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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Trader Joe's Joe-Joe's Granola

Oh man, let's just try to work through this here. 

At first glance, it really looks like the real name of this product is....ready for it....Trader Joe's Joe-Joe's Granola Cookies & Creme Inspired Granola Clusters. That's a real mouth full. it's a good thing that a "granola cookie" really isn't a thing - I mean, it sounds an edgier, crunchier oatmeal cookie - but as a guy who's eaten, reviewed and researched many a cookie, I've never heard of them. I'm now patiently waiting for you all to prove me wrong that such a thing does exist, and if so, I'll give you my mailing address and eagerly wait an up-close inspection. 

So, really, it's "just" Trader Joe's Joe-Joe's Granola, but with all those potentially possessive 'postrophes, there's a question of ownership and chain of command. I mean, it's my granola! Hands off now Joe-Joe...and Trader Joe's...it's mine and you won't want it when I'm done with it. 

Enough banter, let's get to it. Joe-Joe's, of course, are TJ's answer to the all time classic Oreo sandwich cookie. They're pretty nondescript, except to say it's a bit of a tasty knockoff, but it's fun to incorporate them into things like ice cream, and now, apparently, granola. 

This stuff is seriously crisp and crunchy, much more than regular granola. Perhaps the addition/utilization of coconut is the reason. This crunchy crispy clusters will give your molars a work out right out of the bag, and honestly, not even milk will soften it, at least in the few minutes it'd take to scarf down a bowl. Super crunchy and munchy. I dig. 

And if cookies and creme is your bag, this'll deliver. There's plenty of not-precisely-Oreo Oreo flavor that delivers - just the right amount of chocolate amped up by the little choco-bits strewn about, and a good hint of the vanilla creme filling too. What's missing is the full, rich, creaminess from the filling of the cookie - naturally, a little milk helps bring it out, a little, and it totally makes sense why it's not all quite there. It's a pretty good adaptation for what it is. 

Pour some in a bowl and drown in milk, or grab a handful and toss in some yogurt, or just straight mash it down the gullet. it's all good. The granola is pretty filling for what it is, and I'd say it delivers. No real complaints from my lovely bride and I - it's solid, tasty, not quite transcendent, but pretty tasty overall. We're pretty happy here. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Joe-Joe's Granola: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons 
 

Friday, September 23, 2022

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Brioche Twist

If you're a carnivore, you eat nothing but meat. And what is meat but the muscles of animals? Also, not surprisingly, since "you are what you eat," a strict carnivore's physique generally becomes more and more muscular.

I'm not sure when I first heard it or who coined the word, but one of the funniest food puns I've ever heard is the word "carbivore" to describe those of us who are naturally inclined to breads and other carbohydrates. And unfortunately, carbivores tend to become what they eat as well, and they get a little doughy in the middle.

I must admit, although I'm in a constant battle against my cravings, I'm naturally fairly carbivorous myself. I've never met a piece of brioche toast I didn't like. And this one is no exception—with swirls of pumpkin puree, brown sugar, and pumpkin spice all through it. Yum. This loaf is pre-sliced perfectly for a traditional toaster. Just grab a piece, pull off the wax paper liner, warm it up, add a bit of butter. Perfection.


Again, maybe my critical standards go out the window when carbs are involved. Maybe I'm not thinking clearly, but I just can't think of any complaints. 

Some might say this is just glorified cinnamon bread and they wouldn't be entirely wrong, but the fall-ish flavors are well-balanced—neither too dominant nor too subtle. The texture is soft and supple and the bread just melts in your mouth. I could eat the whole loaf in a single day.

Sonia absolutely loved this product, too. Her only complaint was that the slices might be just a tad too thick, just barely clearing the slots in our toaster, width-wise. Also, she forgot to peel off the liner paper once or twice, so...there's that. She made French toast out of a couple of the pieces and added maple syrup. I'll agree that they were superbly scrumptious, but I'd rather save this brioche bread to eat by itself and have her make French toast out of regular bread.

But I'm getting off track. This is an outstanding fall product by my estimation. I hope it returns next year. $4.49 for about 9 slices. Five stars from me. Four and a half from the beautiful wifey.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Trader Joe's Gochujang

 

A few years ago, there was some big hullabaloo about a Philadelphia-area contest for best cheesesteak. I'm originally from the surrounding 'burbs, and there were chefs all competing...and putting things like bean sprouts in the cheesesteak. Lump crab. Swiss chard and aiolis and...well...you get the idea. As pretty much a staunch "Wiz wid" guy, I could only shake my head. 

Oh, how times changed. 

Perhaps the western side of the state perverted whatever idea I've had of what a cheesesteak is, as I made them for dinner last night. Not only did I use Mancini's and not Amoroso for the roll (gasp), when I needed something for a little spice for mine....I used Trader Joe's Gochujang.

Fermented red pepper with rice used as a base for this slightly grainy, fairly spicy, and a touch sweet paste...on a cheesesteak? I'm aghast at myself, almost.

Except, you know what? it worked, and worked pretty well. 

Gochujang is definitely a somewhat acquired taste. It's different than most spice, as its a touch deeper, with more depth and taste and subtlety. It's the fermentation that really brings it out. I've used powdered gochujang to add a kick to my own sauerkraut, and I've grown to love it. 

This particular TJ version isn't quite as potent, but still offers a lot of the same warmth and depth. It'll be welcome back on another cheesesteak, as well as any variety of dishes. Rice, veggies, on some meats, added to some soup or sauces, or whatever - sure thing. It'll be just my own, my lovely bride didn't seem interested and my kids weren't entirely up to the adventure.

Just a couple bucks for the lil tub. Worth a pickup. Didn't seem demonstrably different from similar condiments I've scored at Asian groceries around here, but I'll admit I'm not 100% attuned to its authenticity. I'll save that for cheesesteaks, but you know what? Innovation is just fine, if there's a good outcome. Still not sure about the bean sprouts, though.

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

Monday, September 19, 2022

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Beer

I was beginning to think this stuff didn't exist. I mean, sure, the internet is full of hundreds of pictures, reviews, and opinions about it, but every time the beautiful wifey or I tried to procure some at our friendly neighborhood TJ's store, it "wasn't in stock" or it "wasn't in season." It seemed like a cruel trick being perpetrated by Trader Joe's corporate offices, the friendly clerks at each and every location we stopped at, and even the online food and beverage reviewing community.

Either they finally all agreed that the joke was wearing thin and decided to brew the stuff for real just to gaslight me further or we finally just got lucky and wound up at the right place at the right time to get some. I'm not sure which. Occam's razor would suggest the latter case is true rather than the former, but reductionalistic logic has its weaknesses too, you know. I digress.

I love cookie butter and all its many wonderful derivative products. I also love beer. How could I not love cookie butter beer? Pumpkin ales have their place, but there's something autumnal about speculoos spices that seem equally appropriate for this time of year, and I think I'd lean toward something like this over virtually any pumpkin ale or even Oktoberfest beer I've ever had. This is much sweeter and more dessert-ish than any typical ale, so the comparison is really apples and oranges, but nevertheless—this is my new favorite fall beer. I consumed it this past weekend while watching my Nittany Lions beat the Auburn Tigers for the second year in a row, and I enjoyed every sip of it.

The can mentions vanilla beans and toasted coconut. Vanilla is there, yes. Coconut? Hmm. Well, I'm not saying they didn't use coconut flavors. But I don't think cookie butter tastes like coconut and I can only taste coconut in this beer if I really use my imagination. There's a good bit of cookie butter spice flavor, namely cinnamon and nutmeg. Overall, it's a light, smooth taste that's refreshing and satisfying. It's definitely a beer, though, in both texture and flavor. It's not like an alcoholic milkshake or a super sugary liqueur.

The can says to pour it into a stemmed beer glass. That's technically a red wine glass in the pic, but it's got a large round bowl and I think it opened up the flavor of the beer nicely. Also it looks fancy.

At 9.5% ABV, it's on the stiffer end of beers. I think I've had wines with lower alcohol content. It's $15 for four 16 oz cans. Apparently this is the first iteration of the beverage in aluminum cans. It's been available exclusively as a $6 glass pint bottle for the past two years or so. Definitely not the cheapest brew at Trader Joe's, but worthy of a purchase or two in our opinions. Four stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Trader Joe's Salted Maple Ice Cream

Here's the annual reminder that maple shouldn't really be considered a fall flavor. I mean, sure, I get it, maple and maple leaves falling and all that, but maple season is really late winter to early spring when the that magical maple season really is. That's when the sap freely flows and boils down to the delicious syrupy sweet gift from God that is maple. 

Not really gonna complain. Y'all take all the pumpkin spice anything you want, gimme maple any time, any day. 

And now...there's Trader Joe's Salted Maple Ice Cream. 

Oh man. Not gonna lie: it's pretty awesomely terrific. Love a good maple ice cream, like the creamees you can get up in Vermont. Like those, this TJ's offering is soft and creamy, which only adds to the overall richness. The base itself is is very amply maply, with a small touch of sea salt to even kick it a little further up. In our pint, which did not photograph well, there was also a small vein of concentrated maple/salt concoction that chugged it into another gear. 

Every bite is soft, smooth, decadent, sweet, maply and delicious. Almost no complaints at all. 

Except...well...there's an error of omission here. There's just something needed, for a little texture perhaps, something to kinda ground the overall richness. A little something earthy, perhaps. Pecans would be a great choice, but I'd accept small walnut bits, too. It's just that little extra something that's needed to really bring it home. 

Regardless, my lovely bride and I had no issue polishing off a pint in about five minutes, and we'd definitely pick it up again. For $3.49 a carton, it's not a bad price either. Check out the ingredients and nutritional info here. Fantastic, and oh so close to perfect, any time of the year.

Bottom line; Trader Joe's Salted Maple Ice Cream: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Trader Joe's Organic Tahini

Some dudes brew their own beer. Others have mastered the art of baking sourdough bread or dehydrating jerky at home. I myself have done none of those things.

But I just made my own hummus. <pats self on back> I'm probably a little prouder than I should be about that fact, since you could probably train a monkey to do it. It's surprisingly easy.

Goodness knows we have enough cans of chickpeas stocked up in the pantry. And if we can keep a few jars of tahini on hand, we'll never be without hummus. Now if only I knew how to bake pita bread...

Tahini is quite tasty in and of itself. It's pretty much just sesame seed butter, similar to peanut butter or almond butter but significantly runnier and maybe a hint more oily. It's super earthy and bitter by itself, but it's such a delicious bitterness—like a rich nutty blast of seedy goodness. Mixed with other yummy things, it's even better. Here, I'll share my recipe with you, which is really just an amalgam of the first half dozen hummus recipes I found online, modified based on which ingredients we actually had on hand around the house:


-1 part mashed garbanzo beans
-1 part Trader Joe's Organic Tahini
-1/8 part olive oil
-as much raw garlic as you can stand (that stuff is good for you) chopped as finely as you can chop it
-lemon juice to taste
-cayenne pepper to taste
-pink Himalayan salt to taste

I mashed the chickpeas with a fork and then just mixed everything together in the same manner, although you could do either or both in a blender if you wanted a very smooth hummus. I wanted it chunky style, and that's what I got.


The wifey and I consumed it with pita chips, and we both agreed it was a success. My version was not only chunkier than any store-bought hummus I've ever sampled, but it was also a little drier and a lot more garlicky. For my next trick, I'm going to make salad dressing with tahini, orange juice, and dijon mustard...wish me luck.

$3.69 for the 10.6 oz jar. Product of Greece. Organic. Kosher. Would buy again. Four stars from Sonia. Four and a half from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Trader Joe's Brussels Sprouts & Uncured Bacon Ravioli

 

There's nary a veggie our family doesn't love. Our twice a week Costco bill surely validates that. The only veggie I remain fairly wary of would be a kohlrabi, just because it looks too much like something I should yank from the ground and toss at a Shy Guy or Ostro a la Super Mario 2....that game frustrated me too much as a kid, and even in recent years, trying to show my kids how "awesome" it was. I don't need memories of my 8 bit trauma on my dinner plate. 

But yeah, even Brussels sprouts make the cut here. Love 'em in all varieties of ways, but mixin' 'em with bacon makes 'em even better. So, totes obvi, Trader Joe's Brussels Sprouts & Uncured Bacon Ravioli was a must get once they popped up in store. 

You gotta really like bacon to like these pasta creations. Yes, the ravioli is green as it has some spinach powder added to try to amp up the sprout factor. Maybe it's supposed to look like some sort of cruciferous concoction. But really....take a bite. It's bacon! So much of it, all ground up and mixed in with some not too chunky Brussels, and a smattering of cheese sauce-ish base. The package also says caramelized onions, and yeah, if I tried hard enough, I could kinda taste them...but mostly, it was bacon and soft cheese with only the occasional fibrous lil chunkie that suggested vegetative content. 

In other words, you're gonna want some veggies on the side here, folks. 

Nonetheless, it was a quick, tasty, fun meal. All we did was boil them up which took no time as they're sold fresh, then we added a little oil. The kids sprinkled (or in the case of our seven year old, totally cakked them) with Parmesan cheese, whereas I was pretty content to eat them as is. The ravioli would probably do okay with a variety of sauces, but perhaps a lighter one would be suggested - I feel as though some taste would get lost in something too creamy, too heavy or too rich. 

$3.99 for a package that yield two pretty ample servings. That seems about right, with prices what they are these days.  Two packages were more than enough four crew. These will be a staple for a quick, easy, fairly delish family meal this fall. Double fours here. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Brussels Sprouts & Uncured Bacon Ravioli: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, September 9, 2022

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookie Mix

Inside sources tell me this cookie mix will be returning to Trader Joe's shelves once again this fall, probably in a matter of days or weeks, so if you were on the fence about purchasing it last year and want to make a more informed decision, this blog post probably won't help you in any way, because I'm still on the fence about it even after purchasing it and making the cookies.

The baking instructions are straightforward enough. Just add butter, water, and an egg to the mix, stir, and bake for a quarter hour at 350°F. They recommend making 24 little balls to place on parchment paper, but we wound up with more like 18.

The cookies came out somewhat crispy around the edges but nice and soft in the middle, the chocolate chunks slightly molten and gooey. There's a chewy, oatmealy essence about the texture, too.

Flavor-wise, they also taste like oatmeal, but you can taste the brown sugar, cinnamon, and other pumpkin spices faintly. I perused a few other reviews of these cookies online and found numerous people stating that theirs were overwhelmingly gingery.


I don't find that with our batch at all. I've often complained about certain products at TJ's having way too much raw ginger flavor that overpowers everything else. With these cookies, I wouldn't mind a tad more ginger, to be honest.

Both Sonia and I are more than happy with the amount of chocolate chunks here. The cookies are plenty sweet overall, too. The dried pumpkin and spices could be a shade more potent, as the chocolate tends to overshadow them. Sonia likes the cookies topped with vanilla ice cream to balance out the chocolate content. I prefer to just wash them down with some cold milk.


$3.99 for the mix. All in all, not a terrible autumn dessert product. Four stars from Sonia. I think she would lean towards saying she'd repurchase them, but in reality will never get around to it because there are way too many other brand new fall items to try (or will be soon). I'll just say I'd eat a few of these cookies again if they were placed in front of me, but I would not seek them out. Three stars from me on Trader Joe's Pumpkin Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookie Mix.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Trader Joe's Loaded Potatoes

 Meat and potatoes. Potatoes and meat. Classic pairing, often done in various forms, almost always tasty and tough to argue with, and comes thru in a pinch. 

Please pardon the partially crinkled box of Trader Joe's Loaded Potatoes we have for this post's model. It had been lurking in the bottom of our freezer for who knows how long - few weeks minimum,  maximum of...well....I don't know. 

What I do know is the final form of this product doesn't look much like the box pic. In my state of heightened crankiness and bad hangritude (that's be hungry/angry/attitude all in one) I totally neglected to take a pic. Just imagine bigger, more starkly white potato chunks, without nearly as much sauce to cover and immerse. The pic almost looks like a tasty homemade concoction, whereas the real deal was pretty adamant it was, in fact, a freezer one. 

But no mind. It's meat and potatoes! So it's almost by default tasty. A little ground beef, a handful of tomatoes and scallions, almost enough creamy cheese sauce (nothing fancy, it's a mozz and cheddar combo with cream), coupla jalapenos and boom. Nothing fancy, and something almost like what I'd make as a 'Dad meal" from whatever I had in the kitchen. Except....no work involved. Just nuking a tray for eight-plus minutes. I'm not sure if that's a weak microwave we have or if we just had a radiation resistant batch, as directions call for five but was cold enough when pulled out that my lovely bride had to spit out her initial bite. 

What did this cost? $3? $4? Something like that. It's really not big enough to share, but is somewhat nutritionally advantageous to do so. Get some veggies on the side to fill in, as man, this wasn't close to enough. But it was tasty. Another serving idea: heat some up then scramble in a couple eggs to make some sort of cheesy breakfast kinda hash. I'm positive that'd work and be more filling too. there's not much spice to be had here, so if hot sauce is normally your kinda thing, you'll want some on hand. 

Not amazingly awesome, but not bad at all either. Meat and potatoes. Always dependable. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Loaded Potatoes: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, September 2, 2022

Trader Joe's Agrodolce

Agrodolce means "sweet and sour" in Italian, or more accurately, "sour and sweet." Agro = sour, dolce = sweet. Makes sense. It's nothing but grape must, which is simply a sugary reduction of the fruit, and white wine vinegar, which has a tart flavor.

The concoction is completely clear with an amber tinge. Folks apparently use it as a salad dressing, among other things. Just so happens we've got a freshly-made bean salad on hand with garbanzos, onions, and cucumbers. I think that'll be ground zero for our agrodolce experimentation.

Verdict: it works...particularly with the flavor of onions, but on the whole I think it's too sweet for this kind of salad. As a dressing, I could see it work in place of a berry balsamic on a chicken and fruit salad or something along those lines—like the topping for a Waldorf salad.

It coats like cooking oil, is almost as thick, and is at least as smooth. It's nearly invisible once applied to food. The yellow-orange hue isn't apparent except in the bottle.

"This is a very interesting condiment," remarked Sonia upon her first taste. Immediately, her culinary instincts kicked in and a little light bulb appeared over her head. She grabbed some mayo from the fridge and began swirling it around in a little bowl with a couple tablespoons of this agrodolce. I wasn't quite sure where she was going with it, but I knew better than to question her or to interrupt the process.


About a half hour later, we were dining on scrumptious pan-seared chicken breast with a makeshift aioli sauce made with nothing but regular old mayonnaise and Trader Joe's Agrodolce. I think the wifey seasoned the chicken a bit, too. But that aioli is what made it memorable. Kudos to Sonia.

$5.99 for 8.5 fl oz. Product of Italy. Not sure how quickly we'll go through the little bottle and not even sure if we'd pick it up again but absolutely glad we tried it. It's a tad pricey for just a few ounces of a condiment, although the quality of the product is hard to call into question. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.