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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!