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Friday, September 18, 2020

Trader Joe's Brazilian Style Cheese Bread

Over these past few crazy months, I've come to realize that a quality metric I use to judge how my day is going is how much I play Candy Crush on my phone. That's kinda my default "bored, don't feel motivated, nothing else going on" thing to do, so needless to say, the more Candy Crush I play on a given day, the usually more kinda blah day it is. And i won't say what level I'm on, but there's four digits and the first one is kinda curvy. So yeah, not so great these past few months. 

My lovely bride also plays a fair amount of Candy Crush, but apparently also likes some other game called Kitchen Craze or something along those lines. I'm not sure of the point of the game - seems even more arbitrary than matching three same colored candies to make stuff go boom - but when playing she'll tap to cook stuff, serve customers, do dishes, deal with crappy tips. I guess you try not to burn stuff and run some sort of functional restaurant and serve all sorts of food, including some Brazilian-inspired cheese rolls which I had no other frame of reference for until picking up Trader Joe's Brazilian Style Cheese Bread.

There's more involved to prepping them than just tapping your smartphone screen. Of course, we'll see how that comment ages over the next decade or so... but anyways. A frozen dozen comes boxed up and ready to plop on a baking sheet, just heat at 350 degrees for a few minutes, and done. You can even crush some candies while doing so if you want. 

Oddly, I'm in the minority of my family for the TJ's Brazilian cheese bread. Everyone else loves them, Both Sandy and our verifiable troop of kiddos gobbled them down for lunch the other day, yumming and oohing and aahing. Our five year old also made her own PB&J's with them, which strikes me as fairly weird but she was happy. But me? Ehhhhhhh....

There's just this odd taste to them that develops about midway thru your third bite. I'm not sure how to explain it. But it's kinda funky and bitter and dour and not exactly gag inducing, but is kinda unwelcome. Sandy posits it has something to do with how the tapioca flour and Parmesan interplay. Maybe, but I side with it being more towards eggs and white pepper that seem off. Maybe it's all four of them, maybe just three, maybe she's just right (as usual)...but still. It's just when I would expect the flavor to start going towards warmy carby cheesy comfort, I instead get a mouthful of questions. 

It's kinda a shame. Otherwise these are some pretty tasty treats. The first few bites, before that funk comes into play, are on point with its doughy Parmesan taste. If every bite tasted like the first few, I could probably nosh on these all day. Each piece is roughly golf ball sized, and when baked have a slightly crispy, not greasy exterior that quickly gives way to a soft, chewy inside. There's so much Parmesan around too that's impossible to get a bite without any, even if you tried. These are some excellent bites in that regard, I just wish they stayed that way. Maybe if I had some sauce to dip them in, I'd like 'em better. 

Since everyone else loved them and they're at a reasonable price ($3 to $4) I'm thinking it'll be a likely repurchase despite my misgivings. I mean, whatever works these days, right? Even if I won't be the one crushing them. Meh. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Brazilian Style Cheese Bread: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Trader Joe's Dairy-Free Cold Brew Almond Macadamia Latte Coffee Beverage

Like most Americans, Sonia and I are hopelessly addicted to caffeine. She's a big coffee drinker and a connoisseur of all things derived from the brewed bean: mocha, latte, cappuccino, you name it. I'm more of an energy drink guy myself. Throughout my misspent youth, I'd drink sodas like Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper for caffeine, and then switched over to energy drinks after the advent of Red Bull, Rockstar, and Monster.

At any rate, we both get headaches after just 24 hours without a heavy dose of the common stimulant. If coffee is the only source of caffeine around, I'll drink it. Once in a while I'll get desperate enough to drink regular cola again in the absence of other caffeinated beverages, despite a severe aversion to HFCS these days. This stuff, on the other hand? You'd have to twist my arm pretty hard to get me to take another sip of this drink, let alone a whole bottle.

Right after taking an initial sip, I had Sonia try it, desperately trying to mask my disgust so as to elicit an unbiased reaction from her. She reacted similarly. We decided to check the "best by" date just to be sure it hadn't turned. According to the little stamp on the side of the bottle, we had one day to spare. 

I mean, it's not like we don't enjoy nut milks. The combo of almond and macadamia sounded fairly alluring to both of us, especially to my better half. And you can taste a decent amount of nuttiness underneath an acrid coffee flavor, initially. But immediately after detecting the earthy vegan coffee blend in this beverage, there's a fairly intense bitterness that washes over your palate.

We get it. They were going for a healthy beverage without much in the way of sweetener. But this brew needs a little something. And by "a little something," I mean a LOT of something. It's full of protein and decidedly devoid of bad stuff, but neither of us could really get into the taste. Sonia was good enough to finish the bottle, and she noted that by the end, it wasn't quite as revolting as the first few swigs. I noped out after about a sip and a half. 

$2.99 for the bottle. Two stars from me. Two and a half from Sonia. Not a repeat purchase.

Bottom line: 4.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Trader Joe's Ginger Turmeric Granola

"It is frequently asserted that somewhere between 75 and 95 % of what we commonly think of as taste actually comes from the sense of smell. However, empirical evidence in support of such a precise-sounding quantitative claim is rarely, if ever, cited."

So says no less an authority than the Flavour Journal. They sound pretty legit, or legit enough to be the top result if you Google something like "how much is smell a part of taste," so you know what? I'm just gonna roll with it. Makes sense - if I'm a little stuffed up, food doesn't seem to have the same flavor as it usually does, but that's not to say that smell is the only, or sometimes even the most reliable, indicator of taste. 

Mentioning all of this because of Trader Joe's Ginger Turmeric Granola, in the slight offchance you haven't gotten that figured out by now. In my legitimately faulty memory, I'm not sure if I've even been taken aback so much by the initial aroma of a product when first opening the package, just because of it being so unexpected. This granola smells strong and pungent and, well, super-de-duper gingery. Add in some wafts of turmeric (it's palpable) and it's almost more like a curry-type smell. There's no other option for it to smack the ol' olfactories, which is really kinda bizarre to say for a granola, of all things.

Yet...that's not exactly how the taste plays out.

Both the ginger and the turmeric seem to be held in check by the earthy crunch of the rolled oats, and the respective sweetnesses of the brown rice syrup and coconut pieces balance it all out pretty well. That's not to say that some ginger burn doesn't sneak thru here or there, because it does, but not as much as I presumed from initial impression. The turmeric adds more of a warmth than a flavor punch as well. 

As proof it can't be strongly spicy or harsh or anything, my youngest kiddo likes it. She's the first to blush at anything remotely spicy. If she can handle it, so can you. 

As it's getting cooler finally and summer fades into fall, I kinda see this being a seasonal kinda treat. It tastes autumnal without going the pumpkin spice or maple route. Splash in some milk, add some banana, sprinkle in some know, however you usually do yogurt and it'll likely work just fine. I'd recommend giving it a try for the $4ish bucks it set back, and hopefully you'll find it up to snuff as well. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Ginger Turmeric Granola: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Friday, September 11, 2020

Trader Joe's No Bake Nut Butter Bar Mix

In addition to 80's movies, I'm also an appreciator of fine post-apocalyptic cinema—not just influential films like The Road and Mad Max, but lesser known indie flicks like Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse, Light of My Life, and EMP 333 Days. Speaking of EMP's, you could theoretically make these treats even after a massive electromagnetic pulse. No bake! I love it.

I mean, sure, they want you to put the mix in the freezer for 20 minutes to let it coagulate for a spell. But if it's winter time, you could just put the pan outside for a while to achieve the same effect. Also, some of you might argue that you'll still have the ability to bake in such a situation since gas lines will still function after an EMP. Sure, that will be true for a time, but unfortunately a long term grid failure will mean losing natural gas and running water soon after the electricity goes out.

But if you thought ahead, you'll still be snacking on Trader Joe's No Bake Nut Butter Bars. What a luxury these will be in the Apocalypse. Nut butters, honey, and maple syrup are all great things to stock up on.

The recipe calls for a cup of any nut butter of your choice and half a cup of either honey or maple syrup, along with the included mix. I used peanut butter and honey, probably the least exotic combo possible, but also quite possibly the safest. 

It turned out surprisingly well. I used chunky pb, which might have thrown off the intended solid to liquid ratio and made my mixture a little less viscous than it was intended to be. I found it hard to coat all of the mix with my pb/honey blend.

But they came out super crunchy, which Sonia and I both loved. The honey was more than adequate as a sweetener, and the mix added even more nuttiness to the flavor. Peanut butter was still the dominant flavor, but the almond, oats, and rice from the base could still be detected in the background. My favorite part of the Trader Joe's mix were tiny little spheres of what I assume are puffed rice..? They moved the texture even further in the direction of "bar," rather than "wad of edible Play-Doh," and added a crispness that's very pleasant.

Sonia seemed a little more captivated by the finished bars than I was. She thinks she'll make another batch with almond butter and maple syrup very soon. I'm sure they'll be at least as good as the first batch.

$3.49 for the mix. Will most likely be a repeat purchase. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Trader Joe's Non-Dairy Maple Oat Beverage

Ah yes, it's that time of year at last.

Warm summer afternoons fade into cool nights. There's small incremental tinges of oranges and reds and yellows in the leaves. The kids are finally back at school...kinda, but in our dining least there's no mad morning rush to catch the bus this year...still, I digress. Crockpots are being taken out of storage, football is about to be back, and the Pittsburgh Pirates have a less than 1% chance of making the playoffs. All of these are sure signs that fall is peeking just around the corner.

There's one last autumnal harbinger, one that's kinda a big deal for most of you, but that I detest: it's pumpkin spice season. Blahhhh.

I'm sure in the litany of this blog I've posted a lengthy tirade against pumpkin spice everything at some point. I lack the energy or desire to do so again. Plus there's too much other animosity out there these days. I've made my peace with pumpkin spice - if you enjoy your pumpkin spice lattes and enchiladas and TP and who knows what else, go for it, I won't be partaking so there's more for you.

And meanwhile I'll be focusing on maple. Yes, I know maple season is really late winter into spring when the sap is collected and boiled...but there's almost always more maple products this time of year. I guess it has something to do with it being a tree flavor.

New to the maple lineup this year is Trader Joe's Non-Dairy Maple Oat Beverage. granted, oat milk isn't the first thing I'd think to add a hint of maple too...but it's a good concept, right? Oatmeal by itself is kinda plain, but adding milk and maple syrup turns it into a verifiable treat. Now you can get some of the residual tasty treeat without the big bowl of oatmeal first.

Or something like that. Indeed, that's really what the TJ's maple oat beverage tastes like - the milk left over in the bottom of the bowl of oatmeal with maple syrup and milk. Less chunky, of course, and that's a good thing. It's still creamy, however, like a decent "regular" milk but with a slight touch of graininess mixed in. It's neither distracting nor unpleasant, but occasionally noticeable.

The maple flavor itself is actually scarcely more than a small hint. I think that adds some versatility to the product - use as a regular drink, pour over a wide variety of cereals (not Pumpkin Spice O's though), add a splash to coffee instead of creamer and sugar. The maple beverage isn't an all out maplicious sugarbomb of a treat, but more of a subtle pleasure. Me personally? I'm not much of a milk person in any way, shape or form, so while I've tried it I'm not going to be guzzling down this beverage by any means. But it's still a legit treat. Gotta love anything maple.

My lovely bride is more gungho than I. She's been scheming different ways to use the milk, as well as already lamenting its eventual seasonal rotation out. Til then, she'll be using a lot in her coffee as she helps oversee a couple kids navigating elementary school on Zoom calls and iPads. You know, like the good ol' days. Or something. Her only maple oat drink-related wish would be for it to be a touch more maple-y, but she's in love as is. Four from her, and I'll tack on a few of my own.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Non-Dairy Maple Oat Beverage: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Trader Joe's Corn & Green Chile Pepper Quiche

I've been watching a bunch of 80's movies on Amazon Prime lately. What a weird decade. I mean, it was so carefree compared to today. Everything was loud and goofy, from music to clothing to hairstyles. It's such a stark contrast to 2020, which is why I've been finding it so refreshing to bask in all the gaudy glory of 1980's American cinema. Plus, there's not a lot I want to see in the way of new stuff right now, and it still costs $20 just to rent the third installment of Bill and Ted.

Also from the 80's: a book called Real Men Don't Eat Quiche. I mean, it's apparently satirizing the idea that certain things are more masculine to consume than others, but still...I must admit I don't know many dudes obsessed with quiche. In defense of my own masculinity: the three quiches I've reviewed on this blog represent more than half the quiche I've consumed in my entire lifetime. And so far, all of those specimens have fallen into a kind of "take it or leave it" status with me and the wifey.

As is standard for a quiche, this one's primarily made of eggs. I heated ours for 25 minutes in the oven rather than the microwave, and the insides came out surprisingly mushy, especially when one considers the outsides were extremely crispy. I know quiche should be soft, but I felt like the insides had an excess of moisture and the outsides were, if anything, a little too dry. 

Sonia pointed out that there was a decided lack of veggies, corn in particular, in the filling. We were expecting a whole bunch of corn kernels as well as more substantial chunks of chile, too. I guess we were pining for a sort of savory corn and veggie pie rather than a quiche.

Flavor-wise, it's eggy and quichey—not overly salty, sweet, or cheesy. It begs for a little help, honestly. Some salsa and/or hot sauce is definitely in order here. We had no trouble finishing it, but for two thirds of your daily saturated fat and 98% of your cholesterol, I was hoping for just a tad more piquancy. More green chile peppers would have unquestionably made it more memorable for Sonia and me.

$4.99 for the 9 oz quiche. Probably not a repeat purchase for us. Three stars a piece.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Bar Thins

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Bar Thins are a small, quick, easy, simple fun little treat. No rocket surgery here. So let's do this review in much the same manner.

Take the requsite high quality TJ's dark chocolate. If you've had anything with TJ's dark chocolate, you know what I'm talking about. They (or more accurately, their supplier) really got this stuff nailed. However one inserts a small reservoir of salted caramel goo into it and make a thin wafery bar, they do. That's it, that simple. And so good.

Pros: There's three such bars in the package. Each bar is segmented and snaps easily into three segments. It's a perfect format for a light bite or for sharing easily. No drama there.Each bite is well balanced between the chocolate and caramel to give a rich but no overwhelming flavor that's ideal for a quick sugar rush. Since it's Belgian, could we get a speculoos variety please?

Cons: Uh...not many? I didn't taste THAT much salt in the salted caramel, which isn't all that negative. Perhaps the thin set up makes it harder for the bite of salt to stand out.

Really good, and worth a quick pickup for the maybe $2 without overthinking it. Just like this review.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel Bar Thins: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, August 28, 2020

Trader Joe's Strawberry Oat Frozen Dessert

Sonia and I have lived in four different states since the inception of this blog. We traveled the country full-time with our two little doggies in an RV for 21 (non-consecutive) months. We've been to every region of the country in that time period.

During our travels, we've become hyper-aware of the plenitude of Trader Joe's locations in certain regions and the overwhelming dearth of them in others. Cities like New York and L.A. have dozens of Trader Joe's locations to choose from. Smaller cities like Omaha, Boise, and Spokane have exactly one TJ's store. Many big college towns have a single location, as well, such as State College, PA.

Then there are entire states that don't have a Trader Joe's yet. There are exactly six among the contiguous United States: West Virginia, Mississippi, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota. And many of the folks who live in those states are within a two hour drive or so to a Trader Joe's in an adjacent state.

I won't disclose exactly where we're stationed right now, but I will say that we live a little farther from a Trader Joe's than we ever have before, and that makes buying Trader Joe's frozen treats just a bit more complicated. In this case, Sonia in particular was tempted just to consume this pint of "oat cream" in the parking lot outside TJ's rather than risk it melting in the cooler on the ride home. We only consumed about half of it before packing it away, and it made the trip completely intact, despite the hot summer temps.

So yeah, Sonia's crazy about this stuff. I like it, too, but I don't think I'd put it on par with good old fashioned cow's milk ice cream. To me, most of the flavor of this frozen dessert comes from the bits of almond brittle and candied strawberry they've tossed into the mix. The taste of the oat milk cream itself seems a little on the bland side. It's not unpleasant at all, and it does have hints of that natural nuttiness you'll find in oat milk, which we both like.

The texture is near perfect to both of us, very closely approximating that of dairyful selections. It's super smooth except for the above-mentioned almonds and strawberry bits. It's pretty darn refreshing in this August heat, too.

Maybe I'm just used to the taste of cow's milk ice cream, but I probably wouldn't reach for this oat cream again. Nothing against it. I just think the taste of true strawberry ice cream is a bit more pungent and flavorsome. Sonia will probably grab a pint on her next TJ's run and finish it right after her shopping, and will eagerly await more flavors to be released.

$3.99 for the pint. Three stars from me. Four and a half from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Trader Joe's Jicama Wraps

Time in 2020 seems different than time in any other year I've been around for. Literally, it seems that this year has been going on for years. My lovely bride and i were reminiscing the other day about a trip she took back in February, so a little over six months ago...which seems more like six years ago at this point. We both couldn't believe it.

So, listen, I have no idea when Trader Joe's Jicama Wraps debuted in stores this year. None. Zip. Nada. All I know is I heard and saw the buzz all over the place for them...and when we went to our local TJ's here in good ol' Pittsburgh PA USA...they weren't ever there. It wasn't even a popularity deal, it was more they couldn't even be ordered for who knows what reason. We're always among the last to get anything here, so I've been waiting to try these for what it seems forever...or has it been maybe three weeks max? Two months? Since yesterday? Yanked from the future? I have no idea.

I also had no idea that jicama could be used in this way, as basically a tuber-tilla. Don't know what that is? I just made it up, so I didn't until 10 seconds ago either. It's a tortilla made from just a tuber (root plants like potatoes) and nothing else, and these TJ's jicama wraps may have invented the genre. Nothing added. Nothing obviously subtracted. All these wraps are is precisely as the package states: thinly, almost translucently, sliced jicama. The roughly four inch tubertacular discs are easily rollable and bendable, not so much foldable, sliceable, and are sturdy enough to hold a small taco together while not being quite big enough to hold a lot.

They're also pretty wet, which makes sense, but could be a turnoff for some. And other than that, it's just jicama. With a slight apple-like crispness and a mild sweetness, if you're tired of the same ol' tortillas or just want a low carb alternative that's not a lettuce wrap, go for it! I made a quick lunch yesterday with some leftover chicken, shredded cheese, and salsa, and it worked great. The jicama added a freshness without interfering with any other flavors.

I briefly considered making a quesadilla with them, to see how they'd cook up, but got scared off by the notion of potentially having to scrape burned up jicama off my decrepit frying pan. It's on its last legs as is, I don't need to speed it along. But the package says they're good for did any of you try that? If so, how'd it go?

Pricepoint on these guys is about $4 for the dozen of them. Seems fair, maybe, I guess. Personally, I wouldn't drop any more than that on a regular basis for these guys, but maybe I'm just being cheap again. I like 'em, so does the fam who were brave enough to try them. There's a definite plus for the novelty, innovation and execution, but in the ned, it's still just thinly sliced jicama so I'm not sure how far we can really go here. Double fours? Sure.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Jicama Wraps: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, August 24, 2020

Trader Joe's Crispy Banana Ribbons

This blog's been around for over a decade now. I'm not sure how many readers have been with us since the beginning, but I'm willing to bet virtually none of you would remember a random post from, say, 2013. In our review of Trader Joe's Banana Chips, there was a candid discussion between Sonia and me in regards to her experience—or lack thereof—with banana chips. I'm thinking I could just drop that little introductory passage into this review and pass it off as something new. Nobody would notice, right?

Ah, maybe I'll try something sneaky like that in the near future, but for now, I'll just leave you with a link to that old-school review. It's relevant because banana chips are the obvious comparison everyone's going to make with these new schnazzily-packaged "ribbons," right? Of course.

But before we get into the "chips vs ribbons" compare and contrast session that seems so unavoidable in this review, let's look at the fancy resealable bag we have here. It's a bright, eye-catching yellow, which is fun, if perhaps a bit obnoxious. The ribbons look more like frosted pieces of jagged glass on the artwork. They seem to be exploding, sending shards of sharp banana in all directions. It makes the snack seem far more frightening and dangerous than it is in real life.

The ribbons are moderately crispy, though softer overall than a banana chip, and much thinner. They're indeed ribbon-esque, as they appear to be lengthwise slices from down the side of the banana rather than circular cross-sections, as is the case with traditional banana chips. 

I want to say there's slightly less of that FrankenNana effect you get with banana chips. Some banana chips taste and feel like they've been encased in amber for a millennia or two, however, if you told me these ribbons were sliced and packaged last week, I'd believe you.

I think these are slightly sweeter than banana chips, too. The "hint of glaze" is apparently made of rice bran oil, sugar, and salt. It doesn't make the ribbons seem candy-coated, but subtly bumps them in the direction of "sweet treat" just a tad further than an actual banana.

I think we both enjoy these just a wee bit more than we enjoy banana chips, and like banana chips, Sonia seems just a little more enamored than I am. Not sure if they'll be a repeat purchase for us, but if you're into banana-based snacks, you'll probably appreciate them at least as much as we did.

$2.99 for the 3 oz package. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Trader Joe's Bazaar Basket Snack Mix

At a certain point, there's not so much reinventing of the wheel that's the possible. Instead, it's all in how you spin it.

Take, for instance, Trader Joe's Bazaar Basket Snack Mix. Sounds kinda exotic, right? Let's take your tastebuds on a culinary tour of, say, maybe Turkey or somewhere else Middle Eastern, where you can taste the finest of ingredients mixed expertly and presented perfectly for your enjoyment. And it's for only $5.99! No airfares, no customs, no passports, no...anything, except your $5.99. Come, follow me.

As you can perhaps tell, I was not a marketing major.

Regardless, that's at least a little taste of the spin. But let's take a closer look at the ingredients and the packaging window, shall we? Upon further inspection, it looks...pretty basic.

Almonds. Apricots. Chickpeas. Sour cherries. Pistachios. And that's it.

Immediately, we can write off talking about 60% of the mix. That's not meant as a disparagement, but what can be said about them that already hasn't? If you like 'em, you like 'em. if you don't, you don't. I happen to, but you'll either agree with that assessment, or I'll be highly unlikely to sway you otherwise because there's nothing new that can be said here.

That leaves us discussing chickpeas and sour cherries. Alrighty. Roasted chickpeas might sound kinda exotic, but in actuality, they're not. My lovely bride has bought them before as a straight snack and I remember only vaguely liking them, but in a trail mix type setting they work well. Imagine a lighter, airier, crispier, peanut tasting-type thing and that's what they are. The novelty wears off somewhat quickly. It's not like they add any flavor explosions, unlike what you think what the sour cherries would do...except they don't do much either. By themselves, the cherries are a little tart and are not much unlike a decent raisin in texture, but when mixed in with everything else, their taste gets a little lost. Truly, not that exciting.

Which is basically how I feel about the snack mix altogether. While not bland per se, it's not exactly brimming with flavor either. There's no spices or seasonings or anything tying  the whole experience together. instead, it's just the natural somewhat neutral flavors of each respective component. That's not a bad thing, and something that can and should be appreciated, but it's not life-changing either. Eh well. It's a good enough mix but unlikely to be high on the repeat buy list, as I feel I could make something just as good if not better for less. Double threes.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Bazaar Basket Snack Mix: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Trader Joe's Cheese-Less Cheesecakes

For those of you unfamiliar with our background, Sonia and I aren't vegan. We probably eat less meat than the average American, but dairy is very much a part of our daily diets. Sonia gravitates toward alternative milks like almond and oat, particularly for her cereal, since she occasionally has lactose-intolerance issues, while I very much prefer cow's milk, despite being quite familiar with all its many alternatives since childhood. For something like cheesecake, we'd both reach for the traditional stuff—unless, of course, there's a vegan alternative that can somehow magically compete with "the real deal."

Approaching this cheese-less cheesecake, I am very skeptical. The product itself and packaging look pretty nice, and we all know Trader Joe's has offered impossibly delicious "alternative" foods in the past, but I've also tried a number of lactose-free/vegan offerings that were, in my opinion, less than edible.

Preparation is simple enough. Just plop the cheesecake out of its little cup onto a serving plate, let thaw in the fridge for 2 hours, and voila: ready to eat. I'm not the kind of person that knows what I'm going to be hungry for 5 minutes from now, let alone 2 hours. What am I, Nostradamus? But I went ahead and prepped the cheesecakes anyway, hoping I'd be more or less in the mood for cheesecake for my mid-morning snack, AKA brunch AKA second breakfast.

Well here we are. The moment of truth. First impressions? Really surprisingly, shockingly, good for a vegan product. Not exactly like real cheesecake, but still pretty darn tasty. Sonia's initial reaction: disappointment. We both agree we were expecting the opposite: that Sonia would like it and I would not. Not sure what we can attribute that turn of events to. Maybe my expectations were too low and hers were too high? 

The graham cracker base is pretty much what you'd expect. The "cheese" part is very creamy, although perhaps a tad thinner than regular cheesecake. It's nice and sweet. There's an interesting flavor that's hard to put our fingers on. I'd say it has a bright, almost citrusy element to it. There's definitely a tartness underneath the initial desserty sweetness, but it works quite well in my humble opinion.

Holy goodness! I'm so glad I didn't look at the ingredients before I tried this stuff. This "cheesecake" basically has a lima bean base. Lima beans! Oh gosh that's gross. I mean, lima beans are okay when buttered and salted and served as a side dish. But lima bean cheesecake?? Ugh. That's just weird. Maybe Sonia just subconsciously tasted lima beans and I didn't. Why not red beans like you'd find in all those Asian desserts? Or tapioca? Those would be less...unusual choices. 

Other ingredients are pretty normal. There are lots of different kinds of oils, agave syrup, oats. On down the list you'll see there is in fact lemon juice. I don't know if I'll ever get over that lima bean thing. It's like the yogurt I consumed and enjoyed for many years was ruined once I found out there were thousands of ground up little bugs used for coloring in them. You know, carmine?

Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I'll try not to punish this dessert for being made of lima beans, because it does taste oddly good to me. Strangely enough, Sonia's not grossed out by the lima bean thing. But she'll only throw out two and a half stars. She's not impressed. I might have gone with four and a half put me down for four, I guess.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Trader Joe's Protein Muffins

Mornings can be tough, especially these past few months. Wake up after another hot summer night to a hot summer day, doing the same thing all over again because what else can you do? There's no end in sight to it either, like it's some sort of strange bizarro Groundhog Day realm we're stuck in.

It doesn't help that both Sandy and I are dabbling with intermittent fasting, as it seems the trendy thing to do these days, although with somewhat mixed results. And our kids have taken on the habit of not eating all that much dinner most nights, so needless to say, when it's time for my lovely bride and I to start eating for the day around 10:30am, we're hungry, and the kids are clamoring for an early elevensies after second breakfast wore off, and sometimes a little mix up is nice. You know, to keep it lively....or something.

I guess that's why we've been giving Trader Joe's Protein Muffins the ol' college try. As you can see, at present there are two varieties, Dark Chocolate and Maple. They're both similar in concept and ingredients - cassava and almond flour base, some coconut flour tossed in, milk protein isolate (as appetizing as that sounds), egg powder (very appetizing) and a few more things to round it all out. It's a powder in the cup, add a little water, stir like mad, nuke for a minute, and voila! It's a warm spongy muffinesque thing in a cup ! Now that sounds most appetizing of all!

Truth be told, I'm surprised by how decent both varieties are. There's nothing too "weird" about either one, and neither put off overwhelmingly healthy vibes. I can tell this is true by how my kids were fighting over the last couple teeny bites - if there was anything "off" about them in the slightest, they'd detect it.

The dark chocolate, also surprisingly, was the winner in our house, for kids and grownups. The chocolate isn't that  dark, but offers a respectable richness without being overly sweet. The real winning bit is there's a small handful of chocolate chips sprinkles in that got a little melty but still have some bite - you get one of those, you've won! It's really, and again pretty surprisingly, good. i'd eat 'em again for sure.

As for the maple, think of a pancake that absorbed a bunch of maple syrup. That's how this muffins feels and tastes. Good? Absolutely! But for a muffin, it's missing something, like it needs one more ingredient. Personally I'd love a few pecans in there, that'd make them killer. The chocolate version had the chips to bite into, the maple one has....nothing. Good maple, though, which is always a winner in my book so I judge not too harshly lest I be judged. Maybe I'll supply my own nuts next time.

Make out of the nutritionals what you will. As is par for the course, both have a lot of fat, a surprisingly high amount of sodium, a large chunk of your daily cholesterol. Gluten free, if that's a plus for you. Sandy said the protein muffins were better than giving our kids a straight up sugar bomb to eat...likely true, but yeah, there's a lot of that too. On the plus side they certainly quelled our hunger for a couple hours, and they go well with a cup of coffee. I'm hoping the muffins will stick around for a while into the fall and winter where they could be a good warm yo'self treat then too.

$1.99 each. Maybe that's a good price? Sorry, not in the microwavable single use cup protein muffin market much these days aside from TJ's. Will likely buy 'em again...and again...and again...just like everything else this summer. Again.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Protein Muffins: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Trader Joe's Maple Protein Muffins: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, August 14, 2020

Trader Joe's Greek Style Feta Dressing

***Just over a year ago, near Spokane, Washington***

"Mmm. You remember this feta dressing?" asked Sonia, tearing into a freshly-purchased jar of Trader Joe's Greek Style Feta Dressing. "We don't need to take pictures because we already reviewed it a long time ago."

"Um...I remember the dressing, but I don't think we ever got around to reviewing it," I replied.

"No, we definitely reviewed it because we like it so much—well, because I like it so much," she insisted.

"I like it, too," I said. "But I'm pretty sure we haven't reviewed it yet."

"Wel, den ve cn tak pitchers nxt time," she responded through a mouthful of salad. "Or jus tak pitchers of de haf empy boddle."

***Yesterday, at an undisclosed location in the Upper Midwest***

"Ahhh. Remember this Greek feta dressing? It's so good," said Sonia, placing a bottle of it in the fridge. "I'm going to make a salad for lunch. You want one?"

"Sure. Thanks. Lemme snap a pic real fast this time," I said.

"Oh, we don't have to. We reviewed this stuff a looong time ago," declared Sonia.


It might seem like I'm having a chuckle at my wife's expense. Valid observation. I must confess that my brain is often the one with faulty memories. In this case, however, I correctly recalled that this delicious salad dressing had somehow eluded our sights for review on the blog all these years.

It's actually Sonia's favorite dressing of all time. I wouldn't go quite that far personally, but it is exceptionally tasty. It has all the tangy flavors of feta, but it's not quite as heavy as you might expect.

You can chalk it up to poor memory again, but Sonia and I both feel like it has gotten slightly thinner over the years, texture-wise. I'm not heartbroken over that. Thin dressings work just as well as thick ones, particularly when they're as flavorful as this selection.

It's almost like liquefied feta cheese mixed with a red wine vinaigrette sauce. It's got a nice zippy flavor with a subtle medley of Greek/Italian spices in the background. It goes with just about any kind of salad we've tried, and it's great as a unique sandwich condiment. Sometimes we'll get subs from the local hoagie place sans condiments, so they don't get soggy while they wait in our refrigerator, and then when we're ready to eat them, we'll just put some of this stuff on them. Delicioso. 

$1.99 for an 8 oz. bottle at your local Trader Joe's. Perfect five stars from Sonia. Four and a half from this guy.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups

Ladies and gentlemen, friends, commoners, I present to you King Buttercup. There he is, holding the new(ish) Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups. And while he may appear to be a common stuffed pug, perhaps you will find him not so common after all. He is, of course, named after the colors of a traditional peanut butter cup, which are colors he is adorned with so well. King Buttercup's domain is my basement desk, where he keeps me company all day long at the request of my five year old, who not only brought him from the Land of Target but bequeathed him his new name as well. Because, of course, as we all do, he loves good ol' buttercups anyways.

Who doesn't?

There's a few of you oddballs out there who somehow don't like chocolate and peanut butter together. I don't understand that at all. But maybe you need a small, high quality twist on the default American classic, hence King Buttercup sharing this TJ's treat with you today.

Oh. My. Goodness. These cups are so right up my alley. There's almost nothing not to like here. What really gets me is the overall quality of both the chocolate and the almond butter, and how well they fuse together.

By now, if you've had any TJ's dark chocolate covered products, you're familiar with the stuff - it's oh so good, isn't it? Not too sweet, not too milky, but dark and rich without being bland or bitter. I could go for darker, personally, but this is a "dark chocolate for the masses" I suppose, and it works.

The almond butter is pretty great, too. It's a touch salty and earthy with a slight bit of graininess that seems inherent to all almond butters.I'd likely eat it straight out of a jar if it were a standalone product, which is not something that I'd say about Reese peanut butter. That stuff only tastes good because of the chocolate and isn't an actually good solo product, in my opinion...but the TJ's nut butter here is.

And it melds so well with the dark chocolate. Here the two are, in perfect symbiiotic relationship with each other. Whales and barnacles, yin and yang, Siegfried and Roy...and dark chocolate and almond butter, here in a teeny tiny little cup.

Wait..."teeny tiny little cup?" Alas, there's the one issue. I should have thought to wonder down to the corner store to buy  some Reeses for comparision, but these guys seem small. I'd offer a wagering, off the top of my head guess, of being no more than 80% as big as a Reese. What's that mean? There's less chocolate and almond butter to enjoy! I want more! Even if that comes with a slightly higher price point! Some things are just worth it.

That's the only complaint. Seriously, go buy some and put 'em in your fridge or freezer. You'll thank me. If only they were a smidge bigger...oh well. As is, they are a treat fit for a king. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Almond butter Cups: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, August 10, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic 100% Pomegranate Juice

Eating a pomegranate is such a unique experience. The Punica granatum's insides don't resemble any other common fruit. The husk part is bejeweled with dozens of tiny red seeds. Popping the little red morsels out with a spoon can be tedious, but the crunch and the unique sweet-tart berry-esque flavor make it so worth it.

I'm not even sure how you'd juice a pomegranate. The seeds are such a small portion of the entire fruit, and even those are mostly a starchy white material coated with something slick and juicy. They must just crush all the seeds and then strain out the starchy pulp..? That's just a guess. Considering how tiresome it is to eat pomegranate, it must be even more laborious to juice one.

Fortunately, we don't have to juice the fruit ourselves. All we have to do is drink it. But even that might not be easy for some.

Upon first opening the bottle, there was a whiff of something nearly beet-ish. I'm not a fan of plain beet juice, so it was a little off-putting. I poured a glass each for Sonia and me. 

The taste of the beverage is something more in the direction of cranberry, at least at first. It's sweet and sour—tart enough to make you pucker. Up front, the flavor seems pleasant enough to me, but just a moment later, the finish hits you with a wave of dry bitterness that's hard to describe and not particularly palatable to me or the wifey. It's a biting, caustic essence that can potentially mar any element of enjoyment that may have occurred just a second or two prior.

In my opinion, the astringent aftertaste doesn't completely ruin the experience. But if you ask Sonia, she'll say otherwise. She noped out after just a few sips.

I've managed to consume at least half the bottle on this hot August Sunday afternoon. Compared to other more prevalent fruit juices, it's not particularly refreshing or chuggable. Both Sonia and I find it significantly less drinkable than POM Wonderful. I'm thinking of it as a unique non-alcoholic red wine meant to be served chilled—a select strain from the vineyard that I just don't quite "get" yet. I keep drinking it thinking it'll grow on me. It wouldn't be the first beverage that was unappealing to me initially but slowly became a staple in my fridge over time.

As it stands now, I think I'll go with three stars. After all, it's organic and full of antioxidants. I'm choosing to see it as an adventure, and an experience—much like the eating of pomegranate seeds. Sonia gives it two stars, stating that the aftertaste just ruins it for her.

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Trader Joe's Everything but the Gluten Crackers

"Crackers" really isn't the first word that would come to mind upon sampling one of the new Trader Joe's Everything but the Gluten Crackers. There's nothing about it that conjures up the classic "cracker" prototype in my head, which admittedly looks pretty much like a round Ritz. I'm sorry, it's just the way I was raised.

My lovely bride agrees, though, so I can't be too far off. But she fully embraces the second descriptive title, "Norwegian crispbread." Ugh. "Crispbread." She says that's a different kinda deal than a cracker, which I can get aboard with, but I just don't like how it sounds. Too fancy schmancy.

Yet I have no other ideas what to call these thumbsized tombstone shaped thingies. "People suet" sounds wrong too, although it's about the closest with all those seeds. So I guess crackers it is. I digress.

Dear goodness, there's a bunch of seeds, namely sunflower and sesame. If you're familiar with sesame sticks as a snack, these guys are pretty similar tasting, except maybe crunchier. Some oatflake bits, quinoa flour and corn flour kinda hold it all together and add an extra crumbly crunch. Upfront the taste is all earthy seeds, all the time, especially the sesame, but what lingers is the garlic. It's not a lot of garlic - nothing too roasty and boasty - but it's kinda that sneaky type that develops only after a couple chews but then just stays...and stays...and stays. Not in an unpleasant way, mind you, but it's absolutely there.

All that being said, pretty much everyone in the family loves these TJ's gluten free snackies. We've been chewing them down just straight, but man, they'd be awesome with a variety of dips or toppers. Sharp cheddar? Hummus? Cream cheese? Salsa? A little nut butter of some type? Yes, to all of those. Hmm, maybe they are more crackery than I give them credit for. And for $2.99 for the package, they've already been repeat purchases here...and we're not gluten sensitive folks in the least. Double fours!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Everything but the Gluten Crackers: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Trader Joe's Garlic and Onion Pistachios

In the entertainment industry, when an actor has something to do in a scene other than just walking or talking, it's called "business." It usually has nothing to do with the plot, but it might have to do with the development of the character. It might not even be in the script—something simply improvised on the spot.

"Give the lead actor some business. He looks awkward just standing there," a director might say.

Examples include: swishing the ice around in a cocktail glass and taking a drink, smoking, rolling dice or a stress ball around in his hand, or...yep, you guessed it: shelling and eating pistachios. That's a great example of "business." I used to hate eating unshelled pistachios because of the extra work. But now, I feel like it gives me something cool to do. It's good "business." If I ever re-enter the world of independent filmmaking, I'll insist there's a character that has a bag of unshelled pistachios with him all the time.

There's something very visceral about the sound of shelling a nut, the crunching of said nut between teeth, and the dropping of the shell into a bowl or other container full of other pistachio shells. I find it a pleasant accompaniment to whatever brooding nonsense I'm sputtering on about these days. It's somehow less vulgar than spitting sunflower seed shells and more refined than peeling peanuts. I suppose eating walnuts with a steel cracker would be just as cool, but I simply like the taste of pistachios more than walnuts.

Sonia grew up noshing on pistachios from a glass bowl on the coffee table of a celebrity couple her mom kept house for in the 80's and 90's. Her family seldom had pistachios on hand at home, so having access to such an expensive snack was always a treat for her. In short, we both like unshelled pistachios.

Upon first taste of these garlic and onion dealies, I was slightly dismayed that the garlic and onion flavors weren't significantly stronger. Oddly, Sonia was struck with the opposite notion. She thought the garlic and onion taste was bordering on too strong. She's a fan of garlic and onion flavors just as much as I am, so I found her take on the product surprising.

As we plowed through nut after nut, I did find that the garlic and onion flavors built up on my tongue, but I still wouldn't have minded them a little more on the pungent side. Pistachio is still very much the dominant flavor here, rather than garlic or onion. 

A number of the nuts stuck to their shells and refused to be separated from them. They'd split in half, but each section of nut was still fused to the outer shell. This happened in a minority of cases, but it was still enough to be mildly off-putting and frustrating.

Despite their perceived lack of potent garlic flavor, they were still addicting. We didn't finish the bag in one sitting or anything like that, but I'm pretty sure we each had our 1/4 cup standard serving size each and then some. I don't think this bag will be sitting around our place for more than a few days or so. 

All things considered, it's a good quality snack for about $7. I don't know if we'll buy them again any time soon, but I'd probably reach for these before I'd buy a bag of plain pistachios. A subtle garlic and onion flavor is better than no garlic and onion flavor IMO. Three and a half stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Sweet & Spicy Pineapple BBQ Sauce

Always gotta be on the lookout for a new barbecue sauce around these parts. Always, but especially this past spring and summer, because, well, you know. All this extra "free time" at home has meant my grill and smoker have gotten more of a workout since March than all previous years accumulated in totality. Not much else to really do, you know, other than sit outside with a cold beer or three and watch the kids in the sprinkler while prepping some tasty, homecooked food. It's not that bad.

And seasonings and flavors? You gotta do them right. Granted, a little S&P is the choice for me for steaks, which are a (medium) rare treat, but stuff like pulled pork or ribs or grilled chicken need a little saucy action more times than not...

...which makes them perfect for Trader Joe's Organic Sweet & Spicy Pineapple BBQ Sauce.

Love it! This is one pretty terrific sauce, and pretty new unless I am somehow mistaken. Do you like pineapple? Do you like barbecue sauce? Does the idea of the two of them together sound even remotely appetizing? Then you'll love this stuff, I can (almost) guarantee it.

At the base is a pretty strong, traditional style BBQ sauce. Dare I even say Kansas City-esque style? That sounds about right. It's thick and goopy with a bite of tang but a little heavy on the black pepper for a little extra kick. All that is delicious, of course, but a little plain by itself...

Enter pineapple.

Granted, it's not overflowing with citrusy pineapple taste, but it's definitely there, as a balanced extra dose of sweetness and tang that mingles in well with the rest of the sauce. If trying the TJ sauce by itself, the pineapple doesn't stand out as more than a hint or two, but when heated and basted it definitely expresses itself more strongly, but never too much. Indeed, the sauce sides more towards spicy than sweet, as our kiddos will sure attest to.

Winner winner. We like it, and it serves as a great summery mix up to one of our still standing all time favorites. Gonna stock up on this while we can...never know what's gonna happen next. Til then, we grill. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Sweet & Spicy Pineapple BBQ Sauce: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons