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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Trader Joe's Pickled Fermented Jalapeño Slices

So, what's your quarantine hobby been?

For me, to help keep myself from going mad, I've gotten a little bit into pickling and fermenting. So for it's been a blast, figuratively speaking and thankfully not literally, yet. I've seen enough explosion videos from home fermenters to know it's a thing. Like Robert Plant once sang, my time is gonna come.

But yeah, I've done a couple things. Sauerkraut, green beans and other assorted veggies, honey garlic, a ginger bug, even some mangoes for my very own amba sauce as well as my own hot sauce. It's been pretty fun, and it gives me something to look forward to, whether it's looking for little bubbles or feasting down.

So, I'm not an expert yet (watch out, Brad Leone) but I know enough to know that pickling and fermenting, while both are delicious processes and have a little overlap, are not the same thing. Here's some more info on all that.

So, naturally, a product like Trader Joe's Pickled Fermented Jalapeño Slices will catch our eye right now.

Can I ferment and/or pickle my own jalapeños? Easily! takes a while, and these are ready to go, and within easy reach. Sometimes you just gotta go with the here and now.

Opening the jar is a pleasant, spicy aroma - it's not overly funky or smelly. Good so far. Don't think of the standard mushy green circle you get with your stadium nachos, these peppers are fresher with a lot more snap to them. That's an even better step in the right direction.

And as far as taste - yep, it seems on point. A little initial sweetness is followed quickly by a little dive towards sour before finishing up with the heat. There's an overall saltiness at play, in a nod towards fermenting, while the total effect seems accentuated with vinegar, which of course would be the pickling. The heat does linger for a bit after but isn't unpleasant, unless you don't really like jalapeños and therefore wouldn't be in the target audience here. Visially, it looks like maybe about half the seeds were removed from the peppers, which might be the right way to balance out heat without too much bitterness.

M lovely bride and I got to enjoying a good bottle of honey mead (another blessing from fermentation, gonna try that soon) while grilling some hot dogs and corn on the cob last night, and got the great idea to put some of these peppers on the hot dogs with some melty knockoff Velveeta...hey, don't judge, you know it was awesome. Simply yes. We're both already looking forward to our upcoming burger night to bust these peppers out again, and hey, I'll get another little glass jar for next basement experimental ferment.

Nothing wrong with these peppers, and of course I'm gonna do my own soon now, but for a commercial batch, Sandy and i would sign off on them with a 4 each.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Pickled Fermented Jalapeño Slices: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, May 22, 2020

Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Greek Style Yogurt Dip

PumpkinMangoCookie ButterCoffee

Trader Joe's latches on to certain themes and just goes downright crazy from time to time. I think we're on our fourth or fifth EBTB product at this point.

The thing about EBTB is that it comes in a shaker. It's designed to be put on/in anything and everything you want to try it with. It'd be pert near impossible to get pumpkin, mango, cookie butter, or coffee in the right ratios in the products that Trader Joe's has offered, but Everything But the Bagel Seasoning? I might be overestimating the average TJ's shopper, but I think we can handle mixing it into stuff ourselves.

If you do internet searches for "Everything But the Bagel Dip" you'll inevitably run across more than one result that mentions "Copycat Everything But the Bagel Dip."

The process for creating this copycat dip goes something like: 1) Take Greek yogurt 2) Add Trader Joe's Everything But the Bagel Seasoning.

As culinarily dim as I can be sometimes, I think even I might have been able to figure that one out.

So...most of our complaints about this product aren't that it tastes bad or has a poor texture, but rather that it couldn't possibly hurt to simply make your own. Sonia wanted lots more EBTB flavor. I thought the amount was just about right, but just for kicks, I tried adding my own, and I felt that the seasoning was somehow a little more crisp and potent when freshly added. 

I felt like something was lost by having the EBTB seasoning submerged in the yogurt indefinitely. The seeds just crackled in my mouth a bit more when they were fresh. I guess seeds don't really get "soggy" but perhaps they were a bit too soft...? Also, by adding your own EBTB to a yogurt dip, you can purposefully keep the dip dry and on top of the mixture, whereas all the elements are thoroughly stirred together in this mixture. An even better idea would be to have two separate little dishes side by side: one with Greek yogurt, and the other with Everything but the Bagel. Then you could roll your yogurt-covered carrot or what have you in the EBTB, getting just as much of it to stick as you'd like. You'd maintain the crunch and dryness of the EBTB while still adding Greek yogurt flavor to the mix.

Taste-wise, there's plenty of Greek yogurt tang in this dip. You can taste most of the constituent seasoning ingredients, as well, although your mileage may vary when it comes to whether you think there's enough of it or not. 

$3.50 for the tub. The nutrition info is innocent enough at 60 calories per serving. It's a tasty condiment, and it goes with just about anything you'd want to eat with yogurt dip. Even though it's traditionally cream cheese you put on a bagel, this works in place of it passably despite its relative thinness, in case you're looking for a lower calorie alternative. 

I just can't see us buying this product again, as we'd almost universally prefer to create our own concoctions with EBTB. Three and a half stars from the missus. Three from me.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Trader Joe's Dill Pickle Hummus

Probably like most of you, I've spent a lot more time with my kids the past two months or so. And like most anything, it's somewhat of a mixed bag. Don't get me wrong, I love e'm a whole heckuva bunch, as I remind them to the point of eyerolls almost every day. They're incredibly smart, creative, funny, and remarkably full of grace. Somehow they took all the best parts of my lovely bride and I and made them even better. 

But man...they're also gross.

Like...please flush. And don't get cat food in the sink and just leave it. Also, I didn't think I'd have to tell them to not put random sticks from the neighborhood creek into their mouths, but here we are...and if given the chance they were double, triple, quadriple, and possibly even quintuple dip a chip into any dip they like.

Like the new Trader Joe's Dill Pickle Hummus, for instance.

We are a hummus and pickle loving fam, for the most part. But never did we think of combining pickles and hummus...although I don't see why not, I guess. There's enough natural overlap and complementary flavors that it could totally be a thing.

And make no mistake: this isn't merely dill pickle flavored hummus...there's dill pickles in the hummus. Just look at the ingredients. It's between the chickpeas and the tahini. Full out dill pickles, blended or mashed or whatevered in.

There's no textural disruption to this. Nah, it's just the classic smooth, creamy, cool hummus mouthfeel. There's some green flakes here and there, but nothing else to really tip off the presence of pickles either by sight or feel.

But taste and smell? Yup. Definitely dill pickles. The dill comes out a bit strong, and the vinegar and whatnot give a little extra tangy sour kick, but it's nothing unwelcome provided you like pickles. It all meshes well with the garlic and other other spices as well as the otherwise traditional earthy hummus taste. It's as smooth and scoopable as the day is long...and these are indeed long days, my friends.

No wonder my kiddos loved digging in their pita chips none stop. Heck, I wanted to, too, as I really didn't want more pita chips...I wanted more pickle hummus. Maybe those kids got my instincts with a little less manners cultivated as of right now...we're working on it. For now, we had to settle for separate bowls for everyone, so everyone could do as they wished. Hooray for more anyone else's dishwasher running nonstop? Ours absolutely is, except when we're doing laundry or we're showering. No wonder the water bill I got yesterday was twice as high as normal. Yeesh. Gonna be one of those summers, but fortunately we got a new tasty TJ hummus to help us get through. It's a tour de fours all around.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dill Pickle Hummus: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, May 18, 2020

Trader Joe's These Sprinkles Walk Into a Sandwich Cookie

I'm cookie-jaded. 

I've just seen way too many cookies from Trader Joe's. They just keep churning them out year after year, and we, foolishly-enough, just keep reviewing them. 

Since Sonia and I don't have any human children of our own, to get a more accurate score, it occurred to me I should hop in the car, drive into a nearby suburban neighborhood, and offer the local kids some of these Sprinkles Walk Into a Sandwich Cookie treats. And it immediately occurred to me thereafter that it might turn into an episode of Nathan Walks Into a Prison Cell if I did that. I mean, I'd have the best intentions, of course. But creepy old bald dudes waving colorful sweets around probably wouldn't be welcome around unfamiliar neighborhoods during these trying and paranoid times. Obviously we do have some friends and acquaintances with kids, but none of them are close-by at the moment. Anyway, I'm getting off the subject.

Cookies. Gosh-darn, freaking, bloody heck. Why'd it have to be cookies? Why did we even buy these cookies, you ask? Because once in a while they impress us. And when you're shopping with low blood sugar, almost anything seems like it'll be appetizing and delicious once you get back home.

So...considering how sick of cookies I am, these are another noble effort on the part of TJ's, I guess. Couldn't they make them organic or throw fair-trade quinoa into them somehow? Guess not. Sprinkles this time. Colorful, festive sprinkles—to celebrate the partial re-opening of our nation or something like that.

We've got above-average quality butter cookies here. They're not soft or anything. They're crispy, which is fine. But I always prefer soft. The sprinkles are super bright and happy, you know, if you're into that sort of thing.

But that buttercream frosting...that's the highlight for me. It's a little sweeter than I would have preferred, but there's a very rich authentic dairy cream flavor that's scrumptious. It's a fresh milky taste that I've never experienced in pre-packaged shelf-stable cookies before. That's what sets these jovial sandwich cookies just a notch above most other big name sandwich cookies I've had.

I can only eat one of these at a time. They're very rich, buttery, super sweet, and dense. They go great with a glass of cold milk. Just one cookie, and I'm ready to down the whole glass, you know, just chugging away.

Repeat purchase? Heck no. Trader Joe's will have some newfangled cookie nonsense we'll have to review before we could ever purchase these again, even if we did have a specific hankerin' for them, which, as good as they are, I don't think would ever really happen. 

To score, I'll suppress the cookie cynic and put myself in the shoes of someone that might be in the mood to eat cookies regularly. Um...three and a half? Yeah that sounds fair. Sonia? Three and a half as well. She's not as jaded about cookies as I am, and she really loved the packaging here, but she was appalled by the fat content at 8g per cookie. Her grown-up cookie-consumer insight of the day: have sugary cookies with coffee to mitigate the sweetness. Brilliant.

Seven stars total seems objective enough to me. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Trader Joe's Many Things Snack Mix

Many things. So...many...things.

Your things might be different than my things, but we all got so many things.

Well, so does our favorite grocer with the new Trader Joe's Many Things Snack Mix. Trader Joe's does many things well, so how do they do Many Things?

Might as well hit this head on: there's really no great reinterpretation of the wheel here. Just a cursory glance in the little product window on the front confirms exactly what the inspiration for this snack bag: the ubiquitous all time American classic chowtime grub Chex Mix. Hats off to Chex, really, for turning a rather mundane breakfast cereal into a snacktime staple that's as famous as it is munchable.

Cereal squares? Pretzels? Peanuts? Little bread chips? Goofy corn stick kinda dealies? Checks (and Chex) all around.

There's a couple small differences. If these were a General Mills product, they'd likely label this as "spicy honey" or some sort of alternate take on the tried and true Worcestershire original. A closer look reveals there's actually two types of cereal squares - "spicy" with a much more reddish appearance, and "honey butter" with a more subdued look. That's not to say the flavors are mutually exclusive, or even all that different, but the spicy ones are slightly spicier while the honey ones slightly more accentuate, well, honey. I don't really taste any butter, though.

The peanuts also are honey roasted, and are kinda interesting. By their lonesome selves, they're not too terribly noteworthy, but occasionally, perhaps in the right random proportion of other snacky tidbits, the flavor "takes off" a littlke bit and "grows." I don't how else to say it, and I can't easily replicate it or state what the exact mix should be to optimize this feature, but there it is.

Everything else is as expected, more or less. The pretzels taste like pretzels, the "savory bread chips" are tasty with a nice little touch of chives. As far as the corn sticks, they taste like corn and salt, no lime detected like the ingredients state. I think some "everything but the elote" style sticks would have been a better choice, but maybe that's just me.

The end result? Tatses like a Chex Mix variation, and a decent, not spectacular, one at that. A couple handfuls pair well with an IPA tall boy, so not gonna argue with that at all. The TJ's snack mix is definitely tasty enough for repeat munching, but unsure for repeat buys unless for a road trip or for a quick snack on the go.

That's about as many things as I can say about Many Things right now, except it's final score.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Many Things Snack Mix: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Trader Joe's Synergistically Seasoned Popcorn

synergy [ sin-er-jee ]
1. the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc.; synergism.
plural synergies
adj synergistic
adv synergistically

You don't see the word "synergistically" used on many food products these days. I've only ever heard "synergy" used in the context of humans working together, but I guess I see how it could be applied to culinary elements instead.

I'm down with various flavor combinations that might initially seem like they'd clash or conflict with one another such as salty and sweetspicy and sweet, and tangy and salty, but throw them all in the same mix together with "smoky," and there's just a little too much going on for this guy's tongue to handle. I think the straw that broke the camel's back for me was the presence of vinegar in the mix. It's right there next to sugar on the ingredients list. Sweet white vinegar? I want it to work, but it just doesn't in my humble opinion.

Also, I'm not in love with the smoky element here. I've tasted "smoky" done very well, and I've tasted it done poorly in more instances than one. I question the authenticity of "natural smoke flavor." What exactly got smoked? I'm going to bet they didn't put the popcorn itself in a smoke house. It might have worked had they done that, but I'm sure it's not practical or cost-effective to smoke each individual piece of popcorn. I'm guessing it's some kind of liquid smoke or additive.

The spiciness by itself works pretty well. It's not too hot, and it gives the popcorn a pleasant pungency. I think I'd really enjoy the flavor if they'd lose the sugar and smoke elements.

Texture-wise, the Trader Joe's Synergistically Seasoned Popcorn is pleasantly crunchy. Most pieces are large and spherical, flaunting a mouthfeel not unlike the Popcorn in a Pickle, for example. As far as color is concerned, they appear a shade of amber-esque light orange—a color you might assume indicated cheddar cheese flavor under normal circumstances. As far as look and feel, this snack is nothing to complain about.

The bag seems oddly oversized. There's an enormous amount of vacant space—even more than other popcorn products from TJ's. I feel like there's the same amount of popcorn in the bag, but the bag is 50% larger than typical popcorn products. It's always disappointing to open a snack bag and find it only half full.

I'm sure there are some adventurous snack enthusiasts that are mad about the flavor of this product. I'd like to say I'm one of them, but I'm afraid this won't be a repeat purchase if I have anything to say about it. I'm not telling you not to try it. The bag pretty much lays it all out for you: tangy, salty, smoky, spicy, and slightly sweet flavors...together at last. If that sounds good to you, knock yourselves out. The wifey liked it better than I did. She kept repeating, "It's weird, it's weird" while eating her first couple handfuls. Apparently, her opinion of the product improved as she got used to the flavor, and she settled on three and a half stars. 

Two and a half from me.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Trader Joe's Ube Mochi Pancake & Waffle Mix

When I was about 10 years old or so, my mother made our family waffles for breakfast one morning. They were delicious, but there were, by some miracle, a few left over. As a parent of a seven year old and a five year old who decided between them to eat an entire pound of blackberries before my wife or I even woke up the other day, I'm soon realizing that anything delicious and left over is a rare feat in a multi-child household.

Back to my story. The leftover were likely placed in a baggie, and a day or two later, I decided I wanted to have a snack while sorting through all my Ken Griffey Jr and Cal Ripken baseball cards or something like that, so I went down to the fridge to obtain said baggie, went upstairs to my room, ate maybe one or two, then instead of placing back in the fridge or throwing out, proceded to shove them underneath my bad where they stayed for the next three to six months and they turned all sorts of interesting colors, which I thought looked kinda mother was not so impressed.

Somehow this story has turned into family lore - "Rusty eats moldy waffles!" - so much to the point that anytime I see a not beige/tan/whatever color a "normal" waffle is, I'm reminded of it yet again by the resident voices in my head.

So here's Trader Joe's Ube Mochi Pancake & Waffle Mix! The only mold related to this new mix is the one they break.

They're purple! That much should be expected because of the ube, or "purple yam" as TJ's refers to it on the box. Gotta love ube, and if you haven't tried it yet, what are ya waiting for? It's got this magical property of being light and a little sweet but so grounded and earthy. They're even more mild than a sweet potato. Ube makes really such a natural choice for a pancake or waffle that I'm surprised this is the first time I've become aware of a commercial mix for it. It's almost too obvious for me to have come up with myself.

And...they're a bit chewy! Not overly, but still, thanks to mochi being in the mix. The little rice granules or whatever the mochi would be technically classified as do make the batter a bit grainy looking, which caused a little initial hesitation during waffle prep. When cooked, they're still visible if you choose to dissect your breakfast, but other than your waffle or pancake being a little bit more springy than usual, they're not that noticeable. Really, it's a nice little bite that's a bit different but I'd doubt that would cause much textural issues, unless you insist on crispy on the outside, fluffy in the middle breakfast grains.

Add a little maple syrup, and boom. That's a heckuva good waffle. The ube mochi waffles might be able to go more of the savory route as well - I could see chicken and waffles working with these being an interesting take. Or however you enjoy waffles would likely work, because these are pretty dang good.

Really, everyone in our little family loved the ube mochi waffles Sandy mixed up while I busied myself with bacon as I do almost every Saturday. It's little traditions like bacon and waffles that I hope will stick with the kids for most of their lives....and hopefully not stories like moldy waffles. We all loved these waffles and while they're not gonna be our new replacement every week waffles, they will absolutely be in the permanent family rotation as a new classic. That's right...the score was unanimous.

Trader  Joe's Ube Mochi Pancake & Waffle Mix: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, May 8, 2020

Trader Joe's Springle Jangle

Ah, at long last the vernal equivalent of the longstanding Yuletide favorite Jingle Jangle is here. Wait. Was there really anybody asking for this? Is this really something Trader Joe's needed to add to their lengthy lineup of fancifully-packaged chocolatey snacks?

Let's be honest. If you happened to purchase a tin of Trader Joe's Jingle Jangle at Christmas time, I'd bet dollars to donuts you still have some left in the container now that spring has rolled around some four months later. Granted, we have a small family, but we sure had a good bit left over many months hence after we bought it near Christmas 2014, and we used it as a photo double for gourmet elephant poop the following April.

First of all, chocolate isn't something I'm craving a lot right when the weather gets warm in the springtime. It makes my skin oily and it melts in my hand before it ever gets to my mouth.

There's only one element in this mix that's not prone to melting, and that's the "butter toffee peanuts," and there just aren't anywhere close to enough of them in the package. They're the only novel element in the jar—the only item I feel like I haven't consumed a million times before. Apparently, Trader Joe's does/did offer a butter toffee peanut product all by itself, and it's now available 

At any rate, they did throw me a bone and add one white chocolate element in this spring version of the snack mix. Oh wait. Sorry, that's "yogurt," not white chocolate. Is there any difference? Yogurt-covered pretzels are just fine in my book, especially when they're slathered in pretty pink and yellow nonsense. How festive. I'm sure TJ's wanted this product out by Easter, but life and lockdowns happened, and they couldn't get the item on shelves in time. No worries. It's still spring.

The nonpareils, dark chocolate Joe-Joe's bark, and pastel-colored fake M&M's AKA spring candy gems are all pieces I'd happily do without at all in this mix. The peanut butter cups are tasty, because, you know... peanut butter and chocolate. I prefer the milk chocolate version and would happily lose the dark chocolate ones, though. I must admit, there are fewer M&M dealies in this mix than in the original, so that's a plus.

At $4.99, it's much smaller and cheaper than the massive Jingle Jangle tin, but it's still overpriced by my estimation. It's basically a cylinder of chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, yogurt pretzels, and candy peanuts. Since it's aesthetically-pleasing and there are fewer candy gems and a little something white chocolate-esque, we won't shaft it too badly and will bestow it with the same scores we gave the original.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Trader Joe's Honey Mustard & Onion Seasoned Pretzel Pieces

This is not meant as any undue attack or unforward critique of one of the all time classics...but there is a serious need of innovation here.

Yes, we are talking about Trader Joe's Honey Mustard & Onion Seasoned Pretzel Pieces. If anyone could have magically pulled this off, I would have counted on TJ's to Wonka-fy it into existence. They didn't. I can't really be disappointed, because it just might be impossible, but still...I had hopes, only to be in vain.

You see, there is a fundamental issue with many snack food items, and honey mustard onion pretzel pieces are probably the best, clearest example. It's such a strong flavor, right? You know it when you taste it. The sweetness and bite of vinegar, the saltiness of the onion, the goodness of whatever other odd spices are sprinkled know what I speak of. If you've ever had a honey mustard onion pretzel, you'll know exactly what this taste like.

That's not precisely the issue, of course.

Instead, it's this question: how many bites of a perfectly balanced flavored snack do you actually get, per bag? It can be frustratingly few.

Alas, there's no exception here.

The first few portions out of the top of the bag are surprisingly bland. Like, they look like they should taste like something, and they kinda do...but not really. All that flavor dust went south for the winter and never came back.

Work towards the equator and there's a couple great bites in there, that taste like a little bit of everything and not too much of anything. Snack time bliss, that's what that is. Yum.

But then there's the bottom third or more. It's where everything settled. A little bit is good, but then for such a strong flavor like honey mustard and onion, it gets way too powerful way too quick. It's hard to have too much, unless you're really hungry.

I was really hopeful for some sort of innovative solution that TJ's would bring forth to the masses here. Maybe it'd be a scientific break though, in that some sort of edible, tasty glue or adhesive would hold on more tightly to the flavor crystals, so all would arrive in factory perfected form. Or that the delivery driver would bring them in a rented out concrete truck, tumbling the packages all the way from distribution center to retail. How about a paint-shaker type contraption in the stockroom? Or, like, maybe like the stockperson would give them an expertly vigorous shake before putting on the shelf, with the cashier giving an instructional DVD to purchasers to ensure even flavor distribution and snack food satisfaction all the way to the point of the consumption, so that if a consumer didn't fully love a balanced, even, delicious morsel of honey mustard onion pretzel that'd be squarely on them as some sort of societal outcast worthy of weeping and gnashing of teeth? It's not like TJ's employees are doing anything else these days.

I kid, of course, but alas, it was not to be. Here we go instead from predictable palatal progression from mediocre to delicious to "a bit much." Sigh.

But apparently I like them, enough to have devoured more or less the whole package myself with a few bites spared for the kiddos. It took a few days to be sure. My lovely bride didn't even try them - she's not opposed, she technically had opportunity, but in her opinion the window of time afforded her was too short -  so I'm flying solo here, which is dangerous. So, spoons? Sure. Need a breakthrough to get to that next level.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Honey Mustard & Onion Seasoned Pretzel Pieces: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, May 4, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Watermelon Fruit Spread

Nothing says summer—or at least warmer weather—like watermelon: the fruit, the flavor, the culture. It brings to mind memories of more carefree days. It's a reminder that no matter how long the winter, spring and summer are sure to follow. 

2020 has been quite a ride so far, and I'm sure the fun's not over yet. But even in unprecedented and uncertain times like these, there will be unique moments of discovery and joy. Sitting out in the green grass and opening up this jar for the first time was one such moment for me.

I'm not saying this product is so good that it will universally provide transcendent moments of bliss for all who partake of its goodness, but it might do that for some. I'm sure a few of you have tried another version of watermelon jam, jelly, or fruit spread before, be it homemade or some exotic brand I've never heard of. But this was a first for me. Leave it to Trader Joe's.

It's exactly as sweet as I want it to be. It might be a little too sweet for some and not sweet enough for others, but to me, it is juuust sweet enough to be a dessert-like treat, but not so syrupy that I feel a sudden urge to compulsively brush my teeth immediately after consuming.

It truly tastes like watermelon, by virtue of "organic watermelon puree" being the main ingredient. "Cherry juice" is pretty high up on the list, too, and it provides a subtle kick of sweet-tart sass, but you'd never mistake the dominant flavor of this fruit spread. It's absolutely delectably watermelony.

There are no seeds or grit here. Fruit pectin and watermelon puree yield a very smooth consistency. As far as thickness goes, I think it's on par with a strawberry jelly type vibe, but again, with no seeds, fruit bits, or chunks of any kind. A version with little pieces of real watermelon might be interesting, but I'm not complaining about the texture here at all. The smoothness works perfectly.

I've tried it straight from the jar as well as on toast with a little cream cheese. I'm thinking there has to be a way to incorporate this product into a watermelon-flavored smoothie, but I'm not sure what else I'd throw in there. If we had any vanilla wafer cookies on hand, I'd try dunking them straight into this fruit spread. A topping for vanilla ice cream? Plain yogurt? Possibilities abound.

If you like the flavor of watermelon with just a hint of extra tartness and sweetness, I don't see how you'd hate this product. I think it was $2.99 for the jar...? It's unique and very tasty. I give Trader Joe's Organic Watermelon Fruit Spread four stars. Sonia will go with four and a half.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Nut Duo

Pearl Jam has long been a favorite band of mine. Classic grunge and rock - it's hard not to like. Have never seen them live unfortunately, but that'll change...sometime...I hope. I've had my chances and have whiffed on them thus far.

That being said...they got some real crappy stuff they put their name on. No, I'm not just talking "Spin the Black Circle" that somehow won a Grammy, just for having the Pearl Jam name on it when they were one of the hottest things around. Have you heard their new song, "Dance of the Clairvoyants"? What in the heck is that?

It's kinda the same deal with Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Nut Duo.

EBTB! So hot right now! It's a seasoning! It's a salmon! It's...probably at least five other TJ's products I can't recall right now. Thanks, beer. And now it's on a pair of nuts.

Could be hot. Could be great. But more likely than not, like those Pearl Jam tunes, it'll skate by on the premise of its name instead of its merits.

It's that aforementioned Everything but the Bagel Seasoning, which is great on everything, including, ironically, bagels,  but on almonds and cashews. That's it. That's all. Must be have been a slow week for the product developers to come up with this.

First, almonds. As far as base nuts, almonds are definitely a step above peanuts, but man, they're still kinda dull. And it's disappointing that by looks our bag is roughly two parts almonds to one part cashews. Need me more quality nuts in this bag!

And for whatever reason, the seasoning blend doesn't translate well onto nuts. It just doesn't. Whatever makes it resonate well on meat and veggies and eggs and, ironically, bagels, just doesn't work here. Yeah, it's there, but not exactly delicious. It's more of a "meh" than an "oooh."

In short, nuts make a great snack. Flavored nut mixes make an even greater snack. But there's so much better out right now - looking at you, Olive & Herb Mix - that makes this mix not too inspiring, with a twinge of feeling like it was kinda mailed in. For $3.99, it's an okay deal but one we are likely to repeat. Feeling charitable, so my lovely bride will hit it with a three each.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Nut Duo: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Trader Joe's Onion + Chive Cream Cheese Spread

"How about that sour cream spread?" I suggested, fishing for other blog post ideas from my better half.

"Sour cream? It's cream cheese," snapped Sonia. 

I often take it upon myself to correct the wifey when she misspeaks, so it's only fair when she returns the favor. 

And I mean, she's right. It's a tub of cream cheese, like for spreading on bagels. It's not technically sour cream, nor is there any sour cream in it. And it's great for toast, bagels, English muffins, etc. But I've also used it as a chip dip. It's a little too thick for most chips just straight out of the tub, but if you nuke it for a bit, it gets nice and soft. Neither of us have topped a baked potato with it, but I bet it would work for that, too.

If such as thing as sour cream cream cheese ever existed, I'm certain it would taste a lot like this stuff. I don't know if you'd need to keep that redundant "cream" right there in the middle of the product title, but I think it would work either way. "Sour cream and onion" and "sour cream and chives" have long been favorite flavors of mine for chips, dips, biscuits, and loaded baked potato toppers. It makes a great breakfast bread spread as well, in case you were wondering.

There are visible green bits of chives throughout the cream cheese, although the overall texture is nice and smooth. I wouldn't have minded a "chunky style" with even larger and more ubiquitous onion and chive chunks, but then I'm weird like that, and I looove me some onions and chives. There is a scrumptious tangy, oniony flavor, and it's plenty creamy, too.

It's not going to go with most fruit-flavored bagels or jellies. It pairs best with plain or everything style bagels and breads, or maybe even something with a bit of asiago cheese. We can definitively report that it does indeed go well with EBTB seasoning also. 

Sonia's gonna try glazing some fish with it this week, and then covering with panko crumbs. Four stars from her.

Repeat purchase? Perhaps. $1.99 for the tub. Four stars from me too.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Marbled Halvah

When all this is finally behind us, and if you're then planning to go to Philadelphia for whatever reason, be sure to make a stop at Reading Terminal Market, especially if you've never been. You won't be disappointed.

It's amazing. There's all the Amish vendors selling baked goods, the best pork sandwich you will ever eat, some rather interesting food oddities, and food from across the world, all in a tight, crammed little space. As a bonus, it's only a short and safe walk away from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, which are naturally pretty darn historic and a bit awe-inspiring as well.

It's also pretty much the only place I knew where to buy halvah.

What's halvah? I had no idea either until Sandy picked some up there on our last trip around Christmas time. It's delicious, is what it is.

And now, of course, perhaps Columbusing halvah to the masses, is good ol' TJ's with Trader Joe's Organic Marbled Halvah. Find it stashed right next to the cash registers for an interesting litle pick up.

So, halvah...okay. Imagine like almond or sunflower seed butter, all dried up into a kinda crispy mass. Now, instead of those, it's tahini, or sesame seed butter. Yup, the same kinda stuff that gets put into hummus, except I guess that might be more oil? Anyways, yeah.

Halvah in general, and TJ's in particular, has an interesting texture. It's firm yet soft, dry yet not arid, chalky yet not crumbly. You can tear yourself a chunk at ease, yet it falls apart nearly instantly when bitten. It's kinda like magic, and that's how a good halvah tastes.

The TJ's type, in comparison, does seem a bit more firm than the couple bites we have left of the "real deal" from Philly. There's more similarity than not, so I'd say it veers towards authentic in terms of texture, but it's not all the way there. Sandy says it more closely tastes like a halvah candy bar which she's had somewhere - seriously, where that girl gets her treats sometimes, I just don't know.

Naturally, there's a zillion varieties. What Sandy got at Reading Terminal was pistachio halvah - tastes like heaven. In comparison, a cocoa vanilla swirl flavor from TJ's is bit not too exotic-y. But I get it. Playing safe with a familiar flavor might be more enticing for the otherwise ignorant shopper (which I fit the mold of more times than not). It's pretty basic chocolate and vanilla too, even a little plain to be honest. I would have loved another flavor, like more pistachio or honey or other traditional flavors.

It's also kinda odd to me the way the TJ's halvah is packaged. There's ten little individually fun size wrapped pieces inside the bag. Seems kinda wasteful, unless you want to be the neighborhood oddball to hoard these to distribute to all the lil Tiger Kings and Carol Baskinses that'll be trick-or-treating this fall (God willing).

Anyways, the halvah's worth the try for the $3 or so. Like other TJ's selections, it just might help you discover something new to enjoy. It's good enough and approximates the real deal close enough, and dangit, I'm a man of many things, and a halvah snob isn't one of them. I'm just hoping for some more flavor variety. Our kiddos didn't seem to enjoy it much so it may be more of a grown up treat, for what it's worth. Between the two of us purported grown ups we'll hit with a seven.

Trader Joe's Organic Marbled Halvah: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, April 24, 2020

Trader Giotto's Glaze and Trader Joe's True Belgian Brussels Sprouts

Here's a fun, exciting review to leave you with over the weekend: Brussels sprouts. Hooray. Joy. Elation.

Honestly, I don't think I ever had Brussels sprouts as a kid. My parents loved to make me eat weird stuff that I didn't like, so I'm not sure how I avoided these salubrious spheroids of sustenance. I truly don't think I ever ate a Brussels sprout until just a few years ago. In that first instance, I had them with a balsamic glaze that absolutely blew me away. Also, they were cooked to perfection—slightly charred and crispy on the outside; warm, dense, and planty on the inside.

Sonia grew up with a French family as neighbors. When she'd visit their daughter Natalie to play, her mother would often provide snacks or meals, occasionally in the form of steamed, salted Brussels sprouts. While Natalie would happily pop the sprouts into her mouth like candy, Sonia, secretly disgusted by the greens, would choke down one or two and then slip away from the table under the guise of not being hungry.

Her view on sprouts has changed dramatically in adulthood. She now loves them when prepared correctly and served with the right condiments.

Since these True Belgian Brussels Sprouts came frozen, we might not have left them in the oven quite long enough. They weren't raw or cold on the inside, but they might have benefited from another 10 minutes or so in the heat. I like my veggies well-done.

Still, the glaze made them pretty tasty, at least on the outside. Trader Giotto's Glaze is moderately sweet and has a fermented essence from the "grape must." It's not unlike a port wine, but a bit thicker in texture. It's less vinegary than a typical balsamic dressing, but there's still a hint of vinegar underneath the grapey goodness.

We found that the glaze wanted to slide off the sprouts and wind up on the baking tray, so we reapplied it a couple times during the heating process. The finished product was definitely more flavorful that plain Brussels spouts, but we both wished we had found a way to get more glaze to stick. We applied some post-baking, and it helped a little, but the portion that had baked on to the sprouts was more flavorful and beneficial to the vegetable within. All in all, the glaze paired well with the earthy, nutty bitterness of the sprouts. We'll probably try it with oil and bruschetta in the future, and maybe some tilapia, too.

We both liked the glaze and think the price is fair at $2.99 for the bottle. Sonia may have been even more enamored with it than me, as I feel like any old balsamic dressing would serve as a flavorful condiment in instances such as this. At 99 cents, the large bag of Brussels sprouts is an even better bargain. That's a lot of nutrition for less than a buck. Your personal score for a bag of sprouts will largely depend upon your feelings about Brussels sprouts in the first place. I'm well aware many people are disgusted by them, no matter their age. In our case, Sonia will give it four stars, and I'll give it three. Sonia will throw out the same score for the glaze, and I'll go half a star higher.

Trader Giotto's Glaze: Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Trader Joe's True Belgian Brussels Sprouts: Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Trader Joe's Hand Twisted Cinnamon Sugar Bread

Remember Karen, one of our favorite Trader Joe's employee at our family's usual McCandless Crossing location located just a touch north of Pittsburgh, PA?

Obviously, there's little that's consistently the same these days. It's just an odd, confusing world out there right now. There's a few things that help me through, and one of them is finding the little, small things that were the same as before to give me something to hold on to.

Grocery shopping certainly isn't the same these days...but Karen is. Really, pretty much the entire crew there is. But Karen, with the way she continually greets either my lovely bride or I and asks how we're all doing, by name, and points out new products and "must trys" no matter how busy she is, will always stand out.

So when she tells me we have to try out the new Trader Joe's Hand Twisted Cinnamon Sugar Bread while she tosses it in the cart for me, I'll listen. Yes ma'am.

Judging by the complete lack of yeast and flour pretty much anywhere these days, most of you must be enjoying some homemade bread on the regular. We've had some on occasion. And I'll hold that homemade is almost always better than store bought if given the option.

That being said, this cinnamon bread is downright delish. It's an absolute treat.

The outside of the loaf is coated over with a sticky cinnamon sugar glaze like what you'd find inside a cinnamon bun. Unlike most of my home paint jobs, there's not a spot missed anywhere. 100% coverage. Off to a terrific start.

Inside as you can see there's a swirl of that same glaze permeating the entire bread. It's tucked in nice and sweetly under some heavy bready blankets - you can tell just by looking it's that thick, dense, crumbly type that exudes comfort with every bite. It does well to balance all of the sugar and spice and everything nice to keep it more on the side of viable bread than dessert, but man, that line gets straddled. Tastes awesome.

My one complaint: I wish it came presliced. Now, I recognize the arguments and advantages of slicing your own: portion control. Some like it thick, some like it thin, some like to Goldilocks it right in the middle. I get that. But the hand-twisted nature of this bread dictates that unless done with expert care it's pretty tough to make a precise slice that's 100% intact. I'm not a bread-slicing machine. We ended up enjoying too much of the bread more as narrow slice/chunk hybrids that would wouldn't preclude the load from being turned into scrumptious French toast, but kinda makes something like a sandwich hard.

Other than that, as always before, karen was right. This is some pretty fantastic bread. As someone who's taken up cooking and food prep these days as a stay-at-home hobby of sorts, I'd still opt for a homemade version of the cinnasugar loaf from TJ's, but this could fool me, almost. The perfect glaze job on the outside gives it away. Yummy stuff, my kids loved it and loved making a mess with it even more. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Hand Twisted Cinnamon Sugar Loaf: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, April 20, 2020

Trader Joe's Just the Clusters Chocolate Almond Granola Cereal

I used to get on really big cereal kicks where I'd eat the stuff every morning for breakfast. I mean, sometimes for years on end, I was just into cereal. Then for a while I'd move on to something else like donuts, or oatmeal, or yogurt. I've even been that guy that would eat Doritos and Mountain Dew at seven o'clock in the morning on occasion. And yes, if it was the weekend, or if I called in sick to work, I'd spend the morning playing video games. There's not much else you can legitimately do if you choose Mountain Dew and Doritos for breakfast. 

I can't handle the HFCS anymore, so I haven't done that in a while. But also, oddly, I haven't been on any major cereal kicks lately. I feel like ever since I've been married to Sonia, for some reason, every time I've felt like cereal, we either have none on hand, or we don't have any milk in the fridge. Once a month or so, all the stars will align and I'll actually feel like eating cereal and we'll have all the necessary elements to prepare a bowl. Such an alignment occurred just yesterday.

Opening the bag of Trader Joe's Chocolate Almond Granola Cereal, there's a pleasant whiff of chocolatey goodness. It's reminiscent of Cocoa Pebbles, but not quite as ricey or sweet, and perhaps a tad richer. 

The granola chunks are the perfect size for a cereal—not too big, not too small. There's a fair amount of almond slivers, too, although I don't think a significant boost in that department would have been outrageous. Even doubling the presence of the almonds couldn't have hurt in my humble opinion. Fortunately, the granola is pretty decent on its own.

Like the smell, the flavor is chocolatey and sweet. It's not over the top sugary, though. The chocolate is satisfying and errs on the side of rich cocoa rather than chocolate candy. It's just strong enough to taste like a flavorful treat without completely overshadowing the nuttiness of the almonds. The granola and nuts are both crunchy, even after a prolonged period of submersion. 

The granola dyes the milk nice and brown by the end of the bowl and yields wonderfully chuggable chocolate milk. In a way, I think I enjoy the residual liquid in the bowl more than the cereal itself, although I'm thinking I'll reach for this box again tomorrow. If by some chance we wind up having this stuff on hand regularly, as well as some cold milk, I just might wind back up on a lengthy cereal kick.

$3.49 for the box. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Trader Joe's Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings


What brings you comfort?

There's a lot of ways to answer this, of course, and there's even a few ways I can answer this right at the time of writing. I'm sipping on a cold beer, which almost always seems right, and listening to a Facebook Live concert from the lead singer of my favorite local band, called Good Brother Earl. I think I first saw them back in about 2003 or 2004 and, no lie, a few hundred times. Helps they used to play at the Pittsburgh Rock Bottom on Wednesday nights, no cover, with $2 beers and half price appetizers. Since corporate pulled the plug on their shows about 7 years ago, after at least a five year run, I haven't been back.

But anyways, through the many stages and changes in my life over the past 15-plus years, their music has been a constant. Jeff, the singer, has been a good friend as well. And in these times, I'm thankful that he and his band's music is continuing to be that constant that they have been.

Long, not entirely connected lead up to a review about the new Trader Joe's Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings, eh? Sorry, couldn't think of much better. It's that beer I'm telling you.

But food brings comfort, right? And what's more comfort-in-edible form than a warm soup dumpling? I can't think of much.  So there ya go.

Find 'em in the freezer section, bring 'em home, steam 'em up, chow 'em down. These dumplings are pretty darn good. There's the soft, typical noodle shell holding the whole thing together. Inside, of course, is a light broth and the pork/ginger/whatever else filling. The meat itself is mild, soft and a bit crumbly, like a meatball bent on falling apart. That's not a bad thing. There's not more than a mildly aggressive hit of ginger - there's nothing near the searing bite ginger is capable of. It's more a soft warmth feel, and is complemented nicely by a little soy and garlic.

It'd be great if it ended there. But nah.

Instead, right at the end, this sweetness kicks in. At first I thought maybe it was some soy sauce trickery, but no. It's too cloying. It's got to be added sugar. Why would you add sugar to this? Makes no sense to me, not with flavor profile. We're going for savory here. Why sugar? Can't be sugar. Nah. Let's just go check the ingredients, I'm making this up...

Nope. Added sugar. As confirmed by the ingredient list and nutrition label. WHY???

Fortunately all the good flavor business in the front makes up pretty well for the lame wannabe sweet party in the back, but still, it's a knock. Would be much better without IMHO.

Otherwise, great dumplings, bordering on being down right umamilicious. That's not a word but it shoukd be. Umami + delicious = umamilicious. Say it aloud. It's fun. There's absolutely a comfort element at work, and in these times that's not a bad thing at all. My lovely bride, our squad of shorties and I all enjoyed them pretty well, and will likely pick up again soon, even with my faint quibbles.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons