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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 out...by 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 be...you 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 is...is 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 was...an 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.