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Showing posts with label not so great. Show all posts
Showing posts with label not so great. Show all posts

Monday, October 24, 2022

Trader Joe's Organic Maple Vinaigrette Dressing

Truth be told, I wasn't super excited to pour this stuff on a salad and consume it. Intrigued? Yes. Eager? No. If not for the prospect of reviewing it, I might not have purchased it at all.

I mean, I love maple syrup and generally enjoy maple-flavored things. I also love vinaigrette salad dressings. But together? That's an odd combo if you ask me...but not so odd that I'd avoid it altogether.

With a new, iffy salad dressing, you don't want to dump a bunch of it on your greens and beans and potentially ruin the whole bowl if you're not into the dressing. You have to do that thing like when you're trying a new cleaning product on your carpet where you have to "test in an inconspicuous area" in case it's a disaster. So I just poured a teeny little bit on one corner of my salad to assess the product.

And I'm glad I did it that way. I might have wasted a bunch of salad otherwise, because this stuff is gross. Like, it's the worst salad dressing I've ever had. You'd be better off putting household cleaning vinegar and raw tree sap on a salad.

Not only did the maple and vinaigrette elements commingle and clash in exactly the way I was hoping they wouldn't, there was also this unexpected smoky element that made the whole thing nearly gag-worthy. Maybe the dijon mustard? Canola oil? It poured like a medium-thick brown ooze, similar in appearance to a peanut satay sauce but perhaps a tad thinner. Not particularly appetizing.

I'd try it as a marinade for salmon or a drizzle for ravioli as suggested on traderjoes.com but I can't imagine it working better than something more traditional. I'm taking this one straight to Trader Joe's and getting my $3.49 back. Thumbs down from me.

Sonia tolerated it a lot better than I did, but even she admitted it had "a very weird flavor." She's not going to fight me on the return because she knows I won't help her finish the bottle. Two and a half stars from her.

I'll throw out one since I like it when Trader Joe's gets adventurous, and it is certified organic after all.

Bottom line: 3.5 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

Friday, July 22, 2022

Trader Joe's Layered Beef Tostada


 Fast food cravings are pretty infrequent these days. 

Chick-Fil-A? Maybe once every couple months, and somehow, somewhat ironically, mostly on a random Sunday. Wendy's? About on the same schedule, but also rarely/ The fabled golden arches, or as my four year old likes to say, "Mick-ell-Donnells'? Maybe once a year, if only for a breakfast sando, or if the kids are hangry on a road trip, I'll consider. 

Taco Bell? Practically never...like once a decade...which is a lot more often than Burger King...but anyways....

If I were more of a Taco Bell fiend, I'd likely be more familiar with the "Mexican pizza" that's not on the menu rotation any longer from what I gather, and that the new Trader Joe's Layered Beef Tostada at least somewhat emulates and may serve as a somewhat suitable replacement for. 

Where do we start with this near disaster, though?

First, I guess, the basics. There's a beef and bean paste-like substance sandwiched between two tortillas that serve as the base of this offering. It's bland and nondescript without anything to it. Atop the top tortilla, there's a handful of cheedar cheese, some diced poblanos, sliced black olives and green onions all kinda haphazardly strewn about. It's as sloppy looking as once can imagine.

No matter, bake it up and it'll taste great, right? Well...no. Everything (and I mean everything) is pretty much devoid of anything resembling flavor. It's...so uninspirational. Just tastes like soggy cardboard. Oh, there's the word, soggy. Baked up at 425 for slightly longer than the recommended 18 minutes, it's still a wet, jumbled, not crispy or crunchy anything. It's a soggy jumbled mess. 

How can something go so wrong? Poblanos (or perhaps more aptly, poblandos) just aren't a pepper worth featuring in a dish. In a school play, they'd be a tree, not Snow White or one of the dwarves. And everything else just doesn't have anything to make up the slack. There's no spice, ni pizzazz, no flavor...just bland mush. Which, come to think of it, is exactly how I consider most of my Taco Bell experiences to be, so perhaps this is the perfect pizza to compare them with. 

If I were to ever eat this again, i'd need to bake longer and load up on some salsa or some sauces or something. But more likely than not, I'm just gonna skip it from here on out. 

My lovely bride was a touch more forgiving and said she'd try again as part of a snack or something. But she shared much of the same observations, so good to know it wasn't just me. 

So disappointing. It's an airball that shoulda been a slam dunk. Awful stuff. Just skip it, and hopefully that freezer aisle real estate can be reallocated soon enough to something much more worthwhile. One spoon from me, two from the Mrs.

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


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Trader Joe's Cashew Butter Cashews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Trader Joe's Papadums

Ever kinda bite your tongue and try to hold back because you know whatever you have to say is gonna be unpopular but you kinda have to say it anyways.

That's where I am when it comes to Trader Joe's Papadums, with one key exception: I'm biting my fingers, not tongue, cuz I have to type this all out instead of just saying it, hoping it goes unnoticed. 

I......do not like the TJ's papadums. Not at all. 

This is completely contrary to every other opinion I've seen on them online. I kinda get it. The idea behind them is wonderful. From what I can tell, papadums are a traditional Indian snack, with some variation, but a lot are crispy, crunchy, crackery chiplike guys made from lentils and chickpeas. Texturally, they're a lot like sweet potato tortilla chips. So far, so good. Flavorwise, there's not much except the natural lentil and chickpea flavor, with a small dash of cumin and salt. Again, we're off to a good start here...

...it's just...

...there's something about the taste. Upfront there's no offensive or wrong, but after a crisp or two, the flavor "turns." I don't know how else to describe it, but it changes from a pleasant earthy crispy crisp to something I can only liken to dirt. Just...gross dirt. Like dried up, bottom of the soccer cleat kinda stuff. No, I don't actually know what that tastes like. But it's just so off-putting.

I tried, really, I did. I ate multiple papadums in multiple sittings, just to see if it was my mood or something else. Nope. Each bite was worse. Can't take them any more. 

Now, sure, I'm sure some of you will say you had to try them with a dip. I'm sure that'd cover up some of their unpleasantness. But to me, for a product to be good, it has to stand independent from anything else, and not be reliant on something else to make up for what it lacks. That's not where I am here with these.

I don't know, maybe this papa is dumb for not liking the papadums. Everyone else does, including my lovely bride, so that means more for you all I suppose. Enjoy for me, I'm gonna be sitting these out from here on out. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Papadums: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons
 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Trader Joe's Cold Pressed Avocado Smoothie


 "Ugh. Enjoy your salad dressing drink."

So sayeth my lovely bride. As if I wasn't already somewhat apprehensive enough about giving Trader Joe's Cold Pressed Cucumber Avocado Smoothie a try, though in retrospect, drinkable salad dressing does sound more appealing than gulpabe guacamole, though maybe only slightly. 

I like healthy things, generally, and using something like a banana as base for a smoothie like this sounds perfectly appealing. But...avocado? That throws off everything. 

Texturewise, it works, even better than expected once realized that cucumber was the base liquid. That took an extra second or two, but cucumbers are like mostly water, right? So it should work, and it does, albeit with definitely a lot of cucumber taste - believe it or not, right? There's enough other stuff to fill out the drink, like mango and spinach, that make the avocado literally blend right in. It's almost not noticeable except as a thickening agent and slight flavor contributor, emphasis on slight.

What IS noticeable is the lime. I mean, holy guacamole. Add a little touch of salt or spice and this would be practically a watery guacamole, with extra lime. It's so limey that the risk of scurvy probably just got kicked ten years down the road. If you don't *love* limes, this won't be for you. It's lime city, baby. There's a whole lime in here, and it tastes more like a whole grove.

There is a little sweetness which I presume would be the cherries, as it's not quite of the mangolicious persuasion. It..kinda works but kinda clashes with the overt citrus overload at the same time. And ginger? Not really there but seems more of an aftertaste, which is too bad as perhaps it'd be the ginger that pulls and keeps everything together.

In all, it's an okay drink. I'll definitely be full for the next couple hours. For what it is, and prices these days, it's not awful at somewhere in the $3 to $4 range. That being said, not sure I'd get it again. Too weird as a drink. Maybe more as a sald dressing would be the right idea. Apparently, according to my wife, there's some chatter elsewhere on the web that using this on chicken is pretty good? Maybe that'd work, I dunno. 

Double threes sounds two high, double two too low, so one of each.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cold Pressed Avocado Smoothie: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Trader Joe's Cacio e Pepe Ravioli

 


For whatever reason, I've found myself watching a lot of Gordon Ramsey snippets recently, like little three or four minute blurbs from Kitchen Nightmares or whatever. Don't know why, but man, watching and listening to him rip and bleep something apart is so satisfying on some level at times. 

If at a subpar Italian restaurant that was likely to be visited by good ol' Chef Ramsey, if some Italian cheese and pepper stuffed pasta was on the menu, I'd suspect it'd be a lot like Trader Joe's Cacio e Pepe Ravioli.


Is it fair to compare a frozen prepared product to a dining out dinner? No, probably not...except when other TJ's products have risen to the occasion it's been pointed out, so here's the flip side. 

This...just isn't good ravioli. The noodles are limp, soggy and bland even by a noodle standard. There's nothing to them, at all. Just tasteless and there, and barely contain the namesake filling. The cheese tastes okay - mild, a touch tangy - with a nice little dose of pepper to season it up, but it's also kinda gritty and not as creamy as hoped. The end result is kinda a letdown. 


Ramsey would be tearing this up, bleeping up a storm, maybe some crack about diapers, and storm back to the kitchen or have the server dump them in the trash. Good thing he wasn't at my table the other day when I served 'em up, because even when it's not that great, that's not something we do in my house. I'd have to put his butt in timeout. 

But yeah...subpar, even by frozen pasta standards, Perhaps a little included sauce packet could help liven it up. As is, it's take a bite and shrug. Just meh to not quite blah. DOuble twos here. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cacio e Pepe Ravioli: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Trader Joe's Cheeseburger Burrito

 

I've always had a dicey relationship with condiments. Whereas barbeque sauce, hot sauce and salsa generally get a free pass, others are generally a nope when given the option. Mayo? Hard no. Mustard? Well, okay, maybe sometimes, but usually no. And ketchup? No. No no no. Hate that stuff. Even as a kid, even now as I'm approaching 40. Can't stand it, and don't even think of shaking a ketchup bottle near me. 

See the key words though? "When given the option"? Essentially....on the rare occasions I'd grab a fast food burger and one of those condiments is a default topping, I'll just for it and eat it. I'd never subtract them, yet never add them either. Make any sense? No, not at all. But such as it is. 

So, with Trader Joe's Cheeseburger Burrito, at first glance I was relieved to not see any of those aforementioned sauces as present. I can handle an okay relish, maybe. But then, in the ingredients, they there were, lurking. Mustard. Mayo. Ketchup. And unfortunately not in little side packets I could skimp out on. 

As it is, that unholy trinity is melded all together into some somewhat oily, creamy, sweet, vinegary, tangy, oddball sauce that's not distinctly different from the melted cheddar cheese. it's just all mixed up and, to my taste, just isn't that delicious. It's...just kinda like glop. With the pickles and onions, the end result isn't all that much different than a fastfood burger - maybe slightly more towards Wendy's than McD's - but in all it's kinda a mess of a sauce. 

As for the beef? Here's some further crumbling. Ha, get it, because it's "beef crumbles? A singular oblong patty or two would have been a better choice, except I'd guess that'd veer everything more towards snack wrap than burrito...but anyways. There's enough meat in here for sure. Not any skimpage, which is always appreciated. But there's also not really enough to get a full handle on the quality. It's not like mushy el cheapo carne, but instead is...chewy? A touch rubbery? A bite more to the bite than expected? Sure, it tastes fine enough, but also just doesn't quite have the right feel. 

All together, the TJ's cheeseburger burrito makes an okay grab, if burgers that try to outplay their hand are your kinda thing. Not delicious, not awful, maybe could use another little something, or maybe less of those pesky condimental conglomeration...and yeah, it's a nutritional abomination. Whatcha gonna do? I'm not 100% on the price but I figure is in the $4ish range. My lovely bride saw it and kindly noped her way out - all this "trying to not garbage" nonsense she's always talking to me about. Likely the burgerito won't be another pickup for me. Thanks, though, to Debi at the Pittsburgh North Hills TJ's for suggesting giving it a try when asked about anything new in this particularly slow time of year for new TJ's stuff. You're always appreciated! This particular thing, not so much. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cheeseburger Burrito: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Thursday, December 23, 2021

Trader Joe's Hot Cocoa Ornaments


Well these look fun. Clearly each pack of hot cocoa mix comes in a plastic ornament you can put on your tree after you empty out the cocoa mix. Wait. What? You put the whole thing in your milk and let it dissolve like hot chocolate bombs? They're too big. They'll never fit.

Fortunately, Sonia has an oversized coffee mug that reads "I'm not a morning person." She's not. It's true. Ah, good. The ornament fits in there. And I'll let you know as an aside: these would have just barely fit into any of our normal size mugs too, however, I'm not sure if there would have been any room left for milk.

So first we nuked a bunch of milk and got it nice and piping hot. Second, we dropped in the ornament. Nearly immediately, the gold coloring from the ornament began to melt off and slide onto the surface of the milk like a metallic oil slick—reminiscent of the One Ring dissipating in the lava flows of Mount Doom, or if you prefer a different nerdtacular film reference: the T1000 destruction sequence at the end of T2 featured some nearly identical shots to what I saw going on in my mug of milk, but with Trader Joe's Hot Cocoa Ornaments maybe making fewer scary faces than the liquid metal terminator.


After about 30 seconds, there were a few puffs of air from the ornament, bubbles from its underside, and an audible "pfft" or two. At one point, the ornament let out a gasp so violent that a bit of scalding hot milk jumped out of the mug and landed on my hand. Ouch. Anybody else? Maybe we should organize a class action lawsuit against TJ's. Just kidding. It's the holidays. And as much as it burned for a second, I don't think I'd be able to prove damages in court.

After a few big bubbly emissions, the ornament capsized and succumbed to the milky recesses of the very large mug. I waited, eagerly anticipating the arrival of fluffy, buoyant mini marshmallows... waited... waited. But they never came. I grabbed a spoon and began stirring, dredging the bottom of the mug for any sign of my missing marshies. All I found were a couple wads of thick semi-melted, syrupy chocolate. What happened? I guess my milk was too hot and the marshmallows dissolved before even floating to the surface..?


The taste is like a very sweet milk chocolate hot chocolate. There's nothing dark about it. Practically no mint flavor at all. It leaves a funny aftertaste, too. Some of you might remember how I feel about pork gelatin. We've got that going on here too. Nothing like a bit of pork in your Christmas cocoa.

$6.99 for four ornaments. They really do look and feel like real plastic Christmas tree ornaments. Unfortunately, neither Sonia nor I were blown away by any other aspects of the product. Would not buy again. We'll be a little grinchy and throw out only two and a half stars a piece.

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Trader Joe's Sparkling Pomegranate Punch Beverage

 


Let's all go back to middle school real quick for a dab of eight grade grammar.

Homonyms: words pronounced the same, with different meanings, whether spelled the same or not. Like "to bear arms" versus "two bear arms." Peace and piece. Band and banned. So on and so forth.

The concept is relevant here with Trader Joe's Sparkling Pomegranate Punch Beverage. See, there's the word "punch", and it's presence and prominence, along with he possibly redundant word "beverage" afterwards, led me to believe that this particular potable would pack a potent pomegranate punch. Pomegranates seeds are delicious! That sour/sweet, kinda tart taste, in a cool canned convenient form? Yes please!

Sadly, thats not really really the case. Sure, it kinda tastes like pomegranate, but just as much if not more like the other mixed in flavors - pineapple, apple, orange, even ginger. Really, the pomegranate doesn't pack a punch...it's instead part of a punch. 


Tasty? Sure. My lovely bride made the offhand comment that it tasted like Hawaiian Punch but quickly backtracked the statement - it's got a similarish vibe, sure, but not nearly as sickly sweet. It's a little classier, with a little fizz of course, but there's not the sour or tart notes I'd be hoping for to reel in the sweetness even further. So it's good but not pomegranate-y enough.

The four pack of mini cans set us back about $4. Not an mazing value but not a ripoff either. I'd file this as a possible rebuy, as we do enjoy variety in or beverage rotation here, but I'm squarely in the middle to a little disappointed here, as is my lovely bride. Let's call it double twos. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sparkling Pomegranate Punch Beverage: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Wednesday, September 8, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Who's doing the mocking though?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Trader Joe's Instant Cold Brew Coffee

Coffee demands honesty, so let's just get right to it:

Is there any truthful way I can persuade you that Trader Joe's Instant Cold Brew Coffee is, somehow, miraculously, an an actual legitimately good coffee option that'd make you want to either skip the drive thru, walk by the neighborhood shop or stash away your Mason jars and clear that shelf in your fridge?

HAHAHAHAHAHA. No way. 

It's not great coffee, by any stretch. To complicate things, it's not like there's an actual, tried and true recipe for success here. It's: grab a spoon, throw a scoopful-ish into 12oz of cold water, stir, sip. Too weak? Add more coffee. Too strong? Add more water. Sip. Repeat as necessary. I mean, sure, that's a way to do things, but when I'm tired and in a rush that necessitates resorting to instant friggerin' coffee, I have neither the time no the mental facilities to go full out Bill Nye and experiment my way into something resembling a passable cuppa joe. And pardon me for assuming, but that's likely a statement we'd share. Reliable, decent coffee is what we want and demand, and while there's probably a way to figure out how to make one with this particular cannister of powder, is it really worth the effort? 

I will give it this, though. I am somewhat of a cold brew snob. Why add to these hot, humid summer by swallowing down a steaming cup of coffee? Ugh. Many cold brews I have tasted, whether from a shop, a chain, or a prepackaged type deal, have had this unnecessarily bittersweet bite. Some even taste like tin. Yuck. The TJ's instant cold brew possesses none of that. It's just plain ol' boring coffee, kinda earthy and flat. But not flat earthy cuz that's just weird.  It lacks much of any description and is neither bold nor weak, neither sweet nor overly bitter, neither here nor there. I mean, it's not like that great cup of nitro cold brew from the neighborhood coffee shop, but it's not dirt and water either. It's just coffee, admittedly closer to Sanka than Starbucks, but still. Doctoring it up with cream and sweeteners may help if you're into that kinda thing. I'm not, so your mileage may vary. 

I'll keep it stashed away at my work desk, because if there's a true affront to coffee here, it's the work pot. Yikes. Need a change up every once in a while and this, not entirely unfortunately, will have to do. My lovely bride isn't going to bother with it and I don't blame her. I'll be nice and not completely trash the coffee - I mean, it is instant coffee, it's not like those Arabica beans chose this destiny for themselves, I'm not gonna hate on their existence, and at the end they still give me caffeine. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Instant Cold Brew Coffee: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons


 


Monday, May 24, 2021

Trader Joe's Carne Asada Burritos


A lot of my gringo friends think I must be eating things like tacos, nachos, and carne asada burritos on the regular since I'm married to a Latina of Mexican descent. While I am treated to an authentic dish from time to time, courtesy of the beautiful wifey or possibly her mom, it's usually a dish native to southern Mexico, specifically the state of Oaxaca. We're talking stuff like salsa de queso and tlayuda topped with quesillo cheese. Yum.

While similar to the cuisine of northern Mexico, the food my wife's family makes only occasionally contains red meat and is virtually never presented in a burrito-type format. All that to say, we're not really carne asada burrito experts or connoisseurs, although living in Los Angeles for seven years and thirty-one years, respectively, might mean we've had more decent Mexican food than the average American. If I have only one good thing to say about SoCal, it's that there's plenty of well-above-par Mexican at surprisingly affordable prices, if you know where to look.


After resisting the urge to heat the burritos in the air fryer, I opted for the oven. 20 minutes at 450 degrees as per the heating instructions yielded a warm outer shell and a nearly-still-frozen center. So I continued heating.

Another ten minutes at 450 seemed to do the trick. I tried the burrito plain at first. The meat was a little gristly. If I'm going to eat beef, I prefer it ground. If it's steak or carne asada, I'm not a big fan of wads of fat and sinewy textures. There was definitely a bit of that here. If you don't mind your meat a tad chewy, at least I can tell you there's plenty of it—at least one or two chunks of carne in every bite. 

Taste-wise, the blend of onions, chiles, and cilantro was underwhelming. There's a very mild heat and just a moderate amount of extra savory flavors. The product needed cheese, salsa, and sour cream to be truly palatable for either of us.


In the end, we each finished our burrito in one sitting, but we wound up giving any beef chunks that floated out of the crispy shell to the dogs, who didn't mind the bit of gristle at all.

$4.99 for two burritos. Two stars a piece on this one. Not a repeat purchase.

Bottom line: 4 out of 10.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Trader Joe's Mini Coffee Bean Hold the Cone! Ice Cream Cones

There's pluses and minuses to being an adult. 

Here's a plus: No more having to go school!

Here's a minus: If you have kids, you have to relive all those years again. *Cannot wait* for my kids to be in middle school. Insert eye roll. 

Another plus: You'll have your own money!

Minus: You'll be responsible when things like the 106 year old cast iron stack pipe at your house finally crack and spring a horizontal geyser like Old Faithful. 

Plus: You can do whatever you want!

Minus: You can't do whatever you want!

One last plus: if you wanna eat ice cream for lunch, go right ahead. 

And minus: You'll know enough to know when the ice cream just isn't that particularly good, which kinda puts a damper on the whole affair. 

Sigh. Is what it is, my chosen adult mantra, when it comes to Trader Joe's Mini Coffee Bean Hold the Cone! Ice Cream Cones. 

Usually, us adults in my house like TJ's ice cream and love coffee ice cream. this really should be a slam dunk here. Like, how can this possibly get messed up?

Oddly enough, the answer is easily enough. First: the mouthfeel. This ice cream is bizarre...like it's almost more gummy  than anything else. Cold and creamy, sure...but there's a certain not-right bite to it that's almost chewy. If it had some mochi in it, well, okay, then, sure, but this is purported to be straight up ice cream, and it's just not. It's weird. 

But wait, there's more! Thanks Billy Mays! the taste just really isn't there either for the coffee. Looking critically at this, I think iIcan see why. it's a mini cone, so not so much ice cream - realistically we're looking at a few spoonfuls max per cone here. that's not a lot of really get a flavor going, especially when the vast majority of the ice cream is in close quarters to either the chocolate coating or cone or both. For it to work, the coffee flavor needs to be bold but it's just not, and it's not even just me saying it - it's my lovely bride as well. The ice cream is just kinda tan and bland. 

There you have it. Not quite good ice cream. Dashed desires, emptied expectations, floundered feelings...yup. Just gonna acknowledge it and hope for better next time, though by next time i mean I'm not buying these guys again. Too much disappointment. Matching twos from the Mrs and I. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mini Coffee Bean Hold the Cone! ice Cream Cones: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons



 

Monday, March 8, 2021

Trader Joe's Blood Orange Cake Mix with Icing


Editor's note: Today we have a celebrity guest reviewer - Russ' mom! It was her birthday last week and she wanted to write a review for us, so who are we to say no? Read on and enjoy!

Hi Trader Joe Connoisseurs! We are Russ' parents, Steve and Kathy, and we have just returned from a month on the road in our new RV.  Pennsylvania winters are brutal, so we took our first snowbird trip to Florida.  While we were heading back to the snowy north, we stopped near Charleston, South Carolina for a couple of days.  Seeing a Trader Joe's a couple of miles from our KOA, we offered to stop in and see if there was anything different Russ hadn't reviewed yet.  There it was...an endcap filled to overflowing with boxes of Trader Joe's Blood Orange Cake Mix with Icing.

I must confess, our family is filled with cake snobs.  For years, I have baked cake from scratch.  Our daughter is a professional bakery chef.  We analyzed texture, taste, crumb, and visual.  At less than $4 a box, it was an easy choice to critique.

First, the visual.  I’m not really into loaf-pan shaped cakes.  But what was a bit disconcerting was the color of the batter.  It was bright orange. They used vegetable juice for color, but it did look very artificial.  I then tasted the batter.  Now, don’t get all upset I tasted raw batter.  I just turned 65, and it hasn’t killed me yet.  There was a citrus tang at the end, but the flavor was not distinguishable.  It could have been lemon, lime, or orange.  Only the color said it was orange.  

The baking directions were clearly written, and the cake baked right up as promised. An hour in the oven, 45 minutes cooling in the pan, then flipped onto a plate.  The crumb was quite moist and the texture of the cake was like a pound cake.  I stirred up the icing as directed (you only need one tablespoon water, don’t add two or the icing will be too thin).  The orange taste of the icing, as our daughter put it, tastes like orange toothpaste.  Very tart, not too sweet, but artificial.  We all agreed that while we would finish what we had sliced for ourselves, it was not something that we would want to purchase again.  Our daughter suggested cutting it into cubes as vanilla ice cream topper, it would help cut the taste a bit. Bottom line: 2 spoons.

--------------------------

Well, there you have it. Thanks Mom! My lovely bride and I just had a chance to try the cake for ourselves, but had the added advantage of learning from our elders and at the advice of social media went rogue and prepared ours with blood orange soda instead of the recommended water. The outcome? Better than what was described here, but still not amazing, and could tell that, as is, the cake mix is a bit of a dud and not going to be a repeat purchase. Our young kids loved it, but not because they know any better. Time to make them a proper cake just like my mama has done for me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Blood Orange Cake Mix with Icing: 2 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Bottom bottom line: Don't argue with Mom.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Trader Joe's Chile Spiced Pineapple

Perhaps this is not a universal truth, but here in Pittsburgh it is: No matter how cold it is, you'll definitely see a guy wearing shorts. 

Sure, it's true now, at the end of February and us going through the interminable "false spring" where temps hit the 50s before plunging back to subzero the following week. heck, I was the dude in dungarees earlier today. But even in the midst of coldest, darkest, polar vortex-est winter, you'll see it: a guy wearing shorts. Guaranteed. 

What's this have to do with Trader Joe's Chile Spiced pineapple? Glad you asked. The answer is, obviously,, well...ummm..you see...no idea. Something something promise of warmth and perhaps summery but really not quite there and quit fooling yourself. Yeah...something like that. 

I picked up a small sack of eight slices on my latest TJ's run. No idea if they're newish or not, but I hadn't seen them before, and thought them to be a summery looking bite, with perhaps a little intrigue. For less than $3, it was an easy sell.

The actual product though? Ugh. It fails to deliver, with seemingly a two fold problem. 

First: the actual texture. I was expecting dried pineapple like the little chunks, you'd find ain a snack mix. You know, dry, kinda chalky, a wee bit stiff and fibrous. That's a great texture. these rings, though? They're soft and pliable and rubbery, as if they were halfbaked. Like a bad fruit jerky. It's not a pleasing or texture to have to try and rip off chunks with your teeth instead of a cleaner bite. No thanks. 

But then here's the rub...literally. That chile seasoning is not so great, and it's easy to see why. but first, a little background: if you're not familiar with pineapple, it's sweet with a lot of sugar. The pineapple here is a regular pineapple, just strangely chewier. So, innately speaking, there's already  plenty of sugar....so WHY ADD MORE SUGAR TO A SPICE RUB FOR SOMETHING ALREADY SO SUGARY??? A rub like this might work on a pork butt but a sugary fruit? No! The result is an over cloyingly sweet taste trying to balance out some seasoned burn from chile peppers and friends let me tell you that this isn't happening here. It's all out of whack and just not very good. Barely any spice can be detected - a little, but not enough, especially for how red and potent each slice appears to be. 

Not a fan. I'll finish the bag...eventually....maybe...and be done with it for good. I just don't like being left out in the cold like that. My lovely bride isn't much of a fan either. I think we'll be nice and somehow give the psuedo-spicy sugary pineapple chew rings a 3 between us. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chile Spiced Pineapple: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons


 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Trader Joe's Olive Chicken Bites

Ever wonder where food concepts were thought of/ Like, their originations? It's an interesting thought exercise. 

Take, for instance, this: Who would watch a chicken drop a spherical white orb from its butt and decide, "Hey, I wanna pick this up." I mean, I've seen an egg fresh from the source, and let's just say there's a lot of cleaning involved before it makes its way into a carton. A LOT of cleaning. But then, pick it up, decide to crack it open, see all the egg insides and then have the insight to add a heat source and watch it firm up and then decide to actually eat it...and find out that it's really good? Especially with salsa. Crazy. I never would have come up with that myself.

Nor would I have invented something quite as silly as Trader Joe's Olive Chicken Bites. 

No, I am not saying that these newish frozen appetizers are going to be a dietary cornerstone like eggs, cuz no, that's ridiculous. But who thinks of putting an olive inside a chicken bite...and how does that actually taste, anyways.

Second question first. It's...odd. As you might be able to tell by my pic, I made up a batch in the air fryer for lunchtime the other day. Anything to beat PBJ/mac n cheese/ramen day 10,142 in a row, seemingly at least. As I waited for the bites to warm up and crispify, I read the ingredients. Potato, onion and chicken, along with the olive and whatever else to hold it all together and season it a bite. A protein, a starch, a veggie or two all in one - it's like a meal in a bite. 

So all that stuff aside from the olive makes up the outer shell. There's nothing too wrong with it. It is dark meat, which i don't mind but I know that's a deal breaker for some. The meat itself is the chicken nuggety-y variety, all kinda mashed and shredded with the potatoes and onions kinda holding it all together. Kay. Not bad, but not overly flavorful, aside from the flavor leaking out from the olive core. 

About that olive...okay, who's idea? It's so just so random and basic and odd and bewildering at once. Why a plain green manzanilla olive with a little pimento in there? If you're gonna do an olive, why not something a little more lively like a kalamata, with a little garlic? That'd be bomb.  Even better, why not a hot pepper or some bacon or a little cheese reservoir or something of that sort? Something a little more than just a plain boring green olive. It's like trying to be clever with paper clip chains. If you're gonna go the basic kitschy route, you have slim margin for error. 

There's not much flavor other than the olive, though. A little dipping sauce would probably go a long way towards appreciating the product. A little cheese here could real compliment it well. 

Anyways, pretty much everyone in my family except me turned their nose at them. I ate them...not happily, I was just hungry. Back to those PBJs I guess for everyone. For $4.99 I was kinda expecting this experience but was hopeful for better. Oh well. Not gonna score too high here, let's just call it a 4 and move on. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Olive Chicken bites: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons


 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Trader Joe's Uncured Turkey Bacon & Cheddar Sous Vide Egg Bites

You don't tug on Superman's cape.

You don't spit into the wind. 

You don't put no cottage cheese in your eggs.

And you don't mess around with Jim. 

That's how that song goes, right? Something like that? Close enough?

Honestly, I don't care what you do with your curds and eggs. I don't. I intentionally used a double negative so you can take it either way - the evoked versus the literal. But just keep them away from my eggs, please. As well as most anything else. Cottage cheese is just one food I never have and likely never will like unless snuck by me somehow. 

And for that reason, Trader Joe's Uncured Turkey Bacon & Cheddar Sous Vide Egg Bites are a no go for me

From the first bite, I could tell there was something in these egg pucks that was something pretty akin to cottage cheese. Eggs aren't naturally this fluffy and soft - I mean, sure the sous vide cooking method certainly helped, but there that textural element, along with a slight, low-key tang. I knew it. Cottage cheese, second ingredient. From the tast of things, there's almost as much cheese as there is egg! My lovely bride said she didn't notice that at all. I'm speechless. 

The TJ's egg plops come fully cooked but chilled as, you know, eggs. There's two recommended ways of heating them up - in the over for 10 to 12 minutes or the microwave for a minute. We made them both ways - oven on left, microwave on right. They look about the same coming out of the package as they do when they're ready to eat - fairly unappetizing to me. No comment on how their looks may progress from here. 


From the oven, they're a bit firmer but not by appreciably much. There's also the slight browning, and the added wonderment of why I spent nearly 15 to 20 minutes heating a precooked egg in the oven instead of just cracking and cooking one in less than half the time. The microwaved one was definitely softer and greasier, as one may expect. 

Everything else about them is pretty much meh. Turkey bacon never has and never will get it done in my book. The cheddar was typical, and the flavor of the herbs and spices pretty muted. A little hot sauce or some bomba would have helped, but of course those are add-ons to and not features of the original product. 

So yeah, not a fan. Sandy likes 'em a bit more. Apparently on the Interwebs folks say there's a lot of similarities between the sous vide eggers and an offering from Starbucks, which she's had but not me. The TJ's are larger and softer, and also cheaper but still not cheap at the middling $3.50 to $4 mark for a two pack. At that revelation, Sandy said she could go on Amazon and find a egg mold that could make these for breakfast sandwiches for us for like $10, so she wouldn't buy this TJ's offering unless in a pinch for a warm meal-like non-soup substance for work. I wouldn't buy the mold or the bites or anything like these guys again - just no. Not for me. Nah. Nuh uh. I'll be nice and give them a one while Sandy will be a bit higher but not by all that much. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Uncured Turkey Bacon & Cheddar Sous Vide Bites: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons

 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Trader Joe's Dairy-Free Cold Brew Almond Macadamia Latte Coffee Beverage

Like most Americans, Sonia and I are hopelessly addicted to caffeine. She's a big coffee drinker and a connoisseur of all things derived from the brewed bean: mocha, latte, cappuccino, you name it. I'm more of an energy drink guy myself. Throughout my misspent youth, I'd drink sodas like Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper for caffeine, and then switched over to energy drinks after the advent of Red Bull, Rockstar, and Monster.

At any rate, we both get headaches after just 24 hours without a heavy dose of the common stimulant. If coffee is the only source of caffeine around, I'll drink it. Once in a while I'll get desperate enough to drink regular cola again in the absence of other caffeinated beverages, despite a severe aversion to HFCS these days. This stuff, on the other hand? You'd have to twist my arm pretty hard to get me to take another sip of this drink, let alone a whole bottle.

Right after taking an initial sip, I had Sonia try it, desperately trying to mask my disgust so as to elicit an unbiased reaction from her. She reacted similarly. We decided to check the "best by" date just to be sure it hadn't turned. According to the little stamp on the side of the bottle, we had one day to spare. 

I mean, it's not like we don't enjoy nut milks. The combo of almond and macadamia sounded fairly alluring to both of us, especially to my better half. And you can taste a decent amount of nuttiness underneath an acrid coffee flavor, initially. But immediately after detecting the earthy vegan coffee blend in this beverage, there's a fairly intense bitterness that washes over your palate.

We get it. They were going for a healthy beverage without much in the way of sweetener. But this brew needs a little something. And by "a little something," I mean a LOT of something. It's full of protein and decidedly devoid of bad stuff, but neither of us could really get into the taste. Sonia was good enough to finish the bottle, and she noted that by the end, it wasn't quite as revolting as the first few swigs. I noped out after about a sip and a half. 

$2.99 for the bottle. Two stars from me. Two and a half from Sonia. Not a repeat purchase.

Bottom line: 4.5 out of 10.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Trader Joe's Broccoli & Cauliflower Saute Kit

Alright, I dont  get it.  At all. Nope.

Seriously...Trader Joe's Broccoli & Cauliflower Saute Kit? What gives?

Alright, alright, alright. I can hear it right away. Major convenience points. Hey I've let quite a few items slide by based soley on that factor before - caulifower rice, anyone? - but what is this really saving here? A couple quick chops off a crown on the cutting board? Big whoop. I'm a busy boy and all, but man, if I don't have time to guillotine a couple trees and whittle them down to sizable chunks during dinner prep, it calls to question if I really have time for dinner at home or not. It takes literally no time.

As a quick aside for something purporting to both broccoli and cauliflower, there was almost all broccoli here. I like both. I want both. And perhaps it was luck of the draw more than anything else but I didn't feel like I got both. Not when there was only one sizable stalk and a couple tidbits of cauli. Not representing the caluli love there.

Ok, so what else is in the kit, because maybe that'll make up for it, right? That's a valid train of thought that unfortunately derailed once it left the station. After sauteing for a couple minutes in some BYO EVOO, there's a "marinade" packet to add and toss the veggies in. Never mind the fact that the veggies never actually marinate in the marinade, but it tastes like nothing. Nada. Tasteless. Tasted my BYO EVOO more than whatever the heck it was I added in from TJ's.

Forgot to mention the walnuts. That's alright, I almost forgot to taste them. Why walnuts? I have no answer for that. Definitely when quick cooking a 92% broccoli/8% cauliflower mix, walnuts are about 187th on my list of things I'd toss in...

...which is way higher than I'd consider tossing on croutons when it's time to serve. And then it'd have to really good croutons, like parmesany and garlicy with some character and spice, right? Definitely not boring old super generic croutons that taste like dried out stale bread and not much else. Definitely not the ultra basic bland croutons that you'd feed your kid when the only thing worse than listening to them crunch on them was whatever noise they were making previously. Definitely not any sort of crouton like, like, like....the ones present here. Disappointment croutons. Boring croutons. Crappy croutons. IRS croutons. Ugh. 

I don't understand this TJ's offering. I can buy into many things they try, and at least say an A for effort, but this? Nope. When the biggest props I can say is the veggies were still fresh and good two days before their best-by date, that's not a ringing endorsement. I don't know how much this cost. I don't want  to know (though one of your kind readers can please mention in the comments for the sake of your TJ's brethren?). But whatever it was, I know it coulda been better spent on some fresh veggies and a couple dashes of actual flavor courtesy of my spice rack.

Don't dig it. At all. The saute kit doesn't make a terrible product - our veggie chompin' crew ate it happily enough - but there's nothing here that suggest it should be a standalone product. I'm thumbing down with a one. My lovely bride, as always the more graceful one of us, will be nice and give it a two.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Broccoli & Cauliflower Saute Kit: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons