. I mean, look at the pic. Yummm. It's good peanut butter too, though perhaps admittedly perhaps a bit closer to JIF than the real high quality stuff. Then again, it's a cookie, and at least it's creamy and not too dry or anything of that sort.

All of that is enveloped inside a real good, crumbly cookie. At first bite, I wasn't sure if the cookie straddled the sugar or shortbread side of the line at first before settling more towards sugar cookie. But it blends nicely with the peanut butter portion for a smooth, strong distinct pb taste.

Therein may lie my only suggestion, as it's not a complaint, per se. But TJ's cartwheels seem perhaps a little "one note" if you know what I mean. Something small to add maybe a little texture distinction, like a smattering of chopped peanuts, would be a welcome addition.

These will be a hit. Sandy and I are a bit sad that there's only nine cookies per box, as we both could smash them all in one sitting. As is, one of us will get five and the other four, assuming we can keep our kids out of them. Sharing cookies? Who does that? No one on this sugar train, for sure. Darn near perfect cookies.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Cartwheel Cookies: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, June 8, 2018

Trader Joe's Manyberry Apple Pie with Rhubarb Fruit Crumble Pie

Dessert Week continues here at What's Good at Trader Joe's...

We review a good many desserts on this blog, but I can't remember the last time we tackled three sweet dessert foods in a single week. It's been a while. It's almost like we're celebrating something über-sweet that happened recently in the sports world...

It's a veritable celebration of sweetness. And they're all new products at TJ's. Way to help people attain their summer beach bodies, Trader Joe's. Is this all part of some kind of underhanded population control effort? Is this some kind of conspiracy?

I think there's another conspiracy going on here: a conspiracy of crumbs. Ah, but you did warn us about this one ahead of time. Right there on the packaging, "hidden in plain sight," as they call this conspiratorial confection a "crumble." And crumble it does. Crumble it shall. Crumble, crumble, crumble, like the Golden Knights in game 5.

It's ant season here in the mid-Atlantic region. And ants love crumbs. Did you work out some kind of deal with America's pest control services, TJ's? Do you get a cut when ant elimination services make record amounts of calls this month? Because there were so many crumbs floating around in the box when I opened it that I could completely fill the void in the pie tin left from the first slice of pie with nothing but excess crumbs. I'm not even sure where they came from. When one cuts into the pie with a fork, the larger pieces of crust *explode* with smaller crumbs. Good thing my dogs and I all love crumbs. I grabbed the ones on the counter, and Alfred and Sadie slurped up the ones on the floor. 

Crummy crumbs crumble clumsily. Say that five times fast. Confuses the tongue, no?

Kinda like the flavor of this pie. It's very berry-esque. But what kind of berries are in there? Blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. It's hard to detect each flavor. There's also rhubarb, apple, and even lemon juice. It's a tangy, tart, sweet flavor that defies simple categorization. It's not bad, but now that I've sampled it, I think I'd prefer a more familiar flavor in most cases. A singleberry pie wouldn't be so bad. Any one of the berries above would work.

The crust was good. Crumbly, for sure. It had a nice bready flavor, and certain parts were kind of nutty, thanks to a considerable quantity of oats. It wasn't like super fresh or soft or anything—just what you'd expect from a pie that's been sitting around for a week or so. It worked alright with the apple berry filling. 

It's a unique dessert with a sweet-tart filling and CRUMBLY crust. Easily six servings for $6.99. I'd try the regular apple crumble pie, or any single berry flavor if they make one in the future. Three and a half stars from me. Four from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Trader Joe's Chocolate Covered Wafer Cookie

There's certain formulas for success that you just don't mess with. For example, almost all country music. It's solid, not spectacular, but when the mood is right, it works, at least for me.

Kinda like a KitKat candy bar.

Country music isn't my preferred genre by any stretch. On any list of favorite candy bars, I'm not sure KitKats would be anywhere in my top twenty or so. But when I got the right hankering, there's no questioning how good and right a KitKat is. Right snap. Right texture. Right amount of chocolate and crispy innards. Right amount of everything.

It's enough that I kinda forget that KitKats are just chocolate covered wafers...until having a Trader Joe's Chocolate Coered Wafer Cookie and realizing how much unlike a KitKat they are.

And unfortunately I don't mean it is a compliment.

Never really occured to me that there'd be a right or a wrong way tmake such a simple confectionary concoction, but apparently so. These TJ choco-wafers, in comparison to KitKats, lack significantly. First off, there's so much less chocolate. Part of that is basic structure - the single snappable unitness of KitKats versus the solid TJ's slab - but part is also application. While KitKats have a respectably thick chocolate layer, these TJ cookie bars have such a thin layer I'd call it chocolate leaf. I mean, you can see the wafer through the chocolate. No bueno.

Maybe that's why the TJ chocolate wafers also feel a little different. It's like there's not the same snap. The wafer itself tastes all in all the same, but man...nah. It's off.

Can't mess with the classics too much, I guess. Or at least you shouldn't.

We're not big on these, and will probably never buy again. I think both Sandy and I are sparing a point each for there being sugar and chocolate but otherwise we have no enthusiasm for these KitKat wannabes.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chocolate Coered Wafer Cookie: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Monday, June 4, 2018

Trader Joe's Gone Berry Crazy!

Ever had Shari's Berries? Delicious, right? They also cost an arm and a leg. I mean, sure, the presentation is fancy, and the berries are near-perfect, but they start at about $20 plus shipping and handling. Also, who wants to just sit and wait, fingers crossed, hoping that FedEx will actually get the address right and not just toss the package haphazardly onto the porch from the street? Not me, that's for sure.

Now you can enjoy high-quality chocolate-covered strawberries for just $2.29 right from your neighborhood Trader Joe's. Heck yes. Remember Trader Joe's Gone Bananas!? Same concept, similar packaging, only guessed it: strawberries instead of bananas.

The berries come frozen, but they're in excellent condition, flaunting beautiful red hues, sweet strawberry taste, and the perfect amount of firmness. They're supposed to be served frozen, and we can testify that they're awesome that way—although just slightly thawed works just as well if you can wait that long to eat them.

There are approximately two dozen strawberries in each box. Most of the berries are relatively small—about the size of the tip of my thumb—but we did find some size variation in each box. A few were quite large. The outer layer of chocolate is fairly thin, but it's more than enough to balance out the taste of the strawberries. It's a dark chocolate, so it's not too sweet.

Back in 2011, when Gone Bananas! were still new, I shared a story about Sonia and a toxic chocolate banana from a shady Southland street vendor. As a result, that product narrowly missed a shot at immortalization in our blog's elite Pantheon of great foods. My wife's never met a strawberry she didn't like. Five out of five stars from her. I absolutely loved this product, but in all honesty, I think I like the chocolate banana combo just slightly more than these. Still, I won't deny them the score they deserve: four and a half out of five from me.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.