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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Trader Joe's Chicken Chilaques Rojo

There's some dispute apparently about the origin of the phrase "winner winner chicken dinner." One of the more common theories is that a chicken dinner in Las Vegas used to cost about $2, the same amount as a typical bet. So you win a bet, you won enough for dinner. Or somebody would bet all they had in hopes to win enough for some food. That sounds kinda like a cross between desperate and degenerate, but there we are.

Let there be no dispute here, though. The new Trader Joe's Chicken Chilaquiles Rojo are an absolute winner.

Proof enough: we had them dinner twice this past week. That's rare for us, especially for a prepackaged item we'd have to buy twice. But Sandy and I enjoyed them so much the first time around, but I was convinced I could make them even better and had to try before writing this review. Not that either of us minded.

The secret for good prep is to actually ignore the directions a little bit and add no extra water. The chilaquiles are a frozen item after all; the ingredients will release enough water on their own while cooking. No need to add extra unless you like yours on the soupy side.

Regardless, these taste friggerin' delicious. There's loads of beans, onions and peppers with an almost adequate-enough amount of chicken simmering in a not-all-that spicy tomato based sauce. Seriously, don't assume they're too spicy for you - our four year old who's a spice wimp had no issue. Still, there's plenty of taste - a little savory, a little smoky, the teeniest amount of heat. There's just some depth here.

Add in the included tortilla chips to soak up some of the liquid, and sprinkle a little cotija cheese atop. The chips definitely help fill out the meal, and the cotija adds a little sourish pungent touch that works well with the overall vibe of the dish. Think of it like a bowl of nachos with chili or super thick chunky salsa, and add some guac or some sour cream. We also put a hard fried egg atop ours per the serving suggestions - delicious.

The chilaquiles rojo aren't perfect though. Primarily, it's the serving sizes. Sandy is superstrict about serving sizes. We didn't measure, but there's no way each bag has 2.5 servings. Unless we're absolute hogs, because both times we made them we made two bags and had no problems or remorse about eating the entire supposed five servings between us. Also, as slightly hinted at, there could be a few more bites chicken included.

Other than that, we're talking near perfection here. For about $3 or $4 a bag, the chilaquiles are repeat buy worthy again and again. You can bet on it.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chicken Chilaquiles Rojo: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Trader Joe's Vanilla Mochi

As long as I've been shopping there, there has always been mochi at Trader Joe's, but this here is a new iteration of the Japanese-American frozen treat. They've always carried Mikawaya brand, although to be honest, I'm not 100% sure if they still do. Also, from time to time they've released their own flavors—everything from mango to pumpkin to coffee.

But as far as I know, this is the first time Trader Joe's has offered "plain" flavors with their own branding. It should be pert near impossible to screw up vanilla after tackling all those other oddball breeds, right? answer to that question is a solid "maybe." And the maybe depends upon your feelings about the rice-based shell of this hand-held dairy dessert. I myself liked it just fine. I must admit it's a little thicker and chewier than almost any other mochi I've ever had, but it's not necessarily worse in my book, simply different. Sonia, on the other hand, hated it.

She felt like the outer mochi shell was too bulky and claimed it made the product taste and feel "stale." It moved independently of the ice cream within and kind of separated from it as you'd bite the mochi ball, whereas other mochi ice creams and shells blend seamlessly. I can totally see where she's coming from. I just didn't mind it as much.

As far as the ice cream, we were both okay with it, but not totally floored. In my opinion it tasted and felt like frozen whipped cream, rather than a rich, complex true vanilla. Fortunately, I really like whipped cream. Sonia, again, wasn't impressed at all, although she felt a little more positive about the dairy elements than the rice elements. She thought it was a bit like McDonald's-esque soft, you know, not exactly top-shelf, but still cold, creamy, and edible.

$4.49 for six mochi that come in a weird plastic egg carton-like container. Not exactly a stellar value, either. They'll do in a pinch, but we've seen better mochi from Trader Joe's, as well as from other brands. Two stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Trader Joe's Almond Meal Muffins

Tried as I have, I'm still not a morning person. Never have been, might never be.

It doesn't matter that for over a year now I've worked an odd schedule at the day jorb that involves me waking up well before the rest of the world. I've somehow never been late for it, and usually show up even earlier. Just because I can do it doesn't mean I like it. And the days I'm off...well, I know this isn't the most conducive to a healthy sleep schedule, what with supposed to be waking up at the same time every day and all, but my body seemingly can't help but feel it needs to catch up so it can "sleep in" til I need to get on the move with the rest of the family.

So pretty much, every morning I'm pretty busy and on-the-go, whether it's rolling towards work half-sleepily or shuffling off wife and kids to whatever the day holds in store, just a little less sleepily.

So pretty much, any morning is a good morning for a Trader Joe's Almond Meal Muffin.

Quick to grab, quick to eat. So very portable. I mean, duh, it's a muffin. They're popular for this very reason. You don't need me to tell you that.

What set's the TJ's almond muffins apart though is their quality. Ever eat a muffin and still feel kinda hungry after? You won't with one of these guys. "Hearty" is an understatement. So much in here - almond meal, walnuts, eggs, carrots, zucchini, berries, oats. So many calories and so much fiber and protein. Yeah, it'll keep you going for a morning.

And thankfully, all together the muffins taste pretty great! As one would imagine, they're earthy, nutty, a little moist and dense with a little bite variant from the aforementioned fruits, nuts, and veggies. All the flavors blend well with one another, with some maple and agave helping to sweeten the whole deal. I don't think there's an ingredient I would add or subtract from this whole mix, except maybe a touch more cinnamon.

One point of contention, and I hope one of you can help clear this up since I've discarded the package without doublechecking - are these gluten free? There's no ingredients on the label that proclaim gluten to me, but I don't recall them being labelled as such. Help?

At about four bucks for the package, these muffins are an absolute steal. One of these with a coffee and an apple can be a breakfast mainstay for me for sure, no matter what kinda morning it is. Double fours from the Mrs and me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Almond Meal Muffins: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, August 16, 2019

Trader Joe's Lemon Basil Pasta Salad

Whether you're a cubicle jockey, a work-from-home telecommuter, or a full-time traveling digital nomad—all of which Sonia and I have been—pre-packaged, refrigerated lunches like this one come in very handy most days. "Lemon basil pasta salad" sounds like a refreshing meal for these 90+ degree summer afternoons. Let's see what's going on here, shall we?

What's working: the overall taste is fresh and lemony. We found decent quality greens in our bowl, pristine bowtie pasta, shredded asiago cheese, and a significant amount of basil flavor. There's even a lemon wedge, ready for squeezing. The pre-applied dressing isn't overbearing or intrusive and adds just enough zing to make it interesting.

What's not working: I'd replace half of the pasta with more spinach. That's not something I'd expect from myself normally—craving vegetables over carbs. I guess I'd just rather see this flavor as, you know, a "salad," rather than a "pasta salad." There are plenty of traditional salad options at TJ's if you're with me on that one. I'm just pointing out that this offering is very much about the pasta, despite there being some roughage here, too. There are some peas floating around in the mixture. They don't add a whole lot, if you ask me. They weren't bad, though, either. I'd just rather see some romaine lettuce or more spinach in a dish like this one, personally. Also, when I mixed the salad elements around, I managed to spill some of them onto the counter. It's partly because I'm completely inept when it comes to stirring solid foods around in a small bowl, but it's also partly because the container isn't very rigid and the elements are packed full to the brim. 

Looking at the ingredients, I'm surprised there wasn't more oomph to the overall flavor. Cayenne pepper, chili pepper, chopped garlic, and dijon mustard are generally going to render something with a tad more kick. I wouldn't mind tasting a significantly spicier version of this salad, but it's nothing to complain about as is. I think a spicy rendition might overpower the lemon and basil, and that would be a different flavor entirely.

$4.49 seems a tad steep for what you're getting here. It would be enough for one person for one sitting. In our case, Sonia and I shared it and supplemented with other snacks for our mid-day meal. Do note: there's no little plastic fork included here, so if you're going for a car-lunch, make sure you have a utensil on hand (and probably some napkins). All in all, not a bad choice for a light lunch. Double three and a halfs.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Trader Joe's Peruvian Potato Chips

Salt is bad, salt is bad, salt is bad. Yes, yes, yes. I know, I know, I know.

Still...does that really stop any of us?

You can limit all the sodium intake you want, it's still out there. It's inherent in almost anything. I mean, even Cheerios, which don't taste salty at all, still have a pretty hefty amount of sodium per serving for what it is.

One cannot avoid sodium. You can only try to get out of its way as much as possible. Like...not buying chips for instance.

Or if you do, consider getting the new Trader Joe's Peruvian Potato Chips.

Not. Salty. At. All.

Will admit, not realizing their low-Na ways, I was a little disappointed with the first bite. No matter how much I've love to reprogram my tastebuds, when I'm having chips, man, I want that salt. There's barely any here though. So my tongue automatically defaults to words like "bland" and "tasteless."

It's not really the case, though. I've been to Peru, and I don't really remember any big deal being made about their potatoes grown down there in the shade of the Andes. But these are good potatoes. Compared to perhaps the American standard of the Idahoan Russet, they taste perhaps a little earthier, a little nuttier. It's kinda fun that they're a little purpley, too. It's subtle flavor but it's good.

The texture and feel of these TJ's crispers strays a little more towards kettle cooked while not being as full out crunchy. I could do with a bit more crunch, to be honest, but they'll do as is.

Overall, I'm alright with these chips. They still are a little plain as they are, but would probably work well dipped in something. You know, for like more sodium and stuff. Eh well. I'm neither amazed nor dismayed, and neither is Sandy. We'll kinda shrug our way through this bag and see if we buy again, on the rare occasion we actually buy chips. Middlin' scores each.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Peruvian Potato Chips: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Monday, August 12, 2019

Trader Joe's Chocolate Hummus

There are certain things I don't ever really want Trader Joe's to come out with: banana flavored horseradish sauce, caramel baba ghanoush, hot dog ice cream, any kind of kale-based dessert, or elephant dung espresso beans, just for a few examples. I might have added chocolate hummus to that list if we had not, in fact, purchased it on our last TJ's run. 

But purchase it we did, despite both Sonia and I initially reacting with disgust. Could a combination that odd possibly be good? Sure, anything's possible. I was kinda hoping that it would be just one of those marketing snafus—you know something that doesn't necessarily sound good, but actually is good—not unlike purple yam ice cream, I guess. 

Somebody tweeted about this product last week. Of course, I can't find the tweet now, but it said something to the effect of "The chocolate hummus is great. It tastes like brownie dough." Sounded promising. I was thinking, "Well if that's the case, then why didn't they just call it 'vegan brownie dough dip' or something moderately enticing instead of chocolate hummus...?" Then they could just let us discover that it's made with garbanzo beans after we've had a strawberry or two dipped in it and we've already fallen in love with it. Everybody wins.

Dessert hummus just didn't sound appealing to me, but I absolutely love chick peas, hummus, and I don't have any major problems with chocolate, either. So we dove right in. Aaaand at first bite, I tasted chocolate...and hummus. Just in case the first bite was a fluke, I took a second. Again, chocolate....and hummus. They didn't call it "brownie dough dip" because it's chocolate hummus. It is hummus...that's chocolate flavored. And there's just not quite enough chocolate flavor to drown out the garbanzo-y hummus flavor, which, again, I love...just not when it's mixed with chocolate. It's truly very close to the unappetizing flavor I imagined in my mind when I first heard the phrase "chocolate hummus." It's a darker, cocoa-ish chocolate flavor that's not very sweet, but still characteristically very chocolatey, and in my opinion, doesn't blend very well with the earthy, legumey goodness of chick peas. 

Everybody knows strawberries and chocolate go great together. Would you ever add hummus to your chocolate strawberries? Did it ever occur to anyone to mix Gone Berry Crazy with hummus? If your answer to either of those questions is "yes," then go ahead and try this stuff. You might love it. I, however, did not.

Even the texture is identical to traditional hummus. There's a fair amount of grittiness to it. I wasn't a huge fan of the way it mixed with fruit. Strawberries, raspberries. Neither worked perfectly in my opinion. I tried it with pita bread, just because, you know...hummus and pita, right? Wrong. I almost wanted to try it with pita and peanut butter and see if that worked, but we didn't have pb on hand, and I had kinda noped out by that point anyway.

Could it ever replace Nutella or Cocoa Almond Spread? Not in our household. Not that we have Nutella much anyway, but I'd never put this stuff on par with the classic hazelnut spread for any dessert-ish applications.

Sonia? She couldn't make up her mind. The only word she could utter after I demanded she share her impression of the product was "weird." "I dunno. It's weird, it's weird," she kept repeating, as if stunned by the audacity to even create such an enigmatic commodity. If it were up to this guy, the tub would go back for a no-hassle refund. Sonia wants to give it another chance, suggesting that she'll eat it plain, one spoonful at a time, although, even as she says it, it's obvious she's turned off by the notion.

Three stars from Sonia. Two from me.

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Juice Shots

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm completely ignorant about the answer to the following question: What is the point of Trader Joe's Organic Juice Shots?

Up until sitting down to write this review, I was working under the assumption that these new dinky drinkies were some sort of natural energy boost type deal. In that regard, they fail miserably.

Digestive aid? Maybe. My stomach hates me enough and has enough issues that one or two of these won't sway it either way.

Anti-inflammatory? Maybe. I'm in my mid-thirties so my body is still sorting out what it's doing in that regard as well.

One objective they do miserably fail at, at least for my lovely bride and me: being a cool, refreshing, fun little beverage that nwill make me ever want to drop $1.99 each on them ever again. No thank you. No.

TJ's has these in two varieties, of which I've had a swig or two of both: No Joke Ginger and Mighty Turmeric. Let's take them one at a time.

No Joke Ginger: Ugh, these stuff is harsh.  No other word for it. This flavor was the one Sandy was more willing to small sip and she nearly spat it out all over the inside of our minivan's windshield. I tried and could see why. It's pungently gingery - so strong, so harsh and when mixed with lemon juice and coconut water in the proportions it's in - ugh. Not good. This coming from a guy who loves ginger kombuchas too, so I thought I could take it. Nope. Awful. The cayenne doesn't make it any better either. I somehow gulped mine down. 

Mighty Turmeric: Better than the ginger but still not great. Everything seemed a little more well balanced, with a bit of warming glow from the turmeric that was enhanced by a little black pepper. Still, this was not something I can truly say that I enjoyed drinking. It just didn't really taste all that great. I'm kinda glad it was such a small bottle.

These two new juices are something I'm willing to be wrong about. And hey, if they work for you, and have some benefit for you that you value, I'm not gonna disparage that one bit. I'm just gonna say, it's not for us and you go ahead and enjoy. If we're not buying them again, that means more for you, right? Feel free to leave a comment or two with your take on these, especially if you like 'em. There's just no love from us. Double thumbs down.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Juice Shots: 1 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Trader Joe's Neapolitan Joe-Joe's Ice Cream

Just about a year ago, Trader Joe's introduced Neapolitan Joe-Joe's cookies. They consist of one chocolate cookie and one vanilla cookie with strawberry filling in between. Unless you twist off one of the cookie portions to eat it separately, you're getting all three flavors in one bite, whether you like it or not. That's what you're getting here, too. There's vanilla and strawberry ice creams, yielding a strawberries n' cream-esque base, plus tons of firm, fudgy chocolate bits. Honestly, the cookie pieces are far and few between, to the point that neither Sonia nor I noticed them at all. We both wish there were significantly less chocolate and significantly more cookies.

The resulting conglomeration of the dual ice creams and chocolate pieces isn't an unpleasant flavor, but it's also not something I'd ever seek out on a regular basis. When I'm in the mood for chocolate, I'm in the mood for chocolate—but it's rare that I'll crave all three flavors at once.

Whenever I think of Neapolitan ice cream, I can't help but remember this classic Homer Simpson clip. He's really into the chocolate, obviously, but perhaps also appreciates the option of vanilla or strawberry if the mood should strike him. Or maybe he's just a lovable idiot. Either way, Neapolitan—or vanilla/chocolate/strawberry, if you prefer—is his go-to ice cream product. At least with the classic Neapolitan, you have the option to eat whichever flavor you prefer, or to mix them in whatever ratio you feel like at the moment.

If I were going to design a Neapolitan ice cream that's a mashup of all three constituent flavors, Trader Joe's-style, I'd throw in massive cookie chunks—maybe even whole Neapolitan Joe-Joe's cookies. I'd mix in real strawberry bits, and I'd keep the base strawberry-vanilla like they have it. I'd swirl in small ribbons of liquid chocolate syrup, and then I'd wave my magic wand and make it organic, non-dairy, fat-free, and I'd import it from Germany for no particular reason. Then I'd wave my magic wand again, discontinue the Neapolitan stuff, and bring back Lemon Triple Gingersnap Ice Cream and Cherry Chocolate Chip Soy Creamy. Also, I'd bring back Trader Joe's Energy Drinks, declare myself emperor of the world, and fly away on an enchanted unicorn. A boy can dream, can't he?

$2.99 for the pint. Three stars a piece on this one.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Trader Joe's Italian Bomba Hot Pepper Sauce

Fermented Italian condiments? So hot right now.

So, so hot.

And so, so good.

Case in point: Trader Joe's Italian Bomba Hot Pepper Sauce. Mama mia, this sauce is especially speziata.

Take for instance the very first ingredient and the entire base of this new intercontinental condiment from all of our's favorite purveyor of such things: calabrian chili peppers. Not familiar? I wasn't overly as well. Look 'em up on the Scoville heat registry though. Jalapenos start around 2,500 Scovilles and range up to maybe 8,000. That's kinda spicy for most folks. Calabrians? Try 25,000 to 40,000. So these bad boys, just to start out with, are anywhere from 5 to 10 times spicier than the common American standard. Hoooo boy.

But that's not all, of course. Nah. Crush 'em allllll up, but make sure you keep in all the seeds with the capsaicin/ And let it sit, and sit, and sit, and ferment. That's not gonna make anything more mild in terms of flavor. Definitely not the case here.

The result? Full blast heat, with a good dose of fermented funkiness to back it all up and add a lot of depth. That's precisely what's going on here. And it's spicy in a genuinely chili pepper kinda way, and not some cheap vinegary mode. It's spice in a very authentic form. But although spicy, it doesn't completely overwhelm or linger too long, at least for me. It's just the right amount of burn.

The actual sauce is mostly the peppers in a kinda crushed/shredded/generally decimated form suspended in sunflower seed oil. Kinda odd, I would have expected olive oil, but I digress.  Texturally that might a challenge for some, but not me. Love it. Love everything about the TJ's bomba sauce.

Please, please, please share all the different ways to implement the bomba sauce in different dishes. I'm imagining mixing some in pasta sauce, some paired with mozzarella and fresh tomatoes, on pizza, on grilled chicken, with eggs, with crusty warm bread, with crackers...yes to all. Love it.

I have not a single complaint and will be stocking up every trip I can so help me God. Absolute, unqualified perfect five from me. This might be a mistake but I'm going to assume my lovely bride loves it as well - she tried only a bit, then had a couple bites of ice cream and said she could still taste the bomba afterwards. Then we both pretty much fell asleep and here I am having to finish this review. I'll say 4.5 from her and if I'm wrong, it won't be the first time.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Italian Bomba Hot Pepper Sauce: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Friday, August 2, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Beary Tiny Gummies

Mmmm. Beef byproducts—something I always look for in a candy.

Bovine gelatin. At least it's a certified organic bovine gelatin. Am I right? Also, I'll take cow gelatin over pork gelatin any day of the week. At least we've got the potential of being kosher here, too. Plus, it's French beef gelatin. Ooh la la. 

No, seriously. This product is imported from France. I couldn't tell you why it's imported from France. That seems to be the case with quite a few selections at Trader Joe's—they come from Europe or Asia when there's no obvious reason why they couldn't come from the good old US of A. Don't get me wrong, I don't have a big problem with European imports, I'm just waxing philosophical here. But that's probably not why you're reading this review. So let's talk about the candy for a moment.

First impressions: they're tiny, true to their name—like maybe half the size of a normal gummy bear. That just means you have to shovel twice as many into your mouth to get the same flavor impact as you might with traditional gummy bears.

There's a fresh citrusy smell and flavor to all the bears. The ingredients list mentions a bunch of fruit and vegetable juices which are there "for color." I'm pretty sure I can detect slight differences in the flavors, but I guess that's due to the unspecified "natural flavors." There's almost a grapefruit essence I'm tasting here. I kinda like it. These bears are extremely similar to the ones that had a "chocolate pool day" not long ago.

Sonia likes the taste even more than I do in this case. However, we both feel like gummies such as the T's and J's that employ tapioca syrup and corn starch not only taste better, but have a little less of a weirdness factor. Yes, I know most gummies contain gelatin—that's one of the many reasons we don't eat them that often, and one of the many reasons why the T's and J's were my favorite gummies of all time, bar none.

Final observations: there's a grotesque bear on the cover art cannibalizing other smaller bears. The bag has three servings, which could easily be consumed all at once, which, I believe is being demonstrated by said grotesque bear. 99 cents for the bag. 

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

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Trader Joe's Fiery Chicken Curry

Despite all proceeding evidence to the contrary, I really thought this was shrimp.

Maybe it was just a weird random parallel pescaterian universe portal that let me see this, but I really thought I read this as "Trader Joe's Fiery Shrimp Curry," not "Trader Joe's Fiery Chicken Curry." I was on a solo parenting trip, so no witnessses. And it being a hot day, with no plans to go right home afterwards, and this being a frozen entree, it made a purchase unwise at that time. I thought about taking a pic, but TJ's doesn't really like that, and I've bent enough rules in the past by recording a podcast there, so I relied on my old, thought-to-be-rustproof memory. I'll just tell Sandy to get it next time she goes. No biggie. shrimpy. Internet searches and calls to all the area TJ's confirmed. It's chicken, not shrimp. It's still an acceptable protein, of course...but it ain't shrimp.

It's kinda too bad, as the chicken in the new TJ's fiery chicken curry is kinda the weak point. Not that I reasonably expect high quality pollo from a frozen dinner that cost $3.49. But I'd expect better than what I got here. The package states upfront it's chicken breast AKA white meat. Now, I have no real problem, generally, with dark thigh meat, but when you expect a few choice-ish morsels of white meat but get only three of them, and about three dense, grisly dark meat pieces it kinda throws you off. It'd be more acceptable if somewhat expected.

Everything else? On point. Gotta give it to TJ's on the sauces for their frozen dishes, particularly the Indian ones. This curry sauce is awesome. Coconutty, sweet, layered, peppery, fiery, spicy, with intensifying and lingering heat....yes to all of those. It wasn't too spicy for either Sandy or I, but could be for some of y'all out there. If the sauce were sold separately as "fiery curry sauce" we'd buy again and again and probably prop it to our pantheon on here.

Turmeric rice is turmeric rice. Helps fill out the meal and soak up all the sauce. Nice work, rice. Represent.

Still, with this being chicken and not shrimp I feel an opportunity got missed. And lo and behold I'm not completely crazy. The term "Goan-inspired" made me Wiki up some info, and, well, look: "Goan food is considered incomplete without fish." With some high quality shrimp, and even at a mildly increased price point, this dish could be a real absolute winner that'd help make up for a rare shrimp miss on TJ's part. Oh well.

The fiery chicken curry is definitely repeat purchase worthy if for no other reason than to get another hit of that tasty tasty sauce. Love it. Makes a perfect microwavable meal for my heavily birddogged no-less-than-28-but-absolutely-no-more-than-32-minutes lunch break for me. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Fiery Chicken Curry: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Trader Joe's Honey Pale Ale Mustard

When I first met Sonia, she was going through a mustard phase. She absolutely slathered her food with mustard—even stuff that didn't necessarily call for mustard, like egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches. I thought it was weird, but you know, we all have our quirks. When friends would say, "Hey tell me about that girl you're dating now." I'd reply, "Well, she really likes mustard."

Myself? The older I've gotten, the more I've come to appreciate mustard. I wouldn't touch the stuff as a kid, but by the end of high school, I developed an appreciation for plain yellow. In later years, I came to know and love darker mustards, as well as sweeter ones. This particular selection has elements of both of the latter camps—it has a complex flavor like a darker mustard, but it also has a fair amount of honey sweetness.

I don't know about "pale ale" here. I love beer. I love ales. I love pale ales. But as far as hops, malt, and fermentation are concerned, neither Sonia nor I are tasting anything as specific as pale ale, although I do see there's a bit of it in there at the tail end of the ingredients list. 

Nevertheless, this is a tasty mustard by both our reckonings. It has the best of both a honey mustard and a dark type mustard, but without the spice of a traditional dijon. Sonia loved it with a salted soft pretzel. I had it with a turkey and swiss bagel sandwich, and it worked quite nicely. I'm sure it would go with anything traditional like burgers, too. I'd be interested if it would work with something like salmon even...? Haven't tried it yet, but let us know if you have.

It's going to get a thumbs up from each of us, though perhaps a bit more enthusiastic one from the mustard connoisseur. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Trader Joe's Strawberry Fruit Spread with Natural Rose Flavor

Sometimes, only a good biscuit will do.

You know the type. Warm, soft and flaky inside. Slight crispy and greasy outside. Buttermilky. Carby. So amazingly, deliciously good, a little disc of heaven here on earth. Nothing can make them better, right?

Man, I wish that either my wife or I could make biscuits like that. Because we can't, and that means I can't put some Trader Joe's Strawberry Fruit Spread with Natural Rose Flavor all over top of them.

I weep.

This spread is totally my jam. Totally. It's soft, smooth and 100% spreadable all over the place. Aside from an occasional crispy from a stray seed, it's practically melt in your mouth good.

And taste? Dang. The spread is unmistakably strawberryesque and sweet, but not in an over-the-top, cloying way. I mean, yes, there's some added sugar but when isn't there in any type of fruit spread? Just goes with the territory. Plus the rose flavor seems to help keep the sugariness in check by offering just the right amount of balance. It's really quite something to taste.

It's not biscuits that came to mind for Sandy when she first sampled this new TJ's strawberry spread. Nope. Her first thought: Cupcakes, and using the spread as a fruity filling. I can get 100% behind that. Both of us aren't that big into cream-cheese-and-jam type deals but if you are, this would probably work. Or in some yogurt with a little granola. Or most anything else one could use jelly for...keep it outta the pb&j's, though. Or at least the ones for the kiddos. I have absolutely zero complaints, while Sandy only notes she wishes it were a little more rose-flavored. Regardless it's a great little pickup, and spread some on some tasty biscuits for us. Lucky.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Strawberry Fruit Spread with Natural Rose Flavor: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Trader Joe's Banana & Almond Butter Protein Smoothie Beverage

I used to be in love with smoothies. I had Jamba Juice for dinner at least three or four nights a week when I lived in L.A. While living on the east coast, I missed my Jamba. There was exactly one location in the Philly area, but it wasn't at a convenient location for me.

Since Sonia and I have been traveling, we've found Jamba Juice in the most random locations: Utah, Idaho, and all over Washington State, among others. It's safe to say they have a much greater foothold out west. There still aren't enough locations, though, that we can have it with any regularity. So we're always sampling other brands of juice blends and smoothies.

This selection isn't bad if you're seeking a fast and easy protein source. The taste? It's nothing to write home about. Sonia almost never craves more sweetness, but she did in this instance. Considering "banana" is the first word in the title, I think there could have been a lot more banana flavor. That would have helped with the sweetness factor, as well as the overall taste.

It's really not terrible, either. You can taste a hint of banana flavor and there's definitely almond butter up in the mix, and something very...proteiny? My auto spell check is insisting that "proteiny" isn't a word. But it should be. Because it describes the finish of this beverage perfectly. It must be the "pea protein." Peas are never something I'm looking for in a smoothie. I know, I know. Pea protein is a thing. It's a good way to get protein in just about anything, I guess. I'm just not thrilled to see it here.

They've packed a fair amount of protein, good fat, and calories into a one pint bottle for three bucks. It's filling. It's not going to kill you. But for me to drink something like this with any consistency, it's just gotta taste a liiiiittle bit better than this. There's also a slight notion that "pureed gravel" is an ingredient, as far as the texture goes. I promise you there's no gravel in any form in there, but the back of my throat and tongue attest otherwise. Please note I said "pureed" gravel, not just plain gravel—basically, it's a bit chalky. It's really not that bad. I'm just good at complaining. 

Probably not a repeat purchase for us, but if you're looking for a compact, convenient drinkable lunch or supplement, it'll pass as a protein shake. I'll throw out three stars. Sonia will go half a star higher. 

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Trader Joe's Ketchup Flavored Spud Crunchies

"But what if I don't like ketchup?"

Whoomp there it is.

That question hung in the air, pregnantly. Even I, who spoke it, couldn't believe it left my mouth. Karen, who is our family's favorite local TJ's employees, was experiencing some minor shock. I mean, there she was, working the sample station, giving my kids animal crackers, and telling what new and fun things I needed to try...and I laid that on her. I, Russ, who lives in Pittsburgh, within easy walking distance of where Heinz Ketchup was originally both created and manufactured, as a full red blooded American, admitted that I don't like ketchup. Never have, not even as a kid.

"Ummm...welll...I don't know how to answer that. But you oughtta try them, I guess. They're excellent," Karen finally said. "I don't know how to not like ketchup though."

Of course all of this was in reference to Trader Joe's Ketchup Flavored Spud Crunchies. Who better than me, lifelong ketchup skeptic, to review, right?

I don't know why I don't like ketchup, and after having about half the bag of these stick shape snacks, I still couldn't tell you. These are great. Each spud stick is liberally coated with a dusting of ketchup flavoring, and there's no mistaking it when it hits the taste buds. Initially, it's a touch tomato-ey sweet before moving on to other various flavors, like vinegar, onion and garlic. It's all very well balanced and ends with a touch of mild spice. In some ways the flavor is almost ultra-mild barbecue sauce....which is just another way of saying ketchup, I suppose. I like barbecue sauce though. Through it all, there's definitely the potato flavor coming through too, so overall the flavor impression of the spud crunchies is probably pretty close to eating some fries with ketchup, just in dry form.

Love the fry shape too. For whatever reason, potato sticks are more fun that potato chips, and they definitely give a different crunch. Remember Andy Capp Fries? I ate way too many of them in my formative years. These TJ's crunchers are fairly similar, except maybe a touch softer and not quite as "stale" feeling. Of course, my frame of reference is the snack bags from my middle school vending machine, so take that as you will. The sticks are easily snackable, poppable and portable. Yum.

I like them, I really do. I may not like ketchup (as reconfirmed recently on our family vacation) but apparently I like ketchup flavor, so there's that. Make out of that as you will. Each four serving bag is $1.99 which seems a reasonable enough price. I'll give 'em four spoons, and while Sandy actually hasn't had enough of them to warrant much opinion, our four year old wants to give them "100 golden spoons cuz they so yummy!" I'll take that as perfect score from her.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Ketchup Flavored Spud Crunchies: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, July 19, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Creamy Cashew Cultured Yogurt Alternative

When I was a kid, my mother was nuts about nuts. She was also a little nutty. She passed her love of nuts on to me, as well as her nuttiness.

Cashews were always among her favorite, so I too developed an affinity for the oddly-shaped tree-borne seeds at an early age.

Significantly thicker than cashew milk and significantly thinner than cashew butter, we find ourselves looking at cashew yogurt. There's a substantial amount of innate cashew flavor here, so I would think an appreciation for, or at least tolerance of, cashews will be in order for this product.

Thinking about what I know of cashew butter, I assumed I'd like the vanilla bean flavor more. Call it confirmation bias, but my instincts were correct. Think of cool, runny cashew butter mixed with real vanilla flavor. It works, at least in my book.

Sonia liked the strawberry flavor a little more. I felt as if vanilla and cashew complemented one another while strawberry and cashew competed, if that makes sense. Sonia just appreciated the fruitiness of the latter and felt that there was a stronger overall flavor. I certainly didn't hate it, but I've never had a craving for a cashew butter and strawberry jelly sandwich ever in my life, and similarly, I doubt I'll ever get it in my mind to seek out strawberry cashew yogurt in the future, but who knows?

$1.69 per cup. This could be a bigger deal for lactose-intolerant people, vegans, or folks that have an aversion to almond or coconut milk yogurts than it is for us. But neither flavor is bad by any means. I'd pick up the vanilla flavor as a snack in the future. Sonia would consider a re-purchase of strawberry. I'll go a half star or so higher on vanilla bean, while Sonia will follow suit on the berry variety, so our scores will offset one another, yielding the same overall mark for both flavors.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Trader Joe's Turmeric Ginger Coconut Beverage

Remember a few summers ago when it was Mango Mania at TJ's?

We sure as heck do. Mango this, that, Mango here, mango there, mango mango everywhere. Move aside and let the mango through and all that. Every new item was mango-fied. So many mangoes. I was sick of them by the end of summer.

This summer is much less thematic and far more sporadic as far as new offerings...which is how Sandy and I end up buying things like Trader Joe's Turmeric Ginger Coconut Beverage. It's at least kinda mango colored, isn't it?

This product is a true rarity in our household. Sandy's made very similar beverages in the past to drink either hot or cold, and was downright joyous when she saw it on the shelf for about $3. I wasn't along and don't have the receipt handy so I'm guessing, feel free to correct me. I've never tried such drinks but am pretty open-minded and was excited enough to give it a try.

It's a strikeout for both of us. Big time.

For my wife, far more the expert here than me, it's the composition. For her, the beverage is far too thin. When she's made it, she's used a thicker variety of coconut milk which she prefers, I guess. But it's bugging her how thin this stuff is.

For me, it's more the flavor. It's a bit odd. With turmeric and ginger and coconut, I feel more like I'm drinking some sort of curry broth. Which isn't a bad thing, but then my mind switches into "curry mode" and my taste buds start looking for spices and complexity and whatnot that just isn't here. There's a little dash of black pepper, and the turmeric and ginger add more flavor "warmth" than anything. On a whim, I tried some straight out of the fridge, and also some with ice in it. When super chilled, some of the sweeter elements come out more - namely, coconut and honey - but when just sipped, everything seems pretty muted, with the aftertaste kinda lingering around like all the super orangey residue in your glass.

Apparently beverages like these are popular in India and called "golden milk." I'm not completely turned off by the idea - I really think drinks like this have huge potential to be extremely tasty - but I'm just not fond of this particular version. Neither is my lovely bride. Our four year old is, though, so there's that.

Not much more to say. I'd take mango anything over this any day. Sandy gives it a stunningly low one spoon, and while I think it deserves better, it doesn't by much. I'll be kind with a two.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Turmeric Ginger Coconut Beverage: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, July 15, 2019

Trader Joe's French Crêpe Wafer Cookies

More. Freaking. Cookies. 

I'm baffled as to why Trader Joe's makes so many different kinds of cookies, and I'm even more confused about why we bother reviewing them so religiously.

At least I was confused...before I shoveled a bunch of these delightful, crispy, buttery, flavorful, snacky sweet, angular edibles into my mouth—all the lightness and deliciousness of crepes in wafer cookie form. Now these could be one of my "desert island cookies." As of right now, they're definitely on Sonia's short list, too. 

They're tasty by themselves or slathered with cookie butter or served with ice cream...and I'm sure most of you readers have come up with dozens of ridiculously wondrous things to do with them that never occurred to me. I'll admit I was so enamored with them that I gobbled up most of my share plain before I tried putting any fixins on them. Sonia was the one that got creative with cookie butter and ice cream. 

Looks like is suggesting we serve them with banana slices and chocolate syrup. That could work, as well, and it's probably more authentically crepey. 

$2.49 for a box with two separate little plastic trays covered in cellophane. Packaging overkill? Perhaps. But I'm sure it's there in hopes of preserving the outstanding buttery flavor of these wafers a little longer. There's also a delicate, multi-layered crispness that's hard to describe.

3.5 servings? Seems like a very random number to me, but whatever you say, Trader Joe.

The isosceles triangle is relatively unexplored territory in the world of geometrically-inspired snacking. I guess tortilla chips are isosceles, at least some of the time, too—and they are also quite tasty. They should offer isosceles triangle-shaped pancakes and pyramid-shaped cakes and pies and see if it makes them more delicious. 

Four and a half stars from Sonia once again. And another four from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Trader Joe's Coffee Lover's Espresso Beans

Alright, everyone: Best road trip snacks. Go!

I've gone through different phases. A pack of minty gum is always good, but you need more. Sometimes pretzels, sometimes Combos. Some gummy candies are always welcome. For a while I was really into baby carrots for whatever reason, and I recall my brother saying once he liked having clementines along because they had the added bonus of making his car "smell nice." And of course, caffeine in some form, whether soda or more preferably coffee.

After our most recent vacation, Sandy and I may have a new favorite to add to the rotation. You guessed, it, it's Trader Joe's Coffee Lover's Espresso Beans.

Chocolate covered coffee beans are just about dang perfect for the road. You get a little inital sugar rush and then a good coffee buzz to keep you alert, without adding a bunch of liquid to your system that will make you stop every other travel plaza.

These TJ's coffee chocobeans aren't an exception. Just a few will get you going for sure. Plus, it's kinda fun with the different colors of them - the dark brown, the tan, the offwhite ones - even if they all kinda taste the same.

Yeah, I'd say that's the one downside. With the various shades and them "being inspired by your favorite sweet coffee combinations" I was hoping for, say, some caramel machiato ones, some "regular", some cappuccino type flavors, but nah, not so much. And it's a bit odd that TJ's markets it as chocolate, because it seems more of a creamy, sweet, sugary candy melt type coating than actual real chocolate. I'd somewhat discount my take - after all, I was popping them in while keeping the family minivan from hitting all the dang interstate potholes (seriously, NY, get your stuff together), but Sandy said much the same.

Other than that, I definitely enjoyed popping a couple in, waiting for the candy to soften a bit, and then crunch on down and get that hit. The small package cost no more than a couple bucks but kept Sandy and I going for hours. The beans were good enough for a nearly immediate rebuy for use at home and work, too - not just for the road, of course. Double fours for sure.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Coffee Lover's Espresso Beans: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Trader Joe's Strawberry Greek Frozen Yogurt Parfait Bars

On hot summer days, I'll pop open the freezer to see what frozen goodies the wife has stashed away. I'll often find a box of Outshine yogurt bars hiding behind stacks of frozen veggies and waffles. Sonia knows better than to advertise such purchases to me. After grocery runs, she'll discreetly put them in the back of the ice box when I'm not looking. 

It's not that she wants to keep them all to herself. She's smart enough to know that I'll eat the entire box in a day if I'm aware of them right away. So generally, she'll consume the first bar or two in the day following their arrival to our freezer, and all the rest will rapidly fall prey to my insatiable sweet tooth. For those of you who like to preach "self-control" and "willpower," I'd like to point out that there are, in fact, different kinds of self-control. Mine is the kind that refrains from purchasing sweets while at the grocery store in the first place. Once they're in the house, it's game-over for me, provided that I'm aware of their presence.

I'm pretty sure these parfait bars will take the place of Outshine in our freezer now. Sonia is a huge fan. And that's a good thing. Because she'll make sure she eats at least half of them right off the bat. This first box didn't even last a full hour between the two of us. We ate two immediately upon arrival, semi-melted from the July heat, while the remaining two re-froze for a bit.

The flavor is excellent. Not too sticky sweet, not too tangy. It's strawberry yogurt at its best—creamy, flavorful, and satisfying. The granola is a wonderful addition. It's not intrusive or excessive, and it adds a little body and fullness to the texture. If you're expecting super crunchy granola, you might be a bit disappointed. It's "soggy" granola, for lack of a better word, but we both like it just fine. It's like the granola you might find in one of the "bowl" offerings from Jamba Juice or somewhere similar. The bars are relatively small, but they're fairly filling.

$2.99 for four bars. Pretty decent numbers as far as fat and calories are concerned. There's a fair amount of added sugars, but when balanced against the overall satisfaction factor, it's definitely not a deal-breaker here.

Four and a half stars and an enthusiastic thumbs up from Sonia. Four stars from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Trader Joe's Shrimp Scampi Lasagna

Hmmm...., bubbly, cheesy lasagna...

...baking at 400 degrees for nearly an hour...

...on a hot, humid July evening... an insulated, Thermosified brick oven of a house, with no AC...

...just to sit in your stomach, requiring a shower after to cool down from. With your house all heated up from that oven.

Yeah, I'd almost pretty much have to say no to that.

Except we're talking about Trader Joe's Shrimp Scampi Lasagna. It's all the rage on Instagram from what I hear from my lovely bride. So, off to do our sacred duty once more.

The whole premise of this product sounds great, right? Make a decent shrimp scampi except in lasagna form, with the layered noodles and whatnot. Add enough garlic and butter to make a sanguivoriphobic Paula Deen blush and it should be a slam dunk, right? How can this lose?

For perhaps the first time in reviewing TJ's products, I'd say the failure is the shrimp itself.

Listen, I get what they're going for here. With the open intent of making the product even more lasagna-esque (and likely also to help obfuscate how many shrimp are actually in here), the shrimp here are ground up. As in, not whole. As in, not fleshy and firm but instead little mealy tidbits kinda resembling really bad ground turkey. It just doesn't work. The shrimp tastes fine but still just seems wrong, if that makes any sense. Ground shrimp? That'd be a no from me.

Everything else works well enough if graded on a frozen pasta curve. There's plenty of the mozzarella/Parmesan cheese mix to go around - even my cheese loving kids said there was a little bit too much. I got a pretty good guilty pleasure from scraping some of the last remnants from the tray that had some extra butter and garlic on them. The white wine sauce was solid if not overly notable except a little tick up in spice from some crushed red pepper, and noodles were fine and firm and all that.

Still, yeah, the shrimp...the scampi lasagna would have been better with whole shrimp, even if it meant shrimp in less bites. Quality over quantity.

The setup costs $5.99 and comes as 3.5 serving tray. We picked up two to have for our family and it seemed about the right idea. My lovely bride enjoyed the shrimp lasagna just fine, without the same qualms I had. One kid scrunched her nose at it but ate it anyways, mostly, while another one asked for seconds, so there's a plus. I don't love it, I don't hate it, there's a good chance I wouldn't buy it again but wouldn't be upset if we did.

Maybe we can wait til it's cooler out though.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Shrimp Scampi Lasagna: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons