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Monday, February 24, 2020

Trader Joe's Everything but the Elote Seasoning

Circa 2008, while living in California, Sonia and I and some of our friends took a Saturday afternoon to visit the L.A. Zoo. We'd all been there before, but the zoo was just one of those things we'd do if we were bored since it was close-by and not too expensive. It paled in comparison to the San Diego Zoo, but the two hour drive and heftier price tag made our visits there slightly less frequent. We'd had our fill of Disneyland that summer, so the local zoo was decided upon. 

After watching some listless, despondent animals and groups of tourists reenacting the Three's Company intro, we started to get hungry. We rounded a corner somewhere near the hippos, and spotted an unassuming Latina lady with a big metal cart. One of our friends shouted, "Let's get elote!"

I had to turn to Sonia and ask what elote was. Moments later, I was watching the other members of our crew slather mayonnaise onto corn on the cob. "You put mayo on corn on the cob?"

And not just mayo. But cotija cheese, sour cream, lime juice, and generous amounts of red chili powder. For a moment, I thought it strange. But after I tasted it? Love at first bite. I'd eaten corn on the cob my whole life, and all I could think was, "Why didn't white people think of this?" 

Salt, pepper, and butter seemed so boring after having my first taste of real elote, but since it's not readily available on street corners outside the Southland, we haven't had true elote in a while. But let me throw my initial thoughts about this product out there to start things off: 

Is Trader Joe's Everything But the Elote Seasoning a unique, delicious condiment? Absolutely. 

Does it taste like actual elote? Well...kinda.

There are definitely detectable amounts of tangy cheese, spicy chili, chipotle, and salt, all of which I consider good and authentic as far as elote flavor goes. But I'm a little mystified as to why sugar is the number one ingredient—and you can taste it. It's definitely much sweeter than any other elote flavored thing I've ever had. Sonia's guess is that it's emulating the sweetness of sweet corn, or trying to at least. I still feel like the product would have been a tad stronger had it not been so sweet. I also wish there were a little more lime flavor. There's some "citric acid" on the ingredients, but nothing really lemony or limey comes through. I guess we could always mix it with the chile lime seasoning since it's a bit more lime-a-licious.


It's definitely a little spicy. There's an almost immediate warming sensation on the tongue, and if you eat a good bit of it, you feel it in your tummy, too. It's not super intense, but it's noticeable. I think you have to enjoy spicy heat to some degree to really get into this product. Sonia and I both love a little flavorful spice.

We found it went well with popcorn. Just sprinkle a good amount on the top of a bowl and it will cascade off the top layer and coat the kernels farther down. It's also great with actual corn niblets. We heated up a plastic baggie of Bird's Eye and tried it that way. It's a little more authentic when you have real corn. We squeezed a lime wedge into the mix and found it helped with the flavor immensely. My mother-in-law made some sopa de fideo con pollo with this seasoning. She felt like the Everything But the Elote made it much more flavorful and interesting, and she's been eating authentic elote for decades. 

For us, the final test will come when we can get our hands on some local corn on the cob, not in season in the northern midwest right now. Come August-September, we'll definitely try it and report back. Or somebody who can secure good corn on the cob this time of year leave a comment below.

Zero calories. I'm guessing since you sprinkle such a relatively small amount on the food, that you're looking at like half a calorie per serving or so, and there's some FDA loophole that allows them to round down to nothing. I'm sure some food scientist will enlighten us in the comments below while finding a way to make me sound stupid for not understanding the comprehensive FDA rules and regs for food labels. I'm just making an off-handed observation that I find puzzling, since sugar obviously contains some calories. No biggie.

My biggest complaint is the sweetness. Sonia's main reservation is the flavor of the parmesan cheese vs what real elote tastes like with cotija and sour cream. In general, though, we like it and will be experimenting more in the coming days and weeks. We're thinking we'll pair it with tortilla soup, beans, white fish tacos, and maybe even shrimp...? 

At the very least, it's a neat idea, and it yields some pretty unusual flavors of corn and popcorn. Three and three quarters stars each from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Trader Joe's Scalloped Potato Chips

Well, here's a pic of a rare sight: a full bag of chips in our household.

That's a rarity because a) We next to never buy chips because 2) When we do they get opened and inhaled almost immediately which leads to d) deep, deep disppointment from my lovely bride and darling kiddos as they get left in the crumby wake of my work. Yes, I'm talking about me. I'm a chip monster for whom there is little hope except avoid, avoid, avoid. Love chips. Can't help it, can only hope to manage it.

Such is much the same with Trader Joe's Scalloped Potato Chips. I'm guilty of eating nearly the whole dang thing myself. It's not my fault, it's Sandy's for buying them. She knew what she was getting into.

Cheesy scalloped potatoes is such an obvious taste choice for a chip. Why is it that I didn't think of it first? And maybe this is my ignorance, but I'm unaware of any other "scalloped" flavor for chips out there.

It's not the flavor that draws me in. Don't get me wrong, the five-pronged throng of cheese tastes mighty fine with no complaints. I wish when it come to cheese blends I could differentiate them better, like to say here, I taste the points of parmesan, the charge of the cheddar, the accents of asiago tinged with romantic flourishes of romano, and, well, provolone. Hooray provolone. Yippee. I just can't, not in general, and not here. It's certainly a complex enough taste to be appreciated though, that much I can say. There's a little garlic, salt and spices mixed in, as would be expected, but the cheese blend really takes the center stage.

Nah, it's really the feel and the crunch of these scalloped chips. The chips seem a little extra thick and crunchy, but not in a kettle-cooked kinda way. Nah. They're a little extra hard and crunchy for sure but not overly greast. I can't recall another chip that felt much like these.

I like 'em, I like 'em enough to know I should probably avoid them as I do most other chips. Sandy, who scowled as she reminded me she had less than a full serving, stated much the same as I did. Yumz, good chips. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Scalloped Potato Chips: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Acai Bowl


I've rambled on before about how I'm a fan of acai and I used to down multiple acai smoothies every week. The smoothie joints I frequented sold acai bowls, too, but I always stuck to smoothies for a number of reasons, most notably that the bowls were a little pricier—in the ballpark of $7 a pop.

So at $3.99, this selection was a bargain. It had a good mix of the acai base, berries, and granola topping. Fruit-wise, there were lots of big strawberry slices, nice plump whole blueberries, but I didn't notice as many banana slices in my bowl. They were far and few between, and I wouldn't have minded a good bit more of them. There was, however, plenty of granola for my taste—just enough to make things crunchy. The coconut slivers added a bit of...well, coconuttiness, I guess, and it all blended together pretty well with the lightly sweetened, rich acai berry flavor.


The most frustrating aspect of this product was preparing it. I wish I'd thought ahead and used the refrigerator method of defrosting: just take out of the freezer and let thaw in fridge overnight. The preparation instructions for procrastinators like me involved popping the product in and out of the microwave numerous times, stirring it the first time, and then checking to see whether it's thawed or not on each subsequent occasion. It specifies to heat "in 15 second intervals" after an initial period of 45 seconds. I felt like I was walking a thin line between an ice cold solid block of frozen fruits and a piping hot bowl of acai soup. But I did manage to end the process somewhere in the middle, although the acai base was much more thawed than the fruit chunks. Throw room-temperature granola into the mix, and you've got three distinct climates in one tiny bowl. A lot of stirring seemed to abate that issue, for the most part anyway.

There aren't many breakfast foods I can think of that would pack more nutrition and energy into a single serving than Trader Joe's Organic Acai Bowl. It's extremely filling for so relatively few calories. Obviously fruits and granola are great for sustained energy and nutrition, and acai is known to be high in fiber and it contains a natural stimulant that provides energy without the typical "caffeine crash." All things considered, I'm a fan.


Sonia sat this one out. She would have liked it if I had saved any for her.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Trader Joe's Broccoli & Cauliflower Saute Kit

Alright, I dont  get it.  At all. Nope.

Seriously...Trader Joe's Broccoli & Cauliflower Saute Kit? What gives?

Alright, alright, alright. I can hear it right away. Major convenience points. Hey I've let quite a few items slide by based soley on that factor before - caulifower rice, anyone? - but what is this really saving here? A couple quick chops off a crown on the cutting board? Big whoop. I'm a busy boy and all, but man, if I don't have time to guillotine a couple trees and whittle them down to sizable chunks during dinner prep, it calls to question if I really have time for dinner at home or not. It takes literally no time.

As a quick aside for something purporting to both broccoli and cauliflower, there was almost all broccoli here. I like both. I want both. And perhaps it was luck of the draw more than anything else but I didn't feel like I got both. Not when there was only one sizable stalk and a couple tidbits of cauli. Not representing the caluli love there.

Ok, so what else is in the kit, because maybe that'll make up for it, right? That's a valid train of thought that unfortunately derailed once it left the station. After sauteing for a couple minutes in some BYO EVOO, there's a "marinade" packet to add and toss the veggies in. Never mind the fact that the veggies never actually marinate in the marinade, but it tastes like nothing. Nada. Tasteless. Tasted my BYO EVOO more than whatever the heck it was I added in from TJ's.

Forgot to mention the walnuts. That's alright, I almost forgot to taste them. Why walnuts? I have no answer for that. Definitely when quick cooking a 92% broccoli/8% cauliflower mix, walnuts are about 187th on my list of things I'd toss in...

...which is way higher than I'd consider tossing on croutons when it's time to serve. And then it'd have to really good croutons, like parmesany and garlicy with some character and spice, right? Definitely not boring old super generic croutons that taste like dried out stale bread and not much else. Definitely not the ultra basic bland croutons that you'd feed your kid when the only thing worse than listening to them crunch on them was whatever noise they were making previously. Definitely not any sort of crouton like, like, like....the ones present here. Disappointment croutons. Boring croutons. Crappy croutons. IRS croutons. Ugh. 

I don't understand this TJ's offering. I can buy into many things they try, and at least say an A for effort, but this? Nope. When the biggest props I can say is the veggies were still fresh and good two days before their best-by date, that's not a ringing endorsement. I don't know how much this cost. I don't want  to know (though one of your kind readers can please mention in the comments for the sake of your TJ's brethren?). But whatever it was, I know it coulda been better spent on some fresh veggies and a couple dashes of actual flavor courtesy of my spice rack.

Don't dig it. At all. The saute kit doesn't make a terrible product - our veggie chompin' crew ate it happily enough - but there's nothing here that suggest it should be a standalone product. I'm thumbing down with a one. My lovely bride, as always the more graceful one of us, will be nice and give it a two.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Broccoli & Cauliflower Saute Kit: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, February 14, 2020

Trader Joe's Honey Baguette


Valentine's Day. Bread is a way more appropriate gift than chocolates or jewelry for Sonia. She's just a bread and butter kind of gal. And French things are always fitting when it comes to romancey stuff, right? Oui. We don't really call each other "honey," but if we did, this product would be even more relevant for V.D.

Confession: we ate this yesterday, a day before Valentine's, just so we could have the review up for you all today. You're welcome.

Sonia's had many baguettes before, including a few during her visit to Paris. This one doesn't quite compare to those, but for $1.79 and the convenience of not having to travel across the Atlantic Ocean, it's not too shabby.

There's just a hint of honey sweetness and lots of rich, dense doughiness. We both feel like this loaf might be a tad denser than other baguettes we've tried. It wants to crumble a lot, too.


We picked up two loaves, because why not? For the first one we just ripped off pieces straight out of the bag. We tried it plain, with butter, and with some provolone cheese slices. But this bread really only shines after being warmed up. I nuked a few small pieces of the bread for 10-15 seconds, and they came out soft and just warm enough to melt a pat of butter on each little square of bread.

When heeding the preparation instructions on the bag, 400° for 4-6 minutes, it yields a crispy outer crust, which we did with our second loaf. The heating really releases the flavors of the bread, and the texture becomes a bit more appetizing.

Honestly, though, I think I preferred the my improvised microwave heating method over the oven. The soft outer crust might not be as authentically baguette-ish as a crispier crust, but it worked for me.

Found in Trader Joe's bakery section, this honey baguette is certainly more interesting than Wonder Bread, and it's well worth a try for less than two bucks. We didn't make any sandwiches with ours, but it could definitely serve that purpose. If you've got a bread-loving S.O., it's still not too late to swing by TJ's on the way home from work to pick up one of these, some exotic cheese, and maybe some flowers, too. 

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Trader Joe's Coconut Crispy Rolls Wafer Cookies

You'll have to pardon me, I've had Combos on my mind.

Past couple months have been brutal at the day job. Terrible. Busy. Terribly busy and busily terrible. Comes with the territory of what I do sometimes. It's been enough that I've made a somewhat regular habit of working my full normal shift, coming home for a few hours to have dinner, run kids to dance class, and get them in bed....just to go back in for a few night owl hours. When I do that, I encounter the late night crew, who are about as equally stressed out, so a few times I've stopped on the way in to buy a small package of cookies, a Mt Dew Kickstart or two for me since I'm running on fumes...then a few times a little baggie of Combos too.

Cracker shell ones are boring. Pretzel ones will do. The tortilla shells? A revelation, especially with the 7 Layer Dip filling. Delish.

You know what else would make a good Combo shell? Trader Joe's Coconut Crispy Roll Wafer Cookies, that's what.

I was actually kinda disappointed at first that these weren't a Combo style snack with a filling. There's nothing on the box or packaging or description that really overtly implies they would be...except I saw that the holes from the sideview shots were darkened. I hoped it was chocolate or something. Nah, just shadow.

But then I actually tasted the cookies. There's a lot here at crispety-crunchety play. There's a mild, pleasant coconuttiness accentuated by some black sesame seeds that play into a sweet-savory taste. This is even enhanced by the structure of the cookie - thin, multi-layered dough that's not quite phyllo but in the same family, rolled up then either baked or fried - I'd go with fried, since there is a slight, pleasant greasiness to them, though I am open to correction. The crunch really makes the cookie here.

Nice thing is, for whatever reason, I can enjoy them and not eat too many of them. A serving is 10 of them, and routinely I'm good at five. Not sure why. Not full. Not overwhelmed. I like them. But at 5, I'm done...hey that sounds like a lovely work motto now doesn't it?

Good cookies, and pretty inexpensive - maybe $3? Maybe you can match them up with a small dip of some type of a DIY Combo, or you can get over that as I did and enjoy as is. Decent chance at a rebuy. My lovely bride and I don't need to quarrel over who gives them a 3 and who gives them half a spoon more, so here's a 6.5 from us - not bad, not bad at all.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Coconut Crispy Rolls Wafer Cookies: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, February 10, 2020

Trader Joe's Dark Russet Kettle-Cooked Potato Chips

During our RV travels, few states stood out to Sonia and me like Idaho did. Other than a friendly acquaintance I'd met in Los Angeles and one childhood friends' sister relocating to the Boise area, neither of us had ever even known anyone from the state. 

Between the two of us, Sonia and I have either passed through or visited 40 of the 50 states at this point—and we've spent at least a week in 35 of them. I've even been a resident of five different states thus far.  Idaho would definitely be at the very top of our underrated states list, with the Boise area in particular standing out as probably the most livable city in America that we've visited.

Over the weekend, not even thinking about the fact we were eating these dark russet chips at the time, a recommended video from a channel we frequently visit started auto-playing on YouTube. It was about a woman with a very unique house just outside Boise. 

As the wife and I debated the pros and cons of living in a giant potato, we recollected our 2019 adventures out west, and it suddenly occurred to me that these chips might very well be from the great state of Idaho. Although there's no official info on the packaging asserting that the potatoes within are, in fact, sourced from the Gem State, apparently "Russet potatoes" are synonymous with "Idaho potatoes" according to Wikipedia.


Whether they're from ID or not, they're pretty good. I've never been a plain potato chip kinda guy, but these darker kettle-cooked chips are a bit more interesting than their pale cousins. There's more richness and earthiness in chips like these. The peanut oil lends an essence I'd almost describe as "buttery." 

There's just a tad more saltiness than I'd care for, but I'd probably go ahead and say that about the vast majority of—not just potato chips—but chips in general, including things like tortilla and pita, as well. Still, they didn't go completely overboard, and Sonia would say the salt level is just about perfect. 

I've had other brands of dark russet chips, most notably Utz and Herr's. It's been a hot minute, but I'd say this Trader Joe's offering is on par with either of those classic makes of potato chips. At $2.29 for the bag, it's a comparable price point, if not a little cheaper, and I love the fact there are only three ingredients. 

As the bag itself points out, these chips are great for dunking in stuff like spinach dip or for simply snacking straight out of the bag. Trader Joe's Dark Russet Kettle-Cooked Potato Chips will get four stars each from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Trader Joe's Raspberry Rose

Gotta admit, this time of year, when it's time to pick out the Valentines Day sweet treats for my lovely bride, I've got the inside track and got it made, y'all.

It started with mine and Sandy's first Valetine's day together, 12 years ago. Just a couple kids fresh stuck in puppy love, and amongst some other various items, I bought her a Russell Stover heart shaped candy box. Yes, I can almost hear the Nirvana too. But sounds generic, right? I mean, Russell Stover is like everywhere and basically synonymous with generic Valentines Day chocolate, right?

Not so for us. All I needed was a Sharpie and 20 seconds. I (Russell but preferably Russ) scribbled my last name under the Russell, and her first name above the "Stover" (which is actually her last name) and BAM. Instant classic gift that she says is too cute for her to eat, and easily replicable evry year if for nothing more than a laugh. Boom.

And yes ,if not for the demands of patriachal society, my name could legally be Russell Stover. Dangit.

Anyways for any of you who might actually have to, like, try hard or show effort for procuring sweets for your sweetie come the 14th, it's plausible you'd see Trader Joe's Raspnberry Rose and wonder whats that's about. So glad you came here.

Gotta say, ths raspberry chocolate bar isn't the first kinda thing I'd usually reach for, but it works. First, I mean, look at it - all rosy and what not. Looks fancy, don't it? Sure does. it's not just the swirls and ridges replicating roses in slab chocolate form, but the color - cool pink that's not too pale por bright or neon or anything. it's just right on.

As is the taste! This particular bar is so remarkably raspberry flavored its nuts. Sweet and tart, even a little juicy in some ways. And not every bite but there is the occasional crisp that is suggestive of raspberry seed. There's enough that replicates actual raspberry that pureed raspberry is a logical ingredient to me....except it isn't. It's...raspberry powder? What the what? I don't even really know how one produces a powder from a normally succulent raspberry that still encompasses almost of the fruit's inherent qualities...but there it is.

Of course, for all of that flavor to shine through, it's gonna be white chocolate. Normally I'm not ehb iggest of fans of white chocolate - for me the darker the better - but it works here. There's so much nom factor, with a little cute appeals, that these raspberry rose bars are perfect for the next couple weeks of this Hallmark holiday.

Good chocolate. Good raspberry. Good everything. Good price at about $2, and good enough chance we'll buy again. Can't hype it to the max as we're not completely gobsmackedt, but it'll do for sure. It's almost as easy as having a box of chocolates with your name on it. Good deal.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Raspberry Rose: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Trader Joe's Corn Poblano Chowder

I must have walked past this little box a half a dozen times on my last Trader Joe's haul. I'd been looking for it in particular since I'd heard good things. I finally had to ask the friendly clerk where it was. I guess I was looking for something a little bigger...? And I wasn't sure if it was in the refrigerated section or not. Turns out it's totally shelf-stable, so it was over by the cans of chili and stuff. Most of the obligatory Trader Joe's cashier conversation where they compliment at least one thing you've purchased revolved around this selection. The bagger expressed her utmost approval as well. If both cashier and bagger chime in on the same item, it's a safe bet you won't be too disappointed.

Our "use by" date was in November of 2021—a year and nine months from now. That's long enough to ride out half of the apocalypse. And this isn't a bad food to have on standby in the pantry. At $1.99, it's affordable, the little boxes are stackable, so they won't take up much room, and the chowder is pretty hearty and appetizing, as well.


Taste-wise, it's salty, savory, and creamy. There's plenty of corn flavor backed up by a nice blend of garlic, pepper, and onion. The poblano peppers are both visible and tastable in the mix. Heat-wise, they're not game-changers—the spice factor is relatively mild.

I'm truly surprised how chunky it is. I'd say corn and potato are the most prevalent elements, and the broth is plenty thick. It's the perfect cold weather winter lunch. Heats on the stovetop in six minutes, or about a minute and a half nuked.

On the down side, there really aren't two servings in the 17 ounce box. One person could put this away pretty easily, but that's generally par for the course with Trader Joe's nutrition labels. If you do consume the whole thing by yourself, you're looking at about half a day's worth of sodium. Better sea salt than some weird chemical preservative, but still. High blood pressure's no joke. 

And one more small complaint before I close: the corn had a slightly stiff texture. It wasn't awful, but there was just a hint of waxiness to most of the corn kernels that I'm not accustomed to that was ever so slightly off-putting. It won't be a deal-breaker, though. I'm still thinking this will be a repeat buy for us. The convenience factor, value, and overall flavor are all big positives here.

Sonia gives Trader Joe's Corn Poblano Chowder four stars. I'll throw out a matching score this time.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Trader Joe's Protein Patties

Disclaimer: Self-proclaimed meatatarian here. I used to feel shy and squeamish about wanting to eat something called, say, a Meat Lover's Pizza. Just sounds odd, doesn't it? Whatever, though, it's tasty and, even better, is piled with multiple kinds of meat, so I'm just gonna get over it. Mmmmmmmmmmeeeeaaaaaatttttt. Yum.

Not to say that I can't enjoy a good meat substitute. Don't believe me, newbie? It was Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo that helped inspire my love for TJ's and helped inspire me to get on board with this blog way back in its fledgling stages. The world had to know.

So now it's 2020 and there's the Beyond Burgers and Impossible Whoppers and everything everywhere. How is this happening? I don't know...I didn't know there was such a demand that different places had to be tripping over themselves to bring their interpretation of veggie burgers to the masses. I mean, there were plenty of adequate if not downright good veggie burgers out there...is it a conspiracy for world domination? I don't know about that, but there are some interesting tin foil hat conspiracies out there that make for fun reading at the very least. It does seem to me that all these bogus beefless burgers rushing to the market are a supply trying to create a demand, and not a demand building it's own supply and market. I'm not sure if down the road the outcome will be so rosy or not for them.

Anyways, enough banter. Trader Joe's Protein Patties. Motto: "All the other good names were taken and we were stuck with this." Another plant based burger. No s and p, flip twice, down the hatch...any good?

Nope. Not gonna lie - both my lovely bride, who is usually even more open than I to these kinda things, and I did not enjoy this pea protein patty puck at all. First of all...look at it in cooked form. The whole thing doesn't brown at all, it just turns a little less pink and gets burned and dry outside. It doesn't look appetizing. The whole shebang looks more like, well, scrapple, which is actually delicious by the way. And like a good ol' slab of East Coast haggis, it got all crispy on the outside while still mushy in the middle. Acceptable, even preferable, for scrapple. Not so much for something purporting to be a burger.

I will admit there is almost a beef like taste to it. I mean, no amount of veggie voodoo and laboratory testing can fully replicate the gristle and sizzle of real actual red meat. Honorable try here. But this TJ's take just has nothing really truly screaming "burger" about it. It's more a toasted pea protein patty plop, and between stating which one out loud I'd like to eat, get me that Meat Lovers!

Quick aside: If one of the goals of products like these is methane reduction, let's just say it wasn't successful on this particular end product user's side of the equation.

If we had to give up meat, there's a chance that Sandy and I would react more favorably to these guys. And you know what? If you like them, don't let us poo-poo your pea protein patty puck plop parade. All that being said, and definitely at the price point of $4.49 for two quarter pound sized chunks, these will not be a repeat buy. That's the meat of the matter right there.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Protein Patties: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons