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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Bisque

I've whined enough times about the discontinued tomato bisque. Amy's brand is pretty darn close, so I won't harp on about that in this post. But I will say I'm always on the lookout for a bisque experience on par with that superb—ahem, "soup herb"—tomato version.

This offering comes close in terms of quality and taste, but it's really a whole different animal altogether. It's not like tomato bisque with pumpkin instead of tomato. It is what it is, if you know what I mean. No?

Let me describe it for you. This bisque is smooth. There are no chunks of squash or pumpkin. There are tiny flecks of something—pumpkin puree I assume—but nothing to really add any body or texture. I really don't like perfectly smooth soup unless I have something to dunk into it...or crackers to crumble into it.

The flavor is shockingly sweet—honey sweet. Almost too sweet for my taste. There is a savory aspect to it, and you can definitely taste the squashy pumpkin flavor, but it needs something to balance out its sweetness in my opinion. It's creamy, and there are plenty of secondary herb flavors to keep it interesting: garlic, tahini, and onion to name a few.


Fat content? Oh my. One jar has well over a day's value of fat, saturated fat, and sodium. If this isn't one of your favorite fall items, it might not make your shopping list every time you head to TJ's just because it's on par with an indulgent dessert as far as those stats are concerned. And I should point out that this jar is more like two servings instead of the three they're claiming on the nutrition label.

After trying it by itself, I decided to mix it with some leftover potatoes O'Brien. It worked for me better than the plain bisque did. The taters added some starchiness and firmness to the texture and the flavors blended pretty well, with both elements featuring garlic, onions, and salt. It might seem an odd combo to some, but I'd prefer a potato pumpkin bisque to something totally void of veggie chunks.


Overall, it's good. It's not what I expected. Crazy sweet in my opinion. Sonia liked it a lot more than I did upon first impressions. She was torn between four and a half and four stars, but opted for the latter in the end after she glanced at the nutrition info. It took me quite a while to decide how I feel about it. I was torn between three and three and a half, and I went with the lower of those two since it's just so cloyingly sweet, especially when eaten by itself. But I must admit, it's a unique flavor: sweet pumpkin that's nothing like pumpkin pie or traditional pumpkin spice. I'd say a more fitting name for this product would be "Honey Harvest Bisque." $3.99 for the jar. 

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Trader Joe's Angus Beef Chili

There's nothing quite like making homemade chili. I love it all...chopping veggies, browning the meat, tasting and adding spices while it simmers in a crock pot. It's so relaxing and one of my favorite cold day activities.

Unfortunately I don't make very good chili.

Or so I gather. No one else in my family touches mine. I've put forth a great amount of effort into various chili cook-offs over the years and have always come in last, or close to it. I don't know what anyone else's problem is, it's perfectly good...but it leaves a lot for one guy like me to eat.

Fortunately, when the chili bug hits me, I now have Trader Joe's Angus Beef Chili.

Oh, I'll still make my own, no doubt, if for no other reason than spite all you haters. But for a quick, ready to heat, no hours of preparation needed bite, this stuff'll do just fine.

Let's see, what's to like here....pretty much everything. Angus beef is the number one ingredient, so there's plenty of meat here, in small soft pieces. It's not quite ground or shredded...it's just pieces. And it's delicious. Lots of beans, beans, the magical fruit too to really fill it all out. And it's all a pretty smooth, go down easy blend, without any big chunks of anything. Most of the beans seem to have disintegrated into the final product which is alright by me.

The pepper spice indicator on the side says this is about medium heat. Seems accurate to me. It could be spicier, but I didn't need to add anything to enjoy the chili, either. There's plenty of peppery garlicky tomatoey spicy goodness as is, which blends well with any fixin's like cheddar or cornbread. Heck, one morning last week when it was just me around I hardfried a couple eggs and had this over top. Delish.

Plenty filling. Plenty warming. Plenty good. The tub says it's a two serving container....seems low to me. I could have made this into three or more meals. Good stuff. And at a decently reasonable price (either $3.99 or $4.99) it's a good buy for when I don't need a crockpot of literally my own jamming up the fridge for a couple weeks. It's just me here grading this, so I'll go double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Angus Beef Chili: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, October 18, 2019

Trader Joe's Autumnal Harvest Alfredo Sauce


Ah, there's nothing like the savory flavors of fall...squash, pumpkin, spices. Each year, we enjoy them all season long, from the first chilly autumn evening until well after Thanksgiving. They're delicious by themselves or all mixed together. Throw them all in a white pasta sauce and what do you get?

A disappointing bland paste that'll coat your dinner with sadness.

I'm sorry, but that's just how I feel. Sonia was thoroughly disappointed, too. There's very little in the way of squash flavor here. Simply eating an actual squash is far more flavorful. Absolutely none of the flavors come through the way they should. Parmesan and gruyere cheeses? I mean, parmesan, pumpkin, and squash can all be subtle essences, but, I mean...they're usually not THIS subtle.


This product isn't even that creamy. It's not super thick, it doesn't taste like milk, cream, or cheese. It's just a medium-thin, smooth pasta sauce with minuscule granules of butternut squash throughout. They're too small to be called "pieces." I mean, I know the word "pieces" doesn't really carry a size value innately, but a term like "bits" would seem a little more accurate somehow.

Salt, shallot, parsley, nutmeg, and black pepper should yield something with a little more flavor. We served it with brown rice pasta. We cleared our plates, but it was one of the most unsatisfying pasta dishes we've had in a long time. Not that we'd purchase it again, but if we were ever to try this sauce in the future, it might go with spaghetti squash better than any actual pasta. At least in that case, you'll taste squash.

This product should not be confused with the delightful red autumnal pasta sauce. That one's as surprisingly good as this one is surprisingly not.


On the upside, there's nothing particularly offensive about the taste or texture of this sauce..It's not rancid or gag-worthy. They just need to amplify the flavors a hundred-fold. $4.99 is way too much for this tub, in my humble opinion. Two and a half stars from Sonia. Two from me.

Bottom line: 4.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Thai-Style Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup and Trader Joe's Turkey Apple Cheddar Sandwich

Soup and sandwich. Sandwich and soup. It's a classic lunch combo for a reason: it's nearly perfect. Can't argue with it.

Trader Joe's just so happens to have a new ready-to-grab sammich as well as a delicious looking new soup, which I just so happened to pick up and enjoy for lunch the other day, and since I don't really have enopugh to say about them seperately for a full out review of either, may as well make it a combo on here too.

Objections?

Didn't think so. Here we go...


First up: let's soup it up. Trader Joe's Organic Thai-Style Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup. It's in the refrigerated section, plastic tub, costs about $3.99 for a two serving container. Heat and eat, easy as that. And man, if you need a change up from some ol' can of the usual, here you go. It's legit good. There's a lot of flavor depth here, from sweetness from the coconut milk to a slight touch of heat from the red curry and spices, to a certian earthiness form the potatoes and carrots. Overall, it's smooth and not too thivk, with only small diced crrots in there. It's got kinda the overall texture of a decent tomato soup, but tastes way better. The spice does tend to ramp up but never to the point of unpleasantness, maybe registering a three overall on the mild-o-meter. It's warming and filling without being heavy like regfular potato soup, and could potentially be the rare soup that's worthy of all seasons. Solid, solid soup, and a great addition to the line-up, TJ's.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Thai-Style Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

And now it's sandwich time!


Yup, Trader Joe's Turkey Apple Cheddar Sandwich. That's a pretty apt and straightforward description for this sammie. And it works, precisely because it's so simple: couple slabs of smoked turkey, a slice of sharp cheddar, about a third to half an apple's worth of sweet wedges, a little arugula, small dab of dijon mayo, all served on a pretty earthy multigrain roll. Excuse me, it's "rustico"...whatever that means but it sounds good. There's nothing utterly standout about it, but it's just a tasty sandwich that costs $5. I'd gladly pay that for this precise item at like a little cafe somewhere, so it strikes me as a good deal. I wish there were a more definign characteristic for this sandwich to really hang its crust on, but alas. That being said, it'll be a glad rebuy at anytime.


Bottom line: Trader Joe's Turkey Apple Cheddar Sandwich: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Monday, October 14, 2019

Trader Joe's Boo Bark


I just happened to Google the name of this product to refresh my memory on the price of the item, and I came across some people selling it on poshmark for $20. Twenty friggin' dollars! I mean, I knew there was a kind of Trader Joe's black market out there for discontinued and hard-to-find items, but my goodness. That's highway robbery. It's normally $2.99 in the store. I'm guessing it's either done for the season already or it will be very soon. So, unless you're willing to pay an absurd markup to the online scalpers, most of you won't get your hands on this product until fall of 2020, assuming TJ's brings it back.

Also—I love how it's described as "used" by the online re-seller. Lol! I wonder if that means it's half-eaten when you get it.

Anyway...is this product really worth $20? Is it even worth $2.99. I'd say NO to the former question and yes, perhaps, to the latter.

It's mostly milk chocolate. There's also a fair amount of white chocolate in the form of swirls on top of the base, as well as white chocolate eyeballs. It flaunts four or five pieces of candy corn and a bunch of orange "candy gems," AKA generic M&M's. Last but not least, there are Joe-Joe's cookie pieces in the mix.

I was surprised how well all of the elements blended together, to be honest. I feel like somebody somewhere had to put candy corn and chocolate together previously. This can't be the first time it's been done. I was shocked how much I liked it. It doesn't sound good: sweet, waxy triangles with smooth, creamy milk chocolate. But in my humble opinion, they taste pretty darn good together. Sonia's not a fan, but then she hates candy corn.


The cookies, the eyeballs, the M&M's—they all work somehow. Sonia wishes there were more cookies, since they yield a more interesting texture than simple chocolate on chocolate. All of the elements are nothing but sweet, sugary, desserty things—all things kids might get on Halloween. Why not smoosh them all together and make a single slab of chocolatey candy?

For parents that don't let their kids trick or treat, this might be a way to smooth things over with Junior if he just wanted some good candy on All Hallows' Eve—a peace offering, if you will. Sonia thinks this product would be a great favor for fall parties. There's a fun theme going on, and the presentation factor is nice. It's really just a big block of chocolate and Halloween-themed sweets, but if you're not expecting anything more than that, you won't be disappointed. Four stars from me. Sonia was grumpy when she ate her half, so she said "three stars." I know her well, and I'm certain she'd give it a better score had her mood been a little better. So put her down for three and a half, at least.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

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