Monday, July 30, 2018
Trader Joe's Milk & Dark Chocolate Butterscotch Bits Bar
I really can't believe what I'm about to write here...
...but, skipping all formalities and warmth and fuzziness, don't bother with Trader Joe's Milk & Dark Chocolate Butterscotch Bits Bar. At all. It's completely unenjoyable and will make you question who thought of such of an awful concoction.
No, this isn't some sort of warped attempt to dissuade all potential buyers so I can corner the market and stockpile all of them for myself. I'm serious. Don't' Buy. Ever. I don't care that it's $1.79 and sounds delicious, because that's exactly how Sandy and I got suckered in during a recent trip that we made while bordering on raging hangriness.
I'll give it this much, as it's only postive point. The chocolate, both the milk and dark (as nicely swirled on the bottom of the bar), are delicious. If you know TJ's chocolate, you know it's pretty much always on point. That's the case here, and the milk and the dark meld together nicely in a contrasting tones of creamy and solid, with sweetness and depth. That part is good, but it's what's kinda expected at this point.
Everything else? Awful. Butterscotch bits? Are you kidding me? There's probably more butterscotch bits in Milton Hershey's couch cushions than in this bar. I detected a few crystallized crumbs here and there, but it could be anything in the world, there's not enough to detect any hint of butterscotch. In the half a bar I ate, I encountered a possible butterscotch essence maybe once. It could have been miniscule bits of gravel in there for all I could tell.
But it gets worse. This is one chocolate bar that's actually painful to eat. How to explain...it'd be better if we took a picture of it but we thought the bottom swirls were pretty and more photogenic before cramming in the piehole. It's one of those bars alternates in form between divots and chunks. Like plateaus and valleys, so as to segment a bar, or as Sandy more succinctly put it, a beefed-up Toberlone candy bar. That's fine...but the "plateaus" are so tall and steep, yet so small with so little space between them, that biting into one of these is a nightmare. Your teeth naturally go sledding downhill, leaving the plateaued parts to jab your in the gums. I'm not making this up. Sandy had much the same experience. I guess, maybe in retrospect, if eaten one segment at a time and consumed sideways, it could have worked better...but still. it's as if whoever came up with the form of this bar didn't understand teeth or resented poeple who had them. It hurts. And this isn't a case of it getting too hard because of being in the fridge or freezer these hot summer months...we ate it within an hour of purchase, so it was basically at warmish room temperature.
And to top it off, it's a ten segment bar, with the chocolate bar consisting of three servings per the label. "That's not even fair or right!" Sandy the serving-size policewoman expressed dejectedly.
Not a fan. At all. A little butterscotch could have redeemed the bar quite a bit, but I'm grasping at saying much of anything nice. Quality chocolate can be had very easily at TJ's, with actual other flavors mixed in, and so far not any other one made my mouth hurt. In all, this TJ's butterscotch chocolate bar is one of the most disappointing purchases I've ever made at TJ's, rivaled perhaps only by these failures. Maybe this is just some built up angst and spite, but I'm going zero here, while Sandy chimes in with a one simply because it's chocolate.
Bottom line: Trader Joe's Milk & Dark Chocolate Butterscotch Bits Bar: 1 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Friday, July 27, 2018
Trader Joe's Creamy Polenta
Usually, when Sonia's home, she insists on doing the cooking. I'll admit, she's a little more skilled in the culinary arts than I am, but she's so adamant about always doing the kitchen stuff, I'm beginning to think she has serious doubts about my competence. I don't blame her.
For one, she always insists on washing the skillet thoroughly between each meal. But I always make the point that the remnants of the last meal simply yield "more flavor" in whatever's being prepared currently. She disagrees. She says that idea is "just a guy thing." From what we've heard from other couples, there's not much disagreement on that point.
Fortunately, for this meal, I was home alone and was left to run amok, unchecked by my better half and her pretentious ideas about culinary propriety. There were remnants of a makeshift stir-fry in the pan. I left it there. I mean, I took out the actual food—at first. But I left the remnants in there without washing anything. It was mostly bits of onion with a few shards of green bean and a thin coating of olive oil.
I'm sure this polenta would have been delightful without the onions, green beans, and olive oil, but I'm pretty sure they didn't hurt either. In fact, I liked them with the polenta so much, that I later mixed in the actual leftover stir-fry. Delish.
But I made sure to try the polenta by itself for the sake of this review. Thanks to reader Carissa E, who left a comment on this English muffin review from 2014 encouraging us to try this polenta. She says she'd give it an 11 out of 10. Sorry, Carissa. The scale only goes to 10.
"These go to 11," right?
I must admit, it's pretty tasty, though. It's very creamy, as the name would suggest. When frozen, the "cream" comes in the form of large pellets that look like oversized white chocolate kisses. There's lots of spinach and plenty of carrot bits. The texture is indeed creamalicious. It's thicker than a soup, but still much more mushy than solid. The carrots didn't add a whole lot to the taste, but they lend a bit of substance to the otherwise porridge-like consistency.
It's got a savory flavor, with plenty of spinach taste to it. There's a buttery/milky flavor, as well. It's a nice comforting taste, with an almost homemade-quality to it. I agree with Carissa that it's much better than the Polenta Provencale. Sonia wishes there were a little more pepper and garlic seasoning in this dish, but was very happy with it other than that. It doesn't say gluten-free on the bag, but we're wondering why it wouldn't be. Cornmeal shouldn't have gluten, should it?
Four stars a piece here.
Bottom line: 8 out of 10.
Thursday, July 26, 2018
Trader Joe's Old Fashioned Waffle Cones and Trader Joe's Ultra Chocolate Ice Cream
But there's a problem. See, I like waffle cones, a lot. And the Good Lord, when I was born, decided to grace with a tremendous underbite that I have declined to ever get fixed. Surgically breaking and resetting a jaw and being subjected to a summer at home with Mom and Dad eating baby food during college when instead I could be off at campus didn't seem like fun. To help cover this up, and also because without it I look like a 14 year old with an hyperactive pituitary gland, I have grown a fairly large, bushy beard. The wife loves it and won't let me do more than an occasional trim.
As a result, between my wacky jaw and crazy beard, it's impossible for me to eat an ice cream neatly. I've tried all sorts of different techniques...nope. It cannot be done. My three year old is neater than me, and we usually have to hose her off. Strangers gasp. Kids stare. Napkins cringe. It's bad.
Fortunately, bettween Trader Joe's Old Fashioned Waffle Cones, and, say, Trader Joe Ultra Chocolate Ice Cream, I can contain my embarrassment at home.
Waffle cones at first. A good waffle cone, in of itself, is one of life's simple pleasures. Why settle for one of those styrofoam type deals...when you can get a waffle cone? These TJ cones are no exception. They're appropriately thick and sturdy, with enough space to amply hold a couple scoops. That's key. When bitten into, there's lots of crunch-and-munch-ability, with little chance of these guys getting soggy. But then there's an added bonus: there's a sweet, almost creamy, vanilla flavor shining through the batter that adds a really nice little touch. Really, these are pretty greta cones, and at $2.99 for a dozen, not a bad deal. Most ice cream shops charge what, an extra 50 cents (at least) for a waffle cone? These are 25 cents each! Nice!
As for the Ultra Chocolate Ice Cream...meh. It's decent ice cream, don't get me wrong. But chocolate by itself doesn't quite get my motor running. That being said, the TJ's chocolate ice cream is better than average chocolate. The cocoa flavor is rich with depth and is fairly potent, more than a typical chocolate. It's probably a good thing there aren't any mix-ins or added flavors as they would probably be overpowered. And from seeing how hard this ice cream freezes, it's made from good quality ingredients too. Lots of milk and cream and eggs and the like. In all, pretty good, even if it's not all my thing. If you're a chocoholic, though? You'll be all over this.
The waffle cones will be a summer staple, for sure. We do ice cream far more than we should at home...it's hot and we ahve no AC and get tired and cranky easily. Don't judge. As for the ice cream? It'll be in and out, I think. Neither Sandy nor I are huge fans but our kids sure are, and by God, if it'll help them eat anything other than mac and cheese for dinner, we're for it. Waffle cones earn near top marks, while the ultra chocolate ice crwam comes in a little behind.
Bottom lines: Trader Joe's Old Fashioned Waffle Cones: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons and Trader Joe;s Ultra Chocolate Ice Cream: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Tuesday, July 24, 2018
Trader Joe's Soy Cheese Alternative
This product contains milk. It's not considered vegan. Which begs the question: why on earth does it even exist?
Some might say it's got less calories than regular cheese. Okay. So does the soil in your back yard—and I'm willing to bet the soil is more palatable. I guess this non-cheese is vegetarian. But then, so is regular cow's milk cheese. Know what else cow's milk cheese has going for it? It's edible.
Texture-wise, I guess this stuff isn't that far off. It feels pretty similar to traditional mozzarella, but with a detectable amount of tofu-type texture as well.
Buuuut flavor-wise, this is one of the worst things I've tasted in my life. It's difficult for me to describe the flavor. The only other things I've ever had that come close are soft, moist dog food pellets that I tried many years ago. Yes, I sample dog food from time to time...<ahem> but that's neither here nor there. The bottom line is that both Sonia and I found this product entirely uneatable. If you disagree, that's fine. Feel free to share your thoughts below. I'm sure someone will tell us there's a way to cook it or to prepare it that makes it okay, but I, for one, cannot fathom ingesting one more bite of this vile block of bean. This is a big "nope." Going back to Trader Joe's for a no-hassle refund. Half a star a piece on this one. Absolutely revolting.
This "cheese" made Sonia very sad. Please watch and like her short video review to make her happy again.
Bottom line: 1 out of 10.
Friday, July 20, 2018
Trader Joe's Indian Fare Yellow Tadka Dal
But another Boston Market memory came to mind while prepping Trader Joe's Indian Fare Yellow Tadka Dal. You think all the side dishes there were freshmade? Bahahahaha, that's hilarious. Nah, all the mashed potatoes and green beans and mac n cheese and whatever else was bagged and either steamed or boiled before being brought out...
...which is exactly how I made this Indian dish, in only a slightly more traditional method than nuking in our microwave. I literally submerged the package, as shown, in a boiling pot of water to warm up this shelf-stable lentil stew-like dish. I guess it's only weird if it doesn't work.
The lentils are, well, lentil-like. What is there to really say about them? But they add earthiness and body to the creamy tomato broth base. There's enough lentils that it didn't even really seem all that tomato like, so that's a plus in Sandy's book. She might not even realize there were tomatoes in it until she reads this...I guess we'll find out. In any event, we both wish we had some naan to help get every last bit of the tadka dal into our belly.
Bringing one thing back: make note of the "creamy" aspect. Yup, sorry vegan lentil-lovers out there, there's milk in the ingredients here. From what I can tell from a quick Google search, many if not most tadka dal recipes can be or are vegan. So there's a potential knock.
For $1.99, we were happy. It's definitely repeat purchase-type material for us. If this TJ's tadka dal were a side dish or option at an Indian buffet, we'd be happy. Just get it out of the bag before bringing it out. Double fours.
Bottom line: Trader Joe's Indian Fare Yellow Tadka Dal: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons
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'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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.