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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Trader Joe's Artichoke Timbales


Never had a timbale before. Even after doing some internet research, I'm still not sure how to pronounce it. I got at least three different versions. My natural inclination would be to pronounce it the Spanish way: teem-BALL-ey. The one thing every source agreed upon was that timbales are named after a type of drum, although which type of drum was yet another point of contention. It's either a timpani, a kettledrum, or a tom-tom.

But I suppose that since we're just talking about a general shape, all of the above could be applicable at least somewhat. At any rate, that's probably enough blabbering on about the name and shape of this food. How does it taste?

Well, honestly...it's nothing to write home about. I mean, there are obviously artichoke hearts in there, and I like artichoke hearts. But even the hearts aren't bursting with flavor. They're more salty than anything else. The quiche-like base doesn't add a whole lot to the flavor, either.


Sonia commented, "there's an earthy, planty taste about them." I totally agree with that assessment, although she apparently meant it as praise. I'd say the conglomeration is a little too planty. There's almost a bitterness about the whole thing. The two cheeses, mozzarella and grana padano, don't provide enough flavor to save the dish. There's a significant presence of olive oil—like you can actually taste the olive oil, which isn't necessarily something I look for in an appetizer. Although there was no broccoli mentioned in the ingredients, the beautiful wifey and I both tasted something decidedly broccoli-ish.

A more impressive, more complementary, or more potent spice blend might have gone a long way with this hors d'oeuvre, but it's just not there. I tried numerous additives, but nothing redeemed it completely. I guess I should give an honorable mention to the Italian Style Sprinkle, but even that failed to completely exonerate these pseudo-souffles.

There's nothing to complain about as far as the texture is concerned. It's slightly crispy on the top and softer toward the middle and bottom. The artichoke hearts floating throughout the mixture aren't chewy or stringy at all, so that's a plus. The overall texture is not unlike that of a quiche or souffle as mentioned above, although there are very different ingredients used here. Looks like the body is made of potato starch, rice starch, extra virgin olive oil, and vegetable bouillon, among other things.

Once again Trader Joe's introduces us to an exotic, foreign appetizer for a mere five bucks or so, brought to us all the way from Italy. I can't fault them for that, but I wouldn't buy these apps again. Three and a half stars from Sonia. Two stars from me.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Trader Joe's Ube Spread

 

Ube? Oh boy. 

Purplepotatopalooza is apparently continuing at your local neighborhood TJ's, this time around with Trader Joe's Ube Spread.

Not sure what to expect outta ube in spread form? Don't worry, I wasn't either. Going into this, I could see it going any number of ways, some way more delectable than others. 

Fortunately it seems TJ's nailed it. Admittedly, I was more concerned about texture than taste. The ube spread is surprisingly smooth, akin to perhaps a slightly firmer apple butter-like consistency. There's a small amount of starchiness to it, but no overt graininess or grittiness. Instead, unlike my high school personality, it's just cool and smooth, and easy spreadable. There's even a little melty butteriness to it that was brought out when spread on some hot-off -the-griddle pancakes.

And taste? It's just about right.  There's enough sugar in there to sway more towards a sweet or dessertlike flavor, and not perhaps not quite as savory. Still, it's not quite overkill. The coconut cream is present and adds a nice little balance, and perhaps adds to that slightly buttery kinda feel...even though there's actual butter butter in there too...how is this stuff only 3g of fat per 18g serving? That's kinda mysterious. 

Anyways, if you like ube, you'll like this alkmost guaranteed. We'll be using it on toast and waffles and pancakes and all sorts of things like that. The jar suggests also ice cream - I wonder if using it on something chilly would somehow be different. Have experience with that? Share away. The jar was only about $3 or $4 and seems about right, and worthy of repeat purchases. Yum yum. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Ube Spread: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, June 24, 2022

Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Caramel Coated Popcorn

It's officially summer now, and I'm generally in the mood for cold treats like popsicles and ice cream, iced beverages, and an occasional salty snack like chips, nuts, or popcorn. Snacks like chocolate, peanut butter, and caramel corn are too oily and melty and just don't appeal to me during these warmer months. So neither the name nor the packaging of this product seemed particularly enticing to this guy. Maybe I'd steer towards it in the fall, but not during this week of the summer solstice and now almost heading into July.

But our Trader Joe's clerk enthusiastically endorsed it. I might have put up a fight, but Sonia had already grabbed a bag and was excited to take Frankie's recommendation. And now that I've tried it, I get it.

There's really no caramel in this product at all. And for that, I'm thankful. The peanut butter coating is so perfect, it's hard to describe. It completely coats the surface of each and every piece of popcorn, and yet it's not overly thick or oily or heavy-handed in any way.


The "caramel" is just cane sugar and tapioca syrup. Some caramel is made with heavy cream and butter, but other caramel is just heated sugar. Since this product is vegan, we're looking at the latter option here. It just adds a nice level of sweetness that popcorn and peanut butter by themselves wouldn't otherwise have.

So the dominant flavor is peanut butter, with a nice bit of salty and sweet, all riding in the vehicle of perfectly-popped, round, crunchy pieces of popcorn. Surprisingly good. Addictive. If you like the flavor of peanut butter and the texture of popcorn, then this product is worth a try.


Four and a half stars from me since I'm a sucker for anything with peanut butter done the right way. Four from the beautiful wifey.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Trader Joe's Cashew Butter Cashews

Let's do a quick little break down here, to see where exactly all of this begins to go completely wrong. 

First, the name. Trader Joe's Cashew Butter Cashews. Trader Joe's, cashew butter, and cashews. Man, we're quick off the line here - that sounds delicious!

Let's move to the description: "Honey roasted cashews." Oh yes please! But then..."covered in a sweetened (ruhroh) cashew butter coating (more ruhroh)."

Obviously the ruhrohs were added for dramatic effect. Would be bad marketing otherwise. 

Let's look at the ingredients then, to maybe deduce more of what's goin' on. First off, there's that "cashew butter coating" again. Not just cashew butter, it's cashew butter coating. Which means taking perfectly good cashew butter and adding dry milk, a load of sugar (6g in a 30g serving - they're 20% sugar!), a bunch of palm oil...and all that before even a mention of cashews. 

And to go really wrong...just take a bite. 

Imagine Reese's making a candy coated cashew snack, it gets hugely popular, then there's a dollar store knockoff coming around. I'd imagine these nuts would taste almost exactly like that. They're annoyingly sweet, in a fake amped kinda way, which detracts so hard from anything resembling the natural earthy goodness of a good cashew. I don't taste honey or cashew, I taste plain ol' sugar and cream with a vague hint of nut. There's barely even the crunch or bite of a good roasted cashew. It's just sugar blobs. 

Part of me will admit that the cashew butter cashews are kinda good in a somewhat trashy/junkfood way...but that's not what I wanted here. I wanted good in a wholesome way. And maybe that's the biggest thing wrong here: being too attached to my own expectations. Kinda funny how often that's the case. 

For what it's worth, my lovely bride and I balance each other out here. She loves 'em, for that junk food-y candyish vibe. She picks up a bit more of the saltiness and nuttiness than I do, too. Me? Man, there's just some better ways to make a healthier snack here. Honey roasted cashew, a drier style cashew butter and maybe some ground cashews to dust off the outer layer? Come on, that sounds delicious! 

Anyways, she'll four them up. That's way too high in my book, and I'll go lower than intended to help balance out. Can't go wrong that way. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cashew Butter Cashews: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
 

Monday, June 20, 2022

Trader Joe's Peanuts in a Pickle

In case you forgot to pick up a bag of plain peanuts and a shaker of Seasoning in a Pickle on your last Trader Joe's run, no worries. TJ's has your back. They've gone and mixed pickle flavors into peanuts for you. It's almost as if they tried mixing the aforementioned pickle seasoning blend with peanuts and realized it's absurdly messy. And it's not only messy, but not enough seasoning sticks to the nuts. So they went and...I honestly don't know what they did. I think they actually pickled these nuts! <reaches down inside and finds the restraint to avoid any juvenile "deez nuts" jokes>

The back of the bag gives us hints but no real answers. It's says the peanuts are "infused" with pickle flavor. Later on in the spiel, they use the word "imbued." It mentions there's no powder in the equation. It's true. There's not. And the nuts aren't oily at all, either. They might even be less oily than regular peanuts somehow. Sonia kept remarking how dry they were. But they certainly have a pickle taste to them.

At first, we both thought the pickle flavor was a little on the weak side, but then after a few handfuls, we felt the briny pickliness build up on our tongues. I might not have minded a bit more pickle taste, but Sonia was pleased with the intensity of the flavor.


They actually look identical to regular Virginia peanuts. There's no green color, no visible flecks of dill, nothing. Just like they can edit genomes and create plants that yield more fruit or be drought-resistant or whatever, I think maybe they spliced some DNA and cross-bred peanuts with pickles to make these. <Cue comments where people tell me pickles are just pickled cucumbers and that pickles don't have their own genetic code blah blah blah yadda yadda science science science>

$2.49 for the bag. Sonia likes them more than I do and would buy them again. I'm on the fence. Four stars from her. Three from me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Trader Joe's Spicy Mango Lemonade

 

Let's get one thing right outta the way here. 

We're gonna talk about pureed jalapeños. In a beverage, namely Trader Joe's Spicy Mango Lemonade. 

Ho. Lee. Crud. 

Now, c'mon. Jalapeños can carry a little kick, but they're far from the spiciest pepper out there. How many Scovilles are they? Too lazy to look it up, but it's nothing compared to a habanero or Scotch bonnet, much less the infamous Merciless Pepper of Quetzalacatenango. I get that, and I get it completely. 

But man....

Maybe it's because it'sin an otherwise cool, refreshing beverage form. Maybe the lemon and citrus amp up the heat a little, or mango just so happens to be a natural capsaicin amplifier, or maybe I'm turning into more and more of wimp as my 40th birthday creeps ever so closer....

But this stuff is HOT and SPICY. Real kick. No false advertising or faux bravado. Hot dang. 

I was prideful at first and took a big gulp. Big mistake. If my tastebuds were Super Mario, the heat was some pretty big league Thwomps, maybe world six level. It can be navigated, for sure, but you best get yourself prepared. Don't know why or how, but man - just HOT. 

I'm sure you can cut down the heat a bit, by mixing in some fizzy water or some booze even. Tried it that way, and it worked extremely well. 

Aside from the heat, there's plenty of sweet hits from the mango and citrusy sour notes from the lemon to really fill out the flavor in a rather enjoyable way.  There's no pulp or anything, just smooth juice. Want some lemonade with a kick? Here's your shot. 

That being said, the jalapeño limeade from TJ's seems to be a touch more refreshing and palatable. My theory is that limes and jalapeños just kinda go together better than jalapeños and lemons and mangos. Or perhaps it's just a little more familiar.

Anyways, the spicy mango lemonade is worth a pick up if you haven't tried, but consider yourself warned. Can you beat the heat?

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Spicy Mango Lemonade: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, June 13, 2022

Trader Joe's Grecian Style Eggplant with Tomatoes & Onions


Here's an oldie but a goodie. Shelf-stable eggplant in a can. Yum?

I didn't really know what to expect first time I opened one of these containers. Big slabs of eggplant? Actual pieces of tomato? If you ask me, this product is really just like a big can of tomato-based pasta sauce. I mean, sure, there's eggplant in there. And it doesn't taste or feel quite like any other eggplant I've ever had.

I've had eggplant that was leathery. I've tried some that was rubbery. But I've also sampled eggplant that was absolutely delightful—with a mouthfeel not unlike tender meat. This eggplant is none of the above. The texture of this eggplant is...gelatinous? Slimy? It's quite wet and limp, but I must admit there's an unexpected melt-in-the-mouth quality, too. It's definitely not the worst eggplant texture I've ever had, but it's not the best either.


Taste-wise, it's fine, but I think the actual mild flavor of eggplant is heavily overshadowed by tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes. That's right, there's tomato sauce, tomato paste, peeled tomatoes, chopped tomatoes, and tomato juice in there. I guess "tomato paste" is actually an ingredient in the "tomato sauce," etc but all five of those tomato elements are indeed listed in the ingredients. Trader Joe's Tomato, Tomato, Tomato, Eggplant, Onion, and Tomato just didn't sound right to those marketing folks. By that same token, this is a "product of Bulgaria." I suppose TJ's shoppers are more inclined to grab a "Grecian" food than a Bulgarian one. Anyway, I digress.

Since Sonia's much more into tomatoes than I am, she enjoyed this product significantly more than yours truly. I must admit, it made a pretty great pizza topping. I want to try it on bruschetta. It's great with pasta, and it's okay with crackers. I like it better heated than straight from the can. On the other hand, I can eat those Greek Chickpeas straight outta the packaging ALL DAY LONG. Like the chickpeas, however, this product is shelf-stable for about a year and a half before the best by date and cheap ($1.29). Also vegan.


Three stars from me. A near-perfect four and a half from the beautiful wifey.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Trader Joe's Hula Cruncha


 Not too get too "real world"-y here, as usually we're more of a break from it than anything else, but there's no denying there's shortages of all sorts of stuff these days. And for a few minutes, in the absolutely most benignly and unimportant of ways, I thought those shortages had reached their way right into my bag of the new Trader Joe's Hula Cruncha. 

Namely...all this popcorn...but where's the rice crackers?!?!?!?!

Fortunately, after some mining and creative digging, finally I hit the rice cracker paydirt. All these various sized sticks and chunks and orbs had somehow all settled their way to the bottom. So, mental note for next time, give a sealed bag a good shake to make it all a little more even. 

And there definitely will be a next time. 

It's an interesting snack mix, this Hula Cruncha. Quite honestly I can say I've never had anything quite like it. The closest I can relate it to is another TJ's product, the Synergistically Seasoned Popcorn. Even that's not quite right, as it's a different flavor profile, but it's similar in that each bite seems to hit a little differently, with accentuating a different spice or taste combo. There's a soft, somewhat muted sweetness that's absolutely more soy derived than sugary. Also, a healthy dose of vinegar adds a pretty decent tang quotient. But then...I mean...just look at all the spices and everything listed in the ingredients. Some bites there's all of them, some only a few, some heavier on the cayenne or pepper or rosemary. And last but not least, there's plenty of nori specks here, there and everywhere that a little umami-licious touch. It's really quite something. 

Once you finally get to the rice crackers, it's a really fun crunch too. The different shapes and sizes of those crunchers are a fun change up from the reliable yet unremarkable popcorn poofiness. 

In all, it's just one of those snacks that even though I'm still grasping my tastebuds around it all, there's really nothing wrong and plenty that seems just right. 

Go get some and don't short yourself! $3ish for the bag. Double fours. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Hula Cruncha: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons



Thursday, June 9, 2022

Trader Joe's Brown Sugar Non-Dairy Oat Creamer

Sonia is the designated coffee drinker in our household. I'll partake of the stuff out of necessity, or just once in a blue moon to change things up a bit. By and large, though, I'm an energy drink guy. 

Despite the wife's affinity for java, she's never really been a "black coffee" girl. She's gotta have her half and half or at least some type of non-dairy substitute. If we wake up in the morning and Sonia discovers we're out of coffee creamer...well, let's just say that's not a good start to the day for our family. As American women go, Sonia's among the least pampered and non-divalike I've ever known, but woe unto you if you used up the half and half the night before and didn't make a late night convenience store run to replace it.

So it's good we had some of this Trader Joe's Brown Sugar Non-Dairy Oat Creamer on hand the last time that happened. Sonia says this version is both sweeter and creamier than any other oat-based creamer she's ever had. She's tried at least three other brands: Califia Farms, Elmhurst, and Coffee Mate Natural Bliss. I'm sure I've tried at least one of those others, but it certainly didn't stand out as super-delicious or life-changing in any way. Sonia says other oat-based creamers seem much more watery than this Trader Joe's selection.

There really is a whisper of actual brown sugar flavor in this creamer. Mostly, it's just sweet, but there is some brown sugar in the ingredients and you can taste it ever so slightly. It's also got that faint nutty oaty wholesomeness that other oat creamers do.

As far as the creaminess is concerned, some extra thickness might be due at least in part to the presence of pea protein and/or the controversial ingredient: sunflower oil. I keep hearing from more and more sources that sunflower oil—and all seed oils in general—are carcinogenic and shouldn't be consumed at all, or at least not in large quantities. If you do an internet search, you'll find plenty of articles about the potential dangers of seed oils, along with dissenting opinions, and there's at least one piece about this product in particular. I'm no food scientist, and Big Seed Oil hasn't sent me any "financial incentives" to promote their products just yet...so I'll just leave it at that for now.

We're looking at about two bucks for 16 oz of vegan-friendly creamer. Possibly a repeat purchase for the beautiful wifey. Four stars from Sonia. Three from me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Trader Joe's Seasoned Waffle Cut Fries

 

Man, is there anything really all that much better in the world than a nice, big pile of piping hot, crispy, delicious fries?

And make them waffle fries at that? Sign me up! It won't matter if I'm hungry or not, I'm down.

All that added surface area, with all the little nooks and crevices and valleys and whatever else, when made just right, make quite possibly the most perfect fry in the world....

....which is absolutely why I should've taken the suggestion on the bag of Trader Joe's Seasoned Waffle Cut Fries and airfried them. 

But NOOOOOOOOOO. 

We have an airfryer. It's just a little guy, with small features. Small basket. Takes a while to do much of anything for a hungry crew with it. So I thought I'd just bake them a few extra minutes instead and get the whole batch done with at once. That'd be close enough, right? Certainly spot on, but it'd work....or work enough...right?

Wrong. 

Even when baking a few extra minutes, man, these TJ's fries just wouldn't crisp up, at all. The texture was almost more like steamed then baked. Maybe a few more minutes would've done it, but I already had them in there for an extra five or so, and dangit, we had dance classes to get to. They were kinda damp and undercooked and felt like they were more ready to mash in a bowl them into my belly. 

I guess all that's on me? Maybe? Our oven works pretty decently, so...anyways. 

Anything else with the fries are great. The seasoning blend is pretty basic but pleasant with a little paprika and pepper and other assorted spices. Our kids who tend to be somewhat spice adverse had no problems with it whatsoever. We all love our fries.

Definitely, we need to get these again and go for it with the airfryer. Or maybe get a bigger better airfryer. We're redoing our kitchen coming up shortly, so I guess we'll toss that on the list and slot it right behind the espresso machine both my lovely bride and I want and will finally have space for. Or something.

Seriously, airfryer or bust with these, it seems. 

$3.99ish for the bag, came with enough to feed our hangry crew. If you have teenagers, you'll need an extra I'm sure. Pretty tasty and we'll do better next time, and heck even though we enjoyed them decently as is, I'm sure we'd give them a bump. 

AIRFRY THEM!!!!!!!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Seasoned Waffle Cut Fries: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons



Friday, June 3, 2022

Trader Joe's Cocoa & Sea Salt Instant Oatmeal


Oatmeal isn't the most exciting food in the world, but I've never minded it. I've never exactly adored it, either. You just have to jazz it up a bit, you know? Add some fruit, maple syrup, or maybe
some pickle seasoning and you're in business. It's simple, nutritious, and filling, even if it lacks fancy colors and fantastic flavors, it's still a staple for many people around the world, including most Americans. In short: don't despise the small and common things like oatmeal in this life, and if you—or Trader Joe's—does something to make it magically delicious, then all the more power to you and your gourmet-ish breakfast.

Cocoa and sea salt? Not the first combo I'd think to throw in my bowl of oatmeal, but I must admit it works. I tried a wee bit of the mix before heating it in the same way I might lick the batter off the mixing spoon before baking cookies. Yeah. No. Don't do that. It's not the same thing. It's gross. All I could taste was the salt. It was a little bitter...and extremely salty.


After a brief spell in the microwave, however, cocoa was indeed the dominant flavor. The sea salt was still detectable but much more subtle. There's still that ever-present wholesome nutty oat flavor that always seems to accompany oatmeal, but the cocoa flavor made it even more pleasant.

It's not over-the-top chocolatey, either. It's not like a dessert or even like a kid's chocolate cereal. There's just a moderately sweet cocoa essence and a touch of saltiness, appropriately balanced against the oatmeal's intrinsic graininess. Sonia adds walnuts to hers for protein and even more nutty goodness. She says she likes it more and more with each bowl she has.

I like it too, but maybe not quite as much as the beautiful wifey. Of course we make ours with milk. Or in the absence of cow's milk, we use almond milk, or possibly some mixture of half and half and water. If I were TJ's marketing guru, I'd call it Trader Joe's Cocoatmeal, and there would be a chocolate vampire or cuckoo bird on the box. Even though it's not really aimed at sweet-toothed children, the box is a bit boring and doesn't do the product justice in our opinions.

$2.99 for 10 packets of oatmeal. Good value. Will buy again. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Trader Joe's Seasoning in a Pickle

 

Pickles! Love 'em? Well, here's definitely something for you - Trader Joe's Seasoning in a Pickle. Make anything taste like a pickle!

This is one of those items I swear has been around for ever...but if it had we surely would have reviewed it by now, so it must not be...but I swear it must not be new....even though it apparently is....I guess it's just one of those things that made way too much sense to not exist that it's presence is taken almost for granted. 

I mean...TJ's Popcorn in a Pickle was a big dill, er, deal way back in *checks notes*....2015? That's like a lifetime ago! Last year brought us many things, but thankfully one of them was TJ's Chips in a Pickle. Now, finally, in 2022, this? This is one slow developing trilogy here. 

Anyways, want to make anything, not just not snack food, taste like a pickle? You're in luck! If you've previously procured those pre-mentioned picklish products, imagine the same taste in a seasoning blend. That's precisely what we got going on here. There's plenty of salt, naturally, and vinegar and dill and a wee touch of garlic and everything. I hate to use the same words as the packaging, but "bite" and "tang" really do sum it up well. It's everything a pickle can be minus the liquid part of the brine and cucumber. Plenty potent - just a dab will do ya, so sprinkle on with care. 


My only qualm is questioning its utilization. I mean, I like pickles aplenty, but I don't necessarily want everything and anything to taste like one, sure. Could put some on some veggies, I guess, right? And of course, there's always popcorn - thanks, TJ's for that idea. But what else? I'm sure my pickle-obsessed kiddos can come up with some ideas, but I'm not sure how many of them would actually be good ones...for some reason I can hear them saying "oatmeal" and that's a hard no from me. Maybe I'm struggling creatively right now and y'all can fill me in. 

Grab one if you feel so inclined. I'm not 100% on this, but I'm pretty sure it's in the $3ish range. Dillicious. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Seasoning in a Pickle: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons