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Friday, October 11, 2019

Trader Joe's Apple Cider Cookies

Can there be anything better than some good ol' apple cider?

Drink it cold. mmm, refreshment. So much more refined than apple juice. All that pressed apple goodness...but cold. Sweet and a little spicy from nutmeg and cloves and whatnot. I could guzzle it by the gallon.

Drink it hot. Oh goodness. Perfect for those times when coffee wouldn't be right but a cup of tea just wouldn't do. Let those flavors expand and deepen and warm ya up on a cold windy fall day.

And it goes practically without saying that hard apple cider or even apple cider-flavored bourbons are pretty darn good for their own reasons as well.

And then there's apple cider cake, apple cider donuts....and things like Teader Joe's Apple Cider Cookies. Apple cider in edible, crunchified, not drinkable form. What a wonderful world in which we live.

Not gonna lie: as a family we LOVE these cookies. My one daughter wants to give them 245 golden spoons if she could, which I'm fairly certain would be a blog record. Practically every one of us fervently begs for them, and I may or may not have eaten half the container yesterday.

There's no mistaking the true apple cider taste of these cookies. They're apple-y sweet, with a small bit of tartness, just like a good regular apple cider. There's a small touch of the usual cider spices to round them out. Pretty awesome, although a bit hard. I would have preferred a crumblier cookie for more of a "melt-in-your-mouth" feel but seeing as that apple puree is an ingredient here, that may not have been possible. They're also a bit on the dry side, but there's a perfect remedy for that...

Yes, they do combine well with milk, but that's not what I had in mind. If you happen to have a little TJ's cinnamon bun spread, or even better, maple butter on hand, put a little dab on and make a little sandwich cookie. You'll thank me. It's like a full taste of fall, completely sans basic pumpkin spice craziness. Awesome.

We love 'em. $3.49 for a good sized tub. Go get 'em. Cidertastic.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Apple Cider Cookies: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Trader Joe's Fall Leaf Corn Tortilla Chips

I'll never forget my 9th grade biology leaf project. We had to collect and meticulously preserve dozens and dozens of leaves from different tree species around our area. The process involved begging one's parents and/or older siblings to drive all over Franklin County, PA looking for various types of trees, plucking a number of pristine specimens from the branches, and then painstakingly placing them between construction paper and contact paper. We had to label them, write about them, be able share several facts about them, and we most definitely had to know their scientific binomial nomenclature.

"Mr. Rodgers!" Mrs Grove's voice boomed. "What is the common name for Acer Rubrum???" If I'd have said anything other than the correct answer, I'd have been humiliated in front of my classmates. There'd have been some insult to my intelligence as well as a personal slander of some sort. Tidbits of local gossip were fair game. It was terrifying. Fortunately, I'd studied the night before and remembered that, in fact, Acer Rubrum meant "red maple."


Unfortunately, that's about all I remember from Louise Grove's Advanced Biology class. And knowing the binomial nomenclature for various trees has come in handy exactly zero times in the real world. I mean, I might have impressed a nerdy girl or two in college as we walked around campus at Penn State in the fall, but nothing ever came of those moments, either. I can confidently say that some of these chips are shaped like maple leaves and oak leaves. What that third kind is—that kind of ovally, rounded one with a pointed tip—well, your guess is as good as mine.

In the end, it doesn't matter. The colors and shapes all taste the same. Fortunately, they all taste like good quality stone-ground corn with some salt and oil. They're not too thick, not too thin, and nice and crunchy. 

They're perfect for dipping, or as the back of the bag states, "for awesomely autumnal nachos." We've been having them with the harvest salsa, and the pairing works very well. They'd go well with just about any kind of salsa for that matter, but you know, we're just sticking with the fall theme we've got going on here. The chips are prone to getting stale rather quickly. We stored "in a cool, dry place" as per the bag, but they're noticeably less fresh after having been open just a day or so. Maybe we should've poured the remainder of the bag into tupperware...?

Fun fall-themed snacks. No pumpkin, no apple, no maple flavor. Admittedly, they're a bit gimmicky, but they don't disappoint as far as flavor and quality are concerned. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from this guy.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Trader Joe's Savory Corn Pie

Ever buy something, thinking it was one thing, but come to find out, it's something else altogether?

Such is the case here with Trader Joe's Savory Corn Pie.

Yes, yes, I know, I coulda read the package or description a little better. Heck, even the word "pie" is kinda a big hint. But for whatever reason, my mind stopped reading after "Savory Corn" and my eyes focused instead on the picture on the package. So neat...so clean...so wedgy and delicious and, well, savory looking.

It's gotta be corn bread, right?!?!?!? And on one of the first cool nights of fall, after the end of a long week and about to kick up the feet and relax and watch "Hocus Pocus" with the kids, nothing sounded better than a little easy to make corn bread to go with some homemade chili and beer. Sounds perfect.

Except....corn pie is not corn bread. Doh!

I'll give you this: It definitely tastes like corn bread. There's a certain mealiness to it, just like a good cornbread. The pie also features a lot of whole kernel corn, so there's no mistaking it, it tastes like corn. But also a little cheddar up top, and a little light peppery spice, with ample saltiness...yup, if this were cornbread, it'd be a dang good one.

But...it's corn pie.

In addition to all that, there's eggs and other stuff that make this more like maybe a souffle or casserole. It's not quite eggy enough to border on quiche. So it's kinda wet and a bit watery and super dense. The pie is extremely filling.

Really, I can get over the fact that it's pie and not bread - it was my complete lack of simple computational understanding, after all - and say all in all, I enjoyed this, with one big demerit. I baked in the over for the recommended cook time, and when I yanked it out, the top and edges were brown and simmering. Mmmmm. I cut into it...and the middle was still cold. Thawed, yes. Ready to eat? Nah. I think we ended nuking some (kids were clamoring for their movie) but when I reheated some in the oven a few nights later, I made sure it got burny all over. It was much better that way. Perhaps coincidentally, it also tasted and felt much closer to corn bread....I digress.

Good enough pie, good enough buy. For the roughly $3 it cost, it's a good value which will probably be repeated. It's a good autumnal pickup for sure on a cold day. There's no mistaking that.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Savory Corn Pie: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, October 4, 2019

Trader Joe's Maple & Sea Salt Kettle Corn

Seeing this product immediately makes me think of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, when they all ate popcorn and jelly beans for their Turkey Day dinner. I mean, I know it's The Great Pumpkin season, but apparently maple isn't even technically a fall food at all—it's more of a late winter, early spring thing. Feels fall-ish enough to me. 

Anything with colorful leaves on the packaging is autumnal as far as I'm concerned. Even the colors on the bag look Novemberish. And I'm thinking the Peanuts gang would all agree this maple kettle corn is a step up from plain old Pop Secret or whatever they were having.

The kernels are remarkably large, yet light and fluffy for a candied popcorn. They're neither too sweet nor too salty.


The maple flavor itself isn't particularly dominant, but it's there. I might have preferred a wee bit more maple up in the mix—after all, people are going to buy this product because they want the taste of maple. It's what makes this popcorn treat unique.

Trader Joe's went for a subtle taste here, not a sticky, hard-shell of candy or caramelesque coating. It truly is kettle corn with a hint of maple flavor, rather than caramel corn or candied popcorn. You can shovel more than a couple handfuls into your mouth without feeling a massive sweetness shock or getting gummy, pasty sugar stuck on your teeth. It's not very filling, either. 

We just happened to be sipping some Earl Grey tea with a bit of cream when we broke open this bag, and they paired surprisingly well as an afternoon snack. That earthy black tea taste helped balance out the moderate sweet mapley taste of the popcorn, and yet didn't drown it out.

It's very much on par with the pumpkin spice and candy corn flavors that TJ's has rolled out in the past few years. Sonia likes it a bit more than its predecessors. Four and a half stars from her. I just wish I could taste a little more mapliciousness. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Trader Joe's Cinnamon Bun Spread

It's October when I'm sitting down to write this review, but it feels more like July here in the Pittsburgh area.

Temps in the 90s. Humid. Uncomfortable. Close to gaggingly gross. If thunderstorms are angels going bowling, maybe weather like this is when they leave the dishwasher open. It's gonna be another uncomfortable night in our well-insulated 104 year old brick oven of a house. I thought we were gonna be done with this by now.

Hot. Sticky. Just about the only thing I like matching that description is a warm gooey cinnamon bun pulled out of the oven. If only I could make anything I want taste that way....

Hey! Look! It's Trader Joe's Cinnamon Bun Spread!

I guess spread would be the right word for this concoction. It's not like a jelly, jam or sauce. It's almost more like a paste, but that's doesn't sound nearly as appetizing. It's smooth, with the smallest hints of chalkiness, and absolutely gooey especially if warmed. But yes, spread, as it's very easily spreadable.

And incredibly rich. Really. This is absolutely one of those "a little bit goes a long way" type deals. Honey is hitting leadoff on the ingredient list and from there: cream, butter, sugar, spices, vanilla...oh man. It's a lot packed in. What TJ's must be going for here is to try and have the brown sugar/cinnamon and vanilla sugary icing flavors comingling together in one concentrated take. It can all definitely be tasted too so savor it a bit for sure.

It all kinda works, but still, it's a lot. One of the aspects of a truly great cinnamon bun IMHO is balancing and enjoying the sweet and savory flavors against the bready roll itself. No rolls here unless you supply your own. So instead it's super concentrated cinnamon bun flavor, and it can be a bit much...

Not that it stops my kids from slathering it all over their freezer waffles in the morning for a quick and easy "breakfast treat." Spread it on whatever you'd like. My lovely bride enjoys putting a small spoonful in her coffee, which I can see working if you like flavored coffees. I don't really.

Our own picture of the nutritional label turned out kinda blurry so you can check it here, if you dare.

The small jar costs $3.49, and surely as this weather will pass, soon enough this cinnamon spread shall as well. This stuff is much more enjoyable though!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cinnamon Bun Spread: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, September 30, 2019

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pie Spiced Ginger Brew

Ever heard of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon? It's that thing that happens when you just hear of something for the very first time, and thereafter, everybody and his brother seems to be talking about said thing. It's on TV commercials, it comes up at workplace water cooler convos, you overhear folks discussing it in the grocery store—it's something you'd never heard of in all your many years of life and suddenly it seems like the whole world is talking about it constantly.

I had that happen with "Moscow Mules" shortly after my esteemed colleague reviewed the original ginger brew for this blog. Somebody mentioned that it would make a great Moscow Mule in the comments. It came up in a conversation with Sonia soon afterwards, and I had to ask her, "What the heck is a Moscow Mule?" She explained it to me, as she'd ordered one or two in the past and had known about them since long, long ago. I thought, "Hmmm. Okay. Odd that my wife knows about this super obscure mixed drink served in a copper mug and I don't."

My very next trip to the state liquor store, I noticed there were pre-mixed cans of ginger beer and vodka, and they were being marketed as Moscow Mules. I couldn't believe it. How strange, I thought. Then it was mentioned in a movie we were watching, the details of which escape me now. A friend brought up Moscow Mules as an off-handed interjection while we chatted on the phone. It just kept coming up. Over and over and over.

Since then, I've sampled a makeshift Moscow Mule or two, although I have yet to try one in an actual, authentic copper mug. We did add vodka and lime juice to the above-mentioned triple ginger brew, and it did indeed make a tasty concoction.

This stuff? We don't have any vodka on hand to test my theory, but I'm thinking Pumpkin Pie Moscow Mules are just a big fat NOPE. And in all honesty, I'm not over the moon with this pumpkin pie ginger brew in the first place. It's not that I dislike it, it's just that the original is better. If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it. I'm generally okay with pumpkin/pumpkin spice/pumpkin pie offerings around this time of year, and I generally enjoy the flavor when it's appropriate. I just like that plain old ginger flavor better in this case.

I won't say the pumpkin pie spices "clash" with the ginger flavor, but they don't really enhance it, either. They're all just kinda there, whereas before, there was a nice pungent wave of ginger. Now it's a mishmash of ginger, allspice, cardamom, nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon. It tastes vaguely of pumpkin pie spice...and vaguely of a traditional ginger beer.

It's not the worst beverage we've had from Trader Joe's, but it's not the best, either. The presentation of the product is still stellar, the pleasant fizzy carbonation is still there, and as usual, only top-quality ingredients are used. It pours mostly clear, with a faint yellow-orange tint. If you're dying for pumpkin spice beverages beyond those lattes you've been grabbing at the local Starbucks, I won't tell you NOT to get this. I'll just tell you I prefer this particular beverage withOUT the pumpkin spice. And I'm not a pumpkin spice hater...yet. As I might have guessed, Sonia liked it slightly more than I did, but she wasn't bouncing off the walls and singing impromptu songs about fall like she does when they really nail the pumpkin spice thing.

Looks like three stars from me and three and a half from the missus.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Trader Joe's Autumn Maple Coffee

Maple and coffee.

Coffee and maple.

It's absolutely a thing. And no, it's not really all that weird of a combo, like, say, chicken and donuts. In our house, my lovely bride Sandy puts maple in her coffee all the time. I do, occasionally, as well if I need a slight change up from plain black brew.

So to get them together, infused, in something like Trader Joe's Autumn Maple Coffee is a must-buy for us. So how good is it?

Listen: If you haven't figured it out yet, we're mapleoholics here. And as two adults with more-than and close-to full time jobs and a van load of young kids, we're definite coffee addicts too.

But...this stuff is only okay at most.

There's a couple issues. First and foremost: It only comes pre-ground. Wha!?!?!? There is an absolute difference in coffee taste for fresh ground vs pre ground, and for French press vs regular drip. At home, we're French press people...but you need coarse ground for that, less any grounds don't get caught by the filter. We don't have that option here.

So we dragged up our Hamilton Beach BrewMaster from our basement stairs (because where else would you store your coffee maker you usually only use when hosting a large mass of people?) and dug out the paper filters and fired it up.

When hot and ready...ugh. The coffee just doesn't taste right when hot and piping fresh. There's this really almost acidic kinda bite, and it's oddly bittersweet. Instead, wait for the coffee to cool for a few moments. That's when the maple flavor develops a bit more and is actually pleasant.

I've heard from some folks how aromatic the coffee is when brewing. It is quite maply when the bag is opened, but when percolating, at least in our case, not so much.

Some of the issues I mentioned might be mitigated somewhat if you're a cream-and-sugar fan for your coffee. I'm not. So take what I said there whichever way you see fit.

Neither Sandy nor I are huge fans. The maple coffee is a decent buy at best, which is kinda disappointing for us. I'm not sure of the price tag but it's probably around $8 or $9 for the cannister. We'll be charitable and say double threes.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Autumn Maple Coffee: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Trader Joe's Outside-In Stuffed Gnocchi


Finally, it's officially fall. The afternoons are still quite warm here in the midwest, but it was nice and cool yesterday morning, so we were craving something hot and somewhat hearty for lunch. We'd normally do pierogies on that kind of day, but lacking those, we opted for gnocchi. Similar, right? Heated in the skillet with butter and/or oil, potatoes, cheese... I mean, they're not exactly the same, but a pierogi craving could certainly be curbed with gnocchi, no?

I fired up the stove top, took a couple product pics for the blog, and tore open the bag. And then...I followed the heating instructions exactly.

What resulted was nothing resembling pasta or dumplings, but little balls of mashed potatoes with bits of cheese and tomato sauce inside. I mean, "mushy" would be an understatement. The taste was perfectly fine. What's not to like about the taste of potatoes, mozzarella cheese, and something vaguely reminiscent of marinara sauce? Nothing. Delish.


The texture was another story. The gnocchi would often rupture or disintegrate as I stirred them. You can see one specimen in the pic is showing its tomatoey insides there where I accidentally punctured it during the heating process. I took a few bites, somewhat disappointed with the uber-soft squishiness of my gnocchi...but then I discovered a piece that had not been stirred properly. It had sat right in one spot for more than six minutes. It was a deep brown on its underside, nearly burnt. It was perfect! The outer shell was firm, chewy, nearly crispy. 

So...I simply heated the uneaten portion a bit longer. And by "a bit longer," I guess I mean a lot longer. I stopped looking at the clock and just watched the food. Once the gnocchi were all nicely browned, I turned off the burner. After that, these little guys made a great warm lunch on a cool day.

The gnocchi are super-filling and dense. They are indeed like pierogies, but still significantly softer, even when cooked extra long, and their shells are actually potato based, rather than pasta filled with potato. The cheese and sauce are pretty tasty, although there's not quite enough of either. One blurb on the bag states, "The sauce is on the inside!" Farther down in the heating instructions, it says to add your own favorite sauce. Smh. Which is it? Stop sending mixed messages, Mr. Joe.

We ate ours without extra sauce, and we liked them just fine, although Sonia would have preferred a lot more of the tomato-based topping and would have added more if we had it. 

Three and a half stars a piece on this one. $2.99 for a pound. Pretty darn good value if you ask me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Trader Joe's Maple Ginger Cookie Swirl Ice Cream

If you're ever in the area of Waterbury, VT, you'll likely stop by the Ben & Jerry's Factory for at least a scoop of ice cream. Or...you can be like my family and attack a Vermonster as a gang tackle. But regardless, you're likely gonna stop, simply because it's Ben & Jerry's. It's ice cream. It's iconic. It's kinda just what you do without asking.

This doesn't mean that Ben & Jerry's is the best ice cream in Vermont.

Sure, it's the most famous....but you can also buy it anywhere. For an even better ice cream experience, and to miss the occasional hour long wait for a scoop, drive just a little further down Route 100 towards Stowe to Cold Hollow Cider Mill. Or make a quick jaunt to Morse Sugar House right outside Montpelier. Or stop at any other maple shack or cider mill or any cute little country store where you see the magic words "maple cremee," and extra bonus points if you get maple sugar sprinkled atop. Even my kids liked them more than Ben & Jerry's. Take that, Unilever.

It's not quite the same, but man, Trader Joe's Maple Ginger Cookie Swirl Ice Cream is pretty dang good in its own right.

How to begin? Oh man. Just rip off the lid and take a long, deep whiff. Mmmmm. Maple. *drool*. There's no mistaking the scent. It's like a Yankee Candle, but even better, it's okay to eat it!

And eat it you will. Don't even need a scoop and bowl. Just let your spoon slide into the soft ice cream base and navigate around the small ginger cookie dough nibbles interspersed here and there. Let it glide into your mouth and slowly melt over your tongue and let the maple flavor seep in. It's rich and creamy and unbelievably sweet but in an authentic manner. It's real maple syrup used here, probably Grade B as there's unmistakable deep maple taste and plenty enough sugar from the ice cream base to sweeten the whole deal. Ooooooooo.

My only really small nitpicky oh-goodness-why-am-I-even-mentioning-this comment is the ginger cookie swirl. There's plenty enough of it, don't get me wrong. But...it's not gingery enough. I really wanted a ginger bite to play off the maple sweetness and maybe just remind me a little of my favorite TJ's ice cream that has shuffled off this mortal coil. Surprisingly, it's triple ginger snap cookie dough listed on the ingredients...I see that but I don't taste it. There's still some of the pint to go, so maybe I just haven't mined the proper ginger ore quite yet.

The pint cost $3.99 which is about the going rate for a ice cream of this quality. Good thing they printed the nutritional facts for the whole shebang, otherwise I'd be tempted to just plow my way through. Absolutely delicious. No complaints at all from the Mrs, it's plenty enough maple even for her which says a lot. I'll stand by my ginger comment for now, but believe me, we'll be buying this as long as TJ's lets us.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Maple Ginger Cookie Swirl Ice Cream: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Friday, September 20, 2019

Trader Joe's Spicy Shrimp Appetizer Duo

Ah, nothing says "fall" like spicy shrimp appetizers. In fact, I think we might have a Chinese New Year theme going on here. That was only back in February, over seven months ago...but it feels like yesterday, doesn't it? Anyway, I found these in the back of our tiny freezer, covered in frost, which probably served as camouflage for those many months, which might help explain why they weren't reviewed long ago.

I cleared the frost off of the packaging and thought, what the heck? I remembered we had some frozen appetizers hidden away, but for some strange reason, I was thinking they were chicken. Spicy Chicken Appetizer Duo. Weird, huh? Maybe Trader Joe's should offer a box of those, too.

Shrimp appetizer duo it is. So we tried them. And they're definitely worthy of review. I shrimply couldn't resist. I promise it has nothing to do with the fact that we are in desperate need of a TJ's run and haven't purchased any of the new fall items yet. <readers can't see that my fingers are crossed.> Apologies if this item is discontinued or out of stock. Hopefully they'll have them back for the next Chinese New Year season, a mere four months away.


Both items in the duo are quite tasty and high-quality. Let's start with the kung pao shrimp spring rolls. There's a decent bit of shrimp in them—more than I was expecting. There are also veggies, a light, crispy wrapper, and some spicy kung pao flavors. I wouldn't call either of these overly spicy. I wouldn't have minded a great deal more heat, but the overall effect is pleasantly garlicky, salty, and savory, with just a hint of an Asian spice kick.  

You can actually taste the lemongrass in the wontons. It's not over-the-top, though. The wonton bread is nice and thick, yet it's supple and flaky. The meaty insides of the wontons are soft, and they flaunt a fair amount of real shrimp, like their spring roll counterparts.


Other than the lack of heat, our biggest complaint is the lack of dipping sauce. There's a pic of sweet Thai chili or something on the cover art, and as is typical, the words "serving suggestion" are printed in a tiny font right next to it. We didn't have any sauces on hand, but we enjoyed them enough plain that they'll still get thumbs up from both Sonia and I. Fifteen minutes at 450 degrees. $4.99 for package of 12 appetizers. We're looking at four stars from Sonia and three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Trader Joe's Maple Streusel Bread

Pumpkin spice? Where we're going, we don't need pumpkin spice.

*flips down sunglasses*

Yes, yes, I know...it's that time of year. As sure as the turning of leaves and late summer into early fall, here come all the social media posts about pumpkin spice this and that and everything else conceivable. I see them all over the TJ's fan pages. I don't blame you...but I just can't join you. Not that huge a fan.

Give me maple all day every day instead. And if you can, give it to me as the new Trader Joe's Maple Streusel Bread. 

Oh. Mah. Goodness.

Let's not deceive ourselves here. There's nothing healthy about this. Even I cringed a bit looking at the nutritional stats the first time, and I'm no prude. Nor is maple truly an autumnal flavoring - mapling season runs late winter into early spring.

But still. Everything about this maple bread evokes fall. Warm up a slice and taste for yourself. Warm gooey maple ribbons, brown sugar swirls, maple glaze with buttery streusel around the perimeter, densely decadent dough with a hint of mild maple...oh man. Sensory overload. It's like every slice is a syrup-logged piece of French toast, except of being soggy and limp, it's dry bread. It's amazing.

And so, so rich. The first slice was so amazing I had to go back for more. About halfway thru the second, I questioned my judgement. Literally, this stuff sits like a brick in your gut. For a quick and easy breakfast-y kinda deal, I truly appreciate that to keep me going. Pick it up and you'll feel it - the loaf feels way more chunky than it looks.

I mentioned French toast. This streusel bread would probably also make awesome French toast, but man, it tastes so good as is I didn't try that yet. But I will. Ohhhhh I will.

No complaints from me. None. There's almost even a homemade quality to it that I'd love to try and pass off as my own. Your unscrupulous Aunt Millie just might. Sandy loved it as well, though she noted she wished it had even more maple. She's a mapleholic though on the level of Buddy the Elf.

It's $3.99 a loaf which strikes me as a very fair deal. And like squirrels readying themselves for winter, you better bet we'll be stocking up for a long winter ahead. Y'all stick to your pumpkin spice, we'll be quite happy, thank ya.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Maple Streusel Bread: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Pita Chips with Sea Salt

There are instances in life when classic potato chips just won't cut it. Likewise, there's a time and place for tortilla chips...and a time and place to refrain from the consumption of tortilla chips. To everything, turn, turn.

Enter: the pita chip. Thicker, denser, more rigid than its commonplace counterparts, the pita chip has long been a friend of middle eastern condiments like hummus, tzatziki, and zhoug, as the back of this packaging suggests. 

But if there was ever an All-American pita chip, this is it. Made with wheat flour, these pita chips are thick, strong, and crunchy. They'd go great with dense cheddar cheese dips, onion dips, or, as Sonia and I can personally attest, spinach dips.


And yes, in case you were wondering, the product picture in the middle of this review is actually the exact same picture we used for the spinach dip review, although each is cropped differently, as you might have noticed.

We did also try these chips with some non-Trader Joe's hummus. Sonia has been purchasing little single serving packages of Sabra hummus as of late, and they go great with that stuff, too. I just feel like they were born to be paired with that spinach dip for some reason.

There's a fair amount of sodium in these bad boys. But hey, it's sea salt, right? Sea salt doesn't raise your blood pressure, does it? Actually it does. 

And that might be my biggest complaint about these chips. There's too much salt, and I'm not sure it helps the taste all that much. That rich bready flavor and big dramatic crunch are the reasons we'd possibly purchase this offering again. There's not many ingredients, and a thick and rigid texture. 

$2.29 for six ounces of snacky satisfaction. Not a bad value, either. Double fours here.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Trader Joe's Super Sour Scandinavian Swimmers

Coming late summer...to a Trader Joe's near you...from the same geniuses who brought you Scandinavian Swimmers comes a new gummy snack that...will...blow...you...away!

Pucker up...it's Trader Joe's Super Sour Scandinavian Swimmers!

It's time to dive in!

Okay, that was kinda lame intro, but try reading it in the movie trailer voice, so a little deep, booming, and dramatic, and think of this new yummy gummy offering as yet another summer sequel or remake of a classic

And yes, I still chuckle at the name too.

But yeah, if you're familiar with the regular swimmers and are looking for a slightly sour twist, these are the snack for you, no doubt.

Notice I didn't say "super sour," unlike the product name. Slightly sour. Mildly sour. Like, not really all that sour. For reals.

Perhaps Sour Patch Kids aren't the be-all-end-all of sour candies, but they're a good benchmark. These Scandy swimmers are nowhere close. You know how your mouth will hurt and lips sting once too many SPKs have passed them by? That's an impossibility here - the fishies just aren't potent enough.

Like SPKs, the TJ's sour swimmies use crystallized citric acid as the souring agent on the outside. The granules here aren't nearly as big and aren't quite as densely populated. The end result is a rather mild sour effect - it almost ventures more towards tangy than sour. Oh well.

Aside from that, there's a lot to like here. The gummies are soft and inviting, a little chewy, and definitely not stiff. The flavors are kinda fun, though I had to look them up - redberry starfish, (which taste like any red candy) huckleberry dolphins (I would've guessed blue raspberry), orange tangfish (spot on), and strawberry clam shells (a red berry that is different from a redberry, apparently). Yummy and gummy, just how I like my candies. And as always, added bonus of no weird chemicals and artificial colors - just fruit and veggies. Regrettably, also palm oil though. Nothing's perfect.

So in short, there's definitely blockbuster potential here, but like many summer movies, the end product just might not live completely up to the hype. Still enjoyable though. And for $2.99, definitely a good buy. Maybe sneak them into the movies. Paying full retail at the concession stand would definitely be the sourest experience of all.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Super Sour Scandinavian Swimmers: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Trader Joe's Sour Cream Spinach Dip

Even if the weather hasn't changed much, Labor Day has come and gone, and football season is underway here in America. The Skins already have a loss under their belt and my fantasy team is in last place. Oh well. Even if the games are driving me crazy, at least I can enjoy fall beers, chips, and dip on game day.

And this is a decent game day dip. It's super thick and creamy, full of spinach, and isn't half bad tasting. At 80 calories per serving, it's pretty normal as far as spinach dips go in the nutrition info department.

It pairs perfectly with pita chips. The thickness and rigidity of a pita chip helps the dipping situation here. We had the dip with tortilla chips, too, but they tended to break apart as you'd pull them out of the tub. This stuff is simply too thick for traditional chips. I mean, with some care, it can be done, but it's much easier with something a little more on the hefty side. Also, the breadiness of the pita chips complements the sour cream flavor a little better than tortilla chips, in our opinions.

The spinach is plentiful throughout. It's not intrusive, texture-wise. You can taste it to some degree, but it, of course, plays second fiddle to the tangy sour cream flavor. I wouldn't have minded a bit more in the spice department. To be honest, I don't even know what spices go in a good spinach dip. Some more garlic and/or pepper flavor here couldn't have hurt. Sonia thinks the mix is nearly perfect the way it is.

Upon ruminating about this particular condiment, another classic Trader Joe's spinach dip comes to mind: Spinach and Kale Greek Yogurt Dip. It's been a hot minute since we've had that one, but I do remember it being surprisingly good for only 30 calories per serving. The Greek yogurt provided nearly the same amount of tanginess, and the kale...well, the kale at least makes it sound like it's really good for you.

This one isn't quite as fancy or "Trader Joe-ish," but it was a big hit with Sonia. I'll give it a thumbs up as well, but I'm not sure it really stands out that much compared to other spinach dips. $3.49 for ten servings. I'm sure it could be used in recipes for cooking and whatnot. 

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

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Lemonade

Please excuse the slightly disheveled shape the box of Trader Joe's Organic Lemonade pouches is up top of this review. I salvaged it as best I could. You see, my kids drink pretty much only water and milk, with the occasional hot chocolate or fizzy water. Oh, and my four year old likes the last sip of my coffee too...even though I drink it black...weird.

Point is, drinks like this are a downright treat. And when playing in a creek at a picnic with a bunch of friends, when these punchy pouches get busted out, there were shrieks of joy. 

Personally, I've never liked the idea of beverages in pouches. I get it from the ecological standpoint but there's too many bad memories of stained and ruined, CapriSun-soaked Champion shorts from my youth. Seriously, I know of no kid who can do these themselves. I just turned 37 and can barely manage it, can anyone really expect the under-10 crowd to?

But anyways, for what it is, this TJ's lemonade is decent. It's not awesome but not awful either. The comparative competition isn't really all the delicious fresh squeezed juices out there, or those you can make for yourself...I mean, this is from concentrate and all that. It's all the other juice boxes on the shelf, with which I'm not well acquainted with current offerings.

The lemonade itself is pretty well balanced. There's plenty of citric lemonosity but enough sugar to keep it all in check without being overly tart. And there's not that much added sugar, I don't think, for being what it is. It's smooth, pulp free, and can definitely be a touch refreshing. There's no sticky sweetness or odd aftertaste or anything. It works.

I'd prefer lemonade more on the tart side, with the pulp and what not, but something tells me as the middle aged guy in this conversation that I'm not the target audience here. Yeah, at the aforementioned picnic, I was more after the adult beverages while trying to ensure no one was in danger of drowning. I'm not 100% sure of the price on these, as a friend of ours brought them in, but probably in the $4ish range for eight pouches. Correct me if I'm wrong please. All the kids at the picnic liked them enough for me to give 'em a score higher than I would otherwise.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Lemonade: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, September 6, 2019

Trader Joe's Chocolate Peanut Butter Light Ice Cream

After posting our review of the Light Cookies & Cream ice cream flavor, a number of readers asserted that this Peanut Butter Chocolate version was even better. So, naturally, we had to check it out ourselves.

I'll give you the TL;DR up front—I agree with those readers, Sonia does not. 

I've always had an affinity for peanut butter, most peanut butter flavored products, and definitely any ice cream that can work the luscious, protein and good-fat-rich, creamy, buttery, legumey goodness of peanut butter into its mix in any sort of competent manner. Sonia likes peanut butter okay, but isn't particularly fond of peanut butter in her ice cream. Fair enough.

I also think peanut butter lends itself to this "protein shake in my ice cream" vibe that these light ice creams are throwing our way, or at least it works better with peanut butter than it does with sandwich cookies. I will never in a million years make the assertion that ANY of these diet ice creams even come close to the real thing, but I must admit the calorie count is dramatically lower than a pint of the full-calorie stuff.


This ice cream flaunts a rich chocolate look to it—it's a deep brown, nearly appearing like brownie batter. Each bite has plenty of chocolate flavor, and to a lesser extent, peanut butter. But there are ribbons of actual peanut butter throughout. Those bites are my favorite. There's a huge amount of peanut butter taste when you find those hidden caches of cold, stiff peanut butter that rapidly soften and melt in your mouth. My only complaint with this flavor is that there's not quite enough peanut butter. Sonia disagrees.

I'd put this very high in the running for best light ice cream flavor I've ever had, and if you're an ice cream hog like I am, you're only looking at 370 calories for the entire container. On the other hand, if I were seriously counting calories, I'd probably just get a pint of Chubby Hubby and eat it in two sittings instead of one. Still this gets a big thumbs up from me. Four stars.


Three from Sonia, who insists the Cookies & Cream one is better.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Trader Joe's Soy Slices Cheese Alternative

As a general rule, my lovely bride Sandy and I don't talk about or share pictures of our kids on social media too often, if ever. Yeah, it is kinda fun and occasionally therapeutic to make those kinda posts, but we kinda want a little privacy for them. If my folks were to make a digital diary of everything I ever did as a kid....*shudder*. I mean, even some of the stuff I wore  - fashionable at the time, now cringe worthy. If my grandma were still with us, she'd be sure to read this then find a picture of me in my old super baggy hooded t shirt with the the vertical thick purple and white stripes and matching purple shorts as I looked "so handsome in my purple suit."

But I will share this: *one* of our kiddos who shall remain nameless online has a dairy issue. Too much milk and this particular rugrat has some digestive issues the next day where this kiddo cannot, well, go. It stops 'em up. But of course like any youngyin, this kiddo loves cheese. So whatcha gonna do?

Check out Trader Joy's Soy Slices Cheese Alternative, that's what.

I'll never personally like any alternative cheese product as much as the real thing, but for what they are, these slices aren't too bad. Think Kraft Single, and that's a decent approximation. Is a Kraft Single necessarily good cheese? Nah. Are they good compared to some? Sure.

And does it melt? Like Velveeta.

Interestingly, these soy boys refused to melt atop the burgers I made the other night. Flat out wouldn't. But when Sandy made both grilled cheese and quesadillas with them, they turned into practical pools of oozing yellow.

In any event, the cheez is what it is: mild,a touch salty, soft, cheddar-like enough. Not super high quality but not awful either. Our kids like 'em enough. I will say if packing for a snack or on the go and they get a little warm, these slices do tend to sweat quite a bit and get a little slimy, so there's that.

It is worth it to note that while being 99% lactose free (and therefore neutral to our kiddo's digestive tract), there is casein as an ingredient, so these would be worth avoiding still if an issue for you. And they are not vegan or vegetarian either.

For about $3 it's a fair price and given the needs of our kids, I'm sure we'll buy these often. It is kinda nice to have a dairy/lactose almost-free cheese option that's a veritable slice and not just shreds. In short, these slices suit us just fine. Double threes.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Soy Slices Cheese Alternative: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, August 30, 2019

Trader Joe's Shortcake Biscuits

As a boy growing up in the 80's, I was into Masters of the Universe and Transformers, as were the vast majority of my male friends. While it wasn't our thing, of course, we were well-aware of Strawberry Shortcake, a favorite among our young female counterparts. Likewise, Sonia, another child of The "Me" Decade, grew up a huge fan of the fruit-themed cartoon. In fact, her childhood bedroom flaunted a Strawberry Shortcake sheet set for a time.

Because of the television show's universality among our age group in particular, I spent most of my childhood—and adolescence, for that matter—associating the term "strawberry shortcake" with a red-headed cartoon character dressed in pink and white, topped with an oversized strawberry-patterned hat, rather than the delicious non-gender-specific dessert that it actually is. I don't think I even tried strawberry shortcake until young adulthood. I mean, it's not like I avoided it on purpose. I just never sought it out. Nowadays, I get a hankerin' every once in a while. Fresh fruit, whipped cream, and shortcake seems a bit lighter and more appropriate as a warm weather dessert than, say, oily, icing-laden birthday cake.


We had these biscuits with Reddi Wip Non-Dairy with Almond Milk and frozen strawberries. All three ingredients were slightly more shelf-stable versions of their traditional equivalents. These shortcake biscuits are exactly what you might assume they are—shortcake, but in biscuit form. They're denser, firmer, and drier than freshly-made shortcake. Sonia said they reminded her of scones. I totally agree. They're like plain scone bread with a lightly-sweet shortbread flavor—almost like hardtack, but significantly more dessert-like and pleasant.


Sonia remarked that she's had biscuits that taste too salty or too much like baking soda. I'm not sure I know exactly what she's talking about, but I agree with her that these pastries are pleasantly free of such flavors. They do blend well with fruit and whipped cream, as the packaging claims. I wouldn't say they're a perfect substitute for freshly made shortbread, but they're adequate for this not-completely-fresh makeshift version of the dessert that we concocted yesterday. 

$2.99 for four biscuits. Four stars from Sonia. Three from me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Trader Joe's Blueberry Muffins

Remember that Seinfeld episode about muffin tops? I scarcely do. It's been a while since I've sat down and watched any TV, let alone any '90s reruns. But I recall there being one about muffin tops...something about Elaine having a bakery that only sold the tops and had a hard time unloading the bottoms or "stumps". Like not even a homeless shelter wanted them. Does that sound about right? The whole point being, of course, that muffins tops are the best part of the muffin. Like most Seinfeld plots, of course it's a fairly preposterous scenario...while still somewhat rooted in a bit of reality 

This vague recollection sprung into my head while munching on a Trader Joe's Blueberry Muffin. Apparently I'm on a muffin kick this month...no matter. Gotta indulge every once in a while.

Definitely, the muffin top here is far superior to the muffin stump. It's probably for no other reason than the little sprinkling of crunchy sugar crystals encrusted up on top. There's not a whole lot of it, not nearly enough to make your teeth hurt, but just enough to help sweeten the whole thing up.

Add in the slightly crispier exterior bite, and maybe a touch extra of lemon zest, and there it is. This is one good muffin top.

The rest? Eh. It's sort of an ordinary blueberry muffin. Which isn't exactly a complaint. I'd be perfectly happy buying a muffin like this at a bakery or coffee shop, or making one of them at home that tasted just like this one. So I like them. But there's not anything too terribly special that puts them apart and above and beyond the competition. I mean, it's just...a muffin. Meh.

And unlike the recently reviewed almond muffins, there's not enough here to keep me full and going for a while, either. It's not an empty 360 calories per serving, but they're not exactly efficient either. I ate one alongside a cup of coffee and was hungry again within two hours.

Average muffins. That's about all. If only the whole thing was as good as the top...oh well. Maybe that Seinfeld episode had a bit more truth than usual to it. Double threes from my lovely bride and me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Blueberry Muffins: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Trader Joe's Joe-Joe's Cookies & Cream Light Ice Cream


Halo Top. Arctic Zero. Enlightened. Even other store brands. Everybody's jumping on the light ice cream band wagon. Shouldn't it be "lite" ice cream, though? The old, formal, traditional spelling is so...heavy, dontcha think?

The idea of diet ice creams pre-dates this latest wave of lite offerings by at least a few decades, but it's as if they just recently realized that they don't have to make these reduced calorie offerings taste disgusting. I guess it's the advent of stevia...? I mean, there's still cane sugar, powdered sugar, cream, and eggs in this concoction—even Joe-Joe's cookies. 

So what's the secret? If it's not painfully apparent already, I'll let you know that I'm no food scientist. Could it be the "steviol glycosides"?? The dextrose? The monk fruit extract?


Wait a minute. What the heck is a monk fruit? And what is its extract doing in my cookies n' cream ice cream?

I may never answer any of these questions in my lifetime, let alone in the next few paragraphs of this review, so let's just move on to what I can tell you about this new product from Trader Joe's...

In short, it's not nearly as disgusting as the diet ice creams that were around decades ago, but it still tastes like diet ice cream.

There's a thick, rich quality to it that I've noticed in some of the other "healthy" ice cream offerings I've tried in the past couple years. I guess it's the milk protein concentrate. It's almost as if they added a protein shake into the ice cream mix. It's a little "pasty" for lack of a better word, but it blends surprisingly well with the flavor of the ice cream and cookies in this particular instance. It's still not a taste I'd ever crave over traditional full-calorie ice cream, although Sonia was even more okay with this "protein powder effect" than I was.


For the most part, the Joe-Joe's are far and few between, and they're little more than crumbs here. We're about half way through the pint at the time of the composition of this review, and there was only one notable exception to that rule so far—there was about a quarter of a full Joe-Joe cookie wedged into the mix near the top of the container. It was nice to have that big slab of cookie, but no amount of Joe-Joe's would ever make this my favorite cookies n' cream ice cream.

If you're into reduced calorie ice creams, I guess this flavor is worth a try. Flavor-wise, it's no replacement for the real thing in my opinion, but it's on par with most other light ice cream offerings on the market right now. $2.99 for a pint isn't a bad price point when compared with other brands. Also, lots of protein here, and only 100 calories per serving. 

Three stars from me. Four from the better half.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.