Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Trader Joe's Pancake Bread

Currently, my kids are obsessed with the movie The Greatest Showman. It's the music, I think, as evidenced by them commanding Alexa to play the soundtrack essentially nonstop. It's a good movie - I've always been a Hugh Jackman fan (who isn't?) and as much as ten-years-ago me would mock current me for saying it, Zac Efron got some talent. If you're not familiar, it's the story of PT Barnum and how he built his circus empire. One of his tricks: kinda massaging the truth a little, to kinda hoodwink the paying customer a little. Like, for instance, having the "world's tallest man" already be an abnormally tall guy, but then putting him on stilts. Or having the "world's largest man" shove a few pillows under his clothes for a little dramatic effect. In a way, it's kinda an innocent playful deception, which most people knew but were willing to be lured in any way by the show and spectacle of it.

All this brings me to Trader Joe's Pancake Bread.

In a world full of carbo-crossovers, most involving pretzels or crosissants (but never pretzels AND croissants - c'mon now!), we now have this. Pancakes and bread, together, in perfect harmony, right? How did it take so long for this to be a thing?

Be honest though. Close your eyes. Forget the label that says "pancake bread." Take a taste. Does it really taste like pancakes? Really? Be honest.

To me, nah. Blindfolded, I'd say it tastes more like a soft cinnamon bread than anything else. All the crumblies on top is more brown sugar, etc than anything else. To be fair, there is a maple essence as well. It's soft and crumbly and a little moist and definitely, and not more rugged or dense like a banana bread. The bread makes an excellent snack, a quick breakfast, would be delicios warmed or eaten straight from the container...but it's more bread than a pancake.

Slap the name "Pancake Bread" on it....okay, now that it's been suggested, I can see it.

Of course, if it were to be named "Soft Cinnamon Maple Bread", while being more apt a descriptor, that's not nearly as exciting. I mean, it'd take me years to buy it probably. But embellish the truth a smidge in some backroom marketing meeting, call it pancake bread - voila! Take the world by storm!

This is why I don't work in marketing.

For the record, Sandy disagrees with me. "It tastes just like a pancake with a lot of syrup kinda drenched in," she said. It should be noted that she enjoys her pancakes with a small puddle of syrup on the side which she daintily dips her pancake bites in, so she'd know what a syrup-logged pancake would actually taste and feel like is beyond me. Other online reviews I've seen claim the TJ's pancake bread tastes just like a buttermilk pancake. I can see where it's all coming from, but it's overstating the facts in my lonesome, sure to be unpopular opinion.

Regardless, the pancakesque loaf is delicious and kinda intoxicating in its carby-comfort ways. I love it. I just wish it were more honest with itself. If Hugh Jackman PT Barnum can, so can this bread, right? My only downvote is for the slight deception of purported pure pancakeyness.  Matching fours from the wife and me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Pancake Bread: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, January 14, 2019

Trader Joe's Fruit & Nut (& Other Stuff) Crisps

Petrified fruitcake slices.

Not the most flattering of descriptions, I know. But that's what I'm going with here as the opening line of this review. If you think there's any way you could ever be into Grammy's old-fashioned fruitcake—particularly a specimen from, I don't know, the 1920's?—left on a shelf to harden and crustify into a nearly rock-like state, yet paradoxically retain a fair amount of freshness flavor-wise, then read on. If that's something you don't think could ever work or that you would never ever try, then there's not a whole lot of hope you'll like this product, in my estimation.

I used the term "rock-like" above. I won't take it back just yet, but I'll elaborate. Rocks are extremely hard, obviously, but when broken into very thin pieces, in the manner of slate rock, for example, they're also quite frangible. Same with these crisps. They're not unlike bagel chips, texture-wise, but they're darn solid. Brittle. They shatter in your mouth. Their explosive kinetic energy can, however, be tempered with cheese. We did indeed enjoy them with a nice chevre, and not only was their flavor enhanced, but their intense oral fragmentalization was considerably mitigated.

In the taste department, they're impressive. I mean, that is, if you like fruitcake. These are fruit crisps—fruit and nut (and other stuff) crisps—to be exact. We don't see parentheses a lot in the titles of Trader Joe's products. I'm not sure how I feel about the use of parentheses in general, let alone in the title of a product or film or album or work of art. But I digress. Let's just be thankful they can't get away with using that trick in the ingredients list just yet.

Ingredients: Fruit, nuts, (other stuff).

Although, isn't that what it feels like when they put "other natural flavors" at the end of the list? Just to be clear, they did not do that here, but I see it far too often on various products. Again with the digression...

I was saying the taste of this product is nutty, fruity, slightly sweet, and it flaunts a rich bready flavor, as well. As mentioned above, it blends perfectly with chevre. TJ's also recommends serving the crisps with brie or cured meats on the packaging. We can't vouch for those, but I'd imagine they'd work just fine, too.

If snacking on nutty, fruity glass shards sounds appealing, put your favorite oral healthcare specialist on speed dial and dig in.

Maybe I'm exaggerating about the texture.

Am I exaggerating about the texture?

Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Trader Joe's Joe-Joe's Slims

"Hey are you gonna make a Fatboy Slim reference in your review?"

"Wha..who?...Fatboy Slim? Jeez, now that's a name from forever ago. What brought him up?"

"Well Pageflip* says 20 years ago he had the number one hit and you're reviewing the Joe-Joe's Slims so maybe I thought..."

"Ah okay, I thought maybe you were poking fun at me again, like I'm the fat boy who wants to be slim again."

"Ha, that's true too. Stop eating all the damn cookies then."

Actual real conversation this evening between my wife and me. Well, close enough. I don't know what app she was looking at but Pageflip sounded right in my head, but then again so do Spacebook and MyFace.

Well, here we are. Trader Joe's Joe-Joe's Slims. Unlike the actual product, that name is kinda mouthful. It's like Trader Joe's3 Slims. That's a litte more streamlined if not confusing for the non-math savvy crowd.

Take a basic Joe-Joe, or your basic Oreoesque sandwich cookie. Make a thin version. Voila. It's an idea that's been done and around for a while. Some people seem to love slim thin cookies. I'm more indifferent. I want something big and crunchy to really bite into, instead of something wispy and snappy.

That's kinda the experience here with the TJ's slims. There's not enough cookie wafer to really develop that more enjoyable (to me) experience of a standard issue cookie. It's almost more cracker than cookie in a way. The sandwich creme doesn't suffer as much, even there's less of it. In some ways the creme even stands out a little more. My guess is the ratio got wacked with the slender crisps serving as the base or not, which is definitely not a complaint.

But yeah, the classic sandwich cookie, except thin. Twist apart and scrape out the creme. Dunk them in a glass of milk. Eat a couple and be good. Eat a few more and console yourself with the fact that two of these maybe equals one regular cookie. Eat the whole box over a course of a week (like I did because NO ONE ELSE WAS TOUCHING THEM) and draw the ire of your spouse. It's all good. You don't need to be skankin' like a Rockefeller and pretend to be all classy with them. Not sure if I have to celebrate these cookies, but I'll praise them like I should with a solid not bad.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Joe-Joe Slims: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Trader Joe's Pistachio Gelato

If one having a mustache is "mustachioed," then is one having a pistachio, or pistachio-flavored product, "pistachioed"?

If so, then neither Sonia nor I have been pistachioed in a while. 

We've had plenty of gelato here and there, particularly Talenti, which, incidentally, is the brand Trader Joe's is emulating so obviously with this plastic jar of gelato. We love those jars. Long after the delicious product has been consumed, they can be used for storage, or even for cereal or beverages. So convenient. Like a souvenir cup with every purchase. And once it's outlived its usefulness, right in the recycling bin it goes.

But it's been a hot minute since I've partaken in a pistachio-flavored frozen dessert of any kind. And we're reviewing the food product, not the packaging, right?

Fortunately, the food within the jar outshines the jar itself—even with that sexy, green Starbucks-like emblem. The flavor, to me, is immediately recognizable as pistachio. It's nutty and sweet—but not too sweet. There's a good bunch of pistachio pieces scattered evenly throughout the gelato, and they blend so perfectly, I can't imagine a better nut to dairy ratio.

Sonia thought she tasted coconut just as much as pistachio. If I eat the product with that in mind, I guess I can see what she's talking about. Coconut oil is one of the main ingredients, and coconut and pistachio are actually very similar, dessert-like, nutty flavors if you think about it. They're both right up there with peanuts, pecans, and almonds as far as tasty nuts (and legumes) you might want to throw in a pie...or cake...or ice cream.

And the texture is just what you want a gelato to be—very similar to ice cream but denser, thicker. It's best when you eat it nice and cold, but not frozen solid. It's gotta be riiight when the outer edges of the gelato are getting slightly drippy—right when it's stiff, but slightly pliable, so you can appreciate both its heaviness and its delicateness.

I, for one, think it's a very tasty product and would happily purchase it again. Sonia liked it as well, although she'd like to see whole pistachios in the mix, rather than bits. We're aware TJ's has at least one other flavor of this Talenti-esque gelato...Caramel Cookie Crunch, which was unavailable at the time we purchased this jar. Perhaps that's another review for another day...stay tuned.

Four stars a piece on this pistachioed product.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Trader Joe's Garlic Basil Linguine Pasta, Trader Joe's Mirepoix, and Trader Joe's Organic Low Sodium Chicken Broth

Well, this probably sounds familiar: We're busy. Constantly busy. I continually work 11-plus hour days. Sandy works part time outside the house and more than full time inside with our little girlies. Add on top of that our girls, our several nights a week worth of activities like Girl Scouts and dance lessons, normal errands and chores as well as our desire for our house to not appear like we live in squalor, and us occasionally wanting a little down time or God forbid a good night's sleep...we're busy.

And of course ya gotta eat. Even our girls, who take forever. Like our four year old the other night who somehow took over an hour to eat a slice of pizza, a cucumber, and some grapes...which is all food that she actually likes. Ridiculous.

So time is at a premium, but some chilly nights only a bowl of warm homemade (or homemade-ish enough) soup will do. Nights like that call for this trio: Trader Joe's Garlic Basil Linguine Pasta, Trader Joe's Mirepoix, and Trader Joe's Organic Low Sodium Chicken Broth.

First up: linguine! Who doesn't like a good al dente noodle? They are the absolute highlight of any chicken noodle soup. I mean, yes, absolutely, you could use these garlic basil noodles as a regular kinda pasta dish - toss with some butter, a little sauce maybe, pair with some grilled chicken, etc - but they work well for soup, too! The herbal aroma is fairly potent when opening the bag and while the final taste isn't quite as potent as initially suggested, there's enough added flavor to to make this TJ's garlic basil linguine a fine choice for all your noodlin' needs.

Life pro tip though: These are long guys. Break them in half if you put them in soup unless you like slappin' broth around everywhere.

Next: TJ's mirepoix, which roughly translates as "lazy American prechopped rabbit food." Nothing magic here, just the classic carrot, onion and celery mix. Open container, dump in pot. No peeling, no trimming, no chopping, no nothing. Convenience all the way. Listen, I actually really enjoy food prep. Few things make me happier than prepping a large pile of veggies and browning meat for homemade's therapeutic and relaxing and all that. But sometimes, it's strictly business between me and dinner, and those times call for mirepoix. It's definitely a product to use within a day or two of purchase, so plan accordingly.

Lastly: TJ's organic low sodium chicken broth. It's real nice for when you don't have your own ready made chicken stock at home. Just, uh, don't forget to flavor it some. The sodium content is pretty low (less salt per serving than Cheerios) which is a great thing...but leaves it all a little bland, as we found out when silly old distracted dad here totally neglected to put any additional seasonings in it before serving up. Kids didn't mind, but we did. Fortunately we had just the thing for a good savory taste. I'll take the vantage point that this makes a great healthy base to flavor as you wish, while Sandy's a little caught up on the inherent blandness.

Well, there you have it. These three TJ toss togethers and some left over chicken combined forces to make a quick, comfy pot of soup in less than 20 minutes that we all happily enough chowed down on our nightly familial pitstop cram session. It feels kinda silly to actually grade them all separately...can I just say they all ought to be regular pick ups, especially now in the middle of soup season? Not bad all the way around.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Garlic Basil Linguine Pasta, Trader Joe's Mirepoix, and Trader Joe's Organic Low Sodium Chicken Broth: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Friday, January 4, 2019

Trader Joe's Brookie

"What dessert should I get from the grocery store, honey? Chocolate chip cookies or brownies?" asked Sonia.

"Brownies," I replied. "No, chocolate chip cookies. No, brownies. Ah, darnit...If only someone would smash a chocolate chip cookie on top of a brownie and sell the resulting conglomeration as a single dessert treat, then I could die a happy man. They could call the concoction a 'Crownie,' since it's a brownie crowned with a cookie."

"Actually, they do sell that. But it's called a Brookie," she explained.

Then my head exploded.

As you may have guessed, this conversation never happened in our household, and as far as I know, it is entirely fictional. We chose this product out of a sense of obligation to review all new popular Trader Joe's brand items like we've been doing for a long time now and no other reason. Plus, we like excuses to eat junk food. Why they call it a Brookie and not a Crownie, I'll never know. Maybe the guy who invented it had a girlfriend named Brooke. That's sexist. Maybe the girl who invented it was actually named Brooke. Or had a daughter named Brooke. Or maybe they made the dough with water from a magical brook. Who knows? I, personally, like "Crownie" better. And I'm well aware that the concept of a Brookie pre-dates Trader Joe's iteration of the dessert. They could have distinguished themselves from the herd by changing the name up a bit and making it Trader Joe's Crownie (Brownie Crowned With Cookie = Crownie). But whatevs. At this rate, Trader Joe's will never make me head of their product development team because I "lack experience," I'm "arrogant," and I have "terrible ideas."

Nobody from TJ's ever actually told me those things, FYI. That's just my own personal assessment of the situation. Imagine me saying those things with big air quotes for comedic effect.

Now, getting down to business here, I must say I'm really not sure what all the fuss is about with this Brookie. It's an adequate dessert if you're craving a chocolate chip cookie or a brownie or both, I suppose. But beyond that, I don't think there's anything particularly magical going on here. Neither element was unusually flavorful or soft or fresh—though, conversely, neither was particularly stale or unpleasant either. They both just felt like typical grocery store fare to me—like a Ralph's or Giant or HEB bakery made some cookies and brownies and then crowned the brownies with the cookies and stuck them all in the same box. Not bad, not bad. But not earth-shattering, either.

I'm apparently the minority here, because Sonia loved them. She dunked hers in coffee and acted like she'd never had a brownie or cookie quite so delicious in her life. I just feel like I'm missing something now. If they were fresh out of the oven, I might feel differently. But as it stands, I say they're more or less run-of-the-mill brownies crowned with run-of-the-mill chocolate chip cookies.

In the past, we've seen outstanding brownies from Trader Joe's and outstanding chocolate chip cookies. If they could have combined those two incredible products into one, I might be singing a different tune, but as it is, these get three stars from me. Four stars from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Trader Joe's Mushroom & Company Multipurpose Umami Seasoning Blend

First and foremost...Happy New Year everyone! Here's to hoping your 2019 will be full of enough golden spoons to make it pantheon worthy.

Second off...umami. It's a word that's always been a little full of mystery for me. It's a word to describe a taste along with salty, sweet, bitter or sour, all of which I feel I have a basic grasp.

But umami? Please. I had my suspicions that Google confirmed: it just means savory. That's all. It's goofy to me, using a word then immediately having to include a much easier to grasp definition. Why can't we just call it "savory" and skip the whole "umami" deal? Granted, it's more fun to say, and makes me feel a little sophisticated, but still. In the food description family, umami is the hoity-toity cousin that tries just a little too hard to stick out.

All this to say if anyone ever asks you what "umami" tastes like, for whatever reason, it wouldn't be a bad idea to pick up Trader Joe's Mushroom & Company Multipurpose Umami Seasoning Blend.

It's, well....savory. Duh. But there's quite a bit going on here too. There's a good salty bite, but also a little spice, a little heat, a little herby earthy type vibe...and comfort. It tastes like comfort. Like a warm broth washing over all the ills of the world. There's just something extra to it. Maybe somehow it's the mushroom powder, as I have no idea what it really does, but man, it's there. It's something to really kinda experience instead of being easily describable.

Except maybe in this regard: it tastes like what makes chicken soup good. Or a good gravy. Or some nicely roasted meat. Or...stuff like that. I can somehow only think of the seasoning through a carnivore lens, though I'm sure it'd work on veggies and potato soup and all that kinda stuff too.

My only complaint is it seems a lot has to be used to make the flavor really noticeable. We made some New Years pork roast that I had to shake a bit much of this on top to really release the umami tsunami. Eh well. No matter. More comfort, one shake at a time.

No real complaints. It'll be a pantry staple as long as TJ's can be bothered to carry it, which will hopefully be all of this year. That'd really make 2019 one to savor.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mushroom & Company Multipurpose Umami Seasoning Blend: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons