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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.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Trader Joe's Uncured Turkey Bacon & Cheddar Sous Vide Egg Bites

You don't tug on Superman's cape.

You don't spit into the wind. 

You don't put no cottage cheese in your eggs.

And you don't mess around with Jim. 

That's how that song goes, right? Something like that? Close enough?

Honestly, I don't care what you do with your curds and eggs. I don't. I intentionally used a double negative so you can take it either way - the evoked versus the literal. But just keep them away from my eggs, please. As well as most anything else. Cottage cheese is just one food I never have and likely never will like unless snuck by me somehow. 

And for that reason, Trader Joe's Uncured Turkey Bacon & Cheddar Sous Vide Egg Bites are a no go for me

From the first bite, I could tell there was something in these egg pucks that was something pretty akin to cottage cheese. Eggs aren't naturally this fluffy and soft - I mean, sure the sous vide cooking method certainly helped, but there that textural element, along with a slight, low-key tang. I knew it. Cottage cheese, second ingredient. From the tast of things, there's almost as much cheese as there is egg! My lovely bride said she didn't notice that at all. I'm speechless. 

The TJ's egg plops come fully cooked but chilled as, you know, eggs. There's two recommended ways of heating them up - in the over for 10 to 12 minutes or the microwave for a minute. We made them both ways - oven on left, microwave on right. They look about the same coming out of the package as they do when they're ready to eat - fairly unappetizing to me. No comment on how their looks may progress from here. 


From the oven, they're a bit firmer but not by appreciably much. There's also the slight browning, and the added wonderment of why I spent nearly 15 to 20 minutes heating a precooked egg in the oven instead of just cracking and cooking one in less than half the time. The microwaved one was definitely softer and greasier, as one may expect. 

Everything else about them is pretty much meh. Turkey bacon never has and never will get it done in my book. The cheddar was typical, and the flavor of the herbs and spices pretty muted. A little hot sauce or some bomba would have helped, but of course those are add-ons to and not features of the original product. 

So yeah, not a fan. Sandy likes 'em a bit more. Apparently on the Interwebs folks say there's a lot of similarities between the sous vide eggers and an offering from Starbucks, which she's had but not me. The TJ's are larger and softer, and also cheaper but still not cheap at the middling $3.50 to $4 mark for a two pack. At that revelation, Sandy said she could go on Amazon and find a egg mold that could make these for breakfast sandwiches for us for like $10, so she wouldn't buy this TJ's offering unless in a pinch for a warm meal-like non-soup substance for work. I wouldn't buy the mold or the bites or anything like these guys again - just no. Not for me. Nah. Nuh uh. I'll be nice and give them a one while Sandy will be a bit higher but not by all that much. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Uncured Turkey Bacon & Cheddar Sous Vide Bites: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons

 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Trader Joe's PB&J Snack Duo


Bert & Ernie, Starsky & Hutch, Mac & Cheese, Hobbs & Shaw, Tubbs & Crockett, Batman & Robin, Siegfried & Roy, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Mulder & Sculley, Laverne & Shirley, Salt & Pepper, Salt N' Pepa, Thelma & Louise, Lucy & Ethel, Sonny & Cher, Beavis & Butthead, Bono & The Edge, Burger & Fries, Frodo & Sam, Jack Skellington & Sally, Chucky & Bride of Chucky...you get the point. 

And the point is: There are a lot of memorable duos in this world, but Peanut Butter & Jelly are as epic as duos come. And now it's more convenient than ever. There are six packs with eight peanut butter sticks a piece in this $3.99 box. Math isn't my strong suit, but I think that's about 48 scrumptious, wafery peanut butter sticks. And that's not even taking into account the tasty "raspberry fruit dip."

I'd say the jelly-esque fruit dip is a tad more dessert-like than your average pb&j sandwich jelly. It's both sweeter and a little thicker by my estimation, and there are little dark round things all through it. I guess those are raspberry seeds. They add a bit of extra texture and they look kinda cool, although, I think I would have been a tad grossed out by them when I was a kid.


Other than that, these are absolutely optimized for kids' school lunches. They taste good, they're fun, they're filling, they're convenient, and they're made of decent ingredients. If you lack children like Sonia and I do, then you'll just have to eat them yourselves. That shouldn't be a problem for us.

As for the peanut butter sticks: they're crispy and supple. They're not hard or tough at all. They have a tendency to snap in half when you dunk them in the raz dip. It's a little frustrating, but if you dunk a half a stick at a time or know how to brace the stick with your index finger pretty far down the length of it, near the pool of jelly, you'll be dipping like a pb&j duo pro in no time.


Sonia was surprised how much the sticks tasted like peanut butter. I mean, their main ingredient is peanut butter. In light of that, I was surprised how subtle the peanut butter flavor was. They seem to be a bit sweeter and maybe have a slight vanilla essence, too...? At any rate, we both liked them. We're happy with the stick to dip ratio and the overall value and convenience factor.

We'd consider this for a repeat purchase. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Completely Cacao Chips


 Here's one of my favorite videos of all time. The poor kid...the facial expressions...the puffs of powder going out...it's hilarious and it never gets old. As a parent of young kids I can totally see this happening with mine. 

And thanks to TJs I now have yet another way to get 'em on a day I need a laugh at their expense. 

I picked up a bag of Trader Joe's Organic Completely Cacao Chips mainly for my lovely bride, who just loves dark, dark chocolate. The darker, the btter. No milk. No sugar. No...anything except for cacao, in a not so gritty form ala cacao nibs which I've tried and it's a hard no from me. These chips are just smooth little discs, like half a drop of chocolate each, just waiting for someone unexpectedly to take a bite. Sadness may follow. 

It's really interesting how something so small can pack so much taste. They're so bitter that they're almost sour, if that makes any sense. Like, yes, there's a taste *of* chocolate, but they don't taste *like* chocolate. I can do about 90% dark chocolate bars but man, not these, by themselves. Too strong. Too bitter. Too...simultaneously chocolate and not.  

Of course, straight consumption likely isn't the intended use for these. Holiday baking anyone? Use 'em for that! Or if you have something that you want a small taste of chocolate for, use these TJ's chippies. My wife has put a small handful in her morning oatmeal or yogurt and there's enough sugar from those to rub off and make a palatable taste. Peanut butter on a graham cracker is an okay snack for a kiddo but for an adult, kinda meh...unless you add some of these. it's transformative. I even made small, paleo friendly snack just mixing these cacao bits with sunflower seeds, which sounds kinda awful...but it worked. Maybe just like us, the cacao chips aren't meant to be alone. 

It's only $2.99 for the large sleeve of them, which makes the chips a pretty decent value. If you have kids, have 'em try them...I'm still laughing about how mine fared. A good snack ingredient and a laugh is worth at least a double four, right?

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Completely Cacao Chips: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Trader Joe's Mini Spicy Pumpkin Samosas

It's an important distinction to make: these are spicy pumpkin samosas, not pumpkin spice samosas. Pumpkin spice samosas would be weird and maybe even a little gross. Hopefully even you pumpkin haters can set aside your disdain for the fall gourd and consider giving these a try...that is, if you like Indian food.

Because the spice blend here isn't ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and clove. It's cilantro, garlic, ginger, and turmeric. Yes, I'm aware ginger is on both lists, but the order in which it falls within the list is significant. It's a background flavor here, not the main attraction. These samosas are a little sweet, too, but they're not "pumpkin pie" sweet, if you know what I mean.


In addition to real pumpkin, Trader Joe's Mini Spicy Pumpkin Samosas have paneer cheese and sweet potato within them, too. To tell you the truth, I wasn't sure if that combo was going to work, but it definitely did. Both Sonia and I were fans from our first bites.

We've always loved Indian food. After Mexican, Indian is probably our favorite type of international cuisine. There's a sweet, spicy, savory curry essence to these appetizers that works oh-so-well and is oh-so-unique. It's a harvesty kinda flavor, but it's also unmistakably East Indian-inspired. The heat level is mild to medium—enough to enhance the flavor but not enough to cause any discomfort to someone who enjoys spicy foods.

Like other Trader Joe's samosas we've tried, the breading here is crispy, flaky, buttery, and delectable. It might be a little on the oily side, but it adds to the richness of the flavor. The only complaint I can think of is that I wouldn't have minded some kind of chutney in a little packet on the side for dipping. I know, I know, I always make that same complaint, but a bit of chutney as uncommon as these little apps might have made them even more delicious.

$3.99 for 12 mini samosas. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Four from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Jalapeño Seasoned Corn & Rice Puffs

"If you want any of these, you have to take them away from me right now. Otherwise, I will eat them all and this is all we have left until next trip."

Actual words spoken the other morning by me, to my lovely bride, as she came down to my basement office for a quick minute to chitchat about something. It was maybe 10am at the latest, and I was speaking in reference to the veritable Everestesque mound of Trader Joe's Jalapeño Seasoned Corn & Rice Puffs I had in a bowl on my desk. It was already my second nosh sesh of the day on these new snackers, and unlike everything on my plate at work, I was gonna get this done pretty easily. 

"Meh," she said as she grabbed a couple and walked away.

Well, there you have it. Two different takes summed up anecdotally there. 

As you mighta guessed, I have a new addition to the my evergrowing "shouldn't-buy-will-devour" list of snacks and junk food. There isn't anything magic to these puffs...except there is. I can't rationalize precisely what it is. 

Maybe it's the crunch. It's that super light, crunchy, crispy, not too crumbly, not too hard mouthfeel that invites bite after bite with ease. There's no hint of graininess, which was an initial concern given corn, rice and quinoa in these guys somehow - whereas sometimes that can be a bit hodge-podgey, the bite here is seamless and smooth. I never would've guessed quinoa, even though these aren't my first puffy quinoa snack. It's...different, in a very good way. 

Maybe it's the seasoning. I love it and can't get enough. Predominantly jalapeño, there's also a little garlic and onion in there that add a good better-than-garden-variety spice punch that plays well off the puff. Some puffs have much more seasoning than others, which is fine. The first bite or two, the spice hits hard, but it dampens a bit as the taste buds acclimate until it sneaky-sneaks up from behind to hit full force, kinda like how the sour from Sour Patch Kids can hit in a similar pattern. There's also a little hint of sugar that adds a little balancing. Love it, and it's neither too dusty or greasy or anything (thinking of you, Cheetos). It's just there and delicious.

Maybe...it's just everything else. Earlier on up I referred to these TJ snackers as "junk food" and, well, that might not be entirely fair. It's not like I'd classify them as "healthy" but take a look at the nutritionals - it could be a lot worse. Aside from the sodium, eating an entire bag (which I neither advocate nor deny that I have done myself) won't completely kill your day, and even then the salt isn't as bad as other bagged snacks, so take that for what it is. Organic and gluten free to boot. C'mon, what's not to like here?

And yes, I ate these in the morning. It's corn and rice puffs. Sounds close enough to cereal to me.  

Sandy likes them but isn't an addict like me. That's likely a good thing, we don't need a turf war in the kitchen and our own secret stashes. A bag's only like $2. Seriously, try 'em out. I can't recommend enough and give 'em a perfecto, whereas my wife's more down to earth on 'em with a 3.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Jalapeño Seasoned Corn & Rice Puffs: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

  

Monday, October 5, 2020

Trader Joe's Turkey & Pumpkin Mole Burrito

I was actually exposed to mole (rhymes with olé) before I met Sonia. I had some co-workers that brought chicken in a mole sauce to a break room potluck lunch one time, and I loved it. I remember it had a nice peppery kick to it and it tasted rich, a little sweet, and a little nutty. There was something peanut butter-esque about it, and I asked what was in it. To my surprise, the base was actually peanut butter.

Since then, I've realized there are many different kinds of mole sauces, and people use everything from Mexican chocolate to almond butter as a base for it. There's red mole, mole poblano, mole verde...the list goes on and on. The one thing every mole I've ever tried had in common: they were bursting with rich flavor—that is, every mole I've ever had except this one.


The mole here was apparently pumpkin puree-based. I've got absolutely nothing against pumpkin puree, especially this time of year, but you can imagine expecting something with a chocolate or nut butter base and getting something with a veggie base was unanticipated, if not a little disappointing. There was a very mild amount of heat, but like 90% of Trader Joe's Mexican and Tex-Mex style foods, Sonia and I were both pining for much more kick.

That's not to say the overall flavor wasn't pleasant. The turkey pieces in this burrito were surprisingly plentiful, plump, and juicy. I found one or two specimens to be a tad on the gristly, chewy side, but those few bites were the exception rather than the rule. The combo of rice, beans, and sweet potato was nice, too, and the spice blend was appetizing, but it needed to be ratcheted up a notch or two or ten.


But our biggest complaint by far was the lack of richness in the mole sauce. This tasted like a diet mole sauce, for lack of any better or more universal comparisons off the top of my head. Sonia agrees, and her family is from Oaxaca, Mexico, and she's as close to a mole connoisseur as anyone I've ever met. I'm sure there were way fewer calories and less fat than in any other mole either Sonia or I have had, but we're heading into the colder months and we'll need that extra layer of fat to keep us warm anyway. 

It was an interesting idea with a lot of potential, but I doubt we'll re-purchase. It's not a bad burrito by any means, but it's not what we were hoping for in terms of mole. $3.99 for the single serving. Three stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Trader Joe's Southwest Style Sweet Potato Saute Bowl

Of course, there's any number of ways to mark the year 2020. Most of them, we won't go into here, and we think you appreciate that. 

Today, we'll keep it light and positive, and state that 2020 seems to be a year that my lovely bride and I have really gotten a lot of cool kitchen stuff, or at the very least definitely upped our meager supply from before. New KitchenAid mixer for her, that I'm afraid to touch. New nicer grill for me, that's she's afraid to touch. Just yesterday we had a new blender/food processor delivered from a Pampered Chef party Sandy hosted about a month ago, and as we've excitedly exclaimed several times, it can heat stuff while blending. Hello potato soup. Plenty more things coming from that party.

And most pertinent for this review, a great buddy of mine dropped off a carbon steel wok and bamboo handled spatula for my birthday. I love it, and use it as often as I can, although I'll admit I'm still getting the hang of it. 

So when Sandy brought home the new Trader Joe's Southwest Style Sweet Potato Saute Bowl, I knew it was time to wok and roll. Sounds like fun and deliciousness all in one. 

And boy, were we not wrong.

The label suggests it's a six serving container, which I suppose can make sense if treating as a side dish. There's plenty in there once it gets opened, kinda like it's all springloaded in there with all the potato spirals and whatnot. But treat as a main dish, it's perhaps more like a larger lunch for two hungry adults to share, and that works.

First off: lots of potato...noodles? If zucchini noodles can be called zoodles, what are these? "Poodles" is taken. Call 'em yams and yoodles? Maybe? I digress. There's a ton in there, enough that while cooking I wasn't there if there'd be enough of the other stuff to even make it's way and mix up the big ol' nest we had going on. Fortunately they do saute up well and "cook down" and untangle enough to get a nix mix on, though they do take longer to saute than stated on the package. There were a few grainy-ish bites, which yes, partially on me, but it's something to be aware of. 

But all the mix-in's, too: nice. There's jicama in there but honestly for us it got more or less lost in there so I wasn't always aware while consuming it. There was an occasional burst of freshness though, so that must be it. Ample chunks of poblano peppers are tossed in, which don't add much if any heat, but are maybe a slightly edgier bell pepper, like a pre-teen one who just went to Hot Topic. Get one with a little extra roast on it and it's yum. Corn, black beans, a lil' pico de gallo - all are good, could use a little more, IMHO. But what's there is nice. 

And then...the sauce. 

This is always the make it or break it component for any salad or similar kit. You gotta nail this. Here, TJ's went with an avocado cilantro one. I'd argue you don't have to like avocados to like this dressing - it's light and smooth with a little body to it, but is nowhere near guacamole, though for me that wouldn't be outta line for a piece of the meal here. Sandy generally dislikes avocado and had no issue with this particular one. But (and a big but) you absolutely have to like cilantro. There's a lot of that up in here. I'd say that makes sense - with all the yoodles (yup, I'm going for it) in there something has to cut through and add flavor to every bite. Cilantro is the overarching ingredient tying it all together. It's got bite. And it works. 

In all, the sweet potato saute kit works as a standalone dish that can likely be adaptable to however you may want to dress it up. Add some guac, sour cream/Greek yogurt, salsa, even a little more protein to make it a bit more of a meal and boost the serving numbers? Sure, all of that could work. It seems to be a good base for all sorts of creations...which I intend to do with my new fancy wok in all its rainbow-seasoned glory. Good stuff. Really good. I think between Sandy and I we can muster a near perfect score. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Southwest Style Sweet Potato Saute Bowl: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons