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Monday, October 30, 2017

Trader Joe's Bamba Peanut Snacks

Walking into our Trader Joe's this past rainy weekend, "La Bamba" was playing on the store's radio.

🎶 "Para bailar la Bamba..." 🎶 

You all know the song.

It has nothing to do with these Bamba Peanut Snacks, by the way, which hail from Israel rather than Mexico—but we still wonder: were you planting subliminal messages in our head with that song, Big Joe? You sneaky marketing genius, you. Well, your fiendish plan worked, and we picked up two 99 cent bags of the peanutty treats.

Not long ago, I ran across Simply Balanced Peanut Butter Baked Corn Puffs at Target and reviewed them. I liked them overall, and of course, the first comment about them mentioned their similarity to "Bambas." I looked them up, and sure enough, everything about the original Israeli snacks sounded extremely similar to Target's version.

Didn't take Trader Joe's long to jump on that bandwagon. 

Well—okay, I guess it did—since these have been popular in the Holy Land for well over 50 years. And I like that they're actually using the original "Bamba" moniker at TJ's, just so there's no ambiguity. I've seen a few tweets indicating that they might not be exactly the same as Israel's version, but I've also seen tweets indicating that they definitely are, and that TJ's supplier is indeed Osem, the same people that make the original, authentic peanut snacks. Please note: I'm not making any official claims here, I'm just reporting what I've read on the interwebs...and you know how that goes.

They are in every way like cheesy poofs, except for the fact guessed it: they have "peanut paste" instead of goofy orange cheese. So they are, for all intents and purposes, "peanut butter poofs." If that sounds good to you, you will LOVE these.

Trader Joe's offering strikes me as being slightly less sweet, softer, and fresher than the Target version I tried. The peanut flavoring is still kind of subtle if you ask me, I mean, compared to, say, a spoonful of actual peanut butter—but it builds up on your tongue as you shovel puff after puff into your mouth. It's not a super heavy snack at all, but it's uber-satisfying. Just a bit salty, nice and crispy...why are these just arriving in the US now? C'mon, Israeli-Americans. You've been holding out on us all these years. Why'd it take you so long to share these things with us? 

The packaging here is not resealable like Simply Balanced's product, but you most likely won't need to worry about the bag sitting around long enough to get stale once it's open. The ingredients are simple, few, and easy to pronounce. I could see vending machines being stocked full of peanut snacks here in the US in just a few years if these catch on. 

I can't think of a single reason why they wouldn't.

Four and a half stars from me. Four and a half from Sonia.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Trader Joe's Pistachio Cranberry Bites

What. A. Week. Mentioned in my last post that I was wrapping up a weekend of solo Dad wasn't completely honest. Yes, I did have the kiddos all to myself last weekend. And it's continued this entire week, too. Sandy's off on a trip of a lifetime halfway across the world (no joke), so I've taken some extra duties this week of getting kids to school, packing lunches, rushing out doors in the morning, making dinners and all at night, etc. This is on top of a crazy modified work schedule I'm doing so the kids can continue to go do their after school activities and homework, and actually see one of their parents, all while I'm trying to reserve all vacation time I can at work. It's all worked pretty well so far, have had a wonderful and supportive cast to help back up some logistical details and fill a couple gaps, and hey, I'm used to crazy mornings and giving the kids baths and tucking them in and stuff like that...

Except, man, I haven't had time once this week to eat breakfast before ducking out the door. Not. Once. Too busy packing lunches and stuff - I know I should do that the night before, but where's the challenge then? I'd rather be watching the World Series anyways, to be honest. So it's not really a complaint, but knowing this about me in advance, I picked up Trader Joe's Pistachio Cranberry Bites for an easy, on the go, healthyish bite as I zigzag the family minivan here, there, and everywhere across town.

It's a good thought. The nut/berry bites are a pretty straightforward construct - roasted pistachios, sweetened dried cranberries, all held together by some rice syrup and magic and all that. The agave syrup adds a slightly sweet and sticky touch, but it's certainly not enough to override the earthy nutty goodness of the pistachios (one of my favorite nuts). The pistachios are the dominant taste, with the cranberries being very second fiddle. I wish they were a little tarter to stand out more.

But man...the bites aren't enough. Not at all. Each bar is maybe two measly bites. Shoulda figured - the front of the bag says each bite weighs only 20 grams, which isn't exactly a lot - but I guess I was hoping it'd be a hefty 20 grams. No dice. I ended eating three within about an hour's time to try and have some semblance of not being hungry, and it didn't work.

Also, as an empty complaint, I hate the fact that they come individually wrapped inside a bigger package. Seems excessive. I mean, I get it, they're all sticky...but shouldn't be a way to cut down on all this? I offer no great solution, so, as I said, it's a pretty empty complaint.

I brought them into work, and in place of my lovely wife six time zones away right now, I'm going to have one of my coworkers, Fred, chime in. As one can reasonably expect from a guy named Fred, he tells it as it is. "They're good but..." he said, pausing as thoughtfully as a guy named Fred can, "I need to snack like a man. Those things? They're like two bites! I like the pistachios, though."Agreed, hombre. A fuller bar version, even for a higher price (nuts ain't cheap, these were like $3) would have been a better snack.

It's hard work making a living to financially support a family. It's hard work keeping everyone moving and on time and laundry and meals and dance lessons and...the list goes on. It's hard work trying to balance both. God bless whatever your duty is - I have newfound appreciation for it all this past week. Just wish I picked a more fulfilling snack to help back me up. Eh well.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Pistachio Cranberry Bites: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Trader Joe's Butternut Squash & Creamed Spinach Gratin

Unable to procure the popular, recently-released Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese, reviewed by my esteemed colleague, Sonia and I chose this interesting dish on our last TJ's run. It's slightly reminiscent of another understated Trader Joe's find from two years ago: Butternut Squash Parmigiana. The main difference, of course, being that the parmigiana was significantly sweeter...and also "ovenable."

This product is microwavable. No other heating instructions are given, although Sonia and I will now assert that it is indeed "stovetoppable." At the moment, Sonia and I are sans microwave yet again. Well, okay, I take that back. We still have a microwave, but it's in our RV, and I wasn't about to fire up the generator on Tiago the Tioga just to heat our lunch. So we tossed this refrigerated—not frozen—food item in a skillet and stirred it around until heated evenly, and the whole thing worked out beautifully...or at least deliciously, anyway.

Sonia immediately mentioned that the product lacked "sauce." I think she was talking about the creamed well as the parmesan cheese? I thought there was plenty of creamed spinach, but I guess our chosen method of preparation kind of ruined the "gratin-ness" of the dish. Since we didn't microwave the product, I'm guessing we just stirred all the browned, grated cheese right into the rest of the foodstuffs. Flavor-wise, it worked, although the presentation might have suffered a bit as a result. Eh. We were both hungry, so we wouldn't have spent very long gawking at the dish before shoveling it into our mouths anyway. You're lucky we paused to take a picture at all.

Sonia also asserted her absolute approval of the trio of flavors here: butternut squash, spinach, and parmesan cheese—she just wanted a tad more spinach and parmesan. I concur that the flavor combo worked on some level, but I felt that the subtle natural sweetness of the squash worked better with amaretto cookie crunch in the aforementioned parmigiana, and that elements like spinach and parmesan cheese mix better with salty, savory vegetable dishes, such as the classic potatoes au gratin.

Sonia liked that it walked the line between savory and sweet, whereas I generally prefer one or the other. And it's always possible my palate's a little off, or that I'm going insane, but I thought the butternut squash in this instance in particular, was unusually sweet. No biggie. I still give it a solid three and a half stars and think most butternut squash fans will like it. Sonia gives it a full four.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.