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Friday, April 16, 2021

Trader Joe's Cocoa Chile Spiced Pecans

Up until the age of 5 or so, I lived less than a block from famous Cocoa Avenue in Hershey, PA, walking distance from Hersheypark. The whole town smelled like cocoa, mostly from a cocoa bean mulch that everybody used in their gardens, but also because of the nearby chocolate factory. Being married to a Latina, I've tried all kinds of things slathered with chile powder or cayenne pepper that I probably wouldn't have otherwise—corn on the cob, mango, pineapple, papaya, hard candy, you name it—just about everything but pecans. So this product should be right up my alley, right? Leave it to Trader José to introduce...whoops! Didn't mean to offend anybody! Leave it to Trader Joe to introduce me to Cocoa Chile Pecans.

These pecans aren't as sticky sweet as I thought they might be. They are "candied" as noted on the bag, but not overly so. I think if they had been much sweeter, the chile wouldn't have shined through quite as much. The cocoa flavor is similar to a rich, earthy dark chocolate. It's not nearly as candy-esque as a typical chocolate coated nut.

The spice level is decent. There's not much kick up front, but it's one of those heats that creeps up on you at the finish. It builds up on your tongue as you gobble pecan after pecan. I'd say the cocoa is more prevalent initially, and it slowly gives way to a warm, throat-tingling cayenne pepper essence. There's also cinnamon listed in the ingredients, but it's barely detectable as an independent flavor by my estimation.

There's a little bit of a cough factor. That is, there's enough cocoa powder, chile powder, and powdered sugar that if I inhale at exactly the wrong moment—probably somewhere between the nut entering my mouth and getting it chomped down a good bit by my teeth—I have to hack a minimal amount of said powders out of my lungs. The cayenne pepper is particularly troubling to my respiratory system. Spice in the lungs is no joke, but I must admit, there's something invigorating about chile pepper in the old alveoli. That would make a great band name. "We are The Spicy Alveoli and we're here to rock!" 

$4.49 isn't super cheap for a product like this, but I can't say it isn't worth the price tag, either.  As long as you aren't hoping for something sticky sweet and don't mind the spice, these are worth a purchase if you ask us. Three and a half stars from yours truly. Cuatro estrellas de mi Sonita.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Trader Joe's Oven-Baked Cheese Bites with Tomato and Chili

"You know what they called these back in the day?"

Okay, Grandpa, nope. 

"Well, they still called them oven baked crunchy cheese or something like that. i thought it was meant to be like the the burnt corners of ooey gooey cheese that your Grandma would make...but anyways, it wasn't 'Trader Joooooooooooe's' was 'Trader Giotto's.' Had none of them fancy spices on them either."

It's true....kinda. Trader Joe's Oven-Baked Cheese Bites with Tomato and Chili are a newer take on the popular product formerly known and reviewed on this blog as Trader Giotto's Oven Baked Cheese Bites. 

There's been talk elsewhere about the rebranding/name changes being done at TJ's. The official corporate stance is consolidating and unifying the "Trader Joe's" brand, as corporations like to do on a continual basis. That's likely not the only reason, and that's valid too. While on the record here on this blog as saying I personally liked the former names TJ's used to market products, I don't really mind the change either....I just hadn't noticed its implementation on store shelves until purchasing this snack. It's probably because I'm totally oblivious. 

Speaking of noticing things....wooo. Open up a bag of these snackers. Again, perhaps it's that I'm oblivious or have a little cold still, but I didn't the cheesy odors wafting up. My wife sure did though. "Smells like odd cheese," she said, without much further explanation, but she kept commenting about it without much further explanation. I don't know either. 

But odd cheese is a good way of putting it. There's...something amiss here flavorwise. The first couple I had, nestled atop the bag, were very tomatoey, and not in a great way. The bites started out like their predecessors - salty, crunchy, cheesy - not bad - but then switched flavor profile to "sweet juicy tomato" without any of the juice of course. It was a bit strong.  

Further down into the bag, there seems to be where the spicy chili seasoning settled in. We're not exactly talking Dante's Inferno here, but the further down I went, the hotter it got. There was still the perhaps-a-bit-too-cloying tomato, but the medium heat chili spices helped tamper it down some....but it still wasn't that great. Something like a little more even seasoning distribution, with perhaps some garlic snuck in to help bridge the gap, coulda made a better snack in my opinion. 

Whatever. My opinion isn't the only one out there. My lovely bride sure likes to eat them up and is more gungho than I, although i think we'd both agree the plain version tickles our particular fancies a little bit better. Something like a combined seven from us probably fits the bill. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Oven-Baked Cheese Bites with Tomato and Chili: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Monday, April 12, 2021

Trader Joe's Hearts of Palm Pasta

If you've lived in a northern climate most of your life, you probably think palm trees are exotic. I'm guessing you've seen them on vacations when traveling to tropical or Mediterranean climes, and understandably, you probably associate them with good times and easy living. I sure did until I moved to Southern California. I was in awe of the majestic palm trees lining the streets of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley for my first couple years there on the west coast.

But at least for me, the novelty eventually wore off. Palm trees are actually kind of messy. Their large, cumbersome leaves fall all over the place and litter the sidewalks and roadways, they provide relatively little shade, and at least the ones in our old neighborhood frequently smelled like urine—and, um, you know, not from dogs urinating on them. I guess I can't blame the palm trees for that one, but the point is that my perception of palms changed.

Likewise, I had no idea that any part of a palm tree was edible. I'd heard of hearts of palm before but didn't realize they came from actual palm trees. I don't think most Angelenos know that either, otherwise they'd be chopping down the trees in their neighborhood and selling hearts of palm from a little street cart as a side hustle.

But if there aren't any hearts of palm vendors in your area, there's always this simple option from Trader Joe's. It's ready to heat and eat right out of the package. It comes in a vacuum-sealed pack, and all the little noodles are densely wadded together in a light liquid. At first, I thought it might be some kind of oil, but there's only one ingredient listed on the package: hearts of palm. So it must be the natural juice that comes from the palm plants.

At any rate, the pasta slides right out of the pack and into your pan with a decent amount of moisture. There's an earthy, planty, almost bittersweet smell at first. It's not unlike that of an artichoke heart. As the product cooks, the noodles disentangle and the smell evolves into something more squashy, or maybe even sweet potato-esque. It's a subtle fragrance.

Likewise, the taste is very neutral and understated. Without any fixins of any kind, I think it tastes like a white squash more than anything else. We mixed ours with some other veggies, tomato cream sauce, and some parmesan cheese, and it worked out quite nicely.

As far as texture is concerned, it's much more like zucchini spirals or other vegetable-based "pasta" than any real linguine. It's a great base for anything you might put on regular pasta, but it's just a tad stringier than grain-based noodles.

Scoring this as just a regular guy walking into a TJ's store from off the street rather than a hearts of palm connoisseur, I'd give this about three stars. I don't think I'll pick it up again any time soon, but it was another adventure in exotic-to-me foods, thanks to my good buddy Trader Joe. It's vegan, gluten-free, and super low in carbs, so if you're on a restricted diet, this is something to consider. $2.99 for the three serving box. 

Sonia concurs with my assessment and liked the product even a little more than I did. Looks like a four star affair on her end.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Trader Joe's Mini Coffee Bean Hold the Cone! Ice Cream Cones

There's pluses and minuses to being an adult. 

Here's a plus: No more having to go school!

Here's a minus: If you have kids, you have to relive all those years again. *Cannot wait* for my kids to be in middle school. Insert eye roll. 

Another plus: You'll have your own money!

Minus: You'll be responsible when things like the 106 year old cast iron stack pipe at your house finally crack and spring a horizontal geyser like Old Faithful. 

Plus: You can do whatever you want!

Minus: You can't do whatever you want!

One last plus: if you wanna eat ice cream for lunch, go right ahead. 

And minus: You'll know enough to know when the ice cream just isn't that particularly good, which kinda puts a damper on the whole affair. 

Sigh. Is what it is, my chosen adult mantra, when it comes to Trader Joe's Mini Coffee Bean Hold the Cone! Ice Cream Cones. 

Usually, us adults in my house like TJ's ice cream and love coffee ice cream. this really should be a slam dunk here. Like, how can this possibly get messed up?

Oddly enough, the answer is easily enough. First: the mouthfeel. This ice cream is it's almost more gummy  than anything else. Cold and creamy, sure...but there's a certain not-right bite to it that's almost chewy. If it had some mochi in it, well, okay, then, sure, but this is purported to be straight up ice cream, and it's just not. It's weird. 

But wait, there's more! Thanks Billy Mays! the taste just really isn't there either for the coffee. Looking critically at this, I think iIcan see why. it's a mini cone, so not so much ice cream - realistically we're looking at a few spoonfuls max per cone here. that's not a lot of really get a flavor going, especially when the vast majority of the ice cream is in close quarters to either the chocolate coating or cone or both. For it to work, the coffee flavor needs to be bold but it's just not, and it's not even just me saying it - it's my lovely bride as well. The ice cream is just kinda tan and bland. 

There you have it. Not quite good ice cream. Dashed desires, emptied expectations, floundered feelings...yup. Just gonna acknowledge it and hope for better next time, though by next time i mean I'm not buying these guys again. Too much disappointment. Matching twos from the Mrs and I. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mini Coffee Bean Hold the Cone! ice Cream Cones: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Trader Joe's Amped-Up Almonds

Whenever I think of things that are "amped-up" or amplified, I think of the classic scene from This Is Spinal Tap when Christopher Guest's character explains to Rob Reiner that his Marshall stacks are unique because "they go to 11." And then Rob Reiner asks why the band doesn't just make 10 louder. There's this brilliant awkward pause and then Christopher Guest goes "...these go to 11." I lol every time.

I'm not sure if an amplifier that goes to 11 is really any better than a regular amp that only goes to 10...and similarly, I'm not sure if these Trader Joe's Amped-Up Almonds are any better than regular chocolate-covered almonds, either. Maybe I'd feel differently if I did hardcore strength training more often, because these almonds are obviously optimized as a pre-workout snack. 16g of protein per serving...and 29g of fat per serving. Hmmm. I'm sure it's good fat, and I'm sure it gets burned off if you're benching your bodyweight for ten reps and you've got less than 15% body fat to begin with.

But hey, I'll leave all that worky outy stuff to the fitness experts and let you know what I think of these little guys just as a stand-alone snack for an average person.

There's a rather thick coating of chocolate here. And it tastes kind of like a chocolate protein shake rather than just plain confectionary chocolate. No wonder. It has pea protein in it. It's not so much pea protein that it ruins the candy aspect of the product, but it is enough pea protein that you can taste something a little health-food-ish, for lack of a better term. It pushes the product's flavor in the direction of "earthy" just ever so slightly, and it pushes the product's texture in the direction of "chalky" just ever so slightly. 

The almonds are pretty much what you'd expect—nice, whole, nut-tacular almonds. There are certain nuts I never get tired of, and almonds are definitely in that category. They've got a good amount of protein just on their own and they work well in all kinds of snacks and desserts. This particular version of almonds is most definitely filling and energizing. For $1.29, it's a lot of bang for your buck in terms of protein and fat, all in a convenient single serving pouch.

Sonia thinks they taste a little weird. They do. For that reason, we'll probably reach for a different almond snack next time we're at TJ's. If you're a gym rat looking to put on pounds of lean muscle, these might be a great choice for a pre-workout energy boost.

Three stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Cinnamon Coffee Cake Muffins

It doesn't seem all that long ago that being relegated to a gluten-free diet for any reason seemed to be a sentence for dry, weird, sawdusty, oddly starchy, or otherwise unpleasant substitutes for usual carby goodies like cakes and breads and whatnot. Seems to me I've tried a lot of them and ugh. For a guy who has no reason other than personal choice to avoid wheat, man, it was something I'd rather not do. 

Fortunately, for all the ways in which the world has not progressed over the years, there's some other ways in which they have. Overall quality of gluten free goodies is absolutely one of them, and I can think of no better example right now than Trader Joe's Gluten Free Cinnamon Coffee Cake Muffins. 

My goodness. Admittedly, I'm not usually much of a muffin-munchin' man, but I know a good one when I taste one, and these are absolutely on point. They're soft and crumbly, a little springy and moist, with an almost melt in your mouth feel. Must be all the fats like sour cream and buttermilk...I mean, seriously, don't look at the nutritional label. Shoot, you looked. No, these are absolutely not health food. Just move along. 

Moving along - and the taste! Getting a good cinnamon cake taste profile down isn't exactly rocket science - brown sugar and cinnamon make such an easy dynamic duo - but there's still much to be appreciated when done well, and that's what we got goin' on here. There's these little cinnamon bits floating around all over the place, which when when tasted give this little extra cinnamony spark, with ample molasses-y brown sugar to back it all up. Deeelish. Combined with the super soft moist texture, these muffins are a real treat. 

Only drawback I can think of is the lack of much topping. I'd love a little crumb topping, or instead of that, having something like apple added in. I mean, these muffins are perfectly tasty alongside a steaming warm cup of coffee as one would imagine, or a cup of cool milk if you're like one of my kiddos, but just a little added extra element would really put them over the top. 

Regardless, kudos to TJ's for finding an incredibly good muffin. It's not just a good gluten-free muffin, it's a great muffin, period, with bonus points for being gluten free. There's always extra credit given to inclusion. Love 'em and for $4 might be tough to beat. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gluten Free Cinnamon Coffee Cake Muffins: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, April 2, 2021

Trader Joe's Better Than Leftovers! Dog Treats

Ah, the Easter season. Flowers are blooming, birds are chirping, and everything's coming back to life. What a lovely time of year. 

There will be church services, big family meals, and Easter egg hunts. Speaking of Easter egg hunts, I heard about this couple...that actually does Easter egg hunts...for their dogs. I mean, wow. That's a little...eccentric, to put it kindly. What kind of social deviants do Easter egg hunts for pets?

Speaking of pets, ours absolutely LOVED these treats. Yes, you may argue, you've watched a couple previous videos and in pretty much every one, the dogs indiscriminately inhale the treats with little regard to the subtleties of the food's taste or texture, providing virtually no clues as to the quality or value of the product. In essence, it appears that Alfred and Sadie love all the Trader Joe's brand dog treats we've given them. 

While this may be true, you'll have to trust us, as their mommy and daddy owners, we can tell they liked these treats just a little bit more than the average doggie snack. Furthermore, there are five different flavors here, the treats are nice and soft, and they're a convenient, tiny bite-size for our small pups.

The flavors included are: roast beef, gravy, cheese, sweet potato, and apple pie. At a quick glance, there appear to only be two different colors of treats. I think we decided the lighter orange color was either sweet potato or apple pie. If you smell the treats, you can tell that there are, in fact, five distinct fragrances. I refrained from eating one (this time) to find out how they actually tasted, but the look on our dogs' faces said it all.

$4.19 for the resealable bag. I, personally, think this is the best dog treat we've seen from Trader Joe's to date. Four and a half paw prints a piece from Sadie and Alfred.

Nate's Notes: Sonia and I may or may not be the above-mentioned couple that does Easter egg hunts for their dogs. You'll just have to watch the video to find out.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Trader Joe's Cold Brew Coffee and Boba Coconut Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert

Apparently there's two different types of boba balls out there. Who knew?

The source of this knowledge is my lovely bride, who I trust completely and will try to represent well here. She states there's the type that's usually in bubble teas, of which we very occasionally partake. They're soft and squishy with no chew required and kinda fun, if not a little oddly gelatinous, but firm. So there's the first type, which I knew of.

There's another type, apparently, more common for top-your-own frozen yogurt kinda places, that are more like Fruit Gushers maybe? Like you bite into them and a little jelly plops design. That sounds...challenging to me, to say the least. But if you like 'em, go for 'em!

So which are in the newish Trader Joe's Cold Brew Coffee and Boba Coconut Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert?

Thankfully, to me, the ones present here are more alike the first described, from what I can tell. You bite into them and there's no ooze that slips on out. But that's not to say the bite isn't still a bit odd. I've had things like gummi worms and Swedish Fish in ice cream/ice cream-like desserts before, and usually those bits of candy are frozen hard and tacky and honesntly not nearly as enjoyable as I'd wish. These tapioca tidbits are different. Instead, there's a bit of a firm chew to them - still relatively soft by gummy candy standard, but not all jelly like either. It's...odd but definitely a bit satisfying after becoming accustomed to the feel. i can dig it. 

The rest of the coconut-based not-ice-cream scoopable dessert is okay. The coffee flavor seems a bit mild and tame. My wife says she prefers the more laidback taste, but then again she typically like creamier, more sugary coffees than I do. i prefer black coffee, and so i guess based on that I'd want a bolder coffee taste here. Not to say what's here is unpleasant - it's not - but it's a bit meek. Maybe the sweeter, milkier take is a bit of a homage to milky bubble teas, so I can see why that choice was made. 

Everything else is pretty much on point. There's good consistency to the dessert - not too thick and dense, not too light and melty - and anytime a vegan, non dairy treat that can plausibly pass for ice cream is available, we'll give it a go. It's good stuff, not great, but definitely worth a try. The pint was something like $5 (been a few weeks, sorry) which isn't that far off from most desserts of this type. Sandy will give it a solid four, noting that's nothing perfect ever, while I'm not as optimistic in the score as she as as it pertains to this dessert, but just maybe we'll find the perfect one this summer. C'mon TJ's!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cold Brew Coffee and Boba Coconut Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Monday, March 29, 2021

Trader Joe's Raw & Unfiltered Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Blossom & Multi-Floral Honey

Since 2004, I've been driving a gray '98 Subaru Legacy. It's now a 23-year-old car. It has about 180,000 miles on it. 

Other than our RV, that Subaru was the only vehicle I had ever purchased. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it. And that's the problem. It hasn't given us any good reasons to trade it in or scrap it. Save for a few dents and scratches, it still looks decent for the most part. The upholstery is in excellent condition for its age. We haven't ever had to put more than a couple hundred dollars into it for maintenance and upkeep over the years. I'm just not one to try to "keep up with the Joneses" and neither is Sonia.

So finally, over the course of this last winter, the 'Old Gray Mare' gave us some starting problems when temps stayed below zero for a full week at a time, and we eagerly seized the excuse to purchase a new car this spring. We still have the Legacy, but now we also own a 2021 Subaru Ascent. Dang, cars have come a long way in the past quarter century. It's very similar to the old car, but everything's just a little bit fancier, upgraded, improved.

Likewise, until now, I've never had a reason to switch honeys. It might be a silly analogy, but if the Legacy is that plastic bear-shaped bottle of honey that we usually have on hand, then the Ascent is this glass jar of Trader Joe's Raw & Unfiltered Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Blossom & Multi-Floral Honey. Everything's just a little bit better—from the presentation to the texture to the taste.

There's a richness here that I don't think I've experienced with other honeys. In addition to the expected sweetness, there are floral notes and even hints of nuttiness. I'd say it's my imagination, but I swear I can almost tell that it's the flavor of macadamia nuts. 

There's a silky luxuriousness to the texture that's quite alluring and unexpected. It's a subtle difference from other types of honey, but it's definitely there. So far, Sonia and I have tried it on toast with butter and have used it to sweeten granola, tea, and yogurt smoothies. It works perfectly in every case.

One ingredient in the product: honey—but it's everything different about the way they harvest this honey that makes it so unique. This is truly the champagne of honeys. Or the Subaru Ascent of honeys. Take your pick.

The write-up about this honey in the Fearless Flyer is a must-read. It cites the exact districts of Hawaii the bees come from and heralds the rare business opportunity this product represents for Trader Joe's and the family-owned apiary that gathers the honey.

$4.99 may seem kind of steep for a small jar of honey, but raw and unfiltered honey is always expensive. This is honestly on the low end of the spectrum, cost-wise. We'd buy again.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Champignon Mushroom Snack

In my 38.5 years on this crazy planet, I've had many, many snacks. You name it, I've had it, most likely. 

I've also had plenty of crazy thoughts. Like thinking I looked good in those purple shorts back in middle school, or any other number I've had, most of them I dare not admit here. 

But never, not once, have my snacking and scheming ways crossed streams and converged into the thought of "Hey, what I really wanna snack on right now is a crispy mushroom."

You neither? Shocking. 

But hey, that's why things like Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Champignon Mushroom Snacks exist: because others dream just a little bit more, are a bit more creative, or just have different, kinda odd cravings. Thank God for all that. 

As may imagine, a crispy mushroom makes a bit of an odd snack. I hesitate to also call them crunchy as advertised, because it just seems a little inaccurate. The slices are vacuum fried, dried and salted, which leaves a perpetually crunchy outside but leaves the inside a soft baked feel. Like, it's absolutely not crunchy, but not soft and fleshy like an average musroom slice. It's just light and airy and, well, crispy. No other great word for it. It's kinda a fun bite and different than chips or popcorn or any other typical kinda snack. 

My lovely bride, whose sense of taste is still slowly returning after a COVID bout, kept marveling at "the seasoning" on the mushrooms. This is even after I told her a couple times that there's only salt and oil added. There's no extra umami-sprinkle or anything fancy you can do with mushrooms, although that'd be a fun touch. Nah, just salt and 'shroom, and I guess maybe somehow she can taste that better than i can, because to me it's a plain salty taste. Sure, there's a smidge of earthiness from the fungal base, but it's nothing overly flavorful, to me at least, although i too could be a bit hampered. 

In all, it's a light, kinda fun, different snack that probably has a few other applications. Sprinkling some on a salad wouldn't be a horrible idea, and maybe some kinds of soup as well like tomato. No word on if the crispy integrity would hold on up in those scenarios. Or maybe add as ingredient into a savory snack mix. . 

A one serving (!) bag costs $3.99, which may or may not mirror market price of mushrooms so well...I don't keep on tulip bulbs and porkbellies and all that, so judge for yourself. it's a buy I'd make again but am not in a huge rush to - just not so crazy for this snack. Double threes. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Champignon Mushroom Snack: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Trader Joe's Organic Sparkling Ginger + Lemon Apple Cider Vinegar Beverage

Sonia got me into the habit of drinking a bit of Bragg's apple cider vinegar each day. You know, the kind with "your mother." Or maybe it's "the mother," but I prefer to say it incorrectly on purpose because I like to keep it comedic like that. Anyway, I must admit, I feel better when I have it than when I don't. There's a definite cleansing effect, and I feel more energized and balanced, and I'm pretty sure it helps keep my system alkalized.

The only problem with ACV? The taste. It's awful. Sonia likes to mix hers with a full glass of water and slowly sip on the concoction for the better part of a half hour, puckering a couple dozen times and wincing repeatedly, dragging out the displeasure as long as possible. I simply pound my shot of ACV in one giant gulp and chase it with a can of sparkling water. I might squeal like a whiny child for a few moments, but I do my best to get it over with as quickly as possible. You might have guessed it already, but I'm definitely a "rip the band-aid off" kinda guy, and the wifey is a "pull it off slowly" kinda gal.

So obviously, my apprehension about this product is that it's basically mimicking Sonia's method of drinking ACV. It'll be less disgusting than drinking actual ACV, but that doesn't mean it won't know, kinda disgusting. Now, I'd never consider ACV a beverage. It's more of a homeopathic medicine if you ask me. So something like this should at least be drinkable and palatable if they're going to put the word "beverage" on it. Otherwise, I'd more heavily factor into the equation the health benefits of such a product. 

The very similar Apple Cider Drinking Vinegar reviewed by the Shelly fam looked more medicinal by virtue of it coming in a glass bottle, rather than a slender pop-top aluminum can. That one looked more like Trader Joe's Drinkable Snake Oil. This one looks just like a Trader Joe's brand Red Bull, or one of those fruity sparkling beverages that comes in a four pack from TJ's. 

I must admit, it masks the intense sourness of the apple cider vinegar pretty well. The ginger and lemon combo is a great choice. Ginger adds a wave of rooty spice that covers up the underlying medicinal flavors, and the lemon adds a more pleasant sourness than that of ACV. Both the ginger spice and lemon sourness are bordering on "too intense" if you ask me, but neither crosses the line. There's apple juice in there, too, to balance everything out with a little sweetness. Also, carbonation always makes beverages more fun for some reason. This wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable if it were flat.

$1.69 for the can. It's probably not something I'd buy to chug alongside my lunch or anything like that, but considering it packs a full tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, we were both surprised with its agreeable taste. Three and a half stars from me. Four and a half stars from the beautiful Sonia.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Trader Joe's Organic Banana Fruit Spread

Hello friends! Last week was a bit of a tough week for the Western Pennsylvania division of the WGaTJ's-writin' team, and it's good to be back. Both my lovely bride and I came down with a case of the 'rona and were basically knocked out of commission for a few days. Thankfully, we're almost fully recovered by now. Big thanks to those crazy lovebirds Nathan and Sonia for holding down the fort once again while we were more squarely on the mend. 

It's not to say we're completely symptom free right now. My tastebuds still aren't working quite right. Everything tastes okay...but nothing tastes good. Coffee just tastes all around awful, as if I'm having it for the first time again. Of course, this is better than how Sandy is doing - she can barely smell and her sense of taste  is slowly crawling back from completely on its way to mostly dead. 

So in other words, it's baby steps from here back to full hitpoints. We'll take it. 

And if you're taking baby steps, you may as well eat baby food. 

I've heard Trader Joe's Organic Banana Fruit Spread referred to as rather baby food-esque in other social media I've been scrolling through. Didn't know if to believe it or not, or if so if TJ's could do themselves a marketing favor by slapping a baby kangaroo on the label and rebranding it as "Trader Joey's."

Nah, they shouldn't. There's too much added sugar for that. 

Really, all this spread is made of is banana, sugar and pectin. It' soft and spreadable like a nonchunky jam. The spread is smooth and even, with an odd kinda sheen to it, that definitely evokes professionally mashed banana. It's wholly a bit familiar and odd at once. 

And as may have to be my disclaimer over the next few weeks, my taste may be a bit askew but all I can taste is banana with added sugar. The result isn't candylike, like a banana runt, but still the sweetness of a banana amped up while the other features are left in check. It seems a bit off, and not, for me, 100% enjoyable. I tried some by itself, and on a waffle with a little peanut butter and chocolate chip, and both times I came to the conclusion I would have preferred a plainer, more natural banana flavor. but I guess then TJ's wouldn't have much of a product to sell, so maybe this just isn't for me. 

Our kids will probably go ape for it though, and in the end the 'nana spread seems to be a relatively alright jar of jam or jelly, so if they like it, full speed ahead, ya little monsters. 

I'm a solid meh. Sandy, with her zero taste right now, doesn't have much of an opinion but noted it does have a pleasing enough texture at the very least. Put as down as a meh for both how we're feeling and how we're rating this product, and we''ll be glad to revisit later. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Banana Fruit Spread: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Friday, March 19, 2021

Trader Joe's Korean Inspired Bulgogi Beef Fried Rice with Kimchi

I've had bulgogi beef a couple times from some pretty legit Korean barbecue restaurants before. Granted, I haven't been to one in a number of years, but I still remember that bulgogi-style beef being among the best red meat I've ever consumed in my life. I'm not sure exactly what it was marinated in, but man, that stuff was tasty.

It'll be hard for any grocery store frozen product to compete. Also, I guess I'm on record on this blog saying I'm not really into the whole fermented vegetable thing, i.e. kimchi or even sauerkraut. However, I don't think this dish is full of the rotted cabbage that I'm familiar with—just scant bits of the stuff distributed throughout. There seem to be some green beans and maybe some scallions or green onions, vegetable-wise, too. I'm not sure if they're a type of kimchi as well. I know there are more kimchi varieties than just the cabbage one that's most famous. I'm always ready to give most foodstuffs a second chance. So kimchi, here we come.

Anyway, I cooked the bag of rice, from frozen, in a big pan that I insist on calling a "wok." Sonia always corrects me and tells me it's just a big saucepan. Hmmm. Looks like a wok to me. Although, I'm sure Sonia is technically right. In true Trader Joe's fashion, the heating time took nearly double the suggested 7 minutes listed on the instructions on the bag. But heat it did eventually, nice and evenly.

The kimchi flavors here are subtle. For that matter, the bulgogi flavors are subtle, too. I'd say there's a decent amount of beef in the product. There's not enough that you'll get a piece in every bite, but not so sparse that you'll run out before you finish, either. Some of the meat tidbits are gristly. One slab even appeared to have a large vein or artery sticking out of it. Gross. Most pieces are pleasant, though—not super chewy or tough—but as expected, they lack that melt-in-your-mouth quality that I remember from my previous encounters with Korean barbecue.

If anything, I'd probably want more of the green onions and green beans throughout the mixture. As it is, it's mostly just rice. And it begs for some soy sauce and/or sriracha. Fixins help it a lot. I even tried some K-Mex fusion, adding Cholula hot sauce in place of sriracha, yielding moderately agreeable results.

At $4.99, this dish is vastly more accessible price-wise than an authentic Korean restaurant meal. Those aren't usually cheap. Not surprisingly, the quality isn't quite on par with restaurant quality, though, either. We probably won't pick up this particular item again, but if Trader Joe's offers similar Korean meals in the future, we'll definitely sample those as well. Maybe some Korean folks can share their opinions here, or maybe they have some tips on what sauces and condiments they use to doctor this dish up.

I give it three out of five stars. Sonia gives it three and a half.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Trader Joe's Greek Chickpeas with Parsley & Cumin

Beware the Ides of March!

I guess that was more a Roman thing than a Greek thing. You know, Julius Caesar and all. But the Romans and Greeks were so similar to one another. They basically even had all the same gods. The Romans just gave them different names. 

And it's recently come to my attention that even though "The Ides of March" referred to March 15 in the famous Shakespeare play, that it actually just generally refers to the first full moon of the month, which doesn't happen for a couple more weeks this year. The full moon just happened to fall on March 15 the year they assassinated Caesar.

Speaking of Caesar, I just made a killer Caesar salad with spring mix, dressing, feta, croutons, and these amazing chickpeas. How's that for a slick segue? Not impressed? Meh. Well, I tried.

The good news is that Trader Joe's Greek Chickpeas with Parsley & Cumin don't disappoint. I mean as long as you like chickpeas and parsley and cumin... But it would be silly to buy these if you don't like chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans, right? 

I myself am a huge fan of chickpeas and always have been. This product is a nice little twist on regular garbanzos. They come packed in a medium-thick oil that's zesty, tangy, and surprisingly flavorful. There's a bit of lemon in there for some citrusy zing. There's obviously cumin and parsley, but also garlic, pepper, and salt. I can honestly just eat the beans right out of the tin and be perfectly happy, but they go well with salads, sandwiches, tacos, nachos, or any dish that welcomes beans of any kind.

$1.79 for the two serving container. I love the simplicity and convenience of the product, though I do wish there were an easy way to re-seal the tin after opening. Even I might not eat this whole thing in one sitting. I guess there's always tupperware to the rescue. They're shelf-stable and ready-to-eat. Ours had a best-by date a good 15 months after the day we purchased them. These might just become a pantry staple if I have anything to say about it.

Sonia digs 'em, too—maybe even a wee bit more than I do. Put us down for four stars a piece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Spicy Mochi Rice Nuggets

Hooooooooooooooly smokes. 

Listen, I know I may be getting a tad bit older, with my taste buds not quite capable of handling some things as easily as they have in the days in my youth, but after just two, maybe two and a half bites of the new Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Spicy Mochi Nuggets, I knew I was in for it. 

As the immortally brilliant and always applicable Ralph Wiggum once said, it tastes like burning.

The premise here is simple enough, particularly if you're familiar with the original iteration of the TJ mochi rice nuggets.  What a great snack that is. if you're not familiar with those, man, go give 'em a try, they're worth every penny. 

Anyways, take a perfectly snackable, meg-munchable sack of rice nuggz and coat liberally with a spice mix that's truly pretty darn spicy. And legitimately spicy, not in some sort of pseudo vinegar kinda way. Just take a look at the ingredients: Black and white pepper, chipotle, habanero, red chili. Off to a hot start, especially with habanero. I mean...that's hot. 

But it's not just heat for the sake of heat, and there's a lot of flavor that comes in from all sorts of different angles, like spicy flavor ninjas. Like citrus peel that helps add a little acidic bite. Some paprika and cumin to help run the ground game. Even cinnamon and ginger that tack on their spicy advances. I have no idea what dried sea lettuce is doing here, nor what sea lettuce that another term for seaweed? If one element of all the heat doesn't really get to you, another will. And trust me when I say this, as I failed to get a good product shot, but there's a lot caked on, not enough to make a dusty mess, but it's impossible to avoid. 

Add that to the crispy crunchy slightly greasy and oh-so-good bite of the mochi nuggets and there it is - a neat treat with lots o' heat. I can scarcely eat more than five without having to take a break. There's enough smoky burn that keeps me at bay, yet doesn't scorch quite enough to keep me from wanting more. 

One big demerit: despite being rice based, these mochi are not considered gluten free, presumably because of possible cross-contamination with soy and wheat. Bummer, but at least there's no mackerel like the first edition. 

These mochi are a great snack, as long as you have moderate-to-high spice tolerance. Years ago, I'd scoff at anything calling itself spicy like this, and to this day remain skeptical of many such a claim. Those initial few bites proved I underestimated the mochi. I'll consider myself a fan, as will my lovely bride. Delish. Double fours and a little bit more. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Spicy Mochi Rice Nuggets: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Trader Joe's Golden Vale Irish Cream Liqueur

Ah, Irish cream. I can remember the first time I tried it. I couldn't tell you the exact date for sure, but I want to say it was right around St. Patrick's Day, probably in the late winter/early spring of 2001. Two of my PSU flatmates and I traveled to a local state store in Centre County, PA to grab a bottle of Bailey's. Since we were all on a college budget, we split the cost three ways and spent the remainder of the evening sitting around in our living room, sipping on the smooth, sweet liqueur on ice. We measured each glass ounce by ounce, making sure none of us got too much more than the others. To us, that stuff was pure gold.

Speaking of gold, I had to look up "Golden Vale." Apparently, it's a region in southwestern Ireland. I'd love to visit someday. Those rolling hills and green pastures look so peaceful and placid. And hey, they apparently make some Irish cream there. Also, I wonder what St. Paddy's Day is like in Ireland...

See there I spelled it "St. Paddy's Day." I got yelled at by some proud Irish folk for calling it "St. Patty's Day" a few years back. They insisted that "Patty" with "t's" is always a girl's name, and that the version with "d's" is the boy's version, signifying Padraig. If that's the case, then why not call it Saint Padraig's Day even here in America? It's more authentic that way, right? I'm all about authenticity.

And on that note, it's time to point out that this Irish cream liqueur is, in fact, from Ireland. I like buying American when it's practical, but there are some goods that should be imported. This is one of them. I've had other brands of Irish cream liqueur from the good ol' USA before, and they fall decidedly shy of Bailey's and this offering from Trader Joe's. Another advantage of this version: it's one of the cheapest offerings I've seen, significantly less pricey than its name-brand counterpart—this one's $10.99 for the 750ml bottle. Bailey's is often $25 and up for the same size.

The taste? Exceptionally smooth and creamy. It's similar to other Irish cream liqueurs, but this one's a bit more in the direction of caramel. It looks and tastes just ever so slightly more "golden" than other Irish creams. It's still sweet, and there's a milky flavor to it, and the 17% ABV gives it a hint of an alcoholic harshness, but that caramel undertone makes it unique and very tasty. Sonia and I both agree it's just a tad better than Bailey's.

There's only about a week left until St. Padraig's Day. What will you be drinking? I don't know if I've ever seen Guinness at Trader Joe's, but I'd whip up some Irish car bombs if there's any of this Irish cream left over next week. I suppose a TJ's brand stout would do.

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

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Trader Joe's Blood Orange Cake Mix with Icing

Editor's note: Today we have a celebrity guest reviewer - Russ' mom! It was her birthday last week and she wanted to write a review for us, so who are we to say no? Read on and enjoy!

Hi Trader Joe Connoisseurs! We are Russ' parents, Steve and Kathy, and we have just returned from a month on the road in our new RV.  Pennsylvania winters are brutal, so we took our first snowbird trip to Florida.  While we were heading back to the snowy north, we stopped near Charleston, South Carolina for a couple of days.  Seeing a Trader Joe's a couple of miles from our KOA, we offered to stop in and see if there was anything different Russ hadn't reviewed yet.  There it endcap filled to overflowing with boxes of Trader Joe's Blood Orange Cake Mix with Icing.

I must confess, our family is filled with cake snobs.  For years, I have baked cake from scratch.  Our daughter is a professional bakery chef.  We analyzed texture, taste, crumb, and visual.  At less than $4 a box, it was an easy choice to critique.

First, the visual.  I’m not really into loaf-pan shaped cakes.  But what was a bit disconcerting was the color of the batter.  It was bright orange. They used vegetable juice for color, but it did look very artificial.  I then tasted the batter.  Now, don’t get all upset I tasted raw batter.  I just turned 65, and it hasn’t killed me yet.  There was a citrus tang at the end, but the flavor was not distinguishable.  It could have been lemon, lime, or orange.  Only the color said it was orange.  

The baking directions were clearly written, and the cake baked right up as promised. An hour in the oven, 45 minutes cooling in the pan, then flipped onto a plate.  The crumb was quite moist and the texture of the cake was like a pound cake.  I stirred up the icing as directed (you only need one tablespoon water, don’t add two or the icing will be too thin).  The orange taste of the icing, as our daughter put it, tastes like orange toothpaste.  Very tart, not too sweet, but artificial.  We all agreed that while we would finish what we had sliced for ourselves, it was not something that we would want to purchase again.  Our daughter suggested cutting it into cubes as vanilla ice cream topper, it would help cut the taste a bit. Bottom line: 2 spoons.


Well, there you have it. Thanks Mom! My lovely bride and I just had a chance to try the cake for ourselves, but had the added advantage of learning from our elders and at the advice of social media went rogue and prepared ours with blood orange soda instead of the recommended water. The outcome? Better than what was described here, but still not amazing, and could tell that, as is, the cake mix is a bit of a dud and not going to be a repeat purchase. Our young kids loved it, but not because they know any better. Time to make them a proper cake just like my mama has done for me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Blood Orange Cake Mix with Icing: 2 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Bottom bottom line: Don't argue with Mom.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Trader Joe's Aussie-Style Chocolate Creme Sandwich Cookies Coated In Chocolate

It's hard to believe that the same nation known for its production of and affinity for something as revolting as Vegemite can also be known for amazing dunkable chocolatey "biscuits" like these. There are those who will argue that Vegemite isn't that bad and that Americans simply don't know how to eat it correctly. It's true Americans don't know how to eat it correctly in the same way we don't know how to eat dirt correctly. 

"Just put a very small amount on buttered bread," they say. "The less you put on, the better it is." Well, I can agree with that. And logically, if you put none on your bread at all, then that yields the greatest possible amount of satisfaction as far as Vegemite is concerned. It's flavored, spreadable yeast, and it's an affront to all that's decent in the world. 

Fortunately, the Ozzies have atoned for their insolence by introducing the world to Tim Tams...and now Trader Joe's has their very own version. I've mentioned Tim Tam cookies and the notorious Tim Tam Slam before in a post about three years hence, but I'll go over it again here in case you missed it.

First you bite off the corners of your Trader Joe's Aussie-Style Chocolate Creme Sandwich Cookie in the manner depicted by the cookie on the right side of the photograph. Then you submerge one bitten corner of the cookie in your hot beverage of choice and then suck on the other bitten corner, thus slurping some of the beverage into and through the cookie in the manner of a large, cumbersome, and highly chocolatey straw. At this point, the cookie will be structurally unstable, especially on the end that's been submerged in liquid, and you must very quickly toss the molten cookie into your mouth. If your hot beverage happens to be hot chocolate, you just might suffer a chocolate overdose of sorts and need to seek medical attention immediately. But trust me, it's the best kind of overdose you can imagine: multiple layers of soft, warm, gooey chocolate just oozing all through your mouth and down your throat. <Homer Simpson-esque gurgling noise> It's something very special.

I haven't had real Tim Tam biscuits in a hot minute or two. They were selling them stateside a couple years back at certain Target locations, but I haven't seen them in a while. To the best of my recollection, these Trader Joe's Chocolate Creme Cookies are extremely similar in taste and texture to the originals. I have no complaints except that you really need to have them with a hot beverage in order to get the full effect. The cookies by themselves are just fine, but with hot chocolate or coffee, they're amazeballs. I think we need to try them with some Abuelita or Trader Joe's Abuelita and get some Aussie-Mex fusion going on.

Get your friends together for an Australia-themed night. Watch some Crocodile Dundee movies, get some take-out from Outback, and finish everything off with a pot of hot coffee and a box of these chocolatey blokes. If someone tells you to include Vegemite at your Oz Night, don't say I didn't warn you. 

Four stars from the wifey. Five stars from me.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Trader Joe's Vegan Taco Salad Kit

If you're gonna be one thing, you should be efficient. 

So, in that spirit, why not roll Meatless Monday into Taco Tuesday? Especially because, in our house, Mondays are breakfast for dinner night, and more often than not that means bacon, and you don't ever ever ever mess with bacon. Ever. Find someone who disagrees with that - even some vegetarians and vegans wouldn't

So in the spirit of efficiency (not one of my usual traits), let's get down to Trader Joe's Vegan Taco Salad Kit. 

I'm pretty sure this *has* to be new. My lovely bride and I scan the salad kit section every single time, as pretty much any salad kit we've ever bought from TJ's has been a hit. We love salads and tacos and naturally taco salad, and while carnivorous we don't mind vegan options either, so we would've bought this long ago if it ever showed up on the radar previously. 

Digging in, there's some pretty basic stuff here. The mixed salad base is the exact same basic mix seen everywhere for salad - romaine, red cabbage, green cabbage, shredded carrot. It's a classic for a reason - it works. Will it inspire you? Likely not, but it will fill you and serve as an adequate base for the real draw - all the fixin's. 

There's a small baggie of crispy purple tortilla shreds, with emphasis on small. Between my wife and I, who ate this for lunch, we got maybe 10 shreds each. That's not a lot for something purporting to be a five serving bag. Nonetheless they were crispy and tortilla-y so it works. The pico was a a touch spicy and added some nice components to the meal that made it a bit more festive and lively. Kinda funny how something basic like corn and black beans can do that, but there it is, with little touches of cilantro and jalapeno. Delish. And the jalapeno ranch was a hit too - the "flow" seemed a bit off as it was a bit more ploppy than pour-y but once mixed in it didn't matter. it added another little kick with a smooth cool creaminess than kinda helped meld everything together. 

And then, chipotle seitan. Wheat masquerading as seasoned ground beef. How's that gonna work?

A bite of seitan by itself makes it pretty obvious it's not ground beef. The flavor is there but the meaty gristle isn't. It's also a touch, well, grainy, obviously. By itself, I'd say it's not wonderful but isn't revolting either. Mix it in with everything else here, though? It works, wonderfully. The taste shines through and any texture issues get masked well by everything else. I'll give it a pass for sure. 

Overall, both my wife and I tremendously enjoyed the salad. Everything about it screamed "taco salad!" and we weren't missing anything - there was no "oh this could use some cheese" or missing any common-to-us protein sources or any dairy or anything. It's remarkably good, and I have a feeling we'll be sharing a bag for a quick, easy, healthyish lunch quite a few times coming up. The kit cost $5.49 and is well worth it in my opinion - just a few more tortilla shreds and a bit more of the ranch though, please. Otherwise, quadruple thumbs up here.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Vegan Taco Salad Kit: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Monday, March 1, 2021

Trader Joe's Za'atar Seasoning Blend

Certain things I've never heard of before seem to pop up everywhere all at once. Apparently this seasoning has been around literally for millennia, but I don't think I, personally, heard of it until this product was released at Trader Joe's. Just in the past month, I've seen this seasoning on the shelves of other grocery stores, I've seen people mention it on social media, and some came with our latest HelloFresh meal. It's like the spice version of the Baader Meinhof phenomenon, which I've mentioned on this blog before.

Anyway, it's a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern spice, and it goes with pretty much anything Mediterranean or Middle Eastern. Imagine that. Its number one ingredient is sesame seeds, followed by spices like thyme, coriander, marjoram (never heard of that before, but I'm sure it will come up several times a day now) and oregano. There's also chickpea flour, sea salt, sunflower oil, and lemon oil.

It adds just the right amount of zest and nuttiness to fish, hummus, eggs, and salads, and makes them taste like they came from a gourmet Mediterranean restaurant. It makes exotic meals taste just that much more exotic—balela, couscous, spanakopita, falafel, you name it. In many cases, those dishes already have some of the same spices in them and extra za'atar simply enhances those flavors. 

It's green and flakey. Flavor-wise, it's a little bit savory and a little bit tangy. You'll definitely get some seeds stuck in your teeth. Like most of Trader Joe's other seasoning blends, this selection will run you $1.99. There are technically 106 servings in the little shaker, but I'm thinking most people will use enough of it that it won't last that long. It won't be the boldest or strongest seasoning blend in your spice rack, but it definitely has its appropriate time and place.

Three and a half stars from me. Four from the wifey.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.