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Monday, January 15, 2018

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Oat Cranberry Flax Seed Cookies

Hrmm, let's see. Gluten free. Oats. Cranberries. Gulp...flax seeds.

And in a cookie too? What? Jeez oh man, what kinda healthy hippie treehuggin' BS are we about to get suckered into by Trader Joe's Gluten Free Oat Cranberry Flax Seed Cookies?

Okay, yeah, that's a bit extrreme. But is it okay if I admit I wasn't thrilled about picking up and buying this sixpack of cookies? I mean, I like cookies in almost every way, shape and form...just ask my family around the holidays...but, this? These don't sound like a treat to me. Instead, these cookies, on first pre-sampling impression, seem to be one of those gimmicky "Well if you're gonna eat snacky doodads, make them healthy ones!" products that seem to always suspiciously spring up right around New Years.

For the two, maybe three bucks, I figured worst case we could throw them outside on a snowy day if we didn't like them. You know, for our winged friends. Bird suet. Because that's how they sounded to me...

Jumping Jack Flash, these are a smash, smash, smash.

Seriously. These are awesome. I can think of no other word. Usually when I think "gluten free" I think stiff and cardboardy (or in the case of most anything made with rice flour, damp newspaper-y), but that is so absolutely not the case here. Soft, crumbly, slightly chewy, as if they're almost pulled from the oven, the texture on these cookies is simply unbelievable. From pure mouhtfeel standpoint, these are amongst the tops I've ever laid my teeth too. And that's saying a lot.

The oats make a good earthy base for the batter, perfect for the slight tartness of the cranberries to stand out. I almost wish there was a nut like some almonds just for a little added harvest-esque touch, but the cookies don't suffer much from their absense. To be honest, I didn't notice the flax seeds much one way or another, so I'll take that as an overall positive. Can't let too much hippieness get between you and a good cookie.

I'm impressed, Sandy's impressed. Gonna stock up on these suckers and try to hide from our growing group of kiddos. These are some of the rare store bought cookies that I know I couldn't make better myself. It's been a while since we've crowned something as an inner circle hall of famer, but it seems due now. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls...a perfect score. Now go out and get 'em!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gluten Free Oat Cranberry Flax Seed Cookies: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Trader Joe's Mini Brie en Croute

couple posts ago, we discussed my unsophisticatedness. I'm just not into truffles. Despite my late mother's claims that I'm descended from British nobility, I've never had a taste for "fancy" things. I'm just as happy dining with paper plates and plastic cups as I am using fine china. In fact, I'd prefer the paper and plastic since no care need be taken in handling them. 

Or take caviar, as another example. I'm intrepid enough to have tried it multiple times, but I've never particularly liked it. I wish I liked it, because people who like it are "fancy." I've had it as an hors d'oeuvre with crackers, and I've had it on sushi. As much as I love classic sushi rolls, and even sashimi, I could never fully appreciate caviar. I've got more bourgeois in my marrow than blue blood, it would seem.

And I've given my spiel about brie on this blog before, too. I know, I know. Who doesn't like brie? Well, in general, I don't. But in the case of the Shells with Brie, I found it tolerable, since the brie was merely accompanying a number of other ingredients. So how will this appetizer fare? Let's take a look...

After heating the brie en croute, most of the pieces leaked out a bit of cheese and fused to one another on the baking sheet. No biggie. We salvaged about half of them fully intact, and the others...well, they wouldn't be fit to serve at a fancy shindig, but for Sonia and I just munching on them here and there throughout the day, they were just fine. 

I'm not sure what it is about brie that turns me off normally. I like most common cheeses just fine. I think brie is just a bit more "earthy" than other cheeses, and perhaps a little more intense. And in this case, the breading helped offset the natural flavor of the brie somewhat, which I was thankful for. The breading was soft and flaky, buttery, and pretty darn tasty. There were only certain bites here and there that tasted overly brie-ish. If you paid attention in science class, you'll know that heat can change the chemical properties of a substance, therefore changing the flavor of a toasted or baked food, to a degree. And that is to say, I think I like toasted brie a little better than raw brie.

Sonia thoroughly enjoyed both the puff pastry and the cheese. She liked that the pastry part was "light and airy," and she's always been a fan of brie. Her first instinct was to slather the apps with jelly. She grabbed some Welch's grape from the fridge and went at it. My initial reaction was to grimace at such a combo, but I must admit, it's not that bad. We both think it would go much better with a strawberry or raspberry flavored jelly or sauce, though. It might sound kinda random, but I'd also like to try them with that lingonberry jam from Ikea. At this point I should point out that the cup of sauce on the cover art is merely a "serving suggestion," and that this product does NOT come with a dipping sauce.

$4.99 for 10 pieces. Sonia's score probably would have been higher if it were slightly more affordable—four stars as it stands. I'll throw out three and a half. Not bad considering I don't like brie.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Trader Joe's Shrimp & Salmon Trio

I wish I had an exciting story to share about these happy appetizers. I wish I could tell you we served these at some happening party, perhaps at a recent New Year's bash, sharing them with lots of beautiful people and getting tons of compliments for serving them. 

No, sadly. That's not the case. I ate these for breakfast yesterday morning. 

I'll explain.

You know it's been cold here. Today will see the first temps above freezing since Christmas, two weeks ago. That's pretty rare for South Jersey. So we haven't been going out very much. We've been hibernating and refraining from our usual grocery store runs. As I stumbled out of bed yesterday, braving not only the nip in the air, but also the Monday morning blues, I realized we were not only out of cereal, but also the fun little danishes I've been munching on for the past few days. So I proceeded to open up the freezer, and I dug into our "For Review on a Rainy (or frigid) Day Stash." I set the oven to 400° and minutes later I was eating shrimp and salmon for my morning meal.

And I don't regret it one bit. I mean, my waistline might. Those sat fat stats are definitely not all that. But I did force Sonia to eat some, too. She was going to do some boring thing like have toast and coffee for breakfast, but I insisted that she eat some of these yummy apps with me, both to get a second opinion on the food and to make me feel like less of a freak. Here are our findings:

The shrimp toasts are my favorite. They're nice and crispy, full of good shrimp flavor, and they pair quite well with the dipping sauce included in the package. There's just the right amount of breading and shrimp, and you'll find copious quantities of sesame seeds on top for both a nutty flavor and even more crunchiness. Ours were a mite bit greasy. 

The shrimp "parcels" are Sonia's favorite. They're like little shrimp-filled egg rolls. They've got mushroom, carrot bits, and little funky noodley things. Their wrappers came out crisp and delicious, and their filling piping hot. We learned fast to break them open and blow on them before shoveling them straight into our mouths.

The salmon pinwheels were least favorite for both Sonia and I, but for slightly different reasons. Sonia wanted more salmon and less breading. I think the ratio of crust to fish was just fine. I liked them slightly less than the others because they didn't work as well with the dipping sauce (salmon with sweet chili sauce?) and because the salmon was just a wee bit "fishy" tasting to me. It wasn't awful. It certainly wasn't the worst salmon we've had from TJ's. Click here and here for entertaining Trader Joe's salmon horror stories.

Finally, the sauce. This is the first time I can ever remember having sauce left over after finishing a TJ's product—not because it was bad, but because they actually provide more than enough of the stuff with these appetizers. I guess it didn't hurt that we used very little of it on the salmon puffs, but still. I used copious quantities on both types of shrimp snacks, and there was a good bit left over. It's sweet, it's sour. In fact, I might have assumed it was "sweet and sour sauce" if the package hadn't indicated that it was, in fact, "sweet chili sauce." There is a hint of heat, but I'll always be pining for more with sauces like this one.

All in all, it was a tasty breakfast. And you "normal" folks who eat it as an appetizer will probably like it, too. 12 pieces for $3.99. We're going with solid double fours here.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Trader Joe's Raw Shrimp

"What's for dinner?"

I hate that question.

I hate asking it. I hate it being asked. I hate thinking about it. I hate planning for it. I hate pretty much anything that has to do with it...and so does Sandy. To my continual amazement, she manages to have a warm, ready dinner when I come in the door from work at least 80% of the time during the week. I don't know what kind of modern wizardry that is, but she pulls it off time and time again. Amazing.

But to get to that  point, it's menu planning...and grocery list making...and all that other stuff...which Sandy rightfully asks for my help with. Drives both of us crazy. So, on a certain level, it was kinda nice (and vaguely romantic, if only for the sparing of the few braincells our growing family has left us) that I bought her a menu planning subscription for a whole year for Christmas. Granted, it's not exactly an Apple Watch or a trip to a love shack with a heart-shaped tub nestled somewhere in the Poconos, but it was with slightly more thought than, say, a new vacuum cleaner.

So, of course, with menu planning and grocery lists being made for us, it was off to TJ's for our weekly treak. On the menu: Shrimp chowder. Never would have thought of that ourselves. Awesome. Let's do it, and do it with some Trader Joe's Raw Shrimp.

Hey, life can't be all cookie butter and Stroopwafels.

With numerous shrimp-based TJ's products we've reviewed, I've noted the overall quality of the crustaceanic tidbits. More times than not, the shrimp is firm, fleshy, not overly salty or gritty or mushy or anything that'd be a turn off. It's much the same here. Of course, there's nothing that meets the overall freshness and quality of fresh caught seafood, and it's not gonna happen with a bagfull from the frozen section of your grocery aisle. But too many times, at other grocery chains, I've been so let down by the quality of shrimp that despite it being my favorite seafood by far, I'd stopped buying it.

Only comment is, wish the shrimp came already de-tailed. Not detailed, like a fresh buffer and wax job...but de-tailed, as in, no tail. One less step to take for a family trying to eat heathily but needs quick and easy dinner prep too.

For shrimp as reasonably good - big, meaty, and mild - at the reasonable price of $6 or $7 for the pound (misplaced receipt...again), this will be a repeat purchase for sure. Even if it took our five year old nearly an hour to eat one small bowl of chowder. She did mention she liked the shrimp, just not all the "onions" (actually leeks) that were in there too. Hopefully we'll find more than just mac 'n cheese for family faves...we're in fact planning on it. Good shrimp, and it'll great to have on hand as a new family staple.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Raw Shrimp: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Trader Joe's Organic White Truffle Potato Chips

Certain yummy things come from the ground. Potatoes, for example. 

I'd add chickpeas, lentils, and beans to that list, among other things. I can go either way on things like radishes, beets, and jicama. But in my book, once something has been in the dirt for a long enough time, it necessarily falls under the category of "things to burn," rather than "things to eat." Case in point: oil, coal, propane, natural gas—all of which are proving useful as sources of heat during this gnarly polar vortex we've got going over most of the country. You burn them. Nobody in his right mind tries to eat them.

I'd like to add truffles to that list. Fungi that have been in the dirt for 5-8 years have long since graduated from the "you should eat this" league, and are now well on their way to becoming fossil fuels for future generations to incinerate. Let's just go ahead and leave them in the ground for now.

Because they taste like dirt. They're bitter, chalky, and...I mean, some might use the term "earthy," but I think that word is simply too kind for this "gourmet" subterranean fungus.

Just the smell from the bag was too much for me. I'm not really even sure why. "Organic white truffle" is very low on the ingredients list, but there's nothing else on there that I dislike at all. Tapioca maltodextrin might be a little odd for potato chips, but I'm down with tapioca stuff. I like oil. I like salt. I like potatoes. The look, feel, and texture of the chips was just fine. If you lacked olfactory and gustatory senses, you'd never be able to differentiate these chips from run-of-the-mill salted potato chips. But for me, that truffley taste just overpowered everything else, and I could scarcely stomach two of the chips. 

I'd also like to point out that I'm in the minority here, apparently. The lovely Sonia enjoyed these soil-flavored chips, oddly enough. And our western PA blogging counterparts appreciated the Truffle Mac and Cheese exactly one year ago this week. I guess you can chalk it up to my lifelong aversion to fungi. I don't even really like mushrooms.

I, for one, hope to never eat another truffle-containing product for as long as I live. You can call me unsophisticated, but you can't call me unadventurous. Sonia and I consumed and enjoyed both alligator meat and python meat for the first time this New Year's Eve at a fancy hot dog place in Philly. Even those guys serve potato chips sans truffles. They know what's up.

I give these chips one and a half stars. I would have gone with zero, but their texture and appearance was just fine. It's the flavor I can't handle. Sonia will go with four. She thinks the flavor is "interesting," and she likes that the chips aren't as oily as other varieties.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Trader Joe's Organic Coconut Sesame Seed Clusters

First things first - Happy New Year everyone! Here's to hoping 2018 will be better than 2017, but not as good as 2019 will be, starting now. Or, if you're a Time Lord and into that wibbly-wobbly line of thinking, 2018 can start being better whenever it pleases.

Eight years of writing this blog, and that is only my second Dr. Who reference I can think of, and a weak one at that. Note to self: more Dr Who references this year. That would require Sandy and I to finally get caught up on episodes. That'd be great, especially to help fill the time until Stranger Things comes back So many cliffhangers there...won't say anything in case anyone's not caught up somehow, but man, Joyce's fridge...the heck?

Whether your New Year's resolution is to wach more Netflix or do that getting healthier thing (or both! I need to rid me of some adipose, personally), you need a snack. May as well give Trader Joe's Organic Coconut Sesame Seeds Clusters a try.

These clusters are definitely unique. I keep wanting to call them crackers, because that's what they feel and taste like - wafer-y, thin, airy, crispy crackers. In a way, similiar to a couple layers of filo dough baking together. Except, it's not flour and eggs and whatnot - it's just coconut. I've had dried coconut before, but none was think this - maybe I'm sheltered or naive, but for me at least it's a first. The clusters are irresistably crispy, and as a cool bonus, after a few chomps it's almost as if a little coconut oil gets extruded. That may not be accurate, but there's certainly an added coconutty presence that seems to ooze out. May sound weird, but nah - and it's delicious.

Black and white sesame seeds add a small textural varient and kinda help turn the nature of this snack into a more savory-type deal. Kinda odd bedfellows, sesame seeds and coconut, but it works. There's also apparently some Himalayan salt added, but honestly I don't detect any of it, so it's probably fairly negligible.

Eat them straight, put on a salad, put on some ice cream, but don't do salad and ice cream at the same time. That wouldn't work. These crispers are light and snacky enough that both Sandy and I could the whole bag, which probably isn't advisable even if it's coconut. At about $2 for the bag, these are repeat buy worthy for sure. We'll be on them for sure.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Coconut Sesame Seed Clusters: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons