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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Trader Joe's Over the River & Through the Wood Trek Mix

Over the river and through the wood
On our busy lives we go!
Does TJ's know a way
For our hunger to be slayed
Oh please, don't tell me no!

I could go on...but we're all busy here. Tis the season. I'd much rather just go right into the details of this newish tantalizing looking snack, Trader Joe's Over the River & Through the Wood Trex Mix.

Man, there's a lot in here. It's almost easier to list what isn't in than what is. There's a lot of almonds, piles of pepitas, a plethora of pecans, copious cranberries, a peck of pistachios, and a plentiful prosperity of pretzels of the chocolate covered variety...in both dark and white chocolate.  Don't like anything in there? You must be crazy.

Really, it's a good mix. There seems to be the most of the almonds, pepitas and cranberries, which isn't a bad thing. If I wanted a bag chock-full of chocolate covered pretzels, I could buy one. Everything is crunchy and munchy and melds together well enough, with a couple noteworthy bits.

The MVP of the trek mix has got to be the pecans. The bag says they're pumpkin spiced, and there's definitely a little of that kinda flavor to them. But it's more mild cinnamon and ginger than over the top, slap ya outta your Uggs pumpkin spice which I more or less loathe. SO enjoyable, with a soft roasted bite, and there's a good amount of full pecans as well as itty bitty pieces, that really make the mouthful when present.

As for the LVP? It's almost unfair, but if I ahd to pick one, it'd be the sweetened dry cranberries. I like 'em just fine, but their tartness overrides most of the other ingredients when they're around. They mesh the least well with anything else here, so that's why I'd pick them. Part of me would almost prefer boring old raisins, but then I'd probably complain about boring old raisins, so maybe there's just no pleasing me here.

Everything else is on point. Love the chocolate pretzels in particular too. The pepitas are pepitas - what else can be said? Yum. Pistachios are always welcome, especially when there's no need to shell them. Just a small handful goes a long way.

Great mix. Highly enjoyable. Reasonably priced - well, I'm assuming so, misplaced the receipt, wife doesn't remember, I wasn't there at time of purchase, so one of y'all can fill us in. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Over the River & Through the Wood Trek Mix: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, December 9, 2019

Trader Joe's Cheesecake in a Bite


These little bites are, in fact, little more than bites. They're very small. If I would have read the box carefully before purchasing, I would have seen that the pic on the cover art does include a disclaimer about the image being "enlarged to show texture." On the back of the packaging, however, there's a much smaller pic of a cheesecake in a bite with the caption "actual size."

Another interesting point to ponder before even taking a taste of these little bite-sized cheesecakes: the preparation instructions. "Defrost at room temperature for 3-4 minutes." Three or four minutes? I'm not sure how hot these folks have their houses, but I wouldn't think 72 degrees could thaw anything in 3-4 minutes. Keeping Tiago the Tioga, our house on wheels, at 72 degrees is a near impossibility in our current climate. A small price to pay for the freedom we enjoy. But we're about to hit a stretch that won't see above-freezing temps for four whole days. We're more than comfortable in the low to mid 60's in our coach, and our multiple propane Buddy Heaters and electric space heaters keep the living areas in that ballpark pretty consistently.


So we simply defrosted for a few extra minutes. The cheesecake bites were thoroughly thawed, surprisingly. Their texture is exactly what you'd expect from cheesecake. The top part is smooth, creamy, and soft. The bottom provides some structural stability and a more cookie-like texture.

The tastes? Somewhere between good and great, in my opinion. Peppermint isn't necessarily a cheesecake flavor I'd ever seek out. I don't hate peppermint. I just think there are tons of other flavors I'd rather see cheesecake-ified. If you're on the hunt for an indulgent, creamy version of peppermint, the peppermint flavor in this cheesecake bite collection might be exactly what you're looking for. Flaunting a bit of chocolate flavor, too, it's not unlike a classic peppermint patty in cheesecake form.

I felt the gingersnap spice flavor tasted a lot like pumpkin pie, sans the pumpkin. Ginger is usually one of the dominant spices in a pumpkin pie or pumpkin cheesecake, so it makes sense this would taste a lot like pumpkin pie. There's also cinnamon up in the mix, as well as a hint of molasses. My favorite, Sonia's second favorite.


The maple vanilla flavor is pretty tasty. You can detect both distinct maple and vanilla flavors. I think maple could have easily overshadowed the vanilla if they hadn't taken any care to balance the two precisely. It's a bit like what I might have guessed pouring maple syrup on plain vanilla cheesecake might taste like, but perhaps a tad less messy. This was Sonia's preferred flavor out of the three, my second. 

I give Trader Joe's Cheesecake in a Bite collection three and a half stars. I've tasted better cheesecake in my day, but the presentation is nice, and there's nothing really lacking. It will all come down to your own personal affinity for the three somewhat unusual flavors they've selected for this product.

$5.99 for 12 cheesecake bites. Sonia's score? Four out of five stars.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Trader Joe's Ginger Snowball Cookies

Prepare ye the annual holiday cookie onslaught!

You know how it is. Every year around this time...cookies cookies cookies. Cookies here. Cookies there. As my five year old would gratuitously add, cookies in your underwear. Well, probably not there, but if you did, who am I to judge? We all need to get through our days somehow.

Cookies cookies cookies...so I didn't really need to buy Trader Joe's Ginger Snowball Cookies...but yet here we are.

There's not much reinventing of the wheel here. If you're thinking these look like fairly typical holidayesque pfeffernüsse, you're on the right track. Soft, crumbly, buttery, lots of excess powdered sugar to dry up your mouth and cough out and make a flurry fall on your sweater...yeah, these check all those marks.

As a redhead myself, the phrase used on the package though kinda makes me blush. "Studded with ginger," it says. I mean...well, I don't know what I mean. But you know what I mean.

What Trader Joe's means by that particular phrase is interspersed throughout the cookies are little bits of candied ginger. These ginger pebbles will either make or break the cookies for you. There's two things about them. First, the flavor is really particularly mild. Ginger can be really over the top or under the radar, and TJ's chose the latter here. I kinda like it, but I want more ginger taste. And second, for the unsuspecting, their presence really interrupts the bite path. It's not quite like biting into a rock, but the rest of the cookie is so soft and crumbly that hitting as hard spot kinda interfered with the whole experience. Instud of these "studs", as it were, I'd prefer the flavor to be amped up and disseminated throughout the dough, maybe like a triple ginger snap reimagined as pfeffernüsse.

So yeah. We have our annual cookie party coming up, and these will likely not be on the tray. It's not out of hate or spite, but well I spent five hours baking yesterday so I'd rather have the fruits of my efforts be on display. But when that's not a possibility, I'd consider buying again for the $3 or so. They're good enough I s'pose.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Ginger Snowball Cookies: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Trader Joe's Cauliflower Gratin


After checking out an odd pasta plus cauliflower dish from Trader Joe's recently, numerous readers mentioned this particular pasta-free dish as an even lower carb, lower-calorie alternative. There are breadcrumbs in this cauliflower gratin, so it's neither completely carb-free nor gluten-free, but it does contain significantly fewer carbs and calories.

It's apparently only a seasonal dish, but it was still available on our last Trader Joe's run, thankfully. Sometimes I think "seasonal" at TJ's means "we get exactly one shipment a year, and if you miss out, just cross your fingers we'll get one more shipment next year about this time."

Anyway, we were curious to see how it would compare to the cauli and shells combo. Both dishes are refrigerated, not frozen, and they come with "best by" dates printed on the packages. I'd prefer them to be frozen so there's not a gun pointed at your head to eat them soon after purchase, but then I guess there's that whole "freshness" issue...




I digress.

There's plenty of flavor in Trader Joe's Cauliflower Gratin. There's a four cheese blend flaunting parmesan, asiago, fontina, and provolone. The cauliflower chunks are much larger in this dish, and I feel like they're slightly softer, but there's still a nice roasted quality to them, and they taste great alongside the copious cheese. The breadcrumbs were more plentiful here—another reason I enjoyed this gratin offering more than its predecessor. They're not panko this time—just regular wheat-based breadcrumbs with some herb flavoring.

Sonia raved about the taste and texture as she quickly downed her share of the dish. She was shocked at the conservative numbers on the nutrition facts at first glance, although if you pay attention, they're not as low as one might think initially. The recommended serving size of this product is half a cup, as compared with a whole cup on the cauli & pasta shell combo. They want us to eat half as much cauliflower gratin and somehow stretch a package to three and a half servings. Nope. Not gonna happen. This is two servings at best.




Both products are the same price: $4.99. In the end, this will get a thumbs up from both of us. We like it just a tad more than the very similar dish with pasta. The cheese combo and breadcrumb elements in the cauliflower gratin seem just slightly higher quality to me. Four stars apiece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.


Monday, December 2, 2019

Trader Joe's Crispy Rice Salmon Bites

Whatsfordinnerwhatsfordinnerwhatsfordinnerwhatsfordinnerwhatsfordinnerwhatsfordinnerwhatsfordinnerwhatsfordinnerwhatsfordinner......

If you're a guardian of some miniature trolls AKA have some young kids in the house, no doubt that's a familiar refrain. Undoubtedly it is for my lovely bride, with whom I just celebrated ten years of mostly married bliss, and I.

To combat, I troll right back. With hamsters.

Think Bubba Shrimp...except hamsters. Hamster stew. Hamster steak. Fried hamsters. Hamster meatballs. Hamster omelettes. Mashed hamsters. Grilled hamsters. Hamster flambe.  At least what's I tell them, making it up, over and over again until they stop nagging me.

Of course, they never really believe me, until I told them that Trader Joe's Crispy Rice Salmon Bites were hamster nuggets with a side of hamster sauce. The juvenile gulps were barely audible at the sound of the news.

Yeah, I can assure you these bites are definitely not hamster. TJ's does have a somewhat spotty history with salmon products but has mostly been on the upswing as of late. I think these continue the trend.

For $6.99, you get twelve respectively sized chunks battered somewhat tempura style with rice flour and spices. The breading does seem to crisp up pretty well while baking and maintain its texture without getting soggy over the fish. That's good news - nobody sane likes soggy nuggets. It does add a little bit of flavor, too, for sure, but pretty mildly so, leaving most of the flavor to the salmon.

So here's the thing. We do enjoy salmon in our family - well, 75% of our voters, at least - but mostly we do cold smoked on bagels, so actual fleshy chunks are a somewhat unfamiliar form to us. Perhaps that's why the strike me as a little bland - it may be the unfamiliarity of the protein more than anything else. There's part of me that feels I'd really enjoy chicken a lot more in this form than salmon. There's nothing wrong with the fish - it's perfectly fine - but just a bit fleshy and subtly flavored.

So that's why TJ's put in dynamite sauce! Kaboom!

What's dynamite sauce? Apparently it's like a sriracha/mayo remoulade with some soy sauce mixed in as well. I don't think it stands well on it's own - the soy adds a cloying sweetness that strips the sauce of much of its spiciness. I don't want to have a bottle of this separately. But when drizzled over or dunked with the salmon bites, it works, adding flavor that works well with the natural fish flavor without overpowering it. There's also plenty to go around. Our kids hated it - "too spicy!" they claimed, which is code for having flavor other than straight up salt - while I was indifferent. Sandy thinks it'd taste great on a burger.

Well, there you go. Serve as a hot appetizer or a side dish like we did to go along with some veggie soup. The TJ's salmon bites are a little different, and an interesting take. We'll probably buy once or twice again. Mostly thumbs up, with added points for not actually being hamsters.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crispy Rice Salmon Bites: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons