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Friday, May 17, 2019

Trader Joe's Cold Brew Caramel Spice Coconut Cream Latte Coffee Beverage

With Memorial Day right around the corner, it's officially turning into that time of year: cold brew season!

Hot coffee when it's hot weather is gross. Can't convince me otherwise. I want to be less hot, not more. Ingesting copious amounts of hot liquid when it's hot is inane. But you still need coffee. Hence the brilliance of cold brew.

So here's how we get an item like Trader Joe's Cold Brew Caramel Spice Coconut Cream Latte Coffee Beverage. Holy cow, what name. Except there's no cows involved here, because, well, coconuts. Dairy free, vegan, cold, caffeinated coffee, with a potentially interesting flavor combo...gotta try.

Except: don't. Believe me. This stuff is grrroooosssssssss. 

I was thinking it's just me. I'm Mr. Drink Black Coffee 99% of the Time Guy. But I can appreciate stuff with cream and sugar and whatnot if it's done well. This isn't.

What really throws the whole brew off the rails, I think, is the caramel spice. It tastes fake and cloying sweet and kinda tinny, and it doesn't jive one bit with the coconut or the coffee. And the "spice"? God knows what it isn't, I really don't. just doesn't taste good. It doesn't taste right. I tried letting it linger around a little longer, but goodness no. As soon as I tasted it I wanted it gone.

That's kinda too bad. I think something like a coconut cream cold brew has a lot of potential if done right. Coconut cream is delicious and debatably healthyish, depending on your dietary approach. There's potential here, but it gets thrown all away.

As I said, I was thinking it was just me. Nope. Sandy hates this stuff, too. Hates it. Which is really difficult for her to do with coffee...but she echoed almost everything I just said. "If it were just caramel, or just the spice, it could work with everything else, maybe," she said. "But together...blecch."

And get this: its not even sold cold. I'm not even sure where in the store it is. Sandy found it, not me. It's not in the refrigerated section. So it's not an impulse, drink right away kinda deal: you have to chill it and plan when to drink it, set your whole caffeination schedule around it. That makes it even more disappointing in my opinion.

We both detest this caramel spice abomination. It's so hard to say that about coffee...but here we are. Gross. Don't buy it. Just don't. Don't encourage this kinda stuff. Sandy mustered a one for it having caffeine, and I'll match that score and reasoning with the added hit that at least it's not pumpkin spice. That'd be a awful fall coffee whether served hot or cold. Blahhhh brew.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cold Brew Caramel Spice Coconut Cream Latte Coffee Beverage: 2 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Trader Joe's 5 Layer Dip


It seems too simple, too trifling a word to describe the layers of lusciousness held within. 

It's a product that can turn ordinary tortilla chips into a filling, well-balanced meal. In the flatly-delivered words of David Puddy from Seinfeld: "Hey how come people don't have dip for dinner? Why's it always a snack? Why can't it be a meal, you know?" 

We've got vegetables, dairy ingredients, and multiple high-protein elements...and they're all ridiculously delicious. "Dip" is a many-splendored thing, isn't it? And in my opinion, it deserves a moniker worthy of its versatility...

But not all dips are created equal.

That gross yellow cheese that comes with movie nachos—a snack that costs seven or eight dollars but is clearly worth less than one—that stuff's "dip." 

I mean, adding the words "five-layer" to the product title helps a little. But it's still not a grandiose enough term to capture the wonder of this choice concoction. 

There are five basic elements to the condiment, but a good multi-layer dip is more than the sum of its parts, right?

Of course. Such is the case here. Any of the five layers would be a fine chip-topper in and of itself, but the resulting conglomeration yields at least five times the deliciousness of any one single element.

The game-changer here is the hummus layer. I don't know that I've had a multi-layer dip with hummus before. And it's not just chick pea hummus...there's black beans up in the mix. Either ingredient would have made this dip a winner. But both? Yes, please. The multi-layer dips I've had in the past all had a refried bean layer instead. And I like refried beans just fine, but I feel like hummus just works better.

Guac, pico, sour cream, and four kinds of cheeses? Are you kidding me? This is nearly the perfect mixture of every wonderful thing you'd want to put on a tortilla chip all in one tub—all fresh, flavorful, and in perfect ratios to one another.

Sonia only tried a bite or two of this dip because she's got some odd spring cold she's fighting. She was all stuffed up and couldn't taste anything. Since I was kind enough to share the dip, she was kind enough to share her cold, and I got sick, too—but not before devouring this entire tub myself. I guess I'll just have to score it on my own. I give it four and a half stars out of five. The only thing that would improve this stuff is a little heat. A single picante layer would make this the perfect food. I experimented with random hot sauces we had around: Texas Pete, Cholula, and packets from each of Taco Time, Del Taco, and Taco Bell. They all yielded tasty mixtures. 

Feel free to disagree with me...I mean, if you're comfortable with being dead wrong. A spicy version would be a shoo-in for the Pantheon. Four and a half stars (times two) for Trader Joe's Cinco Strata Magical Mosaic. 

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Trader Joe's Mochi Cake Mix

Really, the faces said it all.

I was first. I imagine I squinted my eyes, pursed my lips and had a somewhat perplexed look. That it is to say, even more than usual. Others then followed suit on the quixotic quest set forth. A few wrinkled noses. A few shaking heads, with a little air of uncertainty. Some of the kids took a bite then promptly looked for the nearest trashcan. There was an absolutely palpable mix of uncertainty and mild acceptance at best.

Such as it is with Trader Joe's Mochi Cake Mix.

I baked a cake up precisely according to package instructions last week for a little potluck dinner we attended last week. It was extremely simple - mix with a little water, half a stick of butter, and a couple eggs. Bake for something like 45 minutes. So easy I could do it with the "help' of a couple four year olds.

But yeah...I won't say it went over well at our get-together. It's definitely a supremely odd cake. Really, it's the texture - you hear the word "cake" and think soft and crumbly and whatnot. It's so not the case here. If you're familiar with mochi at all, you know how it is: Chewy. Rubbery. Kinda dense. Moist. And in a thickish cake form, the word "slab" comes to mind instead of "slice."

I guess all that really ought to be expected...but expectation and experience can be two different things. Just weird, odd texture. Took some getting used to for sure.

Really, that's the novelty selling point for the mochi cake mix. Otherwise, it's pretty nondescript for its flavor. Some might even say basic. It's slightly sweet, and with the amount of added eggs and butter it's, well, kinda eggy and kinda buttery. Go figure. Kinda boring. I suppose that's why I've read on other forums to experiment some with the mix, like...adding berries. Making with pineapple juice instead of water. Cinnamon. Chocolate. And so on. It's probably a good base for all those, and probably many more ideas...if you got 'em, share 'em.

It's $3.99 for the mix, which from what I understand isn't an awful price for something like this. Gluten-free, of course. I'm on the fence about buying it again, but not Sandy. She loves oddball stuff like this and insists we will and will experiment and report back. Fine, yes dear. My pic of the nutritional facts and ingredients were potato quality so check here for that info. May as well just face it now and give the mochi cake a mixed seven.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mochi Cake Mix: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, May 10, 2019

Trader Joe's Benne Wafer Cookies

I had to look up "lowcountry." I was thinking it was a nickname for the Netherlands or Belgium or some other sea-level European nation. Turns out it's actually South Carolina...or several counties in South Carolina, at least—mostly the area around Charleston. 

I lived in North Carolina for a year, and during my time there, I only made it into South Carolina once—to the Myrtle Beach area. But fortunately, Sonia and I got to visit Charleston briefly a couple years back on our trip through the South. I don't remember hearing the terms "lowcountry" or "benne wafers," but I do remember the city having a certain colonial seaport charm as well as a unique look and feel. We didn't get to spend a ton of time there. On our way back north, we opted for a path that took us through Columbia, another fascinating, and perhaps less touristy, locale. Like the Georgia Pecan Cookies, these too are produced in Savannah, GA. Close enough to the lowcountry, I suppose. 

Apparently that whole southern coastal region has been snacking on benne wafers for centuries. They're basically the offspring of salty sesame crackers and sweet sugar cookies—a fact I was oblivious to up until the moment I popped one in my mouth. No, I didn't read the bag first. I like to dive in blind with no expectations if I can.

The sesame flavor is significant, detectable immediately when you bite into the cookie. I almost wrote "I'm surprised how much I like these" just now, but what I really mean is I'm surprised how much I don't dislike these. If I had read the bag before the purchase, I probably wouldn't have even bought them. I don't really think of sesame seeds as dessert-ish. I'm fine with a few of them on crackers or rolls. They work well on salty foods, generally. But in a cookie?

Yes, I must admit that somehow sesame seeds work just fine in these particular cookies. It's another unexpected sweet+salty combo that I probably wouldn't seek out unless I had a particular craving, but Sonia likes them significantly more than the pecan cookies. Between the two of us, we probably won't have much trouble finishing this bag.

Texture-wise, they're very similar to the pecan cookies. They're brittle, crispy, crumbly, and it might just be a psychological thing, but I feel like they're a little crackery, too—as in, you know, cracker-like. 

Score-wise, we're looking at three and a half from me and four from the wife.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Trader Joe's Spicy Salmon Gyoza

Taking one for the team! It's what I do!

Seriously, as second out of four kids, I have classic middle child syndrome. Always had ever since my little sister was born. Remember minivans with only one side door and bench seats so there was that back corner spot? Who always volunteered for it, on the long road trips we'd take to New England as a kid? Me! Happily. Heck, one vacation up to my grandparent's old cabin, everyone realized we shorted ourselves a bed and blankets. So who volunteered to sleep in the van without complaint! Me! I was like 10. True story.

Kinda extends to the blog...except you're all like my TJ's siblings, and since this is where we all meet, I'm still in the middle. So if there's something a bid odd, a bit strange, a bit new looking, I'll happily volunteer to try it out...even if I'm a bit, well, apprehensive about it.

Such as it is with Trader Joe's Spicy Salmon Gyoza. TJ potstickers a common freezer staple, but those are like chicken, and pork, and stuff...salmon though. That's a different level. I like salmon just fine...but as a frozen dumpling? Errrr...well...I got it! I'll try it out! All for you all.

Pro tip: Don't bust them open while cooking, as I did. That's why I didn't take a pic of the actual product...because it looks, well, kinda gross. Smushed up salmon, some cabbage strands, some edamame, all in a pinkish a parent of small kids, there's a certain thing that came right ot mind that this resembled.

No matter, how it taste?!?!?! I think "interesting" is a good word. How to describe it? There's a certain fishiness to the salmon, a bit more than expected. It kinda leads off the flavor profile as dominant. Soon enough, there's some chili and sriracha and pepper that creeps in, and then lingers for a while. But there's still this fishiness that impedes it all. A cleaner tasting protein, whether it be salmon or chicken or pork, would have been a vast improvement.

Also, the salmon seems to be mushier than other gyoza in TJ's inventory. Not that any of them are overly firm, but there's at least a semblance of fleshiness to them. Not here. It's not completely unpleasant, but to that I'd say I'd have a hard time eating them if not sauteed a little bit first to get a little crispiness to the wrapper. A soggy steamed only outer shell just wouldn't work here, I don't think.

The instructions say to pair with your favorite sauce. There seems to be enough flavor here to not warrant too much more in terms of dipping dumplin's in a little sumpthin', but if that's your thing it could work. I'd suggest something mildish.

My receipt says the bag cost $4.99, but I swear the price tag on the freezer window said $4.19...regardless, it's not an awful price for an alright product. I guess the biggest thing to me is when I eat gyoza or dumplings or anything close to them, I crave more of a comfort vibe, and these seem more experimental. Good try though, and I applaud the overall effort. Chances are I'll finish the bag but it'll take me a bit to, especially if my beautiful bride continues to decide to sit them out as a non-salmon fan.

Middle kid gives these a middle score...can that keep everyone happy? Please?

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Spicy Salmon Gyoza: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Trader Joe's Belgian Chocolate Pudding

This is one of those products that I've been hearing about for years. I've seen tweets about it, other reviews, and even had it recommended to me in the store. I was either not in the mood for chocolate pudding at the time, or I was after some other specific product(s) on that particular occasion—and there might have even been an instance or two where I did want to pick it up, but it was sold out at the time. For whatever reason, purchase of this product has eluded me for years now. And I've finally gotten my hands on it, consumed some of it, and am ready to tell you my thoughts about if you've been waiting all this time, eagerly anticipating my brilliant musings on a tub of pudding.

I'll just give it to you straight: I can totally see what all the fuss is about, I guess. But this just isn't my thing. I'm not hating. I like it fine. There's a bitterness to the pudding I wasn't expecting. I suppose there's bitterness to Belgian chocolate in general, but I've never experienced that with chocolate pudding before. Most other chocolate puddings are simply globs of gelatinized chocolate—sweet, soft, and creamy. This pudding is most definitely all of those things, but the sweet-factor isn't over-the-top. It's not optimized for a kid's taste buds. It's more refined. I'm not saying it's a dark chocolate pudding per se, but those who lean towards dark chocolate might appreciate this more than other chocolate pudding offerings.

It's rich. There's a heavy chocolate flavor in general, both up front with the sweet attack of the confection, and during the finish when the bitter aspects come forward a little more. I feel like there's an aftertaste, too. I very much appreciate a clean palate, and this pudding did not leave me with one.

It's thick. There's nothing watery or thin about it at all. The pudding coats your tongue, teeth, and lips as you eat it, but it does dissolve pretty quickly. Only that hint of flavor remains. There's no oily residue as I've experienced with other, cheaper chocolate puddings.

I feel like it could work well with other elements. If white cake or whipped cream were involved, I'm pretty sure I'd appreciate it even more.

As an appreciator of darker, richer chocolates, Sonia was pretty much in love at first bite. She noticed the bitterness and the aftertaste like I did, but she's far more happy with bitter flavors in general. 

Three and a half dollars for the tub of three and a half servings. I can't completely jump on the bandwagon of praise for this product, but I won't snub it, either. Three stars seems fair here. Sonia gives it a solid four.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Trader Joe's Jalapeño Sauce

I'm fortunate to live right around the Pittsburgh area, which has a surprising amount of pretty decent restaurants. Don't take just my word for it. We're like the 2019 Food City of The Year and here's some pretty good places. Or so I hear. Family budget and smaller child preferences don't always lend themselves to going and checking out those kinda places. I told you to not take my word for it.

But one place we've found common ground on is a great little Peruvian place, right in the Strip District where it's an enjoyable night out. It's called Chicken Latino. Great place, and kinda underrated in my humble opinion. And I've been to Pero, so I can at least somewhat vouch that it's fairly authentic. I've had anticuchos in both Lima and at Chicken's close.

I mention this in reference to Trader Joe's Jalapeño Sauce because there is a sauce there, and also from what I remember from Peru, which is an absolute knockout, and I'd be darned if this TJ's take isn't a pretty darn good approximation. It's spicy. It's creamy. It's got all sorts of clean, authentic, jalapeno flavor.

Man...I've used this on so much in the past week or so. Chicken. Eggs. Pulled pork. Yes, yes and yes, it all works. The sauce kinda glops out rather than pour which is okay, it's part of the charm. In Peru, I recall mixing something very similar in with rice and plantains and being extremely happy with the reult. I doubt it'd be much different here. Good, good heat too - very true to the pepper and not artificially amped by vinegar and whatnot.

I have a small quibble, though I'm not sure how to explain it. Look at the ingedients. Canola oil is so high on the list. That makes this a canola oil based sauce. I'm not exactly anti-canola oil...but am I really for it? I don't know. But I kinda wish something else would be used as the sauce base, for whatever reason. I mean, it doesn't taste oily - it really is deceptively creamy - but still. It sticks out.

Regardless, I'm a fan as is the wifey. We both tasted it and thought of Chicken Latino, and to hopefully prove we're not crazy, one of our favorite TJ's peeps. Karen, agreed. Don't know Karen? If you watched the 2017 Rose Bowl Parade, you would. She was on the TJ's float and she works at our local shop, and she's genuinely awesome but would tell us if we were wrong. We're not. 

There you have it. Give it a try. Costs much less than a flight to Lima or heck, even a rice plate at Chicken Latino. We'll still go there though. That stuff is goooooooooooood. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Jalapeño Sauce: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Trader Joe's Georgia Pecan Cookies

Ah, Georgia. Nice state. I'd been to the Atlanta area on three separate occasions before Sonia and I even began our RV travels. We also had a chance to check out Savannah a couple years back. Now that's a place I'd highly recommend you visit if you've never been. Absolutely beautiful—the architecture, the ubiquitous open green spaces, and the unique flora make it a must-see. Also, apparently, it produces these "Southern style cookies." Now maybe Trader Joe's can throw Savannah a bone and open up one of their stores there.

But why is Georgia known as The Peach State? California routinely out-produces GA in peach production. Even New Jersey and Pennsylvania have been known to out-peach The Peach State.

Why not go with The Pecan State? Is it because half of the people would pronounce it "pee-CAN" and the other half "pee-CAHN" and a never-ending pronunciation war would mar the state's reputation? Perhaps.

At any rate, these cookies are pretty tasty. And they do taste surprisingly pecan-forward. Nutty, salty, and crispy they most definitely are...significantly buttery, too. I wouldn't say I was bowled over by the butterscotch elements, and I almost universally prefer soft cookies to crispy ones, but I must admit, these have a good flavor overall.

Sonia was less enthused about the taste and perhaps a bit more positive about the texture. She liked that they were "airy and light." But she found the saltiness a little overbearing. I'll admit, the salt-factor becomes more and more prevalent the more cookies you eat, but I wouldn't say it completely ruined them for me.

It's probably a good thing that they're fairly diminutive in size. I was thinking they'd be a bit bigger. They're slightly larger than, maybe, the size of Sacagawea dollars...? Also, they're quite thin. If you only eat two or three at a time, you can feel that saltiness building up on your tongue, and you can feel yourself getting full pretty quickly. This isn't a gobble-the-whole-bag-in-one-sitting kind of dessert. They'd probably pair well with coffee or maybe even certain kinds of tea. I'd be happy with a few of these cookies and a glass of milk. 

If pecans and crispy cookies are your thing, or if you're looking for a new salty+sweet snack, these are well worth a looksee. In all honesty, we probably wouldn't have picked these up if not for want of new products to review, and I can't feature us repeat-purchasing any time soon, but we can't really complain, either. Three and a half stars a piece on this one.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Blondies

Peanut butter and jelly surrounds my life.

It's a quick, easy, portable, cheap meal that can be reasonably nutritious. I'll slap one together real quick when running out the door early to work. Chances are, on whatever day you're reading this, that I had one this morning. I have kids who love pb&j, so there's always making them for their school lunches (admittedly we'll usually use sunflower seed butter then). If we're going somewhere (baseball game, amusement park, state park, beach, road trip, etc) chances are we'll make then instead of taking out a second mortgage for concession stand fare or subjecting ourselves to McD's. They're not the worst in a pinch...but still. Rarely a week, or heck even a day, goes by without me making some sort of pb&j type concoction. It's a staple.

That being I really want/need one as a dessert?

That's the "problem" with Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Blondies. Full name: Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Blondies with Strawberry Filling Topped with a Crispy Peanut Butter Confection. Jeez. That rivals a Fiona Apple album title for length.

Back to these psuedo-sammiches. That's what I call them...because that's what these blondies taste like. There's plenty of peanut butter layered on, just the way I like, with a thin layer of strawberry jelly. Kinda surprised it's strawberry, as the first impression was that it's pretty tart. I almost suspected mild raspberry and not strawberry. Still, it works.

Those two elements override the taste and feel of anything else. I suppose the blondie brownie in there could be a fine tasting base...but with all that rich peanut butter and jelly on top, I can't really taste it and my brain defaults to it being cold, dense bread, like bread that got a little too chilled and smushed when wedged in a cooler. That's not a bad taste....but I wanted to taste the blondie, too. I can't.

That "peanut butter confection" on top admittedly adds a real nice touch. It's like some sort of crispy dust and is about the only taste/texture cue that this is not a regular peanut butter jelly sandwich. I like it and hope it can be sold seperately somehow...I'm salivating at thinking of it as an ice cream topping.

Anyways, these aren't terrible treats. Sandy and I like the peanut butter blondies just fine. They are one of those "thaw out" type dessert deals that are sold frozen, and a serving size is two of the little square bites. They're rich enough that just one will really do. Strangely, our kids aren't too fond for whatever reason. Weirdos. Still, I wish they were somehow more "treat-like" and less "sandwich-like" if that makes sense. Eh well. They're definitely not bad as is.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Blondies: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, April 26, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Strawberry Beet Berry Whole Milk Yogurt

It's always baffled me why some nutrition information panels give the stats for a single serving as well as for the entire package. I mean, if it's a sandwich that could theoretically function as a snack if you eat half or a meal if you eat the whole thing, I get that...sorta. But in this case, I can't feature anyone being like, "I'm gonna down four yogurt packs one right after the other and I really need the nutrition info for the entire box." For one thing, this yogurt is quite thick and filling, and one is more than satisfying. 

Furthermore, even in that odd instance that you do chug all four packs at once, most of the stats can easily be calculated in your head. I mean, we all know that 3g of fat times four is 13g. 

3 x 4 = 13. 

Right? Or that the percentage of daily value for cholesterol per serving, in this case 3%, is 17% if you have all four packs. 

3 x 4 = 17.

Am I right? Somebody check my math. Ah, that's silly. These are simple equations. I'm sure I got them all right.

Anyway, I'm just being silly. I know there's some loophole where you can round down grams and percentages to lower numbers if you want to make something look healthier than it actually is, and I've seen such paradoxical statistics before on nutrition information panels. I'm just giving TJ's a hard time. They're just rounding down some numbers.

Know what else they should round down? The packaging. I'm not super ecologically-minded, but it was just Earth Day recently, and this is some of the most overdone packaging I've ever seen from Trader Joe's. The box is enormous. Couldn't they have tied some string around the necks of these squeeze bottles to bind them all together? Even the squeeze bottles themselves are too big. The caps are gigantic. And if you've got people downing all four in one sitting, you might as well just put the whole kit and caboodle in a single plastic bottle.

But I guess the squeezability factor is a must here. This is some thick yogurt. Some people might enjoy that, but if I'm going to be drinking the yogurt, I prefer it a bit thinner and milkier. It's about as thick as regular, spoonable, non-drinkable yogurt. I guess there's nothing that suggests this yogurt has to be drunk. The squeeze pouches could be used to administer small amounts of yogurt to granola, fruit, or smoothies, I suppose, but if that's the case, the packaging seems even more ridiculous.

The flavor is fine. It's berry berry. Get it? I meant "very berry," but I said...nevermind. The spring pollen makes me loopy. 

There's a faint hint of beets in this product. Beets are listed just after strawberries in the ingredients list. The overall berry flavor isn't super sweet, either. It's a little more tart than other berry yogurts I've tried. Pretty much everything is organic, which is good.

$4.29 for the pack. It's a bit pricy for what you get if you ask me. I'd take kefir over these, or most other types of drinkable yogurt. Three and a half stars from Sonia. Three from me.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Trader Joe's Banana Date Nut Bread Crisps

For reasons mostly unbeknownst to me, we have all sorts of treat stashes for ourselves in our house. It's almost like a video game come to life with loot boxes here and there if you only know where to look. Must be at least partially because aside from me, everyone else in the house eats treats at a snail-like pace. We still have Easter candy left...from last year.

But the kids will ask for treats, of course, and they'll ask for where they want their treat from instead of what. "Can I have a treat from my treat box?" "Can I have a treat from my Easter basket?" Can I have a treat from my Halloween bucket from when I was a baby?" And so on. Still it stumped me when my four year old, B, asked me if she could have a treat from "the little yellow box."

You guessed it...she meant Trader Joe's Banana Date Nut Bread Crisps.

Admittedly, these crisps are pretty treat-like. I mean, it's based off banana bread. Thank God someone figured out how to make such a delicious thing out of rotting bananas.

The loaf that goes into making these crisps is something else, though. Scan the ingredients and you may see some that Betty Crocker didn't use. First: dates. Huge date fan, so this is a plus in my book. Also Greek yogurt? Himalayan pink sea salt too? Goodness. Not just almonds but also walnuts and pecans? I'd love to try the bread uncrispdefied for sure!

So the end result is a pretty terrific banana bread in a sliced up, crunchy form. Well, almost. There are still some pockets of moisture here and there - that might be the dates - but when first opened, there are some decidedly softer spots. It's a little odd. Let the crisps get some air over a couple days and they do crunch up quite a bit more. I kinda like 'em better that way.

I didn't really notice the walnuts or pecans either. It's impossible to miss the almonds. And there's so much good, rich banana bread flavor - perhaps amped up a little bit - that I'm not really sold on having to try and pair the crisps with something else. My lovely bride feels a little differently and is thinking either something close to cream cheese or a nice light chevre might be a nice addition. She's probably right.

Definitely a tasty treat overall. Somebody hit me the price - I know it's not much but I misplaced the receipt and my memory is faulty. I'm thinking the banana bread crisps are in the $2.50 to $3 range, though. Nice work, as usual, TJ's.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Banana Date Nut Crisps: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Trader Joe's Sour Strawberry Ale

Last week, a daring young gentleman tweeted about turning this sour ale into a float. He asked the simple question: "Good idea or bad idea?"

My gut reaction was disgust. You wouldn't make a float out of this stuff for the same reason you wouldn't make a float out of Bud or Miller—it's beer. We sampled the cranberry version of this sour ale last year, and it was super sour. Still beer, but sour. Definitely not sweet at all.

But what if an outside element were to sweeten this sour beer...something like, say, vanilla ice cream?

It works. Against all odds and all my instincts, it somehow works. This isn't the first time beer has surprised me with its versatility. It's amazing that Guinness mixed with Bailey's functions so well as an Irish Car Bomb. I'm still in awe that beer can turkey is a thing, although I do have a terrible time removing the shards of aluminum from the stuffing mix. Just kidding.

On its own, this product is exactly like its cranberry counterpart, but, you know, with strawberry flavor instead of cranberry. It's still quite sour, although not quite as harshly tart as the cranberry version. It's surprisingly not sweet, and maintains its identity as an ale—not a wine cooler or girly-sweet fruit beer. No offense to you ladies. 

Speaking of ladies, Sonia has become an aficionado of sour beers as of late. She's into the gose-style brews that have been somewhat trendy in this country in the past couple years or so. So how does this sour cerveza compare? It's good, she thinks. She likes the overall flavor and sourness level, but she's had a few brands of gose that she prefers and thinks are much sourer. This particular beer isn't really a gose. It's a witbier, produced by Petrus, just like its cranberry predecessor. Overall, I think this flavor is a tad more drinkable and probably works better for floats and other off-the-wall ale experiments.

Three and a half stars from Sonia. Four from me. If you do pick up a bottle, be sure to grab some vanilla ice cream, too.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Trader Joe's Jerk-Style Plantain Chips

Of course it can't be found now, but earlier this week I somehow stumbled across a blog detailing a couple's weight loss journey after adopting a plant-based diet. Not to be disrespectful, because that's AWESOME and they were apparently very succcesful with it, but that's not the part that caught my interest. Nope. Instead, it was how they got started that did. Namely, and this really can't be fully recommended across the board, but...they ate nothing but plain potatoes for two weeks to kick things off.


From what I surmise, it was like to reset their tastebuds, a little sensory deprivation so they'd more easily adapt to finding enjoyable flavor in their new diet...but still. Props to them, and it's only weird if it doesn't work.

One small step up from that would be plantains, I'd think. Similar plainness and starchiness. A little sweeter, sure, but not as much sugar as even like a banana. Plantains are plenty tasty, but they could at least occasionally use a little livening up, too.

So,'s the new Trader Joe's Jerk-Style Plantain Chips!

If you're not familiar with plantain chips, they're still a little crispy and crunchy, but there's also kinda soft-ish Styrofoamy kinda feel to them, too. They're sorta an odd mix between potato chip, banana chip, and disposable coffee cup. I personally love that kinda texture, but it can be offputting to some.

That's what we got going on here, but the chips are coated all over with jerk seasoning. And it's potent. Hooo-hoo. My four year old took one lick of one chip and immediately reenacted Buddy the Elf and passion fruit spray. Not for her, for sure...but man, it's for me. Plenty of heat, plenty of spice. But there's also a certain "warmness" that plays into the natural flavors of plantains. I think that derives from the allspice and cinnamon. So it may not be a true "jerk" seasoning blend (hence the "jerk-style", I suppose), but there's still the garlic and pepper and chili and everything else, so it works and therefore is not weird.

Delicious chips. A bag sets you back only $1.79, and I kinda can't believe that it's not a single serving, because I could devour the whole thing. Could. Shouldn't. I won't say that I won't ever. Excellent chips in my opinion. Are they healthier than potato chips? Who knows? But I like them as a variation at the very least. Check 'em out for sure! Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Jerk-Style Plantain Chips: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Chunky Apple Cinnamon Bread

So much symbolism with the apple. "Eve ate the apple," even though it wasn't really an apple. "As American as apple pie." Newton's apple helped discover gravity. The Mac computer symbol is an apple with a bite out of it. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," as they say. 

So what do I have to say about this appley product? Applicious? No, unfortunately. 

App-palling? Nah, I wouldn't quite go that far. 

Un-app-pealing? Maybe.

We both found this stuff disappointing. Our loaf was very dry on this inside, and Sonia and I both came up with the adjective "oily" to describe the outer portions. Not moist. Oily.

There's a decided lack of apple pieces. Apple chunks? No way. Not one. Not even a ton of apple flavor. Cinnamon, yes. If anything, there's way too much cinnamon. That's the primary flavor. And we both like cinnamon. There's just something about our loaf that makes us want to cough. It's not that we can feel the cinnamon granules. It's just an odd, dry, cinnamon vibe that's devoid of the juiciness of apples or the softness of a traditional loaf of cinnamon bread.

The norm is that we find a product at Walmart that can compare to something at TJ's, and the latter almost always outshines the former. Price, quality, organicness. You name it—the Joe's version is better in almost every way. It's generally laughable to even compare the two. However, in this instance, Sonia recently discovered some apple cinnamon bread there that blows this loaf out of the water. Unfortunate for this product. No, the Wally World bread isn't organic, nor is it "good for you" in any way. But it tastes the way we wanted this stuff to taste.

Just FYI, the top part of the nutrition information got lost in the glare. It states that there are seven servings per container, each one two ounces.  

Two and a half stars from this guy. Only two from the missus.

Bottom line: 4.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Trader Joe's Brown Rice & Quinoa Pasta

This has probably been shared before, but seared into my memory from growing up is one of the worst things ever done to my mom's perfectly delicious homemade macaroni and cheese: canned tuna fish. Maybe you like that stuff, and that's fine, but for me it makes me gag as I can think of is my old cat barfing it back up after begging for some. All of us kids hated it, too, so if we were all acting up my mom would make tuna fish casserole as a "punishment meal." Such was the case one day, but somehow I was pretty innocent in the whole matter, so when my mom said she was making tuna fish casserole for everyone, I probably broke down in tears and asked if she'd take mercy and at least make it more like her mac 'n cheese, but just add the tuna. She took mercy and my suggestion...and it wasn't bad compared to punishment casserole but against her heavenly mac? Mortal sin. Awful.

And then for like the next time ten times she mac 'n cheese, she put in tuna fish, crimes committed to earn that or not. I still haven't completely forgiven her.

Point is, there's far worse things you can do for homemade mac 'n cheese than to use Trader Joe's Brown Rice & Quinoa Pasta.

But seriously: not intended for mac use. Would be better thrown out the windows for that.

It's not that this gluten free quinoa/rice min elbow pasta tube experiment tastes bad. No, not at all. Perfectly fine and I'd say at least when swimming in cheese and a little garlic salt, it tastes the same as the regular semolina fare.

It's just mushy. So, so mushy. In its defense, we might have slightly overcooked the noodles, and by that I mean more towards the three minutes and not two the package gives for its boil time. Seriously, even picking a noodle up (like pinching one out of the pot) caused the whole thing to practically disintegrate. I'm thinking the reason why they're mini is that anything bigger would stand no fighting chance of being structurally sound.

Still, in about thirty seconds, the pasta went from appropriately firm, slightly denser than al dente noodle to little micro mush tubes. There's not much forgiveness there.

I'm guessing that mac n cheese was the wrong choice to try out the pasta. With regular sauce, or perhaps a cold pasta salad, or in some other less demanding dish these noodles might have been just fine. Or if mushy mac is tolerable for you and you need a gluten free option, by all means, go right for it.

In all, I really have no quarrel with this product. Quick cook convenient gluten free options are always welcome. Just keep a close eye on it and consider its application carefully. If we had done so, maybe I'd tune a different song. Couple bucks for the package, and three spoons each.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Brown Rice & Quinoa Pasta: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, April 12, 2019

Trader Joe's Gochujang Chop Salad Kit

I understand the whole Forrest Gump thing about life being like a box of chocolates. But I think life is more like a salad. 

In a box of chocolates, you're basically only experiencing one specific chocolate at a time. In a salad, there's a whole bunch of ingredients mingling around at once. I mean, sure, you could say that chocolates better capture the element of surprise that life throws at you sometimes, but with salads, just because you know what you're purchasing, you still can't be sure exactly what it will taste like when you put it in your mouth. 

That notion intensifies when one travels full time. We generally know where we're headed, but we never know what we'll experience when we get there. We were just in 70 degree weather in Nevada a week ago, and now, in April, we find ourselves dipping below freezing again here in Utah, experiencing snow showers, looking at enormous, majestic mountains out our living room windows, and seeing some sights we've wanted to see for a long time. We're not finding luck with traditional RV parks out west like we assumed we would. We're finding it even harder to purchase wine here than it was in Pennsylvania and South Jersey. Imagine that.

It's a mix-up of wonderful and frustrating experiences, kinda like this new salad kit from TJ's.

Sonia thinks the cabbage and lettuce were just shy of fresh here. I'm not sure it's apparent in the photo we took, but I can't disagree. There was just a slightly sad, soggy quality to the lettuce in our bag—something we seldom experience from Trader Joe's. It wasn't inedible. It was just...not the freshest lettuce/cabbage we've ever had. That's likely to vary greatly from bag to bag, region to region, and week to week. It was likely just a stroke of bad luck. And again, the greens weren't terrible. I almost didn't even mention it. But now I did and it already sounds like I'm complaining.

So I'll just get the rest of my complaints out of the way and then continue on to more positive stuff.

The puffed rice was an odd element to me. It was crunchy, which was nice, I guess. But I just can't shake the notion that it's cereal. I guess if I were forced to pick a cereal to put on a salad, this would be a more logical choice than, say, Count Chocula or Raisin Bran, but I generally wouldn't go putting cereal on my salads in the first place.

It needed more dressing. Sonia doesn't even like a ton of dressing usually, but she totally agreed, maybe because she absolutely loved this dressing. I liked it a lot, too. It's got a bit of spice to it. It's...I dunno...very Asian-tasting—like something you might pair with a Chinese chicken salad, except in this case, it's Korean. 

I must admit, this is my very first Gochujang rodeo. Russ and Sandy took a gander at some Gochujang almonds a while back, but Sonia and I never tried those. Sweet, spicy, and savory red chili paste. That's what I keep reading about it everywhere, and that sounds pretty accurate. This salad dressing was a "Gochujang vinaigrette." It was by far the best element of the mix in my humble opinion.

The black sesame seeds were interesting. They added a distinctive crunch to the mix, and flavor-wise, they lent a slight nuttiness when consumed en masse. They were so tiny, their flavor was nearly undetectable in the bites when only one or two wound up on our forks. Overall, we liked them.

$3.99 for the bag. Plenty of salad for two people. Not sure if we'll purchase it again. Three and a half stars from each of us.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Trader Joe's Shakshuka Starter

Back in my bachelor days, it'd be pretty common to completely wing dinner as I cooked it based on whatever ingredients I could scrounge up. Usually, somehow, I'd end up chopping up an onion, some pepper, maybe another veggie, and putting it in some kind of sauce with some kind of spices and putting it over something. Most times, it worked. Other times, well, it worked with a little more hot sauce. Obviously I didn't starve, so it all went alright enough.

Get married...have to eat "real food"... I got out of the habit of doing that. We had to follow "actual recipes" said the wife. What? Well, okay, yes dear. Still haven't starved.

But one day, beaming widely and happily, Sandy brings home a couple packages of the new Trader Joe's Shakshuka Starter, exclaiming "I can't wait to have this for breakfast!"

Kinda odd...normally she hates tomatoes and most tomato-heavy products...Well, okay, yes dear.

I'll admit I know nothing about real actual authentic shakshuka. It's a staple in North African and Middle Eastern cusine, means literally a "mixture." Which says to me there must be a thousand different variants, but this TJ's version just so happened to be the first officially labelled shakshuka I've ever had....though the concept is pretty similar to what I used to do all the time...

It's pretty good. This particular shakshuka is pretty thick and chunky with tomato bits and onions and peppers - it's definitely towards the thicker definition of stew. It's simply and naturally flavored with the usual suspects - onion, garlic, cilantro, a little pepper, a little cumin, etc - which are spicy not in a hot hot heat way but more in an herbal manner. It's all pretty well balanced and non-offensive...I'd even say pretty downright pleasant with no need for anything added.

Except the eggs, of course. Gotta add your own eggs and kinda cook it in a little "pocket" in the stew. This is the key step, though, especially if you're like Sandy and me and don't really enjoy poached/sunnyside up style eggs. That runnyness? No thanks. Sandy was wise enough to keep the yolk out of her eggs, leaving only egg white for her. As a result, her eggs were just about perfect and meshed nicely with everything else. My eggs, though? I kept it in and...ugh. Yolk got all gross and rubbery. That of course is not a knock against the actual TJ's product, but I did enjoy the meal less than I could have, so take not: Runny yolk or no yolk at all.

Anyways, the shakshuka is good and fun. Fun to make, fun to eat, fun to say...I kinda felt like Buddy the Elf saying "Fransisco." And it's cheap - only maybe like $2 for the package. Good value too then. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Shakshuka Starter: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Cold Brewed Hibiscus Tea & Lemonade Beverage

It's starting to warm up in the southwest, and folks down here will be needing refreshment soon. Whether you'll be mowing lawns like I'm accustomed to, or tilling gravel like they do down here, you'll be craving a cold beverage of some kind. So let me give it to you straight: if you're into drinking flowers, this hibiscus tea lemonade hybrid is pretty darn refreshing.

Although, if you want to get into semantics, I must admit no part of this screams "lemonade" to me. There's just a hint of sweetness, but the lemon element tastes more like plain lemon juice to me. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I do enjoy sweet beverages historically, but not-so-sweet, subtle flavors definitely have their place—and this product embodies that sophisticated, understated ideal perfectly.

There's a surprising amount of sediment on the bottom of the bottle. I'm not even sure what it is: little pieces of hibiscus flowers? It does say "shake well before using" on the label. Whenever I can see visible bits of sediment, I always worry that the beverage will have a gritty texture, but this selection didn't at all—light and smooth all the way.

I'm on record on this blog stating that I don't like hibiscus that much. And it's still not my favorite, but I must say it didn't bother me as much in this case as it has in previous incarnations. I think the sourness of the lemon juice helps balance out the "plantiness" of the flowers.

Since readers have scolded me when I score something that I generally have an aversion to, such as hibiscus, I'll let Sonia do all the rating here. She likes hibiscus just fine, and she gives this drink four stars. So I'll just double her score. If you want to know what I would have given this product: a three, maybe three and a half. Hibiscus still just isn't my thing. I'll take flavored sparkling water over this kind of beverage if I want something unsweet, and I'll reach for a fruit juice blend if I want something a little more sugary. 

If I were hella thirsty, though, you better bet I'd down this bottle in seconds.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Chocolate Chip Cookies

My poor wife.

Sandy had just finished a long day at work and a run with a friend. She had no chance to go home for dinner before our usual kids dance class routine. She also gave up sweets for Lent...but she was pretty hungry...and of course I forgot to grab her a dinner as I was too busy wrangling all our own kids plus one more through dinner and out the door to get to said dance class, and I remembered everything except her dinner...and it'd be at least an hour til we got home...and all I had was Trader Joe's Organic Chocolate Chip Cookies with me (i.e., kid bait to get them all moving)...

Husband fail. She broke Lent because of me. It wasn't her fault. I think God will understand.

Worth it? Maybe. I mean, these are really pretty basic snacky chocolate chip cookies. Of course, even a middlin' chocolate chip cookie is pretty tasty in my book.

What these cookies really have going for them more than anything else is at least the perception of quality ingredients. Good stuff in equals a good outcome more times than not. The closest approximation to a name brand cookie I could make for these TJ's snacksters would be Famous Amos - similar in size, feel, taste - except these just taste better in a not totally quanitifiable kinda way. Maybe it's just that word "organic" messing with me.

Regardless, these cookies are worth a try, especially if in need for a portable confectionary motivator for either yourself or the juvenile crowd. There's five mini cookies to a serving - you should see a four year old's eyes light up when you tell her she can eat five cookies if she'll just get her little biscuits moving. It works like a charm. Good, not great, cookies. Kid approved, mama and dada approved, and budget friendly at less than $3 for the baggie, so they do have all that going for them. Yumz.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Chocolate Chip Cookies: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Thick & Chunky Salsa

At first, this fine salsa didn't look new to me. Not completely. I felt like it had been well-established on TJ's shelves for years and years. Yet it was being marketed as "new."

How could that be?

Oh yeah.

Nearly nine years ago, we looked at this salsa's predecessor on this blog. Back then, it wasn't organic. At least not certified organic. This new stuff has the seal of approval from Quality Assurance International. Conspiracists will tell you that the New World Order will be rolling out a single world government, a single world currency, and a single world religion. I'm pretty sure QAI will be the folks responsible for planning the single world menu for all work, school, and dissident camp cafeterias.

Or maybe they just make sure stuff is really organic when people say it's organic.

Either way, we'll just have to trust them. And I do. My gut tells me this salsa's organic. It just tastes and feels fresh and invigorating somehow. Sonia said the exact same thing upon first bite without any prompting from me.

It's also bold. Where its predecessor was simply "chunky," this product is thick and chunky. It's like if that previous incarnation were the mild-mannered mortal version of the product, then this is the post-spider bite/science experiment gone horribly wrong/exposure to radiation superhero version of the salsa. 

It's got nice big pieces of tomatoes and peppers, and some onion bits are visible as well as tastable. There's some garlic flavor and juuust a hint of flavors like vinegar and salt. It's a well-rounded tomato-based salsa in almost every way.

We're dealing with half a chili pepper on the spice-o-meter, which means it has enough heat to scare away wusses and crybabies (no offense, spice-o-phobes) but not enough to administer searing pain to all who partake. I'm pretty happy with the spiciness here. I don't know if things are starting to bloom out here in the southwestern desert, or whether its the drier climate or higher amounts of dust in the air, but Sonia and I both need a little spice to open up our sinuses lately. Somehow, salsa just tastes better in the southwest.

Anyway, if the original version of this salsa made our Pantheon, then this organic version most definitely will also. It pairs nicely with another recent addition to our best of the best category—but then again, those dippers pair up with just about anything pretty well. Both are very tasty products.

Closing thought: this salsa's only $2.49! How is that even possible?

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.