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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 ├╝ber-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.