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Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Italian Panettone

Sometimes I wonder if I wasn't supposed to be born into a big Italian family. I'd never even heard of the Feast of the Seven Fishes until a couple days ago, after watching the 2018 indie film by the same name. Seven types of fish and seafood all on the same day? Yes, please. I like the way you Italians roll.

Likewise, I'm becoming more and more fond of the panettone each year, thanks mostly to Trader Joe's. This is the fifth type of panettone product we've reviewed on this blog, and I don't think I've disliked any of them. They're tasty, festive, and Christmassy. Look, you can even hang this one on your tree. It's an ornament and a snack all in one.


Like the other panettones I've tried, this one is made with soft, supple, lightly sweet, slightly buttery bread. But this one's gluten-free! Goodness. I'm almost always stating that Trader Joe's gf products taste great but have a weird texture. Not this one. The texture here is amazeballs. I probably wouldn't have even guessed it was gluten-free if I hadn't known any better.

There's a good bit of packaging around the product. Maybe it's overkill, but it keeps the bread remarkably fresh. There's the decorative outer cardboard box, then there's a cellophane wrapper within, and finally, there's a cupcake-esque muffin liner on the bottom and sides of the panettone.


The product is spongy and pleasantly moist. The bread alone would make a great little treat, but there are "golden raisins" and teensy bits of candied orange peel scattered throughout the loaf to make it even more interesting. The sweetness level is probably on par with a breakfast muffin, rather than a dessert like cake or cupcakes. In fact I had my panettone for my breakfast yesterday, and it was the perfect size and density to serve as a morning meal.

At $1.99, it's plenty affordable. If you've got anybody with a gluten-free diet on your Christmas list, this product has Sonia's seal of approval and mine as well. The original glutenful version is still available, but the taste and texture of this one doesn't suffer much if at all for want of wheat or gluten. Four Christmas stars a piece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Trader Joe's Stepping It Up Spicy Snack Bar Mix

Around this time of year, there's routinely some homemade Chex mix around the house. For whatever reason, during the holidays, it's a constant, and, well, why should this year be different? Tradition, right? Nobody needs to shout that from the rooftops for me. 

Along with the Chex mix there's a constant chorus, and I don't mean just from 'last Christmas" or 'All i Want for Christmas is You." No, in reference to the Chex mix, it's "no mining! No mining!" What's that mean? That means no digging around for the very best bites, like the wheat Chex that got a little extra soaky in Worchestershire sauce. Take a scoop, and you get what you get and you don't get upset. No mining. It's sacred tradition.

We may have to make a new one for Trader Joe's Stepping it Up Spicy Snack Bar Mix.

Acutely minded readers and shoppers may recall the Step Up to the Snack Bar mix that TJ's has peddled in recent years. This is a spicy sibling, a seasonal sidekick, a spirited sequel. 

And man, it's good. 

There's some of the usual suspects around - almonds, cheese sticks, big clunky pretzel pieces a la broken up sourdough bites - all covered in this dusty, spicy seasoning blend. It's everywhere and while mostly tasting like seasoned salt, there are some hot pepper kicks sneaking through here and there. Allegedly some of the pieces have different seasoning - like the pretzels are supposed to have "sweet jalapeno" - but a lot of that gets lost literally in the mix. Not a complaint, it's good. 

There's also these "chile lemon corn nuggets" that deserve their own mention. What the heck are they? Well...they're kinda like the Peruvian corn snacks TJ's has carried in recent years. If you're not familair, think huge, crunchy corn kernels, all crispified and mummified. It's a bit of an odd bite if you'tre not accustomed. While I don't mind them particularly, the "big crunch" factor for a good snack mix has already been satisfied by the pretzel chunks, so i would have preferred a smaller or alternative form.

All of that doesn't mention the absolute best part, though: the pasila chile and sesame chips. My goodness. I'd inhale a sack full of these bad boys. I love sesame chips and sticks and all that kinda stuff, so naturally I'm inclined to be fairly fond of them, but there's something about them - maybe their own chile flavors, maybe the excess seasoning shook off on them - that make them extra tasty to snack on for a fine snacking target. No mining? No rule here, though yes, my lovely bride invoked it to make sure she got some.

Overall spice level isn't too bad, maybe a 5, perhaps a 6 at most. Most people can handle it. My kids couldn't, which is a plus - more for me! The Stepping It Up mix goes very well with an IPA, as I confirmed on a few different nights recently. Pick some up for a little kick - at $4.99 for the can, you may discover (as we did) that it goes fast. Double fours here!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Stepping It Up Spicy Snack bar Mix: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons


 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Trader Joe's Creamed Greens

It's kind of ironic and counterintuitive, but Thanksgiving Day and the days surrounding it produce some of the lowest numbers for us on this blog as far as traffic is concerned. You might think that what is arguably the most food-centric day of the year would generate greater interest in food blogs and such, but you'd be wrong.

I mean, it's great that people are apparently paying attention to their families and traveling and preparing for the big day rather than fussing about our silly little grocery store blog. Doesn't bother me a bit. And now that I think about it, it might be slightly disturbing if the reverse were true.

But we're heading into not only the biggest and best family + food holiday of the year, but immediately after, we dive headlong into the Christmas season. At least around our house, turkeys and gourds will be replaced by fat men in red suits and reindeer by the end of this long weekend. So I found it appropriate to look at a product that might find its way into either a Thanksgiving meal or a Christmas meal. It's nothing quite as exciting as a pie or a cake, but hey, every big holiday meal needs to at least pretend that there's been an attempt to provide greens and veggies. So if the creamed corn side dish isn't looking adequate in the way of plant-based roughage, here's another item to consider.


Trader Joe's Creamed Greens with Brussels Sprouts, Kale, & Parmesan Cheese. In addition to being the only Trader Joe's product I've ever seen that includes the Oxford comma before an ampersand in its extended title, it's also one of the only dishes that takes not one, but two of the most hated vegetables in existence and attempts to turn them into calorific comfort foods...with moderate success, I might add.

The flavor is somewhere between a spinach dip and a green bean casserole. There's a heavy, creamy, salty, savory vibe. It tastes quite strongly of parmesan cheese and onions, but the kale and Brussels sprouts are far from wanting in the mixture. That is, your fork will be full of actual greens with what appears to be a medium-thick glaze of cheesy creaminess. The overall effect is a nice hearty veggie flavor with a major comfort food component.

My biggest and possibly only complaint is that certain bits seemed stringy. I'm guessing that the kale is mostly to blame for the stringiness, although sprouts can be a little tough and pulpy, too. There seemed to be "veins" of vegetable matter that didn't want to melt in the mouth quite like the rest of the dish did. Not every bite was stringy, and even the ones that were didn't stop me from plowing through my share of this otherwise smooth side. Sonia didn't seem to mind the texture of the creamed greens at all.

$4.99 for the one pound package. I'd eat this again alongside a traditional holiday meal. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

p.s. It works as a chip dip, too.

Three and a half stars from this guy. Four full stars from Sonia. 

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Trader Joe's Italian Style Soffrito Seasoning Blend

Some days are just potato soup days, aren't they?

This past Sunday was. First of all, it was a Sunday. Also: cool, rainy, all not-sure-if-November-or-March outside (in so many ways, actually). The kinda day that just made you want to curl up with a warm blanket and cats and books and movies while the crockpot did its thing all day to bring forth a warm, comforting meal that goes down easy.

One of the best things about potato soup is: you can make it taste however you want with toppings and mix-ins. In my opinion you gotta go with bacon, cheese and green onion at the very least, but then something else is needed. Something to give it a little more flavor, a little pizzazz, a little je ne sais quoi. Could go hot sauce or salsa, sure, but sometimes, that's not what I'm looking for.

Turns out it was Trader Joe's Italian Style Soffrito Seasoning Blend. 

Look at this stuff. It's beautiful. It looks very fancy and refined, what, with all the different rustic colors and flakes and crinkles all mixed up. That's just how it looks - but also, how it smells? Wow. "Aromatic" is an understatement. Crack it open and this warm, inviting scent of herbs and spices wafts everywhere. I kinda want to leave a jar open somewhere as an air freshener. If I were to open a fancy Italian restaurant, I think I'd pipe in the scent from this somehow to the dining room - it'd be an automatic five star review. 

Inspired by the "holy trinity" of onions, carrots and celery (or as the French would say, mirepoix), the Italian soffrito seasoning is very evocative of those elements without actually featuring carrots or celery. There's a lot of onion, for sure, which adds a little punch and really drives the overall flavor, but the rest of the ingredients like garlic or rosemary or crushed red pepper taste more like the seasonings one could put on those veggies instead of the actual veggies. Which works, because that's what one tastes anyway from a mirepoix/soffrito/onions, carrots and celery. I really wish we Americans had a cool name for all that. Still, a little dried carrot and celery salt could have been used, just to pay proper homage, but I'm not going to quibble too much and just run with it. It's just too good, with herbal warmth, the right amount of salt (neither too much nor too little), the smallest of kicks 

We love it in our house and have used in various ways already, not just on potato soup. Top of pizza? Check. Eggs? Yup. Grabbing a little pinch here and there? Absolutely. With holiday and soup season in full swing, I can see this in more soups, sauces, dishes like stuffing, atop a roast, most anything else...as always if you have ideas or favorite implementations please share! And only like 4 bucks max for an ample sized jar - I just bought a regular little guy of seasoning salt at a regular grocery store for nearly that much, so the price is definitely a good deal for what it is. 

Speaking of fours, we're gonna hit it with two of them and add a little more, because that's what you're gonna be doing once you give this a try. Boom.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Italian Style Soffrito Seasoning Blend: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons




 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Trader Joe's Cranberry Orange Relish


Apparently there are some cran-haters out there, but I ain't one of 'em. I love me some cranberries. Especially this time of year. Oh how I love the sweet-tartness, the tang, the taste of cranberries. But then, hmmm, it occurs to me that I've never eaten an actual cranberry. I really don't think I've ever had one in my life. I mean, I've had "craisins," which are dried cranberry raisin-esque thingies. And also, apparently, that name is trademarked by Ocean Spray, so it's actually Craisins®. Please don't sue us, Ocean Spray.

I've had cranberry sauce, cranberry jam, cranberry juice, cranberry juice mixed with literally every other kind of fruit juice, and cranberries baked into all sorts of confections. But why on earth haven't I ever eaten a plump, juicy cranberry straight off the vine...? Bush...? Tree...? I don't even know where cranberries grow.


Oh well. It may be some time before I eat an actual whole cranberry in its natural state, but thanks to long-time reader and commenter NJ-to-TX, I was recently reminded of this product, which I'd heard about before, but never really paid much attention to—and lemme tell ya' it's crantastic. It's been around Trader Joe's for a long, long time. And, as is usually the case with such a product, that's a testament to its scrumptiousness.

This stuff is sweet. It's very sweet. It's actually a bit sweeter than traditional cranberry sauce by my estimation, and you'd expect it to be so with 25g of sugar per serving. There's plenty of tartness, too, to make it a little less like a candy and more like a condiment.

There are exactly three ingredients: cranberries, sugar, and oranges. I'm a little surprised sugar isn't the number one ingredient, but I guess cranberries are a little sweet on their own. There's definitely more cranberry flavor, while the citrus kick of the orange is more subtle and understated. It's a beautiful balance of the constituent flavors.


Channeling my ten-year-old self that zeroed in on cranberry sauce over any other dish on the Thanksgiving Day table, I took bite after bite straight out of tub upon first opening it. Sonia was less enthused to consume it plain, and like a real adult, prefers it on turkey, tofurkey, stuffing, and/or mashed potatoes. It does go VERY well with all of those things, but I'd get creative and try it in pies, as a dip for chicken nuggets, or whatever ridiculous combo pops into my foodie-hack brain at the moment.

If you haven't checked it out, I recommend trying this in place of traditional cranberry sauce at your Turkey Day meal. $3.49 for the 6 serving tub. Four and a half stars from me. Three and a half from Sonia.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Trader Joe's Cornbread Bites

Just thought we'd revisit this great review! 'Tis the season to be thankful! 

Cornbread bites feel Thanksgivingy enough. I mean, we had some with our Turkey Day meal, and they were hearty enough, heavy enough to pair up with Turkey-Less Turkey and stuffing—indulgent enough to be one of my favorite elements of the entire meal.

Sonia's parents, my in-laws or "mi suegros" en espaƱol, generally don't celebrate major holidays like Christmas and Easter since their roots are considered pagan. It's a pentecostal thing. They make an exception for Thanksgiving, though, since it's about giving thanks. How appropriate that these appetizers bring traditional American delights like cornbread together with serrano chiles, native to Mexico. It's a great match, in my opinion.

Trader Joe's Cornbread Bites are super cheesy, full of delicious pepper jack. There's a moderate amount of heat, as well as a moderate amount of sweetness.

Southern cornbread purists might be a little disappointed. I've known Southerners to go on rants about how tea has to always be sweet and cornbread must never be so. Fortunately, I'm a Yankee boy and we had our Thanksgiving in the northern midwest this year, so we didn't hear much in the way of dissenting opinions about this particular sweetened cornbread.


Truth be told, the cornbread isn't really the main attraction here. The shells are a little thinner than I would have assumed. Many bites have more cheese and pepper than cornbread by my estimation, although that does vary from piece to piece, as some of the bites had more cheese leak out than others.

That might be my biggest complaint. The appetizers were all frumpy looking when they came out of the oven, cheese piled outside the apps. They looked nothing like the pic on the box, and they weren't particularly crispy when baked for exactly 15 minutes at 400°.


It's a minor complaint, though. They still tasted great. Cornbread + cheese + peppers = scrumptious. Twelve bites for $3.99. Almost everyone at our Thanksgiving feast agreed, these are a thumbs up—probably in the ballpark of four stars a piece out of five for Trader Joe's Cornbread Bites with Pepper Jack Cheese and Serrano Chile Peppers from this guy. 

Sonia was slightly less enthused, stating "I don't really like cornbread that much." I think it's because she waited too long to try her bites, and she had to nuke them to make them warm again. I tried a bit of her microwave-reheated ones, and they weren't even close to as good as the ones straight from the oven. She wanted to give them only three stars, but the rest of us think that's a bit too low—so three and a half, I guess.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Trader Joe's Spicy Chakri Mix

 
During my freshman year of college, Aerosmith released their Nine Lives album. My dormitory roomie, whom I'd known since high school, and his then girlfriend, were big fans. So they purchased the CD shortly after its release. On it was a track entitled "Taste of India." The opening lines of it went: 

"Gotta love the sweet taste of India. Lingers on the tip of my tongue." 

Like a good Christian roommate, my old friend changed the lyrics to "Gotta love the sweet taste of Nathan's mom" and would sing it that way when it would play on his boombox in our very tiny dorm room. We'd always have a laugh together about the lyric swap, as "your mom" jokes were in vogue at the time. 

But none of us were well-versed when it came to actual Indian food back then. In subsequent years, walking the streets of Los Angeles and Philadelphia with a bag of curry or channa masala take-out in my hand, my friends would often hear me mumbling "Gotta love the sweet taste of Nathan's mom" under my breath and would ask what the heck I was singing.


I gotta give it to Trader Joe's for furthering my experience with Indian food. Most of their Indian selections aren't quite restaurant quality in my opinion, but they're close enough that when you consider price and convenience, they're still a must-try in most cases.

This snack bag is a little different from the other Indian selections I've had in that it's a dry snack, rather than a saucy meal with veggies, rice, and tofu or meat. It has a spice blend that's similar to a lot of other Indian treats—curry leaves, turmeric powder, and rosemary.

In some ways, it's not a far cry from a Tex-Mex snack mix. The smell is pretty similar and the heat level is comparable, also both styles are super crunchy. There are tiny balls, skinny sticks, peanuts, and those big long pieces that look like the spines of small animals, and each element is super crispy. Looks like all the pieces are made of chickpeas and/or rice, other than the peanuts, of course. I really do wish the peanuts were larger and more plentiful. The peanuts on the cover art are huge compared to the tiny ones I found in my mix.


Other than that, not too many complaints. It's a convenient, exotic snack that's got a decent flavor and a little spicy kick. It would be great on salads or maybe even mixed in with other Indian dishes. I'd even try it with other international cuisines. I'm thinking this would be great on top of Pad Thai or even in wonton soup...? 

It's salty, nutty, and moderately oily. I still think it would be much stronger with more peanuts. But hey, I can always add my own, right? $2.99 for the 7oz. bag. Three and a half stars from me. Four from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Trader Joe's Gobbler Quesadilla

Ever hear of the Gobblerito?

It's legendary out here in the Pittsburgh area. Maybe there's something similar wherever you are, but here, every fall, at the local chain Mad Mex, it's officially Gobblerito season. it's literally Thanksgiving dinner as a burrito - turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, black beans and corn all wrapped up and served with gravy and cranberry. Somehow, all my life I've avoided trying one until just a few weeks ago, and I am lost in the awareness of the error of my ways. It's amazing. It's huge. It's comforting.  

And it's a major dietary depth charge. It's so bad for you it practically makes Trader Joe's Gobbler Quesadilla look like health food. 

Granted, the TJ turkeydilla is somewhat of a lighter take. No taters. No gravy. Still plenty of turkey of the roasted variety - not quite as good as a fresh bird, but not dry and insipid either. It passes muster, for sure. Stuck some kale in there, too. That's healthy, although I'm pretty sure I've never seen kale on my Thanksgiving table. But it works. A couple tart cranberries sprinkled in add to the freshness and give a little "flavor sparkle" and seem at home. And naturally it's all held together with a big ol' flour tortilla, with neither too much nor too little tortilla or filling to make it all work

The two other ingredients, though, are worth more insight. First off, the butternut squash. My lovely bride loves butter nut squash while I'm much more ambivalent towards it. We decided to share a quesadilla for lunch the other day, and after just one bite, she unwrapped the whole thing and plinko'ed out every bit of squash she could. Never, in all my years...I took a bite, expecting some shenanigans of the crookneck pumpkin variety. None, really. But my wife? Couldn't stand it. "it...It just doesn't work here, with everything else," she said. With a little unpacking, it seemed that maybe the fibrous nature of the mini chunks weren't the hoped-for mouthfeel, and perhaps some mashed or squashed squash would have been a better option. Taste was good, feel was off. Make of that as you will.

Also: mozzarella. I'm a bit torn on this. I can see why mozzarella was chosen - it is, after all, a quesadilla so a gob of melty oozy cheese is a must, and mozzarella is always on call and ready to go for that kinda job But the rest of the ingredients seemed to demand something sharper and more robust, perhaps like a decent cheddar or even gouda. Some mozzarella would still be welcome, or heck, keep the mozz as is and sprinkle in some quality parm shavings to pique it up - but mozzarella as the only cheese, when not really jiving with the rest of the ingredients in a way that makes Thanksgiving sense, just seemed a bit too haphazard and uninspired. 

That being, said, in all, the turkey quesadilla made a good enough lunch which we may or may not repeat buy. Costs $4.49 (way less than a Gobblerito!) which puts it in the right kind of price range for a quick grab, easy, filling meal. Matching 3.5s from us!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gobbler Quesadilla: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons 


 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Trader Joe's Apple Cider Fruit Spread

Exactly 400 years ago today, the Mayflower arrived at what is now known as Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The Pilgrims had been at sea for 66 days. They weathered heavy storms between England and the New World, many had been severely ill during their journey, and one sailor even died. They nearly lost one of their main masts but were able to repair it as they traveled.

Their first winter in America was even more harsh than their voyage across the Atlantic. Nearly half of all the Pilgrims perished in the next few months. The First Thanksgiving wouldn't take place until over a year after their first landing. By then they had food, shelter, and Native American friends, but the road to that point was a long and bumpy one. I was originally going to segue with something about apples, but turns out apples didn't even exist in North America at the time. So I'll go with this: the point is that they never gave up, not even in the darkest winter.

Likewise, Trader Joe's never gave up on this product—or, more precisely, its predecessor, the Apple Cider Jam. I thought it seemed popular enough and it was definitely good enough, but Trader Joe's saw fit to rename, repackage, and reformulate it, resulting in the fruit spread you see here. It could be they just went with a different supplier, but who knows? Honestly, who cares? Because this version is at least as good as the last.


At first glance, the spread seems to have virtually identical ingredients to the jam. But upon closer inspection, we see that the sugar is now "organic cane sugar." Okay, that's good. There's "apple juice" in this one, rather than "cider" in its predecessor. Hmm, weird. But if anything, I think it makes this iteration just a hint sweeter. Also, this version actually lists "cinnamon, mace (not like pepper spray) cloves, ginger, coriander, allspice, and cardamom" rather than simply the mysterious and vague "spices" noted in the older version. It's a great spice blend to complement the sweetness, not overpowering at all, but festive and fall-ish.

It could be my imagination, but I think the apple chunks here are more angular and irregular than the jam version. It was almost as if the chunks were all the same size and somewhat cubicle shaped before, while these are more random. It feels like someone cut these apple chunks by hand while the other chunks felt like they were diced by a machine.


Like the original, this one is great on toast with cream cheese, plain yogurt, waffles, as a filling for a pie, or as a baste for poultry—I'd totally try it on a Thanksgiving turkey. We even used it as a marmalade type sauce for fried butterfly shrimp and we both loved it. At $3.49, this one's a tad cheaper and it's still the same size jar (12oz).

Four and a half stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Trader Joe's Everything but the Leftovers Seasoning Blend

What does a good holiday dinner taste like to you?

Key word: dinner

There's so many great desserts, of course. Plethora of pies, preferably pecan, possibly pumpkin. Apple acceptable, cherry is choice. A cacophony of cookies, munchable mint, chewy chocolate chip, peanut butter is plenty better. Quality cakes as well...I could go on...

But we're here to talk the dinner itself. Tons of turkey, mounds of mashed potatoes, steep states of stuffing, generous grabs of green beans, copius corn...anything else? Oh goodness, gallons of gravy.

Don't you wish everything could taste like that?

It's now possible with Trader Joe's Everything but the Leftovers Seasoning Blend. 

You know that scene in the 1970s version of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory where Violet Beauregarde marvels at the different elements of taste in the gum? Like how it tastes like roast beef and gravy and all that, just like that? That's almost the same concept here, except of course this isn't gum and I'm fairly certain the TJ's seasoning won't turn you into a giant blueberry that needs to be juiced. I mean, it is mainly salt, so a little ballooning is possible, but I digress. 

My potato of a phone isn't capable of getting a good pic of the ingredients for some reason, so here they are, in order: dehydrated onion, sea salt, yeast extract, salt, ground black pepper, dried yeast, turmeric powder, natural flavor, dried celery seed, citric acid, ground sage, rosemary powder, dried thyme, dried parsley. This kind of blend leans more towards turkey and poultry than beef, but it could still probably work.

Different aspects come out at different points. Sometimes it's more Scarborough Fair-inspired parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Other times there's a little more black pepper kick, and sometimes, yeah, it's kinda straight up salty. But overall, the savory impact implores the memories of great holiday foods, so sprinkle some on some eggs, veggies, meat, taters, heck, even popcorn for a little reminiscing treat.  
That's the real winning part of the EBTL spice blend: while not tasting precisely like any dish in particular (closest to gravy and stuffing, but not quite), it tastes enough like any of them that you're sure to find a particular taste to latch on to and think of while this is sprinkled on something else.We love it. Likely we're late to show as we usually here for anything new in Pittsburgh. I mean, Bon Jovi still takes up a third of the local hit charts. Pick it up if you see it, if you haven't already, as the EBTL won't be a bad medicine for everyday use. I won't give it a bad name with double fours. Have a nice day.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Everything but the Leftovers Seasoning Blend: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons



 

Friday, November 6, 2020

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Batons

The weather here in the upper midwest has been absolutely gorgeous this week. Highs in the low 70s, lows in the low 40s, not much humidity, and often not a cloud in the sky...it's like the fall we didn't have in October, when we saw a week with highs in the 20s and 30s and even an early snowstorm. So we've been spending a lot of time in the backyard.

We put out our lawn chairs, get a campfire going in the fire pit, let the dogs run around. Sometimes we even work out there during the day. I might smoke a cheap cigar or have a beer. Sonia will either have a cider or an insulated cup of coffee. We try to stay off our phones while we're out there. It's a great way to unplug from all the madness—not that we watch any mainstream media anyway, but we still get a good enough dose of the outside world to raise our blood pressure when we're on Youtube and Bitchute or surfing conspiracy investigative research forums.


This week we both sat out with some java and munched on these pumpkin spice batons. I think these are the third or fourth flavor of batons that we've sampled from Trader Joe's. We missed the mango batons in summer 2016, but we've had enough to know what to expect, and in general, we're fans of the crispy little snacks.

Each iteration of baton has had a wafery outer shell that's delicate, crunchy, and lightly sweet. There's also an inner layer of creamy, smooth filling, which is significantly sweeter and provides most of the flavor. This particular variety has a nice pumpkin spice blend that's not overbearing or too subtle—it's right in the middle as far as pumpkin spice intensity, and it's decidedly satisfying.

They go particularly well with coffee and are obviously fairly dunkable by virtue of their long, skinny straw-like shape. They soak up just enough of the beverage to get slightly soggy on the outside, but not enough to become structurally unstable. In other words, you can dunk repeatedly without much fear of half the baton breaking off and going for a plunge to the bottom of your drink.

For only $1.99 these are great for a fall snack or as a pairing for your morning cuppa joe. We're looking forward to a relaxing weekend in our backyard sanctuary, and we'll probably polish off the rest of the canister while we're out there. We'd definitely consider purchasing again next fall. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from yours truly.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Trader Joe's Nantucket Style Cranberry Pie

Writing this in the wee morning hours of a near sleepless night on the first Wednesday after the first Tuesday after the first Monday of a November that is (hopefully) nearing the culmination of yet another four year cycle that's been unlike any most of us have been around for, in a year like no other...there's a lot of different ways I could go with this next thought, but none of you are here for that. 

You're here for the pie! 

Specifically, Trader Joe's Nantucket Style Cranberry Pie.

Saying this while knocking on wood, no matter what lies ahead, Thanksgiving is a few weeks away. It's my favorite holiday of the year. It may look and feel different this year - Zoom calls and not card tables and folding chairs and all - but, no matter what, I'd like to focus on what I have to be thankful for. I urge you to do the same. Maybe give this a read if you need a nudge

Anyways, on to the Nantucket pie. Oh the limericks going thru my head right now. Is this a thing up there? Gonna have to check 'em out sometime. 

Do you like cranberries? If so you're gonna love this pie. that's the case with us. Tart, sweet, firm, a little smushy and jelled up - though there's a place in my heart for the stuff from a can, this is the real cranberry sauce kinda deal. Even better, there's a few walnuts sprinkled in. I emphasize a few. That's my only real complaint - a couple more crunchy walnuts would make this pie an absolute winner.

The crust almost makes up for it. Almost. It's not quite shortbready, but it's not plain ol' plain ol' either. I'm not sure what the proper classification is, except tasty. i can live with tasty. Can you? Good. 


It's $6.99 for the pie. Best deal in the world? Nah. but for something tasty and easy to put on the table, it's not awful at all either. Found in the freezer section, you can either thaw it at room temp for a couple hours - previous experience with this method suggests the longer the better - or you can stick in the oven, paper dish and all, for about 20 minutes then let cool to room temp. While not sure if a traditional way to enjoy or not, a little whipped cream or vanilla ice cream doesn't seem completely out of line.

As an added bonus, my kids (who I am continually thankful for, despite my thinning hairline and wallet thanks to them) don't really like cranberries...so more dessert for me!

Give it a try. As with most anything else, I truly hope everyone gets their piece of the pie they want and deserve. We'll give this one a good score.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Nantucket Style Cranberry pie: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Trader Joe's Riced Cauliflower & Butternut Squash Risotto

Since Americans apparently like to "let their voices be heard" and stuff, I'm setting up a little referendum of my own. Voting is all the rage here in these United States as of late, so let's have a mock election for the president of the pantry...the culinary commander in chief...the premier of the palate. It's another Micropoll! Please vote down below.

Just assume that all variations of each answer are included under the broader category. For example, if you like "apple cider" or "apple cinnamon," you'd vote "apple." If you like "pumpkin pie" or "pumpkin spice," you'd simply vote "pumpkin." If your favorite fall flavor is something other than what I've included in this particular poll, then just leave a comment below.

In all honesty, I don't think butternut squash can keep up with those other choices, but hey, you never know. Likewise, Kanye West could be the next president of the United States. Wouldn't that be a trip? #BirthdayParty2020

In case that poll isn't displaying correctly on mobile, just click here to vote.


Fortunately, unlike American politics, we don't have to choose just one delicious flavor to consume all autumn long. We can indulge in all the many tasty treats fall has to offer. And I'm glad I got to try this unique "risotto" dish this year.

It's easy to prepare. Like most Trader Joe's products, the heating time went well over their estimation of 10 minutes in the pan. The frozen pellets of sauce had just barely melted at the 10 minute mark. I let it heat up a bit more and cooked off most of the liquid. The sauce eventually went from watery to creamy, if that makes sense. It was probably more like 15 minutes when all said and done, and it turned out pretty well. 

If anything, I think the riced cauliflower gets just a tad softer than the rice in regular risotto, but when consumed with the sauce and butternut squash, the consistency is very creamy and the overall effect is very pleasant, authentic, and similar to a traditional risotto dish. What can't they do with riced cauliflower?

The flavor here is subtle—it may be even verging on too subtle, as in...you know, kinda bland. It's a creamed veggie essence with delicate notes of garlic and cheese. There's earthy, planty, nutty flavors, and the light sweetness of butternut squash. We just wish the flavors were all just a tad stronger and richer. It tastes vaguely fall-ish, but I'd be happy to consume it any other time of year. Trader Joe's Riced Cauliflower and Butternut Squash Risotto isn't really a stand alone entree in my opinion, but it makes a great side dish for your choice of protein. We served ours with salmon and it paired perfectly.

$3.69 for the 16oz bag. We'd consider buying it again. Three and a half stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Trader Joe's Chocolate Chip Cocoa Meringues

My youngest offspring is currently obsessed with a show called The Bumble Nums. It's....well, I'll spare you all the details, but it's definitely geared for real little kids. The basic plot of each show centers around the three main characters getting "secret ingredients" for a dish they're gonna make. I suppose the point of it is to try and be cute while encouraging kids to try all sorts of food, but when the only word each character can say is a different intonation of the word "yum" and they things like snap peas somehow take on the characteristics and property of ninja stars, well, it gets old fast. 

Especially if watching the same episode over...and over...and over...just to keep quiet so school work and work work can get done around the house. Yeesh. 

Anyways, something like Trader Joe's Chocolate Chip Cocoa Meringues could probably be on the show. I mean,us adults know they're sure to be tasty, but a little kid has no idea what a meringue is. heck, even I have only more than a little clue. They sound fun and tasty...yet seem mysteriously with their swirrls and curls. 

So, as the narrator might ask for these, "What's the secret ingredient?"

Can't be the egg whites or sugar. I mean, that's all what a meringues is to give it a form and shape. Like most meringues, these TJ's cocoa puffs are light, airy, a tad aridly chalky, with plenty of chomp to them. Each meringues is easily three or four bites, giving plenty of time to bite on through. Yet there's a softer, not quite melt-in-the-mouth quality that does tend to emerge, just as a good meringue should. 

Maybe it's the coca? Nah. That's not a knock, as it's certainly a delicious flavor. Think of a really good hot cocoa mix, and that's about what these taste like, in meringue form. Plenty of flavor. If you were to dunk some in some warm milk, I'm pretty sure it'd turn right to hot chocolate. No complaints at all, especially for the chocoholic portion of the family...which is basically all of us. 

So i guess it must be the chocolate chips? Excuse me, in the Bumble Nums spirit I need to call them something like Chompy Chocolate Chips and pretend they all have mouths that go CHOMP so you got to be careful when you catch them scurrying around...I digress. There's mini chocolate chips! Like, super mini, so much that I kinda passed over them at first. But every few bites there's a slightly extra cocoa-concentrated pocket with a bit more of a chew to them, and they they are. They work, and pretty seamlessly well, that do give the meringues a little extra kick.

Meringues aren't my personal favorite, but they'll do for a treat now and then. Wife and kids all gave them a hearty thumbs up, and I'll give them a pass for being a fairly decadent, comparatively low-cal almost-guilt-free treat. You'll get a box of about 20 of them for around $3.69 which seems a fair enough value. 3s from me, 4s from everyone else. And a chorus of "Yums!"

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chocolate Chip Cocoa Meringues: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons 



 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Protein Smoothie

Growing up, my family had exactly two sit-down meals a year when my mother and father and I would eat together in the same room: Christmas Day and Easter Day. They were both uber-formal, awkward, starchy events that none of us really looked forward to. Thank goodness it was only twice a year. Even Thanksgiving was usually a buffet-style, eat-whatever-you-want, whenever-you-want type affair. Sonia ate with her parents a little more regularly than that, but often just winged it and grazed like I did.

We've both carried those habits into our adult lives and into our marriage, for good or ill, and we're constantly snacking here and there rather than setting a designated time to consume a large portion together in the same room at the same moment. We're at home far more often than usual recently, but in years past, while we traveled, and before that in the normal commuter workaday world, we were both frequent smoothie and protein shake consumers, since in many cases, these types of beverages make an excellent, filling meal-on-the-run or meal supplement.

Fiber-rich fruit smoothies were generally my personal preference, although a protein smoothie was occasionally more convenient. I just found protein smoothies to seldom have a taste and texture that appealed to me. This one's no different. The texture isn't particularly gritty in my opinion, but the flavor doesn't really lend itself to pumpkin spice. It's not sweet enough to be dessert-like, and there's too much whey protein and soy protein taste to really be palatable to me. It still tastes like "health food" that they're desperately trying to dress up as something fun and chuggable. If you ask me, it's simply not.


Sonia disagrees. She's probably more accustomed to the typical taste and texture of protein smoothies more than I am, and she definitely has a bit more affinity for pumpkin spice come fall time. I had about two or three sips up front and let the wifey drink the rest. It didn't take her long to polish it off. She thinks there's enough pumpkin spice flavor to keep it interesting. We both agree it's very filling and most of the ingredients are pretty decent.

Sonia also points out that there's not only pumpkin pie spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, but also a good amount of pumpkin puree. So I guess you're getting your veggies in addition to your protein.

There are two servings in the 16oz bottle for $2.99. Since the texture wasn't awful and the smoothie delivers 11g of hunger-curbing protein, I won't shaft it completely and throw out two and a half stars. Sonia gives it four stars and her seal of approval.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Trader Joe's Chicken Ginger Miso Soup

Got a meal rotation in your family?

We don't precisely...but we do have a fairly regimented meal concept rotation.

Monday is "breakfast for dinner" AKA "brinner" night. Wednesdays are "pack a dinner" night for the two hours of dance lessons we have the joy of being subjected to. Fridays are "jammie movie pizza night" and Sundays are generally leftover days. Conspicuously missing is Taco Tuesday, but tacos can work their way into all those themes easily anyways. Plus my kids are weird and don't like tacos. More for me. Shrug. 

As for Saturdays...now that it's officially crockpot season, it's gonna be Soup Saturday, and kicking us off, no crockpot required, is Trader Joe's Chicken Ginger Miso Soup. Hey sometimes we're low on groceries and have errands including a TJ's trip to do....skip leg day, but not Soup Saturday. 

Warming up on the stove, the aroma of the broth is nearly intoxicating with its promise of salty savoriness. That's the miso magic - who knew fermented soybeans could be so umami-fully delicious? Whoever invented that deserves a medal. But lay in a little lemongrass, gin up a little ground ginger, and boom! It takes off to another level. If this broth were sold separately as a warm sipper, I'd be all in. 

There's nothing wrong with the rest of the soup. There's ample pieces of white chicken that taste and feel just right, and all the veggies are that perfect not too firm/not mushy either. There's...just not quite enough of it. Interestingly, the chicken seems about right but the veggies feel skimped on. For instance, my lovely bride doesn't like mushrooms while i do, so she picked the maybe one or two max out of her bowl to give to me, which gave me like three total. Most of the soup seemed "empty" and was closer to that sipping broth than i would have liked right out of the package. It worked well for a lighter soup, but for something heartier, you may want to consider adding some rice noodles or something of the sort. 

Regardless, the soup tastes pretty great. It must be all that salt. It doesn't taste too salty, but it just is as part of the package deal with soups like these. You can find it in the refrigerated section for about $3 which makes this an easy, reliable, good option for Soup Saturdays or whenver the mood may hit. Double fours. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chicken Ginger Miso Soup: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons 


 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Pretzel Slims

So much in life is about adaptation. 

Take that metal rack behind the bag of PS pretzels in the photo, for example. It's an Asian dish drying rack we bought when we were full-time RVing. It just sits over half of your sink and lets wet dishes drip dry. It was perfect for the limited space, lightweight, and was far easier to fold up and toss in a drawer for travel than any traditional dish rack might have been. We got in the habit of only using one half of our sink for dirty dishes and the other was reserved for drying, which forced us to do dishes once the sink was just half full. Dishes are only daunting when you've got two sides stacking up and don't have much space to work in the sink. If you're forced to wash when it's only half full, it never seems like a big chore. The method worked so well for us that we still use the same space-saving drying rack in our home, and we've stuck to the unspoken rule that dishes get washed before even one half of the sink is full. 


Likewise, the sun wasn't out yesterday when I went to snap the product pic, so I improvised and used the nice even lighting we have right above our sink to take this photo. I don't think it'll win any Pulitzers or anything like that, but it's adequate considering the lack of natural illumination. To quote Albus Dumbledore, "Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light."

Trader Joe's seems to improvise similarly with their products. "What else can we pumpkin spice-ify?" they ask. "The peppermint pretzel slims that worked in December will work as well in October if we pumpkinize them."

And they do. This is probably the most traditional "pumpkin pie spice" item we've reviewed this year. The smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice wafts from the bag from the moment it's opened. The pretzels taste distinctly of the same pumpkin spices, but they don't overdo it either. The product is very sweet, dessert-like, but the salty "crushed pumpkin seeds" help balance out the sugariness. Those are one of my favorite elements in this offering. Who knew pepitas would get even tastier when smashed? 

The number one ingredient here is actually the yogurt-based coating. There's more of that than actual pretzel material. I like yogurt coating just fine, but these pretzels wouldn't have suffered much if they had been, you know...actual pretzels. I think I made the same complaint about the peppermint slims. In the end, they're still very tasty. The yogurt > pretzel vibe just sends these more in the direction of dessert than salty snack. There's not a ton of breadiness in the flavor, either, if you know what I'm saying. It's almost a white chocolate + pumpkin spice taste more than a pretzel taste.

If you're big into pumpkin spice or have a wicked sweet tooth, I could see these being pretty addicting. I'm sure Sonia and I will plow through our bag fairly expeditiously. I think we're looking at about four stars a piece for Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Pretzel Slims.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Trader Joe's Grainless Cassava & Coconut Tortilla Chips and Trader Joe's Romesco Dip

Probably like a lot of you, a lot went by the wayside this year for us. Vacation? Nah. Day trips to Idlewild, our designated family happy space? Season pass went unused. Schools are still not back to "normal," whatever that means any more, and I spend at least half the week in pajamas because when you start work no later than 5am in your own basement, that's a perfectly acceptable dress code. As opposed to the one time on the weekend at the office, where wearing PJs with a couple work buddies raised some eyebrows but no HR complaints, thank goodness. 

It's been a weird year, to put it mildly. 

One traditional holdover, though, that has not quit nor will it ever is the idea of having a family "snacky dinner" as we call it. it's up there with our Friday night jammie/movie/pizza nights in terms of favorites. Simple enough - get some cold cuts, cheeses, olives, pickles, chips, dips, hummus, veggies, fruits, whatever and we all pick at whatever we want to do for dinner. Nobody has to eat anything they don't want to, as long as they hit the major food groups. It's terrific, and we're always on the look out for new/new-to-us components. 

So, while on a trip for snacky supplies and I saw Trader Joe's Grainless Cassava & Coconut Tortilla Chips and also Trader Joe's Romesco Dip, it was a no-brainer for something new to chew. 

Let's start with the chips. If anything, I'm impressed by how normal they are, as there seems like a lot going on from the bag's description. No grains. Cassava, which is kinda like a potato but not quite, and coconut, fried in avocado oil, with some white pepper and garlic. No flour. No corn. None of the "normal" comforts of a typical tortilla chip. But yet, in an eyes-closed test, they might almost pass as near-variant of a usual tortilla instead of a complete reinvention. The biggest difference, naturally, is the texture - a tad crunchier, a wee less crispier, and more of a dry to "sandy" feel to them. Without knowing too much different and if unaware of ingredients, I'd guess they might be baked, because there's much more that feel. The flavor by themselves isn't awful but not terrific either - there's just something about white pepper that makes things taste off to me. Maybe that's my lack of sophistication more than anything else. Regardless, the flavor quickly disappears when dipped into most anything if that's what you wanna do...

...and you just might wanna do it with the TJ's Romesco Dip. Granted, cassava chips likely aren't a traditional use of romesco - there's likely a Catalonian fisherman somewhere rolling his eyes - but that doesn't mean they can't be snacky buddies. This is some pretty dang good stuff. The base is mainly roasted red bell pepper and tomatoes which add a little sweetness but are tamed in by the olive oil/almond butter base, with some ground almonds in there to boot. The mouthfeel isn't offputting in the least - it's a bit soupier and softly grittier than hummus, but along those lines - but works exceptionally well. With some crushed chili pepper mixed in, there's the smidgiest smidge of heat, but the whole feel is warm, hearty, zesty and glowing, not spicy. Just...flavor. Lots of it. Lots and lots of yummy flavor, and it was an instant hit. I'm glad I got more than bite or two. 

Of course, there's plenty of ways to enjoy these chips and/or the dip. For the chippies, eat 'em plain if thats your thing, nab some nachos, grab some guac, swim 'em in salsa, whatever. It's a tortilla chip, it'll work. The romesco strikes me as very versatile - though I haven't tried it this way, I'd imagine with grilled fish or chicken, or with a little pasta, it'd be great! Always open to ideas you can leave in the comments as well.  

So yeah. Big thanks to TJ's for another snacky dinner success and a couple new usual snack time rotation members. The purchase price wasn't bad  on either but regretfully I once again misplaced the receipt. One of these times I'll actually remember to stick it to the fridge. Both will be repeat buys but as a fam we're all more ecstatic about the romesco dip as you'll see in our scores below. 

Bottom lines: Trader Joe's Grainless Cassava & Coconut Tortilla Chips: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons. Trader Joe's Romesco Dip: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons



 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Trader Joe's Spicy Pumpkin Curry Simmer Sauce

I recently gave my spiel about how Indian-inspired spicy pumpkin is distinctly different from pumpkin spice. Instead of pumpkin pie spices, we have—you guessed it—Indian curry spices that work with pumpkin. I'll stand by that previous assertion, but we'll dive into it in a bit more detail here.

I'm still a fan of spicy pumpkin curry, but in this case, I liked it juuust slightly less than in the case of the samosas. Why? Possibly because this curry is more Thai-inspired and the samosas were Indian. But also possibly because in the case of the samosas, someone else (Trader Joe's and their mysterious third party suppliers) concocted the dish for me. It's hard to beat that blend of paneer cheese, sweet potato, pumpkin, and flaky breading. With this product, you're on your own. So, I think this falls squarely into the category of: If you have mad culinary skills, you should definitely try this product. And if not, I won't twist your arm either way.

Don't get me wrong. I loved what we made with it, and I'll admit Sonia had a bigger hand in the preparation of our meals than I did. It worked. We tried it with both chicken and fish, with rice as a side in both cases.


It can turn any boring meal into a spicy pumpkin curry-flavored meal. There's a bit of heat, a smooth coconut and pumpkin base, and lots of complex essences that you'd find in a traditional Thai curry like onion, garlic, pepper, ginger, and turmeric.

We both agree it worked slightly better with poultry than with fish, but I felt like neither dish complemented the curry quite like the ingredients in the samosas did. Honestly, the rice went best with the curry in this case, because rice brings so little flavor of its own. It allowed the flavor of the spicy pumpkin to come through more easily than the main entrees did. If we had some paneer or sweet potato chunks on hand, we would have thrown them into the mix, and it might have made the meals even more memorable. 


In general, if we have a hankerin' for some Thai curry, we'd reach for something more along the lines of the Thai Green Simmer Sauce before this product, but I still think spicy pumpkin is a brilliant international adaptation to that favorite fall flavor. I definitely think we'd consider picking up another jar in the future, perhaps next fall, but we'll take more time to think about which veggies and sides we'll pair it with next time.

$2.99 for the jar. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.