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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Trader Joe's Vegan Kale, Cashew & Basil Pesto

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

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

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

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

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


Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Trader Joe's Crunchy Cinnamon Squares Milk Chocolate Bar


Rereads package several times

Well, I'll be...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Infuse Spirits Broken Barrel Bourbon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four and a half stars a piece.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Trader Joe's Chocolate Whole Milk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 9, 2018

Trader Joe's Cauliflower Tabbouleh

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Trader Joe's Organic Vanilla Fudge Chip Ice Cream

Oh ice cream, what would we do without you?

This is a serious question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Trader Joe's Shawarma Chicken Thighs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Trader Joe's Chocolate Caramel Yolkies

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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