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Monday, December 30, 2013

Trader Joe's Kentucky Bourbon

Listen, I'm not going to sit here and type up a review and pretend that I'm any sort of bourbon expert and attempt to give you a technical breakdown of Trader Joe's Kentucky Bourbon. That's just not in my wheelhouse, so if that's what you're looking for, check out a review like this one or this one. My sniffer's too stuffed to try and make up all those aroma descriptors anyways, and all those other terms...yeah, I can take a stab at what they mean, but it's better I don't.

But, courtesy of a good buddy of mine who doubled as a housemate back in my bachelor days several moons ago, I've drank enough bourbon to know what I like and to know what I don't. We'd go pick up whatever at the local state store (Pennsylvania's weird) and go thru a bottle every two or three weeks. What I like: good, balanced, strong flavor, with a little burn, and not too oaky. What I don't like: flavored and infused bourbons (like Red Stag when not used as a mixer) or bourbon that's oaky enough to pass off as some type of Ent secretion, or anything that tastes watered down or cheap. Just give me a good couple fingers of bourbon on the rocks, and I'm set.

That's almost precisely what TJ's bourbon is. There's nothing fancy or pretentious about it. It's very good, not superbly great, but honest, tasty bourbon. There's a little oak here, some sweetness there, and doesn't taste too medicinal like some of the cheap-o stuff tastes. It's a reasonably darkish amber color that also smells the part - a little sweet, a little boozy, etc. For the most part, it's a smooth, balanced flavor that goes down without too much trouble but does put a tickle in the back of your throat after a lingering finish, which I'll admit made me cough the first time. I'm kinda a wimp in that regard, but it's been a while. The ABV hits a more-than-respectable 45% so it's probably best to enjoy when at home and there's nowhere to go for a good while. The word on the webs says this is distilled by the good folks at Buffalo Trace, which I do remember as a bottle I liked to get back in the day, but not recently enough to do a straight-up comparison of the two.

The wife and I picked up the bottle when, on a whim, we hit up the Princeton, NJ shop over the weekend while visiting my folks. I've been to Trader Joe's in nine states (California, Utah, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Maine, Massachusetts and now New Jersey) but this was the first time I've stumbled across a TJ's with actual hard liquor and not just beer or wine in it, so we were pretty excited to crack it open with my folks and siblings and their spouses after all the kiddos finally went to bed one night. All of us guys had no problem with enjoying a glass or two on the rocks, while the ladies seemed to enjoy mixing theirs with Dr Pepper more. Good times were had by all.

If this were a $25 bottle, I'd be fairly content. If it were $20, I'd be downright pleased. But it's only $15! That makes me want to write my state senator to urge them to rewrite Pennsylvania's antediluvian alcohol bylaws so I could buy it without going on a nearly 700-mile roundtrip. Silly Quaker heritage. The general consensus of my brothers et al averaged about a four, so that's what I call it for them. For me, I just wish it were tad bit more distinctive somehow, but as is, I'm going 4.5. Nicely done, Trader Joe's. Nicely done.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Kentucky Bourbon: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons      

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Trader Joe's and the Astounding Multi-Flavor Joe-Joe's

I feel like that should have an exclamation point at the end of it: "Trader Joe's and the Astounding Multi-Flavor Joe-Joe's!" like some famous magician and his assistants or something. Trader Joe the Magnificent did indeed give us something magically-delicious and marvelously-packaged yet again. It's four new flavors of an old favorite, dressed up in chocolate coatings. 

Looking back through our extensive archives, I realized that we never reviewed just plain old Joe-Joe's, strangely enough. But if you're curious, I'll save you from using our newfangled and unimproved search tool toward the top of this page: we've looked at Joe-Joe's n' Cream Ice CreamDark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe-Joe's, Candy CaneHalloween, and Gluten Free varieties, and if I've missed any, I blame the search tool. But hey, at least this version of "Search This Blog" is functioning!

The package was filled with four individually-wrapped stacks of Joe-Joe's. Each of the four astounding flavors had a chocolate coating. The ginger cookies had a white chocolate coating, the peppermint ones were covered in dark chocolate, and peanut butter and double chocolate were covered in some kind of complementary milk chocolates.

Before I tried them, my main concern with the ginger Joe-Joe's is that they would be, well...weird. And they were. But not to the point that they were inedible. The white chocolate really saved them in my opinion. And I know a lot of our readers are dark chocolate snobs, so they might not feel the same. But I must point out that Sonia, who's definitely a bigger fan of dark chocolate than white chocolate, absolutely adored these cookies. She likes ginger in some scenarios, but she's not obsessed with it or anything like that. She felt that these cookies had just the right amount of ginger zing and just the right amount of white chocolate sweetness. She's definitely not wrong.

The double chocolate Joe-Joe's were just that: chocolate cookies covered in milk chocolate. And they're part of the reason my skin broke out this holiday season. Chocolate sandwich cookies covered in chocolate? Hmmm. Hey TJ's, dontcha think you should deep fry 'em next time? 

Sonia and I never bought the aforementioned Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe-Joe's by themselves, but based on Russ's review, I'm guessing the ones in this package are basically the same animal: tasty, minty, and holiday-riffic.

I think my favorite "act" in this incredible show of flavors was the peanut butter Joe-Joe's. They were rich, peanut buttery, and had a Reese's type thing going on. We've established that chocolate and peanut butter is pretty hard to screw up completely, and TJ's has displayed prowess with this particular combo in the past. And thanks to the commutative and associative properties of snacktasticality, we can offer this simple proof: peanut butter + chocolate + Joe-Joe's = yum.

There's a lot going on in this box, and it's a pretty good value for what you get. Again, neither Sonia nor I are really "sandwich cookie people," but we still can't see this box of magic getting fewer than four stars a piece. Eight total stars for Trader Joe's and the Astounding Multi-Flavor Joe-Joe's.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Trader Joe's Edamame Rangoons

Toddlers. Yeeeahhh.

There was a time, several months ago, that as Baby M (from now on, we're just gonna call her M) was beginning to eat regular food, she'd inhale everything in sight. There was little to no persuasion involved. I mean, sure, she had her favorites like frozen waffles and whatnot. It was awesome, and after seeing some of the pickiness of her older cousins, I thought, hey, just maaaaybe we dodged a bullet.

Ha. Hahahaha. Nope.

These days, if it's not cheese, a cheap carb, or some type of fruit, good luck. We can occasionally get some fake chicken in her. Some dinners are a downright disaster with her. I'm scared she may be developing her own set of "food rules" like her mama that kind of stuff genetic?

That's why both Sandy and I were a little bit surprised a few weeks back when we went shopping at TJ's. The sample that day was these Trader Joe's Edamame Rangoons. M loved them. I She gulped down the couple bites and spent the rest of the excursion earnestly, desperately, making the "more" and "please" sign, so we felt inclined to make the purchase for the three or four bucks for the box.

Naturally, when we finally made them the other night, she couldn't be interested less in them. Like I said, toddlers.

As for Sandy and I, well, they're okay. I'd suspect the rangoons would be much better fried than baked. The crownish top parts crisped up fairly well, though, in our oven, as did the rest of the wrapper despite our lack of the recommended parchment paper. A little cooking spray more or less did the trick.

It's the innards that are a little, well, iffy to me. The dominant flavor by far is the cream cheese filling. It's really sweet, much like what one would expect from a cheese rangoon (which are not terribly high on my list of preferred Chinese takeout cuisine). So, fairly typical so far, The edamame mixed in is mishmash of some whole and some squishy ones, kinda as if were a soybean paintball, and helps fill it all out a little bit. That "hint" of wasabi? It's more like a "whisper of the slightest suggestion, not meant to inconvenience anyone." I mean, it's just not really there. I looked at the ingredients and wasabi powder is listed last, so obviously it wasn't much of a priority.

So, yeah, they're okay. The rangoons made an decent-enough complement to our wonton/sweet-and-sour soup and rice dinner. We could buy them again and I wouldn't care. We could never buy them again and I wouldn't care. If they were marketed at Trader Ming vs Trader Joe, then maybe I'd hold them in sightly higher regard, mostly because I miss that dude. As it is, I think a 6 is more than fair. M is unavailable for comment.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Edamame Rangoons: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons