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Friday, September 30, 2022

Trader Joe's Caramel Apple Mochi


I'm guessing during times of great economic strain there's not a lot of demand for food criticism—you know, like during the Great Depression and such. Any "problems" I have with the foods I'm reviewing here or anywhere else will suddenly seem completely irrelevant and inconsequential if we return to a time of stock losses, bear markets, high unemployment, and nutritional scarcity. I'm thinking food critics won't be counted as essential in any way, shape, or form and most food review blogs will fade away and eventually vanish altogether.

Some might say we're headed that way right now. But as long as we suburbanite middle-class Americans can keep our normalcy bias goggles on super tight, we'll keep overanalyzing pre-packaged "organic junk food" or, in this case, an odd fusion of a classic all-American flavor in a Japanese-American mochi ice cream format.


An initial observation: this is the first mochi I've personally seen from Trader Joe's that comes individually packaged. Each mochi ball comes in its own little cellophane wrapper. Previous mochi iterations have all come in an egg-carton sort of plastic tray with six indentations, one for each piece, all wrapped in one big cellophane bag. There are obvious advantages to having each one individually wrapped, but there might also be some disadvantages, too. I won't dwell on that issue too much.

The light brown rice-based shell is pretty much par for the course. It's soft, stretchy and dusted with a starchy powder. There's not much flavor in the outer shell. It just holds the ice cream where it belongs.

And the ice cream here is decent. Visually, it's not much different from plain vanilla, but it flaunts a good balance of both apple flavor and caramel flavor. It's nice and creamy, sweet, smooth. But Sonia and I both detected something...just slightly off-putting about the caramel aspect of it in particular. We both felt like it tasted artificial somehow. We were both wishing they'd put a glob of pure caramel in the middle of apple flavored ice cream, similar to the saucy mocha center we saw in the coffee mochi some six years ago.

But there is real apple in the ice cream, and you can taste it. I almost wish they'd simply done apple mochi or maybe apple cinnamon rather than caramel. But again, all these complaints are silly in the end. This is a fine product, all things considered, and I'm blessed to have been able to try it.

It's been a long time since I first had mochi, but there's still something novel about eating ice cream with your hands. I'll definitely buy Trader Joe's mochi again in the future, but not sure if this flavor would be my first choice. Apparently, this product is already done for the season. Sheesh, can't you keep a product around for two weeks, Trader Joe's? I'm sure it'll be back next year for those of you who want to try it...

$4.79 for six pieces of mochi. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

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.

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

Friday, July 29, 2022

Trader Joe's Mini Meyer Lemon Biscotti


Trader Joe's will make a coffee drinker out of me yet if they keep putting out delicious flavors of biscotti. Apparently, this one's been around for a while. Not sure why it took us so long to actually purchase it, but here are our thoughts...

Very hard. They really need to be paired with coffee. I suppose tea or hot chocolate might work, too, but they have to have a hot beverage to really permeate their inner layers. I tried a couple with cold milk and it just didn't work. I mean, flavor-wise it was fine, but the biscotti were still too hard.


Like Sonia, I think most people will be perfectly happy with how lemony these biscotti are. I, however, always want more lemon flavor—or in this case Meyer lemon flavor—in pretty much everything. Still, there's a respectable amount of lemon, which I appreciate. I can't tell whether the zig-zaggy icing is lemon flavored as well or if it's just sugary sweet. I suppose it's there more for the visuals than any actual flavor.

The miniature size is fun and convenient. They're still long enough to get pretty far down into your coffee mug, and their texture is just about perfect once they've sopped up a bunch of warm java—almost like a fresh-baked cookie, but wetter.


$3.99 for 16 miniature sticks of biscotti, which apparently equals eight servings. We'd probably buy again. Four stars from the beautiful wifey. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.