Search This Blog

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Trader Joe's Instant Boba Kit

 

Seems there was a brief moment in time that boba or bubble tea was all the rage, somewhat nestled between my college and not quite married years. Before she would come to be known as such, my lovely bride and I would occasionally go grab one after her work somewhere near the Carnegie Mellon campus. Pretty sure there was a place on Craig Street, probably still is, but it always seemed packed full of college kids happily slurping away on these kinda oddball milky tea drinks with these goofy balls of whatever in them. Whatever, I kinda liked 'em too. 

Must still be a semi-popular thing, as now if the mood hits for a boba, we don't have to deal with a bunch of runty AirPod-wearing jaywalkers half our age. Naw. We just need to hit up our freezer, with the new Trader Joe's Instant Boba Kit. 

It's a weird concoction of sorts. Inside the boz there's four indicidual pouches, each with some flavor mix and those famous tapioca pearls, as well as an appropriately sized paper straw. Nuke the pearls and stuff for a minute, add some ice and milk, and voila, it's a boba tea, all right in the home, no real skill or even effort involved. 


That being said, it ain't the best.


For me, maybe it's just the flavor choice. I love brown sugar and all, but when mixed with the milk it just tastes like leftover cereal milk. Which is still kinda delicious, not gonna lie there. But then when paired with the tapioca balls, it must be a mental trick or something as I swear the boba tastes a little molasses-y. That and the pearls aren't as firm, and instead are somewhat rubbery and sticky. It's kinda close to the real deal, and does an admirable job for a freezer DIY concoction, but it still seems a little too nopticeably off.

Maybe that's just me. Sandy loved it. It was late at night when we finally made one to sample. She took one sip and asked if we really had to share. yes, dear, please. After two or three, i had my fill. Just not quite right, or maybe I've left all my crazy boba days behind me as I've just hit 40. Kinda makes me happy to see Sandy enjoy it then, maybe this'll be something all for her. 

Oh well. Maybe a different flavor, something kinda fruity, would've hit me different. Brown sugar just didnt do it for me this time. I'll be nice and toss out a few spoons for it, whereas my lovely bride will ring it up as perfection. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Instant Boba Kit: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Monday, August 29, 2022

Trader Joe's Farm Raised Lightly Smoked Salmon


It may seem counterintuitive, but over the long haul, boring old pantry staples and culinary essentials actually account for the majority of clicks on this blog these days. For example, the two most popular posts here over the past 12 months have been Greek chickpeas and gluten free pizza dough. They may not be as fun or exciting as some of the other stuff Trader Joe's puts out, but for whatever reason, people keep reading those reviews many months and years after their debuts.

I was hoping that's what we had on our hands here: a new under-the-radar classic. I love salmon, and having it available in a shelf-stable version that can last for a couple years is super convenient. I also love that it's skinless and boneless: ready to eat right out of the tin. I'm not thrilled, however, that it's packed in oil. I always prefer canned fish in water.


There's just one big fillet of salmon in the can, although it's extremely soft and forks apart easily. I wasn't super impressed with the taste of the fish right from the get-go. It wasn't "fishy" per se, but it was just kind of lackluster and slightly metallic. There wasn't much in the way of smokiness either. It's definitely not the best salmon I've ever had, and unfortunately, it's not even the best canned salmon.

Heating it on the skillet yielded something a bit more palatable. I added some lemon juice and paprika which helped cover over the blandness of the fish. The cooking process also seemed to wake up the smoky flavor a tad. Sonia liked it more than I did but wasn't completely won over.


With 21 grams of protein and plenty of good fat, canned salmon isn't a bad thing to have on hand to supplement the fresh stuff, but I doubt we'll purchase this version again. Product of Chile. $3.69 for the 5 oz can. Three and a half stars from Sonia. Two and a half from me.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Trader Joe's Banana Pudding Flavored Ice Cream


Ever meet an ice cream you didn't like?

Us neither. 

That being said...some ice cream is much better than others. 

That's pretty much how my lovely bride and I feel about Trader Joe's Banana Pudding Flavored Ice Cream here in the 'burgh. Sandy and I consider ourselves ice cream aficionados and quasi-experts, and there's no doubt we've eaten our fair share, if not much more than that. So please pardon us if we can get a bit picky. 

There's just not quite enough to truly, 100% enjoy this newish pint of ice cream inspired by a classic treat. Banana pudding is decently enjoyable all by itself, but add in things like a salted caramel swirl and wafer cookie dough, it sounds like an almost surefire winner. But it doesn't translate somehow. Maybe it's the extra creaminess, with it being, you know, ice cream, and thus a little extra rich and sweet as far as the banana pudding. That'd be my guess. 

But also the mix-ins don't seem to add quite enough, either. The salted caramel is a bit too bland and basic to add much contast, and the wafer is more mushy and nondescript to be of much value, either. Both of those components are just there and that's about all that can be said. So what's left is just this cloying, overly sweet and rich banana taste, without anything to really balance it all out. 

But, well, it's ice cream, so....

Not completely unhappy here, but this won't be a repeat buy. Which is sad, because it sounds so good. Some caramel that slapped a bit more, or maybe some ginger wafer, or something, something to make not so bloatedly banana-y, would really go a long way. But as is, meh.

But at least it's ice cream.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Banana Pudding Flavored Ice Cream: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons



Monday, August 22, 2022

Trader Joe's Decaf French Roast Instant Coffee

During high school, I had a paper route at a large retirement home in my town. Many of the newspaper clients resided in the assisted living and mental health wards of this grandiose, upscale "old folks' home." I remember one lady in particular who'd ask me for something each and every time I'd deliver her paper. "Coffee!" she'd say. "Bring me coffee."

Some days I'd try to explain that I only delivered newspapers, other times, I'd just smile and place the paper on her nightstand. Still, without fail, she'd ask me for coffee six days a week for nearly three years. It was at once comical and a little sad, but also, perhaps, profound in a way. This was a woman who had likely lived through both world wars, the Great Depression, the advent of the telephone, television, and automobiles, and at the end of her long and ostensibly eventful life, she found herself in a tiny room in a retirement community pining for one thing and one thing only:

Coffee—the second most-traded commodity on earth and a staple in so many people's daily routines. It's something you don't ever want to be without. And say what you will about instant coffee, but it's more shelf-stable than ground coffee. It can last for decades if stored properly. It might not be a coffee connoisseur's top pick, but if other forms of coffee become scarce or overly expensive, a bunch of instant is way better than nothing.


Likewise, say what you will about decaf. There's still a small amount of caffeine in decaf, and it might actually be a decent way to slowly wean yourself off of caffeine addiction...I mean, if one were so inclined to do something crazy like that.

At 3.5 oz this product is hardly a long term supply of instant decaf, but it's worth a try in our opinions. I'm no coffee expert, but I honestly don't think I'd be able to tell this beverage from fresh-brewed. It's dark and rich, flavor-wise, and it doesn't take much of the mix to make a potent cup. I'm not sure what's so French about it, but again, I'm not exactly an aficionado.

Five bucks for the container. I'm sure it's not everybody's cup of tea—er, coffee—but if they bring it back again next year, we might pick up another one. Three and a half stars from Sonia. Three from me.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Trader Joe's Garlic & Jalapeño Stuffed Olives

Olives! C'mon, who doesn't love a good olive, seriously? Snackable, grabbable, fun to eat, cool, refreshing, a surprising variety, versatile, savory...what's there not to like? Really, anytime is perfect for olives, but especially late summer like right now, after a few days vacation, when you accidentally forgot to write anything for your blog before you left, didn't have a laptop to write while you were gone, so had to wait an entire week almost to publish anything...that anyone else or just me?

Anyways, I definitely had time to read up on the new Trader Joes Garlic & Jalapeño Stuffed Olives while taking an inadvertent break. There's everything to love here. Garlic! Jalapeños! Ampersands! Some pretty choice looking olives! Sounds perfect!

Indeed, in some ways, these olives really are. They're big and fleshy and firm, with plenty of bite to them. Sure, green olives are kinda basic in the olive world, but they're just such a crisp, clean classic that they're really hard to argue with. They're delicious, through and through. 

Inside each olive there's a decent sliver of brined garlic and a little chunk of deseeded jalapeño as well. I mention the no seeds because that's key on a couple levels. First, there's no unwelcomed seedy texture. And two, if concerned about the spicy level of these olives, don't be. It's the faintest smooch of spice. No seeds means most of the flame throwing capacity of jalapeños is largely extinguished. On a scale of 0 to 10, it's maybe a 1. It's almost not worth writing about. If anything, there's more garlic, and plenty of olive to balance it out.

Which reminds me: sure, they're shelf stable 'til opened, but do yourself a favor and chill these olives before tasting. Warm, eh, not a lot of flavor. Ice 'em down a touch and the flavors really seem to be out and about more. 


Whatever you do with olives, do 'em with these. They won't be the highlight of an olive mix or a charcuterie board, but they will be far from unwelcome. Nothing wrong with a small twist on an olive and that's what we got here. And at $2.99 for the jar, it ain't a bad price either. 

My lovely bride is odd and only likes black olives, not green, and so is sitting this out. Just me for this round of olive munching, so if this score is irresponsible you'll know why. Personally I'd like a touch more heat, but that's my only real complaint. I'll be enjoying these very much as is.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Garlic & Jalapeño Stuffed Olives: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 



 

Friday, August 12, 2022

Espada Pequeña Mezcal

Like my wife's extended family, mezcal is from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. I haven't been there yet, but it's on my bucket list for sure. Shortly after we married, some of Sonia's cousins gifted me a bottle of authentic mezcal straight from southern Mexico, as well as a milky, creamy beverage made with mezcal. Imagine Bailey's Irish Cream but with mezcal instead of Irish whiskey. Yeah, I wasn't a fan of the creamy stuff, but the straight liquor quickly grew on me.

At first, it felt and tasted very harsh—like tequila but much more intensely smoky. It burned. It almost tasted like it had been set on fire. Over time, though, I got over the intensity and learned to appreciate the complexity of the flavor. There's a subtle earthy bitterness with an even subtler sweetness underneath it. I wish I'd made a note of the name of the brand, but alas, it's been 12 years or so and I no longer remember.

Since that first bottle from Mexico, Sonia and I have tried a few brands we found here in the States. They just weren't the same. There was always smokiness there, but instead of faint agave flavors, they all tasted more like gasoline—harsh burning for the sake of harsh burning.

Like tequila, mezcal is made from the agave plant, although there are apparently dozens of varieties of agave, and certain ones are more commonly used for tequila and others are cultivated specifically for mezcal. In this case, it's made from a plant known as Espadin.

Since that first bottle of mezcal from my cousins-in-law, this is hands down the best version I've tried. It's not as smoky as that first bottle, but there's still a charred essence floating above all those complex planty, tequila-esque flavors. This bottle, too, is from the state of Oaxaca, and yes it is Trader Joe's in-store brand just like Josephsbrau is their own unique brand name for beer.

I prefer it straight, but it does go with certain beverages like ginger beer or hibiscus tea. Thanks also to reader Heather for that great tip about mezcal and sparkling pineapple juice together.

About $21 for the fifth. Two thumbs up and four stars a piece for Espada Pequeña Mezcal Artesanal. Would buy again.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Trader Joe's Beef Birria

Like any good dad, I could mumble under my breath about any number of things my kids have done. Leave their wet swimsuits on their bedroom floor? "Forget" to feed the cats again? Take my cell phone charger and knock my pillow right from it's perfect spot, all in one swoop?

Yes, to all those, almost every day. 

And man, to top it off this past week, none of my kiddos left Dear Ol' Dad any tortillas, so when I finally had a few hours to myself one night and wanted to make tacos with Trader Joe's Beef Birria, alas, I could not. 

At first, I'll admit, I was fairly sad about about having to make the birria as more a stew then a taco. The first few bites, with that amazing warm, welcoming sauce (or perhaps more aptly here, broth)....man. I just wanted something carby to help soak all that up. If we even had some rice (did my kids eat everything...again...did they eat uncooked rice???), it would've been welcomed. Mildly spiced, but just pleasant overall, until....

Eating the TJ's beef birria this way, no sidekick style, made me have to really focus on the quality of the broth. And unfortunately, this stuff suffers tremendously from the law of diminishing returns. The more of it I ate, the less I liked it. It still tasted "good" in some ways, but was increasingly one-noted, kinda flat, and as you can likely guess, incredibly salty. There's so much good flavor in the world, why does sodium overloadium have to be so prevalent? It's not like I have much authentic birria exposure, but I'm reasonably confident that most quality iterations have complexities and layers to their flavor profile. Here, it's not so much. It's just...salt. Red salt, I guess, with some scant notes of chili and garlic or whatever else, but really, it's almost all salt. If my newly established cardiologist would have seen me chowing down, I'd hope she'd properly slap me. 

Obviously, that's the biggest detriment. Everything else seems alright. The beef is a little mushy, as one would expect from a frozen entree, but still had a good quality to it. It wasn't too stringy or fatty or anything, and had a decent pot roast kinda feel to it. It was a good sized portion, but for the price I paid ($7.99!), I'd hope for a few bites more. That'd make it a more feasible tacos-for-two kinda dish. 

And, well...that's about all there is to it. 

My lovely bride didn't have a chance to try, as she was out wrangling those kiddos. When I made my dinner report to her, there was some initial disappointment, but assuredly, love, you're not missing much here. This will be hard pass from here on out. Not a fan. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Beef Birria: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, August 8, 2022

Trader Joe's Organic Coconut Aminos Seasoning Sauce

Many years ago, while living in coastal North Carolina, I had a neighbor/friend who happened to be vegan. After repeatedly offering to cook me a vegan meal, I finally took her up on the proposal. She served me a dish featuring veggies and rice with a few bits of seitan sprinkled with amino acids. She explained that the amino acids made up for any general lack of protein in her diet since the human body synthesizes proteins from aminos. Flavor-wise, it functioned the way soy sauce does, adding a salty, savory, umami essence to the food. I liked it.

But I never bought my own bottle of amino acids until now, nearly twenty years later. It's got a big coconut on the label, as if to indicate it will taste like coconut. I mean, I doubt it will, but we're about to find out. Ingredients-wise, we're looking at "coconut sap" in case you couldn't read it from the picture. Sap? I've had coconut milk, coconut water, and coconut cream, but never coconut sap. Wouldn't that come from the tree itself rather than the fruit? I'm getting off track here...

Sonia and I heated up some instant rice in the microwave, some kidney beans on the skillet, and added a few splashes of Trader Joe's Organic Coconut Aminos Seasoning Sauce. First impression: wow, it's sweet! There's just a hint of saltiness and savoriness.

No, it doesn't taste like coconut by my estimation, but it's syrupy sweet. Sonia thinks it's like a watered-down tamarind sauce in both flavor and texture. I definitely don't disagree, but there's much less in the way of tangy, fruity flavor here. It's more like a sweetened soy sauce or like a very thin slightly salty maple syrup almost.

It's not exactly what we expected, but it's still a nice flavorful addition to rice and beans. I'm sure there's a million other things people are doing with this. If we get adventurous, we'll report back with our discoveries.

$2.99 for the 8.5 oz bottle. Product of Sri Lanka. Gluten-free. Kosher. Organic. It's not labeled as "vegan," but I don't know why it wouldn't be. Not sure if we'd purchase again, but not sorry we tried it. Three and a half stars a piece.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Trader Joe's Crunchy Chili Onion Peanuts

Peanuts, meet Trader Joe's Chili Onion Crunch

Trader Joe's Chili Onion Crunch, meet peanuts. 

I'm just gonna assume everything worked pretty well between those two, because here, a couple years down the road from their first potential meeting, here's Trader Joe's Crunchy Chili Onion Peanuts. 

Peanuts have never been high on my list of nuts of choice. Cashews, pecans, walnuts and even almonds regularly rank higher. And while I had to look back to remember, I wasn't overly fond of the chili onion crunch when first debuted. Maybe the hint we haven't repurchased was a hint. 

So, then, for this new spicy peanuts to be the offspring of a perfect marriage of two otherwise kinda lackluster in my mind ingredients...wow. 

I don't think I can get enough of them. There's a near 99% chance I ate the whole bag myself, I have no shame, and I cannot wait to go back for more. Sure, would it be even better as a cashew or almond? Almost absolutely! But this combination is almost perfect as is. 

All it is, almost obviously, is some roasted peanuts with aplenty chili onion crunch dried and presumably all roasted in, perhaps in the oil itself. This process seems to transform both nut and crunch mix. Most notably, the overly stanky garlickyness I previously associated with the chili onion crunch is gone. Sure, there's still enough garlic to ward off alliumphobes and vampires alike, but it's actually pretty pleasant this time around. 

And the heat - wow. I don't recall the chili onion crunch being nearly this spicy. My spicy scale is slipping as I'm approaching 40, so perhaps this is a bit high for all you whippersnappers out there, but I'd rank the heat around 7 or 8 out of 10, with water being the low end and TJ's bomba sauce being the high end (which is as much as I can not-painfully tolerate most days any more). That's higher than most items out there, for sure, and gets even more intense the closer to the bootm of the bag with all the spicy crunchies at the bottom. Deelish. 

The one thing I'd say though is this: really, added salt? There's enough going on here that added salt isn't a necessity, at least to the degree that above everything else I can taste some strong saltiness. A little sprinkle to help boost all the flavors? Sure. Enough to leave me thirsty and not all because of the spice? Nah, fam. 

Regardless, here's to a snack I hope to routinely stash away and enjoy. A couple small handfuls definitely do the trick, and at $3 or $4 for the half pound bag, it's a decent enough value. Highly recommend. It's really nice to see something together being greater than the sum of its parts - wish there was more of that around. Double fours. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crunchy Chili Onion Peanuts: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

 

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Trader Joe's Limoncello Gouda Cheese


I'm fairly certain it was one of the seven universal principles of Hermes Trismegistus that states, and I'm paraphrasing here, that given any two good and pleasant things, when combined, despite expectation, may not necessarily yield a third transcendent good and pleasant thing. It's known as the Hermetic Chocolate Gum Axiom, as it was first applied to ancient Egyptian chocolate and Greek chewing gum...I think. Or perhaps I'm confusing it with this theory I heard from a food blogger a few times.

At any rate, it's a good theory and, well, it applies here unfortunately. If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you'll know I'm a pretty big fan of all things lemon-flavored. I've only had it a few times in my life, but I absolutely love limoncello. And gouda cheese is, of course, normally good, huh? Get it? Gouda = good, huh? Never mind. It's tangy and sweet and what's not to love?

But "sweet" for a cheese isn't really the same kind of sweet as limoncello. I mean, Swiss cheese is "sweet," but you wouldn't make lemonade-flavored Swiss cheese would you? Somehow Trader Joe's Limoncello Gouda sounds a tad more legit than Trader Joe's Lemonade Swiss, but I think the results are about the same. It's just not sweet enough to be called limoncello. I mean it tastes like limoncello...and gouda. But it's roughly got the sweetness level of normal gouda cheese.

Perhaps I'm simply not a fan of lemon-flavored cheeses. I wasn't as enthused about the Lemon Ricotta as I was hoping I would be, but I must admit that cheese worked a little better than this one did, IMO. This one is pretty far from being desserty, and it's got too much limoncello flavor to function like a traditional gouda.

Sonia agrees it isn't sweet enough but she, as usual, won't be too harsh on the product because she's still optimistic she'll figure out a way to use the cheese in some manner that will work. We're open to suggestions if you've got any.

Three and a half stars from Sonia. Two from me.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Trader Joe's Naturally Flavored Strawberry Waffles

 

It's August, so in just a few week's time it's gonna be back to school time...may as well start stocking up on what we're gonna need. Notebooks, pencils, crayon, whatever else we usually raid from Staples or wherever, and man, we gotta find our one kid's iPad we hid so well we can't find it ourselves. 

And while we're at it, may as well back up the truck on some Trader Joe's Naturally Flavored Strawberry Waffles. 

Freezer waffles are a constant in our house, but especially during the school year. Quick, easy, portable, tasty enough breakfast on the go - what's not to like? Heck, I'd go as far as to say they're practically a necessity, given the precaffeinated chaos that usually arises as we keep one ear open for the distant rumble of an approaching school bus.

It's nice to have variety, though, which is exactly what we got here from TJ's. Not just a plain waffle...or blueberry...or an unexpectedly wise mango...but strawberry. It's a change up, and a welcome one at that. There's everything to like here if you're a fruity freezer waffle aficonado like we are. 

For one, as we had hoped for and expected,  the waffles themselves are relatively hefty and bready. We like our Eggos here, but you know how lightweight they are? It's not quite the same here. I mean, it doesn't beat an actual waffle waffle, but for a freezer waffle, there's some serious substance to them. 

The batter is, of course, pretty neutrally flavored with a tinge of sweetness, which complements the strawberries pretty well. And there's a lot of berry buried in there too, more than meets the eye. There's little puree pockets and berry bits all strewn about and mixed in, and seem almost jam-like at times. Which leads me to my next point: while I'm sure maple syrup would work okay here, if you like sugar overload, the real play just might be some peanut or almond or sunflower seed butter here. Make it taste like a sammich, and more easily portable too. Win win. 

Our kiddos devoured the whole box in less than 10 minutes. I'm lucky I snagged one! And only $1.99 for the box! Or was it $2.99? I'm sorry, summer brain drain going on here, maybe I need to go back to school myself. Absolutely worth a pick up, and I'd buy a pallet full if it were practical. Sorry for the somewhat beat up box pics, but that's what you get when your four year old wants to be helpful and cram them into an already full freezer compartment...if we had more freezer space, I'd buy at least a case. That'd get ravaged here in no time. Fours all around. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Naturally Flavored Strawberry Waffles: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons