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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites

If it isn't time to file a class action lawsuit against Trader Joe's for their obvious attempt to kill us all, then I'm just not sure what course of action to take. But we must do something. They could be spending their time and energy making more tasty fruit snacky things or bags of heroic kale...but it seems like nearly half of all their new products are cookie butter-oriented these days. Cookie Butter Cookies, for cryin' out loud! And as if it were necessary, they developed something that could be more easily shoveled down their customers' gullets than the original Cookie Butter Cheesecake—which was quite possibly the best-tasting item I've ever had from TJ's, or maybe anywhere.

I fully realize my own role in this sick scheme—bringing more fame to the fiendish cookie butter phenomenon and lavishing these indulgent products with perfect scores and glowing reviews, sending word about these addictive substances all across cyberspace. Believe me, I'm not proud. And why even review this product at all? Don't we already know everything we need to know about this sinister cheesecake?

Well, yes and no. Aside from the obvious size and shape difference, TJ's has found a way to dramatically reduce the calorie-count in each serving down to a measly 90. (Hooray! This is practically diet food!) But that's probably due to the fact that each serving is an extremely tiny square—a square that will do nothing but make you want to eat at least 5 more. The price has dropped from about $7 for the original cheesecake down to $4.49 for these bites at our local store—but there's less than half as much cheesecake in there (10.6 oz as compared with 22.5 oz).

The cheesecake bites still have the same signature speculoos cookie crust and the same amazing cheesecake base, but the cookie butter topping is significantly different. If you look back to the photo of the original Cookie Butter Cheesecake, you'll note that it was a firm, solid mass spread evenly across the entire crown of the cake. Now with these bites, you'll find a creamy cookie butter swirl unevenly applied across the top of the cheesecake. Honestly, I like the swirl a lot better. And because of that, I can't lower my perfect score. The value isn't as good, the size and shape is less practical—unless, as one reader put it, you're looking for "built-in portion control" (Good luck with that, my friend). BUT, if it were possible, I'd say the cookie butter swirl topping results in an even more pleasing taste and texture. Sonia prefers the original topping and will dock half a point for the drop in the cake:cost ratio. But still, I feel obligated to bestow this decadent dessert with Pantheon status. I've had some extremely delicious cheesecake bites in my day, but these Speculoos Cookie Butter Bites take the cake.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Trader Giotto's Kale, Sweet Potato & Butternut Squash Pizza

Ciao, Trader Giotto, it's been a while!

Seriously, it has been. Last time we saw Giotto was nearly nine long months ago. Is it just me, or do the different foreign Trader Joe names seem to falling out of use a little bit more? We rarely see Trader Jose, Trader Ming, Baker Josef or any of them. Anyone remember Thai Joe? We do... barely.

There's also an ampersand. Those also seem to be falling a little bit more to the wayside in favor of "and." Give me silly, stupid character names and rarely used punctuation along with your Hawaiian shirts...oh wait, crap, I can't remember the last time I saw a crew member wear one! What's going on!?!?!

Anyways, here's a throwback name for a decent little pizza: Trader Giotto's Kale, Sweet Potato & Butternut Squash Pizza. You can tack on the "With Parmigiana Reggiano Cheese" portion of the title (or not) at your own discretion. While it's certainly better, this particular pizza won't get me rapping like the last Giotto pie we reviewed. But it'll probably get our repeat business.

There's a lot to like here. Let's start with the crust and go up. Ohhhh...the crust. Crispy, crunchy, cracker-y, light and airy but a firm foundation. I can't recall ever having a crust so crunchy without charring the bottom to a blackened stump. While the crust could use a little more dough and girth, it was still solidly tasty if not a little basic otherwise. As you probably could guess, instead of a red or white sauce base, it's a sweet potato puree for the saucy layer, topped by ample chopped kale and chunky butternut squash. All that seems to work together alright - the squash does seem a little sweet, without a counterbalance, though.

As for the cheese, there's a plus and a minus. The plus - I've had Parmigiano-Reggiano straight from the source on several occasions (courtesy of my wife's coworkers, who have gone to Reggio, Italy on business trips several times). It's been a while, so a direct comparison would be tough to pull off , but neither Sandy nor I would ever confuse it with the stuff from a green shaker. It's definitely not "Parmesan." That's good, but there's not quite enough. There were three or four flakes and shreds, but that was really about it. A little more, please.

Overall, though, it's a good, light pizza. I do mean light. Sandy and I made it for dinner, along side some roasted broccoli, and even though we're both increasingly cognizant of portioning, it just wasn't quite enough. If we were characters on Oregon Trail, this would classified as a "meager" meal - certainly not "bare bones" but far from "filling", and now I'm paranoid one of us will get typhoid and the oxen will run away. Great. At least we had some ice cream sandwiches deep in the depths of the freezer to combat all of those healthy things we just ate.

For $3.99 (I think), it's tough to argue with, but that doesn't mean complete satisfaction. Sandy likes it a little more than me, to the tune of a four. Loves that crust. To me, it lacks just enough in a few key departments that I can't go much higher than a three.   

Bottom line: Trader Giotto's Kale, Sweet Potato & Butternut Squash Pizza: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Trader Joe's Kettle Popped Sweet & Salty Popcorn Chips

Trader Joe's Kettle Popped Sweet and Salty Popcorn Chips, Whole Grain with Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds, Whole Quinoa, Sunflower Seeds.

That's the entire title of this product. It's like a paragraph by itself. I mean, not technically. I just mean it's really long. In a way, it's all you need to know about this product, and it's all printed right there on the front of the bag. If you like all that stuff, you'll like this product. But I guess the point of a food review is to tell you whether WE liked these popcorn chips or not.

And the answer is YES, we did. I REALLY like the ingredients list. Nothing I can't pronounce. Nothing I needed to Google. 

They're low in fat, salty and sweet, just like the bag says. Plus, TJ's has found another creative way to stick quinoa in our junk food. But as "junk food" goes, these chips are fairly low-guilt. Even the sodium isn't excessive. And as far as Sonia and I can tell, the taste doesn't suffer at all.

Not sure who the supplier is for this product, but like most TJ's items, it undoubtedly comes from a third party. Regardless, I think this type of product is what attracted me to TJ's in the first place: stuff that effectively curbs the munchies with significantly less bad stuff than traditional snacks. I mean, I LOVE the cookie butter stuff like most of you, but those treats just can't be everyday snacks unless you workout like a madman or are cool with weighing 300 pounds.

These popcorn chips have a nice light flavor that lets the natural grains through, but it has just enough cane sugar that it tastes indulgent and satisfies the sweet tooth. The flavor is more complex than other popcorn chips I've tried because of all the "ancient grain" type ingredients. The texture is crispy, crunchy, and just about perfect. $1.99 for a bag is a pretty reasonable price point, too, if you ask me.

Sonia was an even bigger fan than I was—she really digs the whole sweet and salty thing and thinks these chips nailed it. Four and a half stars from her. Four from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.