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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Trader Joe's Cauliflower Pancakes

Really wish I could, but as close as it comes to actually working, it just doesn't. Cauliflatkes. Get it?

It's almost an apt word to describe Trader Joe's Cauliflower Pancakes. Almost. So close. It's caulifower. It's a wannabe potato pancake, which is more accurately a latke. It's a cauilfower latke.

But a cauliflatke? It just doesn't work.

Oh well.

Which is too bad, as these cauliflower latkes are incredibly decent. It's nearly shocking. We all know by now how versatile cauliflower can be, and how well it can mimic rice and potatoes...still, let's be honest. You can usually tell if something is cauliflower. If it's not in the feel, it's in the taste. Kinda like how you can sense gluten free goods more times than not, or diet sodas. There's a distinctive differewnce more than times than not.

File these wannabe spudders under "not." If I didn't know these were cauliflower, I would've assumed there were regular potato. The cakes are dense and heavy, with a lot of "build" to them. Granted, they do look a little different, as there's not toasty shredded bits of potatoes here and there, but eyes closed, not sure I'd tell the difference. Even when baked in the oven, as we did, there's a greasy crispiness that makes me wish we woulda deepfried them. I'll have to settle for the gratitude of my arteries.

There's a small taste difference, though, but not due to base matter. Almost every latke I've ever had contained onions in them, and weren't shy about it. No onions here. Instead there's a small amount of Parmesan cheese used as flavor. It's not over the top, but could more paltable for the anti-onion crowd, whoever you are. Weirdos.

Bake them, fry them, eat them straight, top with sour cream, serve with applesauce. Eat at dinner, at celebrations, as a party appetizer...heck even be weird like us and have them for breakfast. Nutritionally speaking, they're a black hole, but this time, less carbs, amirite? It's every bit a latke. These TJ taterless cakes aren't labelled as gluten free but I'm not seeing anything indicated on the ingredients that would have me to expect they're not...correct me if I'm wrong please. You can't say the same about the regular TJ latkes.

Small note: the box of six costs $3.99. That's one of those odd price points that screams neither screaming deal nor complete rip off, which probably means it's fair for all involved...but as much as I like them at $3.99, I'd like them even more at $2.99.

Call them whatever you want. Maybe with enough support "cauliflatkes" could be a thing...but I'm not counting on it. Count this though: double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cauliflower Pancakes: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Trader Joe's Vanilla & Pretzel and Trader Joe's Coconut & Almond Greek Lowfat Yogurts

Chobani Flips, Fage Crossovers, Yoplait Mix-ins, Siggi's Simple know what I'm talking about. They're yogurts that come with their own toppings. Pretty much idiot-proof. Just open up both compartments and dump the side with the mixables into the side with the yogurt. If you can land the toppings in the container and stir them up without spilling anything onto the table or the floor, you've passed the test. Just consume and enjoy. 

I think these products indicate that the yogurt industry is trying to combat the idea that plain yogurt is boring. It certainly can be, but I'm still fine with non-mixable yogurt. Maybe it was all the business little yogurt shops like Yogurtland and Pinkberry were taking away from the mainstay yogurt guys. 

"Oh, you want to PUT STUFF on your yogurt?" said yogurt CEO's, annoyed with their customers for not being a little more brand-loyal. "We hear you loud and clear, friends. Here's yogurt with STUFF you PUT on it. Sheesh."

Now, it's Trader Joe's turn. These were the only two flavors we saw on TJ's shelves so far. If any others have been sighted, let us know in the comments below.

Sonia and I both share our thoughts in this short video review. Sonia gives three stars to the vanilla pretzel offering and four stars to the coconut almond one. I'll throw out three and a half to each.

Trader Joe's Vanilla & Pretzel Lowfat Greek Yogurt: 6.5 out of 10.
Trader Joe's Coconut & Almond Lowfat Greek Yogurt: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Trader Joe's Turkey Cranberry Meatballs

....somehow it's almost Thanksgiving already! What the what!?!?!

Seems to me that Halloween starts off a verifiable gauntlet of activities and festivities for the fam. Yes, there's the usual Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years stretch...but mix in there Sandy and my's anniversary (almost nine years!), a couple kids' birthdays, our growing tradition of a holiday cookie party, other activities and parties and occasions, along with it growing into the busy season at work, and all along all the normal humdrum and business of day-to-day life...we're busy! And we need to eat, preferably altogether and happily as a family.

Which means I don't really want my kids complaining about whatever meat may be on the table. With that in mind, with Turkey Day coming up too, getting Trader Joe's Turkey Cranberry Meatballs was an easy choice. Who can ever complain about a meatball?

I'm not here. Listen, I know these aren't as good as your Aunt Millie's famous homemade recipe, but for a frozen convenience poultry protein sphere, I'll gladly take them. As they come fully cooked, it's only a few minutes in the oven or microwave that's needed.

The reward for those three nanonseconds worth of active prep? A warm, soft yet appropriately firm meatball that's decidedly lighter than an average beef ball. It's pretty par for the frozen meatball course, with an absolute comfort vibe. But there's a lot more to like here too. There's some pretty decent rosemary in there to really enhance the flavor of the meat with some herbal savoriness. And the little dried cranberries add a nice touch. They're not intrusive from a textural standpoint at all, and definitely add a little "Thanksgiving" to the overall feel.

These turkey treats aren't perfect, though. One scroll through the ingredient list - "mechanically separated turkey." gulp. If you don't what that is somehow, go Google it...not gonna tell ya here, it's a family friendly business we run here. Also, and this is just a suggestion, but meatballs usually incorporate breadcrumbs, right? My grandma took it a step further and used crumbled homemade biscuits. Well, since it's for Turkey Day...why not use some stuffing in there too? That'd literally be almost all of Thanksgiving all rolled up in one morsel, provided that it got tossed around like a football, hollered at about politics, and drenched in gravy as well.

Mmm. Gravy. These do taste better with gravy as I sampled at the local TJ's shop. Interestingly, the dude running the counter advised microwaving instead of baking the balls, so as to retain a little more moisture and not dry them out as much. I prepped one half of our bag each way and to be honest I didn't notice too drastic a difference. Your mileage may vary, though, so there's that.

Sandy and I liked them. The kiddos tolerated them well enough and turned their dinner time ire more towards the brussel sprouts. I'll count that as a win - usually they devour their veggies and slowly whittle our will to let them live by taking four score and seven years to eat a bite of meat. The bag of about 20 meatballs (roughly four or five servings) ran $4.49 locally, so a decent enough of a value for a repeat buy. I'd think they'd work as a dinner or party snack option, so whatever you got going on, these can come alongside. Double 3.5s.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Turkey Cranberry Meatballs: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Trader Joe's Chantilly Cream Vanilla Bean Mini Sheet Cake

Icing: it's the best part of the cake, and the worst part of hockey.

If you're not sure exactly what that means, just turn to the hockey fan nearest you and ask them about it. Right now, as I compose this post, the Capitals and Penguins are playing one another. #ALLCAPS! It's a big rivalry—almost as big a rivalry as the ultimate argument about cake. There are those like my lovely wife that claim the bread part is always best. And then there are people like me. I'm usually an icing kinda guy.

Not long ago, Sonia and I sampled TJ's Party Cake. I liked it a bit more than she did in the end, but we both enjoyed the cake more than the frosting in that instance. In this case, the vanilla bean icing is the main attraction for me. It actually tastes like vanilla beans more than regular white icing in the same way vanilla bean ice cream tastes more like true vanilla than even a highly respectable French vanilla. And like vanilla bean ice cream, this icing has actual ground vanilla beans in it.

The icing isn't completely even across the top of the cake. Around the edges, it's significantly shallower than in the middle. There are a few areas that even seem to have greater quantities of frosting than cake—as in, you take a fork-full, and you're chewing two parts icing to one part cake. It didn't bother me much at all because the vanilla bean was so tasty. You bready cakey people might disagree. However, even I must admit the bread here is nothing to complain about. It stays moist and fresh-ish for quite a while after opening the product. It's not unlike the bread part of the Party Cake, but perhaps a bit denser and richer by virtue of the presence of beaucoup buttermilk.

In general, I'm not even a huge cake and cookies guy anymore, but I'm sure I've consumed hundreds of pieces of cake at parties and get-togethers over the years, and many of them, perhaps even most, have been vanilla. I generally prefer vanilla cake over chocolate, although there have been notable exceptions. I eat less cake these days for a number of reasons: health concerns, weight, not to mention I don't get invited to many parties these days, and I attend even fewer. All that to say it takes a pretty decent cake to impress me at all. 

$4.49 for the dessert isn't a bad deal. Four stars from me. Three and a half from Sonia...who didn't even finish all of her icing.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Flavored Hot Cocoa

Let the milk and cocoa...simmer on the heat...don't ya know the bitter cold makes the bitter sweet?

Ahem. If you have children under the age of 10 or so, you may be aware of a band called The Okee Dokee Brothers. In short, in a world full of mostly wretched, ear clawing, about to drive you mad kid's music, the Brothers band is surprisingly fresh, fun, and more than tolerable to the point of practically downright enjoyable for the whole family. We'e trekked out for an overnight trip out of town to go see them play in Columbus, OH a few months back, just in time for their new album release Winterland. Solid album from start to finish...and believe me, I know. It's been on repeat for the past month everytime we've driven anywhere, so I am intimately familiar with each song on the album, including the lead off song "Blankets of Snow" where the first line of this review came from.

Could be a lot worse. Could be Kids Bop 265 or whatever they're on now.

So my apologies for not being able to think of another way to start off a review of yet another hot cocoa concoction for TJ's, this time Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Flavored Hot Cocoa.

Unlike my kid's number one choice of music, this one may slightly tilt towards the older crowd. My kids are just happy with anything brown and sugary (it counts as "chocolate" for them") and if there's marshmallows it's a bonus.

Salted caramel is much more the lead flavor of this beverage. It starts with that flourish, then delves into the cocoa after a brief semi-salty interlude. I'm not sure I'd say it's exactly "high quality" salted caramel...but it works with the chocolate elements enough to make a fairly drinkable, fairly enjoyable product. Even when made with water, there's a pretty rich, developed taste which I'd imagine would be even more so with milk, but after a tummy bug knocked me out for the last day and a half, I wasn't gonna try. I can definitely down some on a cold day while not feeling too bad about leaving the kiddos with a packet of Swiss Miss.

Odd point: this mix goes through the trouble of being made with coconut creamer powder, yet still contains milk in that said powder. Coconut creamer doesn't really even need milk, so why bother? It'd be cool to have this as a dairy free option, but no dice. 

This caramelly cocoa runs $3.99 for the squatty cannister which holds enough for eight servings, so about 50 cents a cup overall. Seems like an okay but not amazing value to me. At least it comes with a free three tablespoon scoop, and it'll be a cannister that I'm sure my kids will fight over once emptied. Oh well. It's all okee-dokee with me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Flavored Hot Cocoa: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, November 2, 2018

Trader Joe's Soft Honey Nougat with Almonds

The moment Sonia popped the confection into her mouth, she said what I was thinking: "Weird."

"Mmhmm," I agreed, mouth bulging with candy.

"It tastes fake," added the missus. 

I didn't disagree, but I looked at the ingredients. First on the list: glucose syrup. I was hoping to see "cane sugar" or "honey" there.

At first, this candy feels fake, too—almost like hard plastic. The nougat quickly softens, though, and goes from stiff and rigid to soft and pliable. The nuts are the only elements that remain hard after a few moments in the mouth, and they add the only non-sugary flavor to the product. The taste of honey is detectable, but I wish there were a good bit more of it.

We both agree the almonds are the best part of this sweet snack, and since they're playing second fiddle to a block of vanilla-flavored sugar, they still don't redeem the product entirely, in my opinion. Sonia started enjoying the candy more and more as she tasted the almonds, got used to the unfamiliar texture, and learned that the nougats came all the way from South Africa. I'm not sure why we have to import something that could potentially be little more than wads of corn syrup, but I guess we're just that much more sophisticated for eating foreign confections.

Despite an initial wariness, Sonia will bring a respectable three and a half star score. At $3.49 for 8 pieces of nougat, I think it's a little overpriced and uninteresting. I'd prefer a product that's simply nice big whole almonds with just a thin coating of this candy. Two and a half stars from me.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.