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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

Friday, July 5, 2019

Trader Joe's Soft Baked Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

For a grocery store chain that's known for carrying exotic fare and maintaining at least a facade of healthiness, they sure roll out a lot of dang cookies. By a quick count, we've reviewed somewhere in the ballpark of 60 or 70 different types of Trader Joe's brand cookies on this blog alone. 

That's a lot of cookies, the vast majority of which aren't reduced guilt or low calorie or anything like that. If you click that link, it'll show you the results for searching "cookies" on this blog. Apparently some browsers are covering the additional pages of results with a banner ad. I'm looking at you, Google Chrome. Worked fine on Firefox for me. But most of you aren't going to wade through seven pages of cookie reviews spanning the past decade anyway. I wouldn't blame you. 

Because many of these cookie varieties aren't particularly memorable. A few are, but I highly doubt we'll agree on which two or three of those Trader Joe's baked goods we want to take to our desert island and survive on for the rest of our life.

Funfact: the cookie on the packaging is actual size. See pic above.

This particular offering isn't bad, but it's definitely not one of my desert island choices. And, I mean, I LOVE peanut butter. 

You can taste the peanut butter for sure. These are basically typical, everyday peanut butter cookies that happen to be full of chocolate chips. They're a little softer than your average peanut butter cookie, I guess, and perhaps a tad thicker, both of which are pleasant variations on the classic cookie. Still, I would have preferred them to be even softer, chewier. They're kind of crumbly and dry as they are. 

The flavor is fine. There is peanut butter and there is chocolate, but they never really come together in that special way that Reese's seem to. The bread part of the cookie seems oddly dominant, and there's a bit of an aftertaste.

Sonia seemed to like them more than I did, which was unexpected. She'll give these three and a half stars. I give 'em three.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Trader Joe's Chili Onion Crunch

In my neighborhood growing up, every couple years, PENNDOT would oil and chip all the street tops. It'd drive everyone in my family crazy. For me and my siblings, it was so much harder to bike on, and when your biggest source of income was an after-school paper route for which you needed to bike, it made for the rough juvenile equivalent of a hard day at the office. For my parents, it'd ding up the bottom of the cars and set my dad off on an occasional "this crap is what they do with my taxes??" rant (usually mild around us kids)...but I could tell it was just one more thing to aggravate the living heck out of them. As a parent now myself, I can understand it - one added thing atop of work, family, bills, taxes, whatever else. It'd set me off too.

Wait a minute delivering newspapers after school? Did I just date myself? I'm only in my mid-thirties I swear.

Anyways, oil and chips...kinda like Trader Joe's Chili Onion Crunch.

No, no, I'm not suggesting this newish product tastes like asphalt. Indeed, it's infinitely more suitable for a potluck rather than a pothole.

Just open it though. There's a huge pool of olive oil at the top. Stir it up, and you can hear all the crunchy tidbits swirling around. Crunchunchunchcrunch. It's absolutely audible, in some sort of edible slurry concoction. Dried onions. Dried garlic. More dried onions. Dried peppers. All literally swimming in oil in still crunchified state.

Needless to say, this is some oily, gritty stuff. I can absolutely see this being a textural stumbling block for some people. Sandy and I plopped some atop some grill-toasted baguette and it worked well as the bread sopped up the oil a bit leaving only the crunchers. Could work tossed in with some veggies or on some grilled chicken or pork, too. But something like eggs? No way, at least not in my book. Gritty eggs. Blecch.

And taste? Ehhh. The chili onion crunch got a little heat, that's for sure. It's more palpable if you get a heavy dose. But really, what the dominant flavor seems to be is the garlic. And it's not necessarily good garlic either, depending on your criteria. Karen, our favorite local TJ's employee, warned it was garlicky but "not in a good way" and I can see what she means. Garlic can either be strong and robust, or kinda "musty" for a lack of better word. This stuff strays towards the garlic stank and not the garlic strength. Any other flavor kinda fills in a little bit to give a little body to lead up towards the heat.

In the end, I think this could be one of those "a little goes a long way" type items. Add a little atop a burger, on some bread, mixed in with some grilled veggies or whatever, but just enough to get a little added flavor, and not enough to turn your dish into an oily, gritty, garlic-stanked dish. We'll use it for sure but I'm not yet convinced it's a repurchase. Set us back about $3 if I recall right.

Four spoons from the Mrs - she loved it more than I did. I'll be nice and give it a 3.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chili Onion Crunch: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, July 1, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Carrots of Many Colors

The grape carrots are my favorite, followed closely by the lemon carrots and cherry carrots.

I'm just kidding. There's only one flavor here: carrot. Carrot-flavored carrots are all the rage in some modern snacking circles, or so I've heard. This new Trader Joe's product is sure to be a hit with those folks.

For the rest of us, I'm not so sure.

The colors seem like a fun gimmick to get kids to eat more carrots. I know purple carrots exist naturally, and so do orange, yellow, and red. It's not like they added any extra colors here, which is always nice. In fact, they only added sea salt. Nothing else. Plus, they're organic. Unless you're on a salt-free diet, not many complaints can be filed in the "not healthy enough" department.

Texture-wise, they're super crunchy, crispy, brittle. Almost reminiscent of potato chips, they're just ever so slightly more airy...almost poofy in a way. There's a styrofoam quality about them. Sonia thinks they're exceedingly dry—like, unpleasantly devoid of moisture. I think they were kinda going for a dry feel when they decided to dehydrate the carrots, so...yeah. Dry. But that's not a dealbreaker for me.

The taste was less pleasant than the texture for me. And yes, I know what carrots taste like. But something happens to the flavor when they're dehydrated. I feel like that carroty flavor that we've all come to know and tolerate becomes a little more bitter than I'd like it to be. These carrot chips are even more planty and perhaps less sweet than they are in their normal, water-ful form. Also, they don't taste very salty at all. 310mg of sodium in the whole bag. 13% of your RDA. I guess that's not much salt. But it tastes even less salty than I was expecting. 

Sonia thinks they might lose some of their natural sugar when they're dehydrated, and I think she might be right on that one. $2.99 for the single serving bag, which could be stretched to more than one serving if you're sharing the bag with someone else and both of you are only moderately enjoying them and attempting to pawn the remainder of the bag off on the other. We both prefer raw carrots in the end.

Once again, three stars a piece.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Cold-Pressed Fruit Stand Juice Beverage

Let's get right down to it, shall we?

Trader Joe's Organic Cold-Pressed Fruit Stand Juice Beverage was really difficult for me to juistify buying. I mean, really tough. I didn't want all.

I've had other cold-pressed beverages before and have been generally unimpressed, or at least have not figured out the hype behind them. If you want a slightly academic-ish breakdown of cold-pressed being what it is, here ya go. 

Plus,'s three bucks for the little small dinky bottle that I could chug down in less than 10 seconds. Because of this I'd have to buy two, as my beautiful bride would like some too. And it's not that we're terribly broke, but while on vacation as a family there's a budget to try and stick to (hahaha, yeah right) yeah, this is a purchase I wasn't terribly enthused about, but agreed to for Sandy's sake, as it "sounded good to her." She makes so few other demands so, well, yes dear.

As I somewhat expected, I'm not overly impressed by the flavor or presentation of the fruit stand beverage. If anything, it strikes me a bit bland. After shaking up all the sediment at the bottom, the drink itself was fairly smooth and chunk free. But it all lacks something...or anything. Which is kinda a crazy statement to make after looking at all the ingredients.

Each bottle purportedly contains: 2 1/2 slices of pineapple. A third of a cucumber. A third of a cocunut. Three slices of jicama. A slice of lime. And then some pink salt (Himalayan I presume?) and cayenne. There's some faint pineapple, a wee bit of coconut...but really the only taste that stands out to me is the cayenne. Everything else seems so watered down and muted by all the watery elements. I mean, what does jicama taste like? Nothing! Except filler. The cayenne isn't overpowering but does make a small tingle. It's probably accessible to most.

Of course, Sandy loves the juice. "It'd probably be great for after running." she said. I can't deny that, and I did note a fairly high hydration factor. It's entirely possible that the fruit stand juice is falling victim to our own individual preconceived notions, but hopefully Sandy and I balance each other out here enough. I can't muster more than a two, if for no other reason than I'm somewhat impressed by how all those fruits and veggies got into that teeny tiny bottle. Sandy grades it higher and will probably twist my arm into buying again,

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Cold-Pressed Fruit Stand Beverage: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Trader Joe's Egg Frittata

Our travels have taken us to numerous large casino facilities throughout the American West over the past 6 months. We've probably stayed at a dozen or more since they generally offer free RV parking for a night or two. Many have hotels, restaurants, clubs, gas stations, and convenience stores all owned and operated by the same group of people, often a nation or tribe of Native American Indians. 

These complexes apparently generate a great deal of money, because even the convenience stores are huge, occasionally boasting vaulted ceilings and elaborate decor surrounding typical mini-mart fare like toaster pastries and bags of roasted peanuts.

Prior to purchasing this frittata product at Trader Joe's, but not long ago at all, Sonia wandered into just such a convenience store to discover a display full of fresh-baked pastries, quiches, and frittatas. The frittatas were actually frittata-bread hybrids, with the egg and cheese baked right into a buttery croissant. Anyway, the wifey picked up a couple of them, and we had them for breakfast a few weeks ago. They were absolutely scrumptious. A tad on the greasy side, they were full of flavor and left us both in comfort food heaven.

I might have had frittatas one or two other times in my life. I can't remember any of them vividly. But those Indian casino convenience store frittatas will linger in my memory for years to come. These Trader Joe's frittatas, not so much.

No, it's not fair to compare frozen, microwavable frittatas to fresh-baked ones—even ones baked in a glorified Quickie Mart. But I'm going to do that anyway, since that's my reference point. 

Honestly, the convenience factor here isn't bad. They come frozen, and after a few minutes in the microwave, voila, you've got a couple of frittatas for breakfast or whatever meal you're supposed to eat frittatas. Our major complaint is that they're a little on the bland side. They need some help. Hot sauce is in order here—or some kind of extra seasoning if you're not into hot and spicy foods for breakfast. There's nothing particularly unpleasant about the taste at all, but nothing particularly memorable, either.

The texture is fine. They seemed a bit more bready than just eggs alone usually do, probably due to the whey protein and cornstarch. They're soft and cheesy, but not overly so. I feel like they were in want of a bolder cheese, too. I like swiss okay, but this product might have worked a little better with cheddar. 

$2.99 for two frittatas, which the packaging even admits is only a single serving. There's a lot of saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium for a product that doesn't really deliver in the flavor department. Probably not a repeat purchase for us, but a decent offering as far as uniqueness and ease of preparation are concerned. 

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Trader Joe's Bloody Mary Salsa

Family I right?

I'm writing this review about halfway thru a family vacation. And by family I don't mean just me, my wife and our kids...I mean my parents, my siblings, their spouses, and all their kids. there's eighteen of us. It's what we do every other year. It's crazy. It's frustrating. It's fun. It's draining. And ultimately pretty awesome. Really hope to be building some memories here by continuing family traditions.

 And of course we're bringing in our own. As is our own individual family tradition, while on vacation, we seek out the local Trader Joe's (Burlington, VT this occasion). And for our designated night to make dinner we brought in our own tradition which I think I mentioned before, to have a "snacky dinner." Cheese, chips, fruits, veggies, hummus, salsa, etc.

So that's a long way of saying yup, we got Trader Joe's Bloody Mary Salsa to experiment on my entire family on vacation. Wasn't sure how else to start. Sorry, couple beers in. Surely, you understand.

It's a decent salsa, even for those (like me) who aren't well acquainted with actual bloody Marys. There's huge chunks of tomatoes and maybe some peppers, so if smoother salsas are your jam this won't be it. Even then, the rest of the base is somewhat watery enough that calling it thick doesn't seem entirely right.

For the first hit, the salsa is fairly mild, even somewhat sweet. Some in my clan here said there's almost a certain "fake tomato" taste here - perhaps it's a bit too cloying. Or maybe it's even else that happens afterwards - the bitterness of horseradish creeping in, the peppery bite beginning to hit, the pickling spices beginning to tickle in, the spice whacking you from the back end. Still, for an overall taste and feel, it's decent yet lacks a certain oomph. Maybe this is something inherent in bloody Marys, hence the need to pile on with all those crazy...I don't even know what you'd call it all. But you know what I mean.

For a jarred store brand salsa, not fresh made, and all that, it'll do. Not great, not bad. The salsa is definitely a plausible rebuy for the middling $2ish bucks it cost. And middling scores is about all it got from everyone here.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Bloddy Mary Salsa: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Trader Joe's Kunefe

Before we dive into the review, let me just throw this little disclaimer out there: I've never had kunefe prior to trying this product. I've had plenty of international desserts, and I love Mediterranean food in general, but this isn't something I recall seeing listed on menus. Could be it was there and I passed over it because I had no clue what it was. Now I do and I just might try it next time I'm in a Turkish restaurant.

All that to say I won't be comparing this to other kunefe. I'll just be recounting our personal experience with this fascinating foreign dessert offering from TJ's. Kinda hard to lead into a review with a personal story when you don't have any anecdotes about the product in question. I know you're all heartbroken, but my disclaimer will have to serve as the lead-in here.

Found it in the frozen section of the Halsey Street, Portland store for $3.99. It wasn't immediately apparent that it was a dessert. I mean, it would have been if I had read the blurb on the back of the box, but that's just not my style. If I learn too much about something—anything, I tend to psych myself out and lose interest. Better to dive in as blind as possible and have no expectations.

The baking instructions were easy enough even for this guy. You simply place the unwrapped tray in the oven and bake for 20-22 min. There's a pouch full of a clear, sweet syrup that you add after baking, flip the dessert over onto a serving plate, and then sprinkle a packet of pistachio bits on the top. From frozen to serving in about 25 minutes. No major mishaps or fine examples of foodie-hackery here. 

It's hard to describe. Pretty tasty if you ask me. Unusual. The outer portions are quite crispy. Wisps of phyllo dough grace the exterior of the dish. The core of the dessert is made of sweet, melty mozzarella and mizithra cheeses. The pistachio sprinkles are tastable but not overbearing. There might be something vaguely reminiscent of baklava here if it weren't for all that cheese. But as it stands, I like it, in the words of the late Chris Cornell, "cause it doesn't remind me of anything." 

I'm always down for novel experiences.

Sonia had an equally difficult time describing the flavor, but she, too, liked it quite a bit—particularly its uniqueness. If you like sweet cheeses and phyllo-encrusted desserts, it's most definitely worth a whirl. Four stars from each of us.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Sparkling Apple Cider Drinking Vinegar

Last week, I saw an article online referring to a new food product  as "salad frosting." Didn't click on it. Couldn't. Listen, I don't care if it were frosting that tasted like salad, or some sort of -not-quite-dressing matter to put atop a sald. I din't want to know. Just sounded way too gross. If this were to somehow come to Trader Joe's, yeah, I'd make Nathan and Sonia do that one because just NOPE.

On the same spectrum but not nearly to that extreme is Trader Joe's Organic Sparkling Apple Cider Drinking Vinegar. Drinking. Vinegar. "Drinking vinegar." That...just doesn't sound appealing. At all.

As recently as a year ago or so I would have noped my way out of this one too. But I've really come to enjoy kombucha and related beverages, and have thought of making some sort of apple cider vinegar-y concoction as an alternative and occasional chnage up.

As of now, TJ's carries two varieties of drinking vinegars: cucumber mint and strawberry basil. As you can see Sandy and I got both to try. I opted for the strawberry as cucumber mint usually isn't one of my favorite combos.

It's a smooth beverage, for sure, and goes down easy. There's less bite and funk than from kombucha, probably from lack of fermentation. There's no little SCOBY floaties around either if that's something that skeeves you. There's also a touch less carbonation too - still some but not as much as kombucha. And sure, yes, there's a decent taste of vinegar, but it's fairly mild and unoffensive overall.

For flavor, the strawberry basil made a nice profile. It's a little sweet, a little herby...hey, maybe it'd make a good salad frosting! Ugh. I took a small swig of the cucumber mint and didn't like it as much - it had a little bit of a "minty pickle" vibe to it. Sandy said that's ludicrous, but it's logical to me - cucumber and vinegar plus mint, right? Minty pickle. Regardless, she said it wasn't like that at all, but she liked the strawberry better too.

Give 'em a try. They're a bit small so noit exactly a thirst quencher, and at $1.69 each I'm unsure of how great a deal it is...but I digress. Drinking one made my queasy stomach feel ten times better within minutes so I'm not gonna argue much. Four spoons each for these vinegars from my lovely bride and me.

Trader Joe's Organic Sparkling Apple Cider Drinking Vinegar: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, June 17, 2019

Trader Joe's Ube Purple Yam Flavored Ice Cream

Ice cream: one of the staples of summer. I won't say I don't eat it year round, because I do, but it's one of those things that's just part of most Americans' arsenal of beat-the-heat foods. Fortunately, we haven't needed much in the way of "beat-the-heat" this year so far since we've been meandering around the Pacific Northwest. It's our first time here, and we've just been in Oregon for the past 3 weeks or so, heading into Washington. We had one 90 degree day last week, and when we really needed ice cream, we didn't have any, and we didn't feel like driving into town from our campground to get it. Now we have some and it's in the 50's outside. Go figure.

But like I said, I'll eat ice cream in pretty much any weather. So I did.

First impressions: it doesn't taste like a vegetable. Didn't really think it would. Yams are pretty desserty to begin with. There's almost a cake batter vibe to the taste in my opinion. Maybe that's just a subliminal notion bubbling up to the surface since it's my 40th birthday today and I'm in cake mode. Although, Sonia didn't disagree with that assertion, either.

First thing that popped into her head: taro. That's probably a more accurate assessment since taro is also a root vegetable that's frequently used in frozen desserts. I remember having it when Yogurtland and its myriad imposters were all the rage like 10 years ago. I know they still exist, but I haven't been to one in quite a while. Also boba tea and other Asian novelty foods are often taro-flavored. This flavor does taste similar to taro if memory serves me correctly. I wanna say this flavor is slightly less floral...?

The taste is nutty, lightly sweet, subtly earthy, and vanilla-esque. There's nothing "purple" about it if you're like me and think everything purple should taste like grapes or berries. There might be a slight pistachio-esque vibe here, too. Cream and sugared egg yolks add to the density and richness of the ice cream.

$2.99 for the pint. It's not dairy-free or vegan or anything—just pretty decent ice cream with interesting ingredients and a unique flavor. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Trader Joe's Patio Potato Chips

Eating outside in the summer is pretty great, isn't it? I think so. A couple times already this not-quite-summer, Sandy and I have pulled our kitchen table out to our smallish back deck and piled everyone out there for a laidback "snacky dinner" - veggies, fruit, chips, hummus, cheese, etc. More times than not, something off the grill, which i'll fire up as the kids are playing in the sprinkler. It's great. Everyone gets to eat what they want, avoid what they don't.

In a similar vibe, here's Trader Joe's Patio Potato Chips. Everything about them evokes that eating outside, picnicky, snacky feel, from the name to the illustrations to the fun concept of four flavors of chips all mixed together. They're kinda like a summery-choose-your-own adventure package, right? And chips! Show me a decent picnic without chips...tough to do!

So, how these TJ's tangled taste taters fare?

Well, like many things, the concept is brilliant but the execution is a bit sloppy. There's four flavors here - salt and vinegar, dill, ketchup and barbeque. I can't tell the ketchup and barbeque ones apart after multiple tastes, and it takes a little discernment to tell the vinegar and dill ones apart, too. Part of the issue is, of course, they're all mixed up with flavor seasonings rubbing off on one another all the way from point of manufacture to point of consumption.

This leads to another point, sort of: if eaten all together, really the only flavor that stands out is, well, vinegar. It's probably because it's the punchiest of the varieties. But if there's a few dill chippies, there's more of a pickley taste, and if there's any of the other ones, they take one more of a sweet pickle type flair. That's not necessarily awful but perhaps not what everyone would be looking for.

Other than that, for the most part, they're pretty good chips. All of the chips are ridged and crispy with a little of the requisite greasiness that define high levels of snackitude. I mean, even when unsure how well all the flavors really melded together, I was downing way too many of them, so there's that. Sandy said she would have preferred if they different types were differently textured, so as to more easily tell them apart. I could be down for that as well.

Overall, the patio chips are an okay pickup. Chances are we'd buy again, but our girls weren't the hugest of fans so maybe not. Sandy gives them only a 2.5 for their flavor identity uncertainty issues. That's a touch low but not too far off the mark. I'll go with a 3.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Patio Potato Chips: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Trader Joe's Mini Gummy Bears on a Chocolate Pool Day

Years ago, Sonia and I were invited to a game night of sorts at another couple's apartment. The main event of the evening was a competition involving the construction of graham cracker houses, the most creative of which would win a prize. There were four other teams, with our gracious hosts serving as the judges. There were dozens of elements at our disposal: graham crackers, marshmallows, frosting, gumdrops, cookies—pretty much any snack you can think of was present. Most other teams tried to go big—they were aiming to construct the tallest candy towers that gravity would allow. We went a different route.

Our house was a mere two graham cracker widths high. Not impressive at all on the macro scale...but to a family of gummy bears, it was an elegant mansion with all the comforts of a modern home. There was a big puffy couch comprised of full-size marshmallows across from a flat screen HDTV made from a miniature chocolate bar. The yard was full of vanilla icing snow and a few snowmen made of mini marshmallows stacked on one another. The bear children playing in the yard had warm hats made of M&M's bitten in half. There was even a bathroom. Mini marshmallows made a fine porcelain toilet and a nearby bathroom sink. A thin layer of frosting made a mirror. A green gummy bear faced the mirror—I bit off a thin slice of another green gummy bear's face and stuck it on the mirror so it appeared the bear was actually looking at his own reflection. There were even a couple chocolate shavings in the marshmallow toilet to, bear movements. We made lamps, trees, and shrubbery out of gumdrops and bed sheets out of mini chocolate bar wrappers. Ultimately, we won the competition and went home that night with a $20 Target gift card and a sense of accomplishment and teamwork. Our judges applauded, "You thought of everything!"

Well, almost everything.

Our happy gummy bear family lacked a pool. Until now. Obviously, we don't still have our graham cracker house. In fact, I think the children present consumed the entire thing before we even left our friends' apartment that night. But this gimmicky new item from TJ's would have been the perfect addition to the bear family's backyard.

So...obviously, this is a fun item for the young and the young-at-heart, but how does it taste? It's an odd mix-up of gummy bears and milk and white chocolate. Sonia remarked that the milk chocolate overshadowed the white chocolate, while I was actually surprised I could taste white chocolate at all. The bears add sweet, fruity, citrusy elements to the flavor. It works, at least marginally. I mean, chocolate covered fruit is a thing. Chocolate orange is a thing, right? This isn't a completely foreign concept. I'm honestly surprised how much I do like the flavor here.

Sonia wanted more gummy bears, even though she admitted their texture was a little too firm and chewy in the mix. The chocolate's nice and smooth, and it inevitably melts in your mouth much faster than the gummy bears. I was happy with the chocolate to gummy bear ratio, but I must say breaking the bar apart was frustrating. The bears wanted to hold certain pieces of chocolate together, and as you'd pull the piece off, the bear would stretch a bit and then snap in the manner of a rubber band, sending a crumb or two of chocolate flying off into space...or onto your khaki pants.

It's $1.99 for the bar. I'd rather pay half that for a silly, fun impulse buy like this, but there's an undeniable childlike joy that accompanies opening a package of candy that has illustrations of bears with pool toys on it. If it weren't packaged and presented so cleverly, it would be easier to pan this product for its only partial success in the flavor and texture departments. As it stands, we're looking at about three and a quarter stars each. 

Do note: this product isn't even vegetarian by virtue of pork gelatin in the gummies. I thought that green bear on the packaging looked a little like one of the pigs from Angry Birds...

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Trader Joe's Chewy Marshmallow Bar

Rice Krispies are pretty much a disappointment cereal, right? I've never met anyone who could honestly say they legitimately enjoyed a bowl of them. I know I sure haven't. Sure, sure, there's the snap, crackle and pop thing that's kinda cool...but then what? Within moments you have little, soggy, limp, mushy and basically tasteless tidbits of toasted rice like substance. Even worse, if not rinsed out right after, the cereal gets cemented into your bowl as it dries, which means depending on my stage of life my mom or my wife would yell at me for it. You'd think I'd learn.

Nah, the only legit reason to buy Rice Krispies is to make Rice Krispie treats. Now those are good, and an all time classic. So simple to do. So delicious.

Which, by the way, I'd recommend over buying Trader Joe's Chewy Marshmallow Bar.

Don't get me wrong, I actually enjoyed this new "gotcha, made ya buy" treat from TJ's. If you want one, or just need a quick snack to keep yourself from going hungry or to placate the kiddos mid-shopping trip, there's no reason not to buy it. Homemade ones are better is all I'm saying.

The taste is all there. It's not like there's much to really mess up or experiment with here - it's toasted rice and marshmallows. If somehow you don't know what this combo tastes like, you've lived a very different life than probably 99.9% of people reading this. I've got nothing else to add here.

It's really more in the feel, I think. Most homemade variations are tightly packed, dense chunks, at least in my experience. Not so here. Once out of the package the marshmallow bar gets droopy and bendy, and the overall feel is pretty light. Also, there's full (or close to full) mini marshmallows interspersed throughout the bar. Some might find this texturally challenging. I didn't particularly but I also prefer a firmer treat.

Others have said this confection is much like a "Dream Bar" or something of the sort from Starbucks. Haven't had one - we don't frequent Starbucks as I consider them "emergency caffeination only" - but perhaps one of you can chime in to state how apt that comparison may be. 

It's a $1.49 each for this TJ's chewy bar, which strikes me neither a great deal nor as a ripoff. They're big enough that Sandy and I split one, and our kids split the other without complaint. I'm neither disappointed nor overwhelmed so I'll just say a three while Sandy chimes in with a little higher.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chewy Marshmallow Bar: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, June 7, 2019

Trader Joe's Milk Chocolate Covered Mini Pretzels

Seems like TJ's has had chocolate covered pretzels on their shelves for basically always. I can't remember a time they haven't been there. And yet, I don't think we've ever purchased them. Not the plain old milk chocolate covered ones, anyway. 

But now, they're in a fancy new resealable bag, they're featured prominently on under "What's New," and TJ's is begging us to taste them again...for the first time, or something like that.

So we did.

No cookie butter filling. No exotic foreign confectionery coating. No hazelnut sprinkles. Just pretzels and chocolate. And some newfangled packaging.

I've always liked chocolate covered pretzels, and these are no exception. They taste exactly as I remember them. Salty, sweet, bready. The chocolate is still smooth and the pretzels are still crunchy. They still dot your fingertips with little brown splotches if it's warm outside, and they're still just a tad too firm when it's cold out—or if you store them in the fridge rather than the pantry. 

They're so run-of-the-mill, I'm really at a loss what to write about them. There's absolutely nothing new or innovative about these tasty tidbits, but it's also nice to know they didn't screw them up, either.

I have this memory from very early childhood. It was probably the first time I'd ever had a chocolate covered pretzel. It was evening and the sky was dark. There were two elderly ladies that babysat me frequently in those days, and I was in their apartment on Chocolate Avenue in Hershey, PA. No lie. There's a Chocolate Ave there. Cocoa Ave, too. Anyway, they had this little apartment in downtown Hershey, and I spent a lot of time there. At this point, I couldn't have been older than three or four years old. I remember eating a chocolate pretzel they gave me—my parents wouldn't allow me to have chocolate back in those days, but these two: Nana and Minnie—they'd let me live a little while in their care. The chocolate pretzel they gave me was so transcendently delicious, I remember being excited about life in a way that's very hard to capture now at nearly 40 years old. And then, as if the moment weren't special enough, I recall looking up into the night sky through their kitchen window and seeing a streak of light—I had no idea what it was at the time, but in retrospect, it must have been a shooting star. I don't think I've ever experienced a sense of awe greater than that instant, with the taste of chocolate pretzel dangling on my tongue. 

I don't eat chocolate pretzels all that often these days, but that night in the early 80's comes to mind almost every time I do, and for that reason, there will always be a special place in my heart for these tasty morsels. $3.49 for the 12 oz bag.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Trader Joe's Ghost Chile BBQ Sauce

Nothing can make smashburger night any better at my house.

What's a smashburger, you ask? Simple. I break out my trusty cast iron griddle, heat it up, lightly handle a small chunk of ground beef (really, as little as possible, can't mush or ball it up too much), place in the piping hot cast iron...and promptly smash into thin burger form with a cast iron bacon press. Add a little salt and pepper, flip after a minute or two, melt some cheese atop. Goodness, it makes a good burger...way better than what should be possible. Fun to make too.

And not only that...but all my kids like them and practically beg for them, and eat them happily. If we go more than two weeks without smashburger night, it's an upset.

Yup, nothing can make smashburger night any better...except for just maybe Trader Joe's Ghost Chile BBQ Sauce.

 I'm always on the lookout for new and interesting sauces for TJ's. This must be pretty dang new, because man, sounds awesome, right? Also a little daunting, even though past ghost pepper products from TJ's were a bit underwhelming.

What's the case here? This BBQ sauce is hot. Legitmately. It takes a bit for the flames to stoke themselves, but when they do...wooo. It's a bit much for Sandy, who took a few bites on some grilled chicken for our first go around with the sauce, and promptly waved the mercy flag. I didn't but about halfway through, at the base of my throat, I felt that heat rise up with my eyes watering just a touch. It wasn't unbearable but it's been a while since I've enjoyed a good little burn like that.

It's a well-balanced heat, though. Upfront the sauce tastes a bit tame and even a little sweet and sugary from the tomatoes and pineapple juice base. It's a set-up, though, that starts sneaking in with a little pepper, a little garlic and spice, a little touch of smokiness. Then it hits. Not right away, but when it does, it does.

My only real complaint, if I could call it that, is that it's a bit thin for my taste. There's not much body to the sauce as it strays more towards a very light consistency. I like thick and gloppy sauce, not watery and runny.

Other than that, the ghost chile barbeque sauce is a winner in my book. Buy a supply and apply to all your summery barbeque needs if you can handle it. Tasted equally delicious on grilled chicken as it did on my aforementioned smashburger. Next time I smoke a pulled pork I know what sauce I'll be using, and should look to baste on some ribs. That's gotta be good. Just know your crowd. Sandy said she liked it but would like it more if she "knew how to handle it" which is her weay of saying it was a touch too potent for her. She's going with only a mere three for her score which is too low in my book. Maybe there's some legit ways to tamper it down a bit without losing too much, but that's not for me. Four and a half, I say.This stuff is an absolute smash.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Ghost Chile BBQ Sauce: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, June 3, 2019

Trader Joe's Sweet Corn, Burrata & Basil Ravioli

I must admit I wasn't familiar with burrata cheese prior to trying this fascinating pasta product from Trader Joe's. As is usually, although not always, the case with curious culinary commodities, the lovely Sonia was able to educate me on the subject. It's basically mozzarella and cream. Sounds good, right?

It is good. "Burrata" and "ricotta" not only sound like they should be included in the lyrics to a Jimmy Buffett song together, but they also taste great when paired in a pasta pocket. They're a little sweet, very creamy, and still retain the light, subtle flavors of mozzarella. Throw corn into the mix...and to me, there's a bit of a creamed corn effect.

I've never been a huge fan of creamed corn. It's one of those dishes that doesn't know whether it wants to be a vegetable or a dessert. In general, I love corn in almost any form, but all that sweetness and creaminess seems like it would be better suited with peaches or strawberries. But whatever. That's just a little hang-up of mine. The important question is: does it work here?

Along with the pasta and a little olive oil, yes, the aforementioned "creamed corn effect" is mitigated to a point I can tolerate. It yields a nice, mellow, summery flavor that works just fine without a heavy cream or tomato-based pasta sauce. None of the other flavors completely overshadow the taste of the corn, which is also nice. 

Sonia and I both found the basil flavor to be somewhere between nonexistent and barely detectable. It wasn't really begging for the taste of basil, though, either.

The wifey also expressed her frustration that the filling was popping out of certain ravioli squares. It's possible that their structural integrity was compromised while bouncing around in our RV fridge on the way to our campground. Also, as you might have guessed from the picture, we boiled water over our campfire and heated the ravioli there. Why waste propane when you've got a nice fire going? I don't think it influenced the flavor of the product at all, though. A little woodsmoke wouldn't have hurt the taste, anyway.

$3.49 for the package of two servings. Enough to serve as a main course for both of us. Sonia wants to try it with a white pasta sauce of some kind. I think most pasta sauces would clash with the dish. We'll possibly buy it again just to see who's right.

Three and a half stars a piece.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Seasoned Smoked Salmon

Used to be my lovely bride wouldn't dream of touching something such as Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Seasoned Smoked Salmon. No way, no how. I mean, when we first started dating she had all these picky rules and barely ate any meat aside from maybe chicken, and once tried to convince us to go vegetarian (which I for some reason bought into to her face while sneaking beef jerky at work).

Not any more, thank God. Good smoked meats like my dad's pastrami or my patented smashburger have convinced her that meat is perfectly acceptable. Still...salmon. She likes fish just fine, but fish that stays pink was always weird for her. Wouldn't touch it.

Notice all that past tense? Not only did Sandy alert me to the existence of this new TJ's smoked salmon, she dragged me to the store to buy it, and spotted it when I couldn't, and completely insisted we have it for dinner, forgoing bacon out of all things. Dang, girl.

And it's well worth it. This salmon is pretty dang good. Is it the seasoning? As previously reviewed, the Everything but the Bagel seasoning is absolutely delish. It's everything from an everything bagel, except the bagel. Duh. And of course it goes well on almost everything, including bagels, but in this case also on salmon, which we placed, namely, on a bagel, nova lox style.

It helps that the salmon itself is really mild, non fishy Atlantic salmon. As good as Pacific? Nah...but good. The fish gives an excellent base for the ample amounts of garlic an onion and everything else to really kinda spread out and express itself. It's really almost creamy too, and soft, as opposed to fleshy or even meaty. It's closer to, say, prosciutto than a sliced fish filet.

It's $5.49 for the smallish two serving package, which is about the going rate for these type of deals. So savor it a little bit, eh? We sure did, even though our nearly seven year old scowled through almost every small bite we gave her. That poor child, she doesn't know any better....yet. Her mama sure learned though. Go get it and don't regret it. Thumbs up all around.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Seasoned Smoked Salmon: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons