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Friday, August 16, 2019

Trader Joe's Lemon Basil Pasta Salad

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Trader Joe's Peruvian Potato Chips

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

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

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

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

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

Not. Salty. At. All.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 12, 2019

Trader Joe's Chocolate Hummus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three stars from Sonia. Two from me.

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Juice Shots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Trader Joe's Italian Bomba Hot Pepper Sauce

Fermented Italian condiments? So hot right now.

So, so hot.

And so, so good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 2, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Beary Tiny Gummies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.