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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Tracks Ice Cream

This ice cream isn't bad, but it feels like Trader Joe is trying to imitate Ben & Jerry with this one.

Dairy Free Mochi is unique and Trader Joe-esque. Stuff like Pilgrim Joe's Pumpkin Ice Cream is simple enough to avoid comparison with Ben & Jerry. And, of course, the Lemon and Triple Ginger Snap Ice Cream is by far the best example of what we've seen Trader Joe's do with ice cream. It isn't particularly simple, but it somehow gives off an air of delicateness. And, while somewhat indulgent, it's more of a dessert you'd expect to find at the end of a five course meal in a fine-dining establishment, as opposed to something a gluttonous fat man would scarf down in between the tilt-a-whirl and the tractor pulls at the East Bumblehump County Fair.

This product, however, is a shade closer to the latter. Fortunately for this item's score, I'm no slender sophisticate, and I've enjoyed the aggravated roar of a souped up Massey Ferguson or two in my day. But I do have to say, despite its terrible name, I prefer Chubby Hubby to these Peanut Butter Tracks any day of the week.

I guess the name is a play on "moose tracks." Moose tracks has little peanut butter cups in vanilla ice cream, and that's exactly what this is. I suppose the peanut butter cups are intended to resemble muddy footprints of the large woodland mammals in a blanket of white-ish snow. There's also supposed to be swirls of caramel. Sonia and I both agreed that TJ's skimped on the caramel. But to me, that was of little concern.

I did enjoy the copious quantities of little peanut butter cups, and the vanilla wasn't bad...but it wasn't stellar either. My biggest complaint is just that the whole thing didn't blend together as perfectly as Ben & Jerry's stuff. There's just something so ingenious about their flavors. Somehow Trader Joe captured that kind of cohesiveness with his Lemon Triple Ginger Snap ice cream, but not with this. This really isn't even as good as other brands of moose tracks that I've tried.

But again, it's cold, it's sweet, and there's enough peanut butter in it to make it somewhat rich and filling. Sonia says it's worthy of a 3.5. I think 3 stars is generous enough.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10 stars.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Honey Mints

Imagine, if you will, if you're a musical producer looking to make a smash album, and so decide to get together two classic acts, like say Neil Young and Pearl Jam, knowing how well they'd mesh together. Then, you decide your collaboration needs something just a little bit more, so you call Kanye West into the mix. Or, for a moment, pretend you're a movie director, looking to make a blockbuster. You call upon DeNiro and Pacino (or, if you prefer pure hunkiness, Ryan Gosling and Lenny DiCaprio*), but needing one more actor to round things out, you call Zach Galifianakis' agent. Or, for your all-time Olympic fantasy team draft, you choose Michael Phelps, Carl Lewis, and the Jamaican bobsled team. It's not that there's anything wrong with each individual member of these threesomes (in fact, they're all good in their own way) but while two seem to mesh, the remaining third...just doesn't. It's kinda one of those "one of these things isn't like the other" set-ups.

To be honest, that's more or less how I expected these Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Honey Mints to be. Dark chocolate with mint makes a great, classic combination. But adding honey? Really? Honey's good and all, but while I could see it pairing okay-ish with chocolate, honey and mint together just doesn't sound all that great to me on the surface, and adding chocolate doesn't help it out.

Good thing is, I can be wrong, and I'll admit it. These are actually fairly good lil' candy disks, despite my initial hesitation. They're made from just three ingredients - chocolate liquor, honey, and peppermint oil. And, unlike you'd expect with the third party mentioned in each threesome above, I really didn't notice the honey too terribly much. If anything, the honey adds just a little sweetness, which, with the cocoa coating basically being baker's chocolate, is a good thing, while not interfering with the mint too much. In fact, if given one of these on a blind taste test, I wouldn't be guess there'd be honey at all in these. Each candy is a soft, melt-in-your-mouth bite that's pretty satisfying that strays almost towards the little-bit-too-rich side, which for me is good enough to keep me interested in eating just one or two of them at a time, as opposed to one or two handfuls.

Sandy likes them quite bit, too, and for more reasons than the "cute package" they come in. In making the obvious comparison, she says she likes them more than York Peppermint Patties, and that's enough to make them a good, solid 4 for her. I'm not sure if I'm willing to go that far, but I do appreciate these as an alternative that, perhaps because of their simplicity, taste a little more "natural"** than the competition. I'll go with a 3.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Honey Mints: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
*I know he's a pretty good actor, but is he still considered a hunk? I know he was in the Titanic era, but really, I have no idea where Lenny's considered to be on the scale these days.
** This, of course, being a completely relative term that I tried to shake out of my head, yet it keeps coming back for no real good apparent reason. Maybe it's the lack of processed sugar that's getting to me.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Trader Joe's Wild Blueberry Pie

Since the Fourth of July is right around the corner, we'll go ahead and review this American picnic classic: blueberry pie. Perhaps it's not as stereotypically American as apple pie, but it's made with real Maine blueberries, and if you serve it on a traditional tablecloth like the one in the photo to the left, you've got an authentic slice of Americana, complete with red, white, and blueberry pie.

Upon first bite, I was a little disappointed with the texture and taste of the crust. It's a poor imitation of homemade, it lacks uniqueness, and while I wouldn't call it "stale," it's way too stiff to feel like it's even approaching "fresh." Plus, it's entirely bland.

The blueberries were a shade more exciting. Hundreds of perfect little blueberries in a subtly-sweet, semi-syrupy sauce saved the flavor of this pie. Coming straight out of the fridge, however, there was still an overall firmness that left me feeling like I was munching on something that fell a great deal short of the high standards I hold TJ's to.

Sonia microwaved her second piece for twenty seconds or so, and claimed that it greatly improved the pastry. I followed suit, and wouldn't you know it—the pie took a giant leap in the direction of delicious. Still, the crust couldn't be redeemed entirely, but the smoothness of the blueberry elements all but made up for it.
Could be if you tried this pie at an actual outdoor picnic that the hundred degree temperatures would have a similar effect as twenty seconds in the microwave. But served cold or warm, it's still a far cry from fresh-baked. However, keeping in mind that it's ready-made, sitting on a shelf, and only about $5 for a whole pie, we'll be merciful when we give our scores.

Sonia and I are on the same page with this one. 3 stars a piece. Not bad.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.