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Friday, January 15, 2021

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Cookie Sticks

Personally, if it were me designing the cover art for this product's packaging, I would have gone with a narwhal. Narwhals are the only animals with a tusk that has a girth to length ratio comparable to these cookie sticks. They're very long and very thin, hence the moniker "sticks" as opposed to "bars," "batons," or "fingers."

If I were instructed by my creative director to steer clear of narwhals for some reason—perhaps they're too freakish looking for a box of cookie sticks, or they carry connotations of cold climates and frigid waters, or they're just too cumbersome-looking in general—the next obvious choice is a unicorn, right? I mean, they're not real, and their horns are significantly shorter than these sticks in relation to their thickness, but at least everybody knows they're fun mythical animals with horns coming out of their heads.

Instead, Trader Joe's packaging artists decided upon a zebra-like animal to grace the cover of this cylindrical container. Regular zebras don't even have horns. Only unicorns do. So, logically, this would be a zebracorn. What's a zebracorn, you ask? It's pretty much my favorite animal. It's like a zebra and a unicorn mixed...bred for its skills in magic.


You feel me?

The tubular box is unique. There's a tab around the middle that you tear off and then the top separates so you can access the cookie sticks, and it slips right back onto the bottom when you're done. It's not air-tight, though, so it does little to prevent exposure. We found the sticks got stale in fairly short order. 

Even on day one, they weren't exactly show-stoppers. There's a lightly sweet and salty bread as a base and a semi-sweet dark chocolate coating. They tasted fine to both of us, but we weren't blown away. We tried dipping them in coffee, but they don't retain the liquid very well. They're vaguely crunchy, nearly pretzel-esque, texture-wise. It's a nice mouthfeel, but they seemed to lose some of that initial crispness if you don't finish them right away.

I must admit, they're convenient and snackable. I just wish they delivered a little more in the flavor department. For the price, $1.69, they're a decent enough value. Not sure if we'd purchase again, though. Three stars a piece for these zebracorn horns.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Trader Joe's Hot Hot Crispy Habanero Sliced Peppers

Lookin' for some hot stuff, baby, this evenin'
I need some hot stuff, baby, tonight
I want some hot stuff, baby, this evenin'
Gotta have some hot stuff
Gotta have some love tonight

Well, thanks Donna Summer and Kygo (whoever you are) for what should be the official entrance music to one of the latest (and literally hottest) condimental offerings from all of ours' favorite grocers...

It's Trader Joe's Hot Hot Crispy Habanero Sliced Peppers!

Hot stuff indeed.

Hot hot haaaaaaaaaahhhhhht. 

I mean, duh, the primary ingredient is, of all things, habaneros. They're not the spiciest peppers in the world, but starting at at least 100k+ on the Scoville scale, they're not exactly slouching it either. Habaneros are likely the hottest pepper I've ever ingested and would ever want to, and now, here they are, dried up in a jar, coated with a little olive oil, ready for me to sprinkle on anything I want. 

That's the real cool part, the texture. If you're familiar with the popular TJ Chili Onion Crunch, or even better, various LaoGanMa sauces, you'll know about what to think of here. The peppers are like crackly skins, dehydrated and very light and extremely crispy. It's fun, whether it's bigger pieces or itty bits. The word "mummified" comes to mind. really, check it out.

But don't mistake the peppers appearance for a lack of potency. No, no, no. There's still so much burn to be had. Granted, I'm more a "throw caution to the wind/full effect" kinda guy - the peppers had me bawling at how good they tasted. or so I told my kids, who eagerly watched my every reaction. And normally I'm not like that too much...am here. Holy cow. hot, just like a good habanero should. 

Yet the great thing is, for all the heat and sizzle, there's still some great complementary flavor that's imparted. it's not just heat for the sake of heat, it's...different. And while the main licks of flame are strong, they neither linger too long nor overpower the rest of the flavors of whatever else you're eating. Instead, after a moment or two, it's nice, casual, residual heat that will leave you wanting, cautiously, for more. 

What will go undescribed is a certain day after side effect, at least by me, as we're classy here. I instead once again invite you to enjoy this classic Johnny Cash tune

Love them, can't get enough. Breakfast sandwiches, tacos, sauces, with pasta, in stir fry, on pizza, in a fresh baked challah or babka....yes to all that. And more. I want it all. 

Hot stuff, baby, this evenin' indeed. lovin' it. I'm smashing the peppers with a perfecto and my lovely bride isn't quite there herself, but close. It's the first smash hit of 2021 for sure. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Hot Hot Crispy Habanero Sliced Peppers: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons







 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Trader Joe's Sparkling Cranberry & Ginger Beverage


Since I called attention to the fact I reviewed a non-holiday item back in early December, I suppose calling myself out for reviewing this overtly Christmassy beverage more than two weeks after Christmas Day is unavoidable. I wish I had a clever reason for doing things this way, but the truth of the matter is that I forgot we even had this product stashed away in the back of a cupboard. If I had to do it over, I'd have reviewed this one back then and saved those crackers for now, although I'm not sure either one is currently available at Trader Joe's. Hopefully they'll bring them both back next year.

On its own, this beverage is refreshing and tasty. There's a moderate tart cranberry taste and a little throat-tickling ginger flavor. It's actually a bit sweeter than either of us expected it to be—not obnoxiously so, but enough to be just a tad syrupy and to balance out the tang of the cran and the bite of the spice.


The carbonation level is just about perfect, comparable to the many other fancy sparkling four-packs we've seen from Trader Joe's in the past. It stays fizzy even after a spell in a cocktail glass with ice cubes. I guess this is the biggest advantage of the four tiny cans: a larger container would yield flat soda by the end of its tenure.

Another great strength of this drink is its mixability. There's a recipe for a mocktail on the side of the box—or you may add vodka for a true cocktail. It involves orange and lime juices, slices of citrus fruits and cranberries. We substituted fresh-squeezed with store-bought orange juice, and we didn't have any actual cranberries on hand, so we just plopped some lime wedges in ours. It was even more delicious with the addition of extra citrus flavors.

Finally, we did verify that it mixes well with vodka. Pro tip: everything mixes well with vodka. Alongside the ginger, something akin to a fruity Moscow Mule results.

$3.99 for four small cans. Four stars from Sonia and three and a half from me for Trader Joe's Sparkling Cranberry & Ginger Beverage.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Trader Joe's Grainless Granola

Years ago, when pretty gungho into the paleo diet, on a random Target trip I hit a major score: clearance sale on Renola, a grainfree granola, for like less than $3 a sack. Usually that was like $6 or $7! Needless to say, I cleaned them out, and had nothing but Renola to snack on for about six months. 

Somehow that's not as quite a find a memory as I thought it'd be, and kinda forgot about it 'til Trader Joe's Grainfree Granola came around. 

I haven't had Renola in ages (probable coping mechanism from overdose, much like since graduating college in 2003 I've eaten instant ramen noodles maybe 5 times), so a direct comparison is tough to do on my end, but there's much the same vibe.

The main base is comprised of three components: almonds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. In an act of what I presume to be black magic, all these get transformed into a a state of pretty close to real actual granola. There's got to be something more than just roasting them - the whole feel and experience is lighter and crispier than one would expect, almost as if it were more munchy than crunchy if that sounds right. It's phenomenal, and is imminently snackable right out of the bag and would work on yogurt. Big pieces, little dusties, in between pebbles, didn't matter. All the same bite, and all delicious. 

That's not it, though. Something has to hold all that together and give it a little oomph. And between some combination of cocnut, salt and chicory, hold together it does. That also provides the over-arching flavor - it's not quite sweet, not quite salty, and while "savory" seems to be much the wrong word, it still seems right in a way. There's just something to it, a certain I don't know what, that really provides the perfect flavor to a near perfect bite. 

All that being said, I can see myself getting quite tired of the grainless granola quickly. Just a little extra flavor component would be wondrous, or even just a different variety to go back and forth between. 

But then again, at $3.99, it's a heck of a value for what it is. Vegan, gluten free, all that...yup. 

Good stuff, check it out for sure. A few handfuls will hold you over for quite a bit, that's for sure. My lovely bride isn't a big a fan as I am, as the nutritional info kinda seems to be a bit much for such a compact product, if that makes sense. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Grainless Granola: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons



 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Trader Joe's Mini Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

I'm not sure why there are so many tasty dunkables for coffee and tea in the world, but so few for energy drinks like Red Bull, for example. I wonder what an energy drink dunkable would even taste like. If I were an ambitious man, or if I knew anything at all about baking, food science, or grocery purchasing habits, I'd attempt to invent the first energy drink dunkable. It might not even be a pastry. It could be more like a pretzel, a stick of jerky, or maybe like a fruit-flavored candy cane. You'd swirl it around in your heavily-caffeinated, fizzy, sweet-tart energy beverage, and slurp the excess moisture off the end of the dunkable. It'd be fun and delicious. And energy drink consumers wouldn't feel like they're missing out on the dunk-it-in-your-drink party anymore. 

A reasonable person might insist that there's no need for energy drink dunkables. But then there's that George Bernard Shaw quote that I'm fond of recollecting when I'm acting ridiculous and self-indulgent: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Clearly, these biscotti were designed and formulated by very reasonable people, because they don't go well with energy drinks at all. Don't ask me how I know that. They honestly aren't even easy to eat all by themselves because of their hardness. They just beg to be paired with java. Fortunately, the wifey has an insulated cup of coffee on her work desk all day, every day. And after disappointing myself with silly experimental beverage and cookie pairings, I can always put on my big boy pants, pretend I'm an adult, and borrow her coffee for a dunk or two.

With coffee, these are pretty delicious. There's enough cranberry in them that you'll notice a few chewy berry remnants after the cookie part has dissolved in your mouth. You can taste the cranberry very well, too, although the chewiness was just slightly off-putting to Sonia. I was pleasantly surprised there was any noteworthy amount of actual cranberry in there at all.

The tops of the biscotti pieces are zig-zagged with happy vanilla icing. It just adds a hint of sugary sweetness. The bread itself isn't super sticky sweet, but it has a nice lightly nutty flavor. I don't feel like it's bursting with specifically pistachio flavor, but Sonia thinks the pistachio element was adequate.

We'll plow through this tub pretty quickly. $3.99 for the 9oz container. Four stars from the little missus. Three and a half from me for Trader Joe's Cranstachio Biscotti.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Trader Joe's Crunchy Almond Butter Puffs Cereal

A first impression is a lasting one. 

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. 

And so on and so on with a few little pithy adages, but let's start off the new year with some initial impressions of the new Trader Joe's Crunchy Almond Butter Puffs Cereal. 

C'mon, that sounds awesome, right? Boom. First impression made.

Take a look at it, too. It's rice and quinoa based, so no gluten. And as a lowkey bonus, read the description: it's not just almond butter, which is tasty enough in its own right if not a tad plain...but also cocoa powder too! So this can be a healthyesque breakfast cereal that tastes like a buttercup maybe! This train is gaining some traction here. Choochoo!

But then hold the box, or even better, try to open it. The bag inside too. Perhaps the first clue that something is a bit off. The cardboard stock to make the actual cereal box is...odd. It's not the familiar type, but instead sturdier, glossier, stockier, more rigid. It feels odd. If you happen to take a look at the bottom flaps, you'd notice it's folded together, not glued and sealed. Kinda odd, but sturdy enough given the materials. But whatever glue was spared on the bottom was more than accounted for atop, as man, these flaps didn't want to open. There's some serious papercut potential here. But once you past that, you're finally on to the big boss: the bag. It's thicker and heavier and glued way tighter than it should for easy manual opening - I gave up and used scissors to avoid unnecessary cereal explosions all over the floor. lord knows my kids do enough of those themselves. 

Finally, take a bite. Or try to. These puffs are hard. "Crunchy" is an understatement. Looking thru ingredients, because it can't be just rice and quinoa..aha. Cassava flour, too. There it is. All those flours come together to make some sort of cereal kernel that's then coated in almond butter and rolled in cocoa powder. The result: a jaw-achingly crunchy cereal. Tired out my molars for sure, and if you'd think milk would soften it up, you'd be wrong. 

Speaking of milk...I'd say skip it altogether for these poundy puffs. Not only does it not really appreciably soften the crunch, but it seems to cover up all the taste, too. Indeed, if eaten more as a dry snack, the flavors come out a bit more: the earthy grains, the nutty almond butter, the little tastes of cocoa here and there. It's fairly subtle and actually pretty tasty without being too much of a sugarbomb. Delicious, really. While breakfast may be important, sometimes a snack is so much better.

So there you have it. It remains to be seen how often we'll pick up the almond butter puffs for the $4 or so it set us back. I'm definitely not in as love with them as I thought I would, but I don't horribly mind them either. Some matching threes sounds about right. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crunchy Almond Butter Puffs Cereal: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons