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Monday, September 27, 2021

Trader Joe's Shawarma Chicken Flatbread Wrap


Chicken shawarma...yummm! I've ranted on here before about my love of Lebanese chicken shawarma. Oh how I miss Roro's. So any time I see something called "shawarma" at Trader Joe's, I have to pick it up and see if it compares to that scrumptious slow-roasted, perfectly-seasoned dish from a hole-in-the-wall in SoCal.

So I'll just start with the good news first about this happy little snack wrap: there's LOTS of tzatziki sauce. Who could have seen that coming? If there's one thing TJ's likes to skimp on, it's condiments and sauces. By my estimation, there's twice as much tzatziki as you need here. There's literally more tzatziki by volume than chicken! It should have been called Trader Joe's Tzatziki Sauce Wrap with Shawarma Chicken.


The tzatziki is creamy, tangy, and savory to the max. It's great, so I'm not complaining...about the sauce. But I WILL complain about the rest of the wrap...because, like, WHERE'S THE BEEF? Er...I mean where's the CHICKEN? and the LETTUCE? and the ONIONS? Where did they go? You can see from the pic they're more than a little sparse for the size of that pita wrap—which was fresh and delicious and plentiful, by the way.

The shawarma spices I'm used to were lacking on the chicken, I think. It was hard to tell because there was so little of it. So let's look on the ingredients at which spices were used to season the chicken. Ah. That explains it: the number one "seasoning" listed is "potato starch." Potato starch isn't really a seasoning by my reckoning. Further down the list I see paprika and garlic powder. That's more like it. Should have loaded the meat up with those a bit more.

On the plus side, however, the chicken was cooked to perfection and wasn't stringy or chewy at all. It was absolutely spot-on texture-wise, which made the lack of seasoning and lack of quantity all the more frustrating.


Also, I must point out that I've never heard of eating cold shawarma before. I guess you could heat the meat in the microwave or something and put it back in the wrap for a hot sandwich kind of deal. There were no heating instructions, and this product was in the area with ready-to-eat cold sandwiches and stuff, so I assume they just want you to eat it cold. It was fine that way, I guess.

This product was good enough that I'd pick it up at another Trader Joe's location just to see if there's the same dearth of meat and greens. The sauce makes up for the lack of shawarma spices in terms of overall flavor, so that's not a deal breaker. I just want my wrap to be full next time. Sonia agrees. Three and a half stars from her.

Three from me.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Trader Joe's Kale & Cauliflower Chili with Navy Beans

 

Let's get real here for a quick mo...can anything really beat chili?

Of course, this is a seasonally qualified statement. Chili on a 100 degree/100% humidity day? No way no how. Nuh uh. Non starter. There's amendments against cruel and unusual punishments, after all. So yeah, not then. 

But on a cool or cooler day, when only something warm and hearty will do? Chili please! Keep it coming. All day long. 

Though nothing beats homemade, in a quick pinch for a bite, may I humbly suggest giving Trader Joe's Kale & Cauliflower Chili with Navy Beans a try?

Though I'm carnivorous by nature, I'm always down for an intriguing sounding veggie/vegan chili option. Chili works really well sans meat, heck, I'll even make it that way sometimes myself. This particular new TJ's chili, when spotted, became a must try, even when met with an initial wave of excitement mixed with a little skepticism. How good could it really be?

I took a taste, and now I'm a believer. 

Really, there's nothing not to like here, and nothing is missed. Big ol' meateating me loved every bite. There's the right consistency - not too watery, with plenty of bite between all the kale and beans and cauliflower crumbles. There's the right level of spice - enough to get a rise, sure, but not enough to overwhelm. It's kept in check perfectly. And there's the right amount of flavor - and it's delicoous! Kale is as fresh as can be given its circumstances, the beans add their beany goodness, all the spices are balanced in the right proportions to another. There's a pretty healthy dose of cinnamon added, which gives a nice little slant on the whole experience with a nice little warming touch that seems to really add a solid base to everything else. There's pepper and garlic and tomatoes and...it's just good. Every bite has a little bit of everything. It's awesome. 



Going back to the spice level, I'd rate it as about a 6/10 if eating straight on. It's more a flavorful spice than straight-out fire. I for one felt no need to add a little extra somethin'-somethin' to give it a kick. But , if say, one would add some cheese or pour over a baked potato (which this chili practically screams for doing) or some cornbread, I could see the heat getting dissipated a bit. For some of you, that'd be a plus, others, maybe not so much. But to me, that means it strikes about the right balance so as to be platable to the masses.

My lovely bride and I have already decided: we're stocking up. It's delicious and a jar will easily fill the two of us without giving either of us the food baby/food coma/ingested brick feeling I get with other chilis. This just may become our new cold day quick meal go to, and for like $4 for the jar, it cannot be beat. Love it. No faults at all here. Shoo the clouds away from the top of Olympus, we got a new Pantheoner here. Perfect fives and we mean it.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Kale & Cauliflower Chili with Navy Beans: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons










Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Trader Joe's Sweet Cinnamon Filled Korean Pancakes


Bro...do you even hotteok?

Can't say I can, because I just learned the word tonight when prepping some Trader Joe's Sweet Cinnamon Filled Korean Pancakes. Lol..."Korean pancakes." Call 'em what they are, TJ's. Hotteok. Granted, yes, I along with likely 80% or more of shoppers wouldn't know what that means at first glance, but I'm always down for a little culinary education. Apparently hotteok is a popular Korean street food, filled with all sorts of stuff, in, well, more or less a pancake form. Never saw or heard of them before as I've never been to Korea and that's not much Korean influence around the 'burgh that'd make something even as tasty and tantalizing like this readily available. 

All that to say, heck yeah, these are pretty good.

Let's take another second to be clear here: I am not qualified in any way, shape or form to claim these as authentic or close to the real thing or for them to even be half as good. I'd actually be fairly and pleasantly surprised if they were. I'm judging these pancakes simply on their own merits, including costing $3ish bucks for 4 of them, and heating them from frozen on my stovetop for just a few minutes. So take as you will.

All that being said, yum. Let's start with the dough. It's delicious and pretty unique for my experience. Even heating right from frozen, with no butter or oil or anything used, the outside gets all browned and crispy and a touch greasy, just like a good comfort food should. Love it. Further in, it's not quite a mochi-esque bite, but in some ways it's close as it's a little chewy but also soft and moist and gooey and oozing out warmth. Looking over ingredients, there's all sorts of stuff in the dough - wheat, sweet potato, rice flour - that come together well into a soft, lightly sweet cake. 


The cinnamon reservoir is pretty fantastic too. I mean, it's a lot of cinnamon. Be careful that stuff is ridiculously hot and stays that way for longer than expected. The cinnamon adds a great spice bite that complements the dough really well, making these compact cakes have more punch than expected. 

Still, adding a little ice cream or whipped cream or something like that to just really fill it out? That'd be worthy of hashtagging a #chefskiss all over this. 

Delicious, We love 'em and I'm glad we got a second bag that I'm already looking forward to busting open. Authentic? Maybe, maybe not...if you know, tell me. But I'm glad that TJ's has introduced me to this particular chunk of the culinary world, and I know I'll be seeking out the real deal if I ever get the chance. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sweet Cinnamon Filled Korean Pancakes: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, September 20, 2021

Trader Joe's Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Bites

Oatmeal is a hearty, nutritious breakfast and all, but I don't usually think of it as a treat. I mean, sure, oatmeal cookies have been a go-to semi-sweet snack for ages. I guess I want to look at these apple cinnamon oatmeal bites as spherical oatmeal cookies. 
They're kinda like the aebelskivers of the snackable oatmeal world. If you can turn pancakes into spheres, why not oatmeal? Or any other breakfast food for that matter?

Resealable bag? Check. Air fryer instructions? Check. Nine frozen oatmeal balls? Check. Like planet earth, these oatmeal bites are not perfect spheres, but might qualify as "oblate spheroids."

After a spell in the Ninja, the bites are crispy and crusty on the outside and wet and gooey on the inside. The dueling textures make them fun and unique, significantly more interesting than traditional oatmeal.


They have a rich, hearty, grainy taste like regular bowl-bound oatmeal, and there's a pretty decent amount of apple and cinnamon flavor. It's not a desserty flavor by my estimation, though. The flavor is on par with a regular non-spherical apple cinnamon oatmeal. They're not as cookie-esque as I might have hoped. They're more breakfasty in terms of sugary decadence—or rather, a decided lack thereof. That's fine. I kinda wish they were just a taaad sweeter. Would you think me a monster if I added maple syrup or whipped cream or something?


The convenience level is significant, and there's a definite novelty factor here. $3.99 for 3 servings. I think we're looking at about three and a half stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Trader Joe's Bamba Puffed Peanut & Corn Snacks with Hazelnut Creme Filling

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the Choco Taco. It's a great idea, right? If meat, cheese, beans, and other salty, savory ingredients work in a particular format, why wouldn't a bunch of sweet, desserty ingredients work in the same manner?

So instead of taking the classic arrangement of a taco and turning it into a dessert, this is almost like doing the same with Combos bite-sized stuffed snacks. Instead of cracker or pretzel as an outer shell, we have a classic Bamba peanut puff. Instead of cheese filling, we've got Nutella-esque hazelnut creme right down the middle of these cylindrical snacks.

Of course Bamba peanut poofs are much lighter and less dense than any Combos shell I've had, but they're still rigid enough to serve as the vehicle for a generous dollop of rich hazelnut creme in each and every bite. The original peanutty Bamba snacks were very popular in Israel. I'm not sure if this version is big over there in the Levant, too, or if this is a "LOL stupid, fat Americans will only eat peanut snacks if they're stuffed with chocolate" kind of thing. I do see that this version, as well as the original, is a "Product of Israel."


Chocolate and peanut butter is a combination that's hard to get wrong. I mean, it's hazelnut creme, not "chocolate" per se, but there is real cocoa in the ingredients. 

Did you know how Nutella came to be? In WW2, there was a cocoa shortage throughout Europe, but an Italian confectioner named Ferrero found he could use hazelnuts to stretch out his limited cocoa supply. Amazing. Let's hope WW3 yields similar delicious discoveries.

These things are scrumptious. There's actually a good balance between the peanut and hazelnut flavors. They're still crispy and crunchy, but there's a nice smooth component now, too. At least as addictive as their predecessor, it's seriously kind of a struggle to not eat the whole bag in one sitting, although supposedly there are three servings in there.

Their only drawback? They're a little oily. You'll need a napkin or a wet wipe when you're done, unless you're really into that whole finger-lickin' good vibe.

$1.69 for the bag. That's a great value in my book. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Perfect five from me.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Trader Joe's Sour Jelly Beans

 

My dad has a saying he'll pull up from time to time: If everyone were to gather together, and be able to lay all their problems and troubles down in its own pile, then be able to walk around and shop for a new pile, most people would end up picking their own back up. 

Been an interesting past couple weeks here. Back to school, work stress, COVID cases and close contacts throwing a wrench into many a plan...I could go on, but nah. I got my pile, you got yours. That's not to say i don't care about others' problems - I do - but maybe what's really trying to be said by that saying is, a lot of times, anything that could leave a sour taste in my mouth doesn't amount to much more than a hill of beans in the long run. 

Now only if it could be a hill of Trader Joe's Sour Jelly Beans. That'd be a pile I'd pick again and again. 

Late summer/not quite fall is an odd time to debut such a product, I'd think. We should be grateful these aren't Sour Pumpkin Spice beans or some weirdo concoction, though I'm afraid I just gave somebody an idea. Why not spring, when jelly bean season is literally hoppin' with the Easter bunny? Don't know. Oh well.


Anyways, these little sour jelly beans are pretty tasty. Of course, the sour candy standard would be Sour Patch Kids, and while TJ's beans lack the punch of SPK's, there's still enough to go around. I personally enjoyed offering some to my kids without telling them they were sour just to see the little puckered faces they'd make. That was worth the price of admission right there. But to me I'd say the beans are more tart, and a little sweet, kinda like, well, a SweeTart than actually really truly sour. 

The different colors are probably meant to denote different flavors, but they all taste more or less the same, with perhaps a little variance in the sweet/tart ratio. Pretty colors though. 

And the descriptor "chewy" is right on. The beans aren't gelatinous in a typical jelly bean kinda way - they're definitely more just "chewy" which is absolutely fine and it works. 

The real sour part, though, may be when my lovely bride reads this review and realizes the kids and I ate the whole package while she was out. Sorry, love. It's a small bag, it just kinda happens...next time I go to TJ's I'll get one just for you.

Anyways this small pack of sour snacks isn't life changing or incredibly good or bad...it just kinda is. That's not a bad thing. Personally I'd love more sour bite, but as is, the jelly beans are good enough to get a pass in my book. $1.49 for the package? Sounds right. I'd pick them up again for sure. Now about everything else...

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sour Jelly Beans: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Trader Joe's Sweet & Savory Lightly Spiced Pumpkin Spread

So technically pumpkin's a fruit, right? The experts say so anyway. And we know we're supposed to accept the opinions of the experts and not really rock the boat with dissenting opinions these days.

So my question is: why isn't this "pumpkin fruit spread." Hmmm? All the other fruits like pineapple, apple, watermelon, strawberry, banana, and peach all got "fruit spread" as part of their condiments' monikers.

Maybe it's because some people don't accept pumpkin as a fruit and think of it more as a vegetable. So why isn't it "pumpkin vegetable spread"? Maybe there's an unfair bias against pumpkins.

Or maybe Trader Joe's just didn't want to open that can of worms and start an all-out war between those who think of pumpkin as a vegetable and those who think of pumpkin as a fruit. They just decided to sit on the fence and let you the consumer decide. Not pumpkin fruit spread. Not pumpkin vegetable spread. Just pumpkin spread.

Whether fruit or vegetable or both or neither, the packaging on this product is fun. Kinda rustic and farmer's market-esque. There are at least a couple elements that are totally unnecessary and simply for show. I guess they're channeling that homemade and put in a Mason jar sorta vibe.


Opening the jar, the smell is...unique. It's almost like honey...mixed with an odd gourd-like smell. Like it actually smells like when you're carving a jack-o-lantern and you have the pumpkin guts all over newspapers on the floor and you're pulling the seeds out of the wet, stringy innards of the pumpkin. Like that—and honey.

Pumpkin is the number one ingredient here. There's actually no honey in the mix, but I'm guessing cane sugar yields a sweetness comparable to that of honey. This isn't a spoon it out of the jar type spread here in my opinion. It needs to be mixed and tempered with other foods and ingredients in order to be palatable. The jar suggests eating it with cheeses, cold cuts, roasted meats, or vegetables.


We tried it with crackers and goat cheese and it sorta kinda worked I guess. We tried it with turkey cold cuts and that wasn't really a winner, either. I guess I'm just struggling to find a purpose for this condiment. I need a pumpkin spread pairing wheel like they do with wines and stuff here. The suggestions on the jar are too vague.

Still it's an interesting product, not hampered by an excess of pumpkin spices or cloying, unchecked sweetness. I can't decide if I like the chunks of raw actual pumpkin floating throughout the mixture or if I think they're gross. Time will tell. For now, I give this stuff two and a half stars. Sonia will go a full star higher with three and a half.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Trader Joe's Soft-Baked Sunflower Butter Cookies with Roasted Sunflower Seeds

"Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you!"

Ugh. I hate that sentiment, and with a brother just two years older than me, it's one I'm well acquainted with from growing up. I can hear that sing-songy tune right now. It grates. 

And now, with kids of my own, I see this attitude playing out again...and again...and again...and again...

...and again, but instead of sibling rivalry, this time it's with Trader Joe's Soft-Baked Sunflower Butter Cookies with Roasted Sunflower Seeds. 

Who's doing the mocking though?

It's the ol' good 'merican standby: Peanut butter. 

Listen: it's fine that sunflower seed butter *exists*. I get it. Allergies are a thing, and some folks have to be careful, and it's great that replacement products and concepts are made and distributed to address that market need. +1 for capitalism there. Also, some people, for some odd reason, just prefer sunflower seed butter. To each their own, just don't infringe on my right to scrape out the Jif jar with a spoon. To me, peanut butter always has and will always be king. 

Maybe that's a big reason why, when it comes down to it, I just don't like these cookies all that much. They're undeniably sunflower buttery in a way that tries to emulate peanut butter but just can't. The first bite is bland and earthy, a touch salty, and with the soft and crumbly texture of the cookies it begs the question if I had just partaken of a clump of dirt. The seeds atop the cookies give a little crunch, but not in any sort of satisfying way. It's just there, and that's about it. 

Most of the rest of the tste experience is decidedly towards the bland side before taking a turn for the worse. You may as well add a bunch of sugar and sweeteners to try to overcompensate for the initial blandness. It just doesn't work here - while not overtly overboard, it doesn't mesh well and just tastes odd. I don't like it.


To be fair, I'm not sure I'd like these cookies much more if they were peanut butter anyways. It's just not a good cookie. Also, my mouth slightly itches for about five minutes after eating one.

And lest you think I'm overly prejudiced against sunflower butter, my lovely bride, with a palate much more gracious than mine at these kinda things, didn't like 'em much either. One bite was quickly followed by a grimace with a quick "sunflower butter doesn't work well in baking" comment. I've eaten enough of her cakes to know she knows what she's talking about. 

Oh well. at least they didn't turn green. I know that's harmless but unless it's St Patrick's Day, no green cookies please.

Yeah, no. We'll likely finish the box...eventually...but we are in no rush. The dozen cookies cost around $3 to $4 , so it's not a bad value for vegan gluten-free allergen free cookies, and I'm sure there's some fans out there, but that's not here. We'll be nice and do them some double deuces.  

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Soft-Baked Sunflower Butter Cookies with Roasted Sunflower Seeds: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons
 

Monday, September 6, 2021

Trader Joe's Organic Chickpea & Red Lentil Risoni

Did you know you can eat more food if you eat very quickly? It's true. If you eat slowly, you can feel yourself getting full. If you eat too fast, you're far more likely to overeat.

I did that with this deceptively dense and filling rice substitute for my "second breakfast" meal the other day. It was my first time trying risoni. I made about two thirds of the six-serving box, threw in some olive oil and onion salt and started chowing down.

Within minutes I had eaten about half the portion that I made, which if you do the math, is about two full servings of the product. I don't think I'll see any long-term weight gain or anything like that, but in 5 or 10 minutes these legume-based "grains" expanded in my tummy and made it feel FULL as can be, and lemme tell ya, I had some massive postprandial somnolence going on. I could barely function for a few hours. Didn't expect that from a box of chickpeas and lentils.


Full disclosure, I did add some cheese before I finished my portion—er two portions, rather—because I felt it lacked a little zing. I mean it lacked zing the way plain rice lacks zing. It's actually much tastier than I thought it would be.

Usually mid-morning, Sonia is still in coffee and cereal mode, but on this particular occasion, she followed my lead and finished the other half of the risoni in the sauce pan well before elevensies. She was even more impressed than I was and wound up more than full after consuming approximately two regular servings of this would-be side dish turned stand-alone meal randomly prepared and consumed on this Labor Day weekend.

There's an earthy richness that white rice lacks here, however, both risoni and rice need at least a little bit of salt to be palatable, if you ask me. Texture-wise, it's slightly more al dente than regular rice, but still somewhat soft and supple. Along with olive oil and cheese, this could be a stand-alone meal, or at least a snack. We both think it would go great as a side for chicken or fish, or basically wherever you'd use rice or cauliflower rice or orzo type foods.

$2.99 for the box. Would buy again.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Trader Joe's Vegan Meatless Meat Eater's Pizza

As you're likely more than well aware of by now, life is full of endless contradictions and redundacies. Who am I to depress you by pointing more out? We're diversion, not real life commentary, for the most part. 

Still, the name "Trader Joe's Vegan Meatless Meat Eater's Pizza" is a bit of a headache. It's both vegan (one definition) and meatless (another definition), which I understand the nuances betweenn't those words. It's like a square and rectangle thing. A square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is necessarily a square. Duh. Thanks, sixth grade geometry. But...why use both? Then use the phrase "meat eater"? Is the phrase "meat lover" trademarked or taboo? Is the meat eater the vegan meatless entity here, really, and not the pizza? But then how can one be a meatless meat eater, unless you're referring to one's body as being composed of meat, and being a person who has to eat, which while technically true is unecessarily complicated and creepy for a food product name for it to point out? This whole thing makes me go for the Excedrin. 

Good thing this is actually a surprisingly good pizza.

Not gonna lie: I had somewhat low expectations for this pizza, based on nothing but a whim. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. Usually I can taste the difference between vegan meat substitutes and the real deal, but here, whether the pepperoni, the sausage, or the "chorizo style crumbles" it tasted 100% real. Everything was properly spiced, and had a little pseudo gristle which passed off as close enough to real deal, and dare I say, was even a little meaty. To be sure, each of the not-meats were a touch softer than the real deal, but man, it could have fooled me if I weren't paying close attention. Exceptionally well done here, TJ's.

If anything here is the vegan tell, it's the cheese. And that's not a knock. Don't let the pic fool you - while not looking overly melty like a good mozzarella, it has a shockingly creamy mouthfeel. A little too creamy. But it's a plus and not a minus - maybe some of that is a diversion away from the textural differences of the meat subsitutes. Can't say I've had a mozzarella quite like that - soft, mild, creamy - and while not true to the real thing, it works pretty well on this particular pie.  

The one thing, though, is this: the crust. It's a pretty standard frozen pizza crust. While that's not a demerit all by itself, the first ingredient, out of all things, is wheat flour. Listen: TJ's went thru all the trouble of making passable pepperonis, salient sausages, choice chorizos and melty mozzarellas out of things like soy and peas and mushrooms and coconuts and whatever else...but not a decent gluten free crust to really seal the deal and drive this baby home? Jeez Louise. The mind boggles. Check all the boxes next time, TJ's. 

Also: an ingredient is listed as rice brain oil in both the sausagey subs. Not rice bran. Rice brain. I don't want to eat rice with a brain, and does that make it an animal and therefore a meat? More Excedrin STAT. 

At least the tomatoes are most likely vegan, even if beefstakes.

Anyways, my lovely bride and I were most happy with this purchase for $5ish for an easy dinner for the two of us, and we'd likely do again. No headache about that, it's an easy choice. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Vegan Meatless Meat Eater's Pizza: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

 

 
 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Trader Joe's Garden Vegetable Soup

Soup is a good fall and winter food. It's also nice when it rains. We've been making up for a relatively dry summer with heavy rainfall nearly every day for the past week or so here in the northern midwest. So I thought a nice bowl of hot soup was in order.

First impression: it's quite thick. Sonia noted that the product is almost stew-like, since there's relatively little liquid in relation to the large, plenteous vegetable chunks. She likes it that way. She doesn't like "soupy soups," as she put it.

As far as texture is concerned, I'll agree. It's very chunky and hearty. Surprisingly so. Add anything like crackers or croutons, and they quickly absorb what little wateriness there is, resulting in something nearly as thick as traditional gumbo.

Flavor-wise, however, I thought the soup was too salty. Rather than relying on the actual vegetables for crisp garden produce type flavors, all I tasted was a briny, tomatoey liquid.


Even the veggies themselves seemed too saturated with the broth to taste anything other than something salty and vaguely tomato-esque. Too bad, because there's pretty much a whole garden in that jar: potato, sweet potato, spinach, carrot, kale, celery, onion, zucchini, bell peppers, etc...

Sonia thinks the flavor is fine, too. She'll give it four stars.


$3.99 for the three serving jar. We've seen much better soup from Trader Joe's over the years in my personal opinion, but this one does come in a Mason jar you can keep, and it's shelf-stable for about two years from date of purchase. So...three stars from yours truly.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.