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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Macarons

If you're willing to spend $5 for 12 bites of unadulterated scrumptiousness, buy these.

Despite our affinity for most things pumpkinny, Sonia and I bought these with a degree of skepticism and wariness. Even though pumpkin has a lot of potential, it's really easy to screw it up. Pumpkin ice cream, beer, cookies, cheesecake, pie, pancakes, muffins, or souffle...any of it can go either way, depending upon the brand, the freshness, and the seasonal availability of quality ingredients.

Incidentally, these macarons are FREAKING AWESOME. Unless you HATE pumpkin-flavored things, you must try these. As Sonia put it, "It's like eating sweet whipped pumpkin clouds straight out of heaven." Immediately after removing them from our freezer, we each tried one frozen, and were fairly impressed. We were tempted to wolf down the entire tray before they were thawed. But in a rare instance of heroic self-discipline, we waited, cleverly distracting one another with tales of edible pumpkin-things from our childhood, and we managed to kill the entire 30 minutes until full-thawage had occurred, at which point, I ate another one. It had all the fluffy, creamy, deliciousness of the first one, yet the relative warmth of the pastry allowed the immaculate flavors to permeate my palate fully and bathe me in a sea of refreshing pumpkin ecstasy.

I've never claimed to avoid melodrama. In fact, I find it an important alternative to old-fashioned restraint on certain occasions. This is one of them. These pastries are soft, gluten-free, they melt in your mouth, they're creamy, and they have the perfect balance of sweetness and pumpkin spices. I'm madly in love with them. I have nothing negative to say about them. This dessert has once again reaffirmed that age-old assertion that vegetables can make flippin' amazing sweet treats, in spite of their healthful vegetability.

Sonia gives them five out of five stars. I give them five as well. Boom. There it is. Sonia and my first perfect score in a year and a half.

Bottom line: 10 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Trader Joe's Golden Caramel Swirl Ice Cream

Imagine you bought a pepperoni pizza, and when it came time to eat said pizza, you realized there was only one solitary slice of pepperoni on the whole pie. How would you feel? Would it matter how good the melty mozzarella, how perfectly zesty the sauce, how delectably delicious the crust? Would it matter that, technically speaking, your purchase is a pepperoni pizza, as it is a pizza with pepperoni on it, just not as much as expected? I mean, when I worked at various pizza shops, there were standards for a large pepperoni pizza, namely, four in the middle, nine in the middle ring, and sixteen on the outer. Hooray for progressions of squared numbers!  Going back to our thought exercise, how long would your battle with your buddy/spouse/significant other/dog/other personality be over who gets the pepperoni and who doesn't? Namely, how cheated would you feel, and ultimately, what would be your opinion of your purchase?

I bring this all up in relation to Trader Joe's Golden Caramel Swirl Ice Cream because it's very relevant. At the very least, in our own purchase, there was no golden caramel swirl in the Golden Caramel Swirl. None. No swirl. At all. Zip. Nada. And I refuse to believe that, against all odds, the one that I, one of the galaxy's foremost amateur hack reviewers of all things Trader Joe's, just so happened to snag would be the only carton in existence nearly completely devoid of any caramel.

Notice I said nearly completely devoid. To be fair, my taste buds sensed caramel while consuming this particular ice cream....on only about two or three of roughly 100 bites I spooned myself. That's maybe what Sandy got, too, out of the whole carton, so it's not like there's some hidden mega caramel vein just waiting to be tapped. There's only three logical explanations I can think of for this: 1. We're idiots and don't know what we're talking about. While always possible, I sincerely doubt it in this case, considering we've reviewed the Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce this particular dessert claims to contain. Barely there. 2. Both the chocolate and French vanilla ice creams are way too rich and vibrant for a flavor like caramel to really shine through, so it's there but way too subtle. Eh, maybe, but then again, probably not. 3. It just ain't there. Now you're talking.

Anyways...aside from the whole "for all intents and purposes, there's really no caramel in the Golden Caramel Swirl ice cream" snafu, it's actually good ice cream. The French vanilla is impeccable, and darn if it isn't some good, rich, tasty chocolate. But that goes back to the opening pepperoni pizza analogy - doesn't matter how good the rest of it is if what's supposed to be there isn't. The little write-up on the side of the package prattles on about this being some sort of "gold medal candidate" or some silly Olympic-ish verbiage. Well, in my book the abject absence of the caramel is pretty much an automatic disqualifier, and let's not even get the East German judge started. Ice cream seems to be something that's a hit or miss for TJ's, and this is a definite miss. Sandy's gonna be nice and, while noting it could use something like some crunchy ice cream cone bits, give it a 2.5 despite its major fault. Me? Sorry. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Golden Caramel Swirl Ice Cream: 3.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Trader Joe's 72% Cacao Dark Chocolate

I guess this review is kind of a cop-out, because everybody knows what chocolate tastes like. Everybody knows what dark chocolate tastes like, too. I would describe it as milk chocolate, but a little more bitter.

Now, we could get into wine critic-esque language involving "flinty undertones" and "hints of earthiness," but that would be pretentious. This is an "everyman's" kind of blog. Russ and I are indeed everymen. And I suppose, by association, that would make Sandy and Sonia everywomen. And along those lines, I do think this is a chocolate bar that everyone can enjoy, even those who've never had anything other than Hershey's.

I'm not a particularly huge fan of dark chocolate. I like white chocolate and milk chocolate because I have a sweet tooth. Indeed, I must have at least several sweet teeth. However, on occasion, I do enjoy the richness of dark chocolate, so long as I am not in the middle of one of my sugar-craving fits. Sugar is still the second ingredient in this chocolate bar, as you can tell from the photo on the right, but the sweetness doesn't overpower the cacao in dark chocolate—and this bar is no exception.

According to this Wikipedia article, a product must have at least 35% cocoa solids in order to qualify as dark chocolate. The 70 - 99% range is generally used for baking purposes. So, in the grand scheme of things, this chocolate is pretty darn dark. I was expecting it to be quite bitter, but both Sonia and I agree that it was surprisingly delicious and palatable. (Sonia usually does like dark chocolate, so it's not as big a surprise that she was a fan).

We're not often in the habit of just buying random chocolate bars, unless Russ and Sandy highly recommend something from TJ's, such as this little gem you might find at the checkout. But in this case, we received these at a lovely wedding we recently attended. Each bar was wrapped in a beautifully-designed candy wrapper created by the bride. We snagged a few as wedding favors and ate them in the days after the wedding. Thanks K & J!

Sonia will give this bar a 4. I'll give it a 3.5.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Coconut Mango Bites

Finally, folks, here we go. This may not be a good thing to admit, but it's been a while since I've spotted something new at Trader Joe's that I was even remotely excited about. Instead, most of our purchases recently have been the same old usual thing....the same dinner-time staple....the same frozen lunches...the same this and the same that. While all these are legitimately good products, once you've had them a few times, well, they're not that exciting any more. It even got to the point where, for a lunch mix-up, I went ahead and bought myself some Chef-in-a-can recently. Desperate times, desperate measures.

But then, there's these, Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Coconut Mango Bites. More than cheap prices and a slew of healthy products, it's these kinda things that keep TJ's up and running. Take a combo that sounds just zany enough that it just might work, and put it in sight of someone like me who not only hasn't found a dark chocolate combo he hasn't liked, but has a healthy affinity for almost anything mango-related, and oh yeah, we're in business. Provided that they taste good, of course.

And yup, these choco-coconutted mango confections are pretty good. I'm sure, given the main ingredients, one can make the argument that they taste down right tropical. It's turning to fall in Pittsburgh and there's a legitimate chance we won't see the sun 'til late April, so I fully appreciate that. Really, I'd say these candy bites taste like a good Mounds bar, except a tinge or three sweeter in the filling. Inside each bite, if I had to guess, the orangey middle is probably composed of 70% coconut and 30% mango, and it's all kinda mixed up. If the mango elements were too strong or sweet, it'd throw everything off, but it's all kept in check by the dark chocolate coating. Each bite is about two nibbles big so there's plenty to chew on for some satisfaction, although I have a gut feeling these won't be lasting long around the house.

Sandy already had the bag ripped open when I came home from work. "These are gooood," she said. I could tell by her look and her tone there wasn't much more she'd need to say about them. After I had my first bite or two, yeah, that's a perfectly adequate way to describe 'em. Not perfect, but goooood indeed.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Coconut Mango Bites: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Hey you, don't forget to help support me in my Bike MS event for a chance to toss in your two cents on our blog! Every $5 you give puts one entry in a drawing for you to nominate something for me to review, and if you drop me a few lines about it, I'll get it included in my review! Contest ends on 9/22 with the winner being announced on Facebook on 9/24. To give, hit up this link and click on "Donate to Participant" under the thermometer-type thing. Thanks, and here's to world free of multiple sclerosis!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Trader Joe's Wasabi Roasted Seaweed Snack

At times, I've gone out for sushi just because I had a craving for wasabi. And sushi was the only socially-acceptable thing I could think of to eat with it. I don't mess with those ginger leaves, I just put a nice little dollop of wasabi on each slice of my spicy tuna roll and go to town, using chopsticks, of course.

I realize I could buy wasabi, keep it in my fridge, and try it on everything from ham sandwiches to pizza, but somehow I think most of those experiments would fail. It might succeed on certain Asian-inspired dishes, but having it in my fridge would take some of the specialness away from it. Wasabi peas are fun, exotic snacks to munch on from time to time (I'm pretty sure the first time I saw them was at Trader Joe's) but the novelty wears off quickly and I tire of their taste after just one bag or so.

Enter Trader Joe's Wasabi Roasted Seaweed Snack. Many moons ago, we reviewed Trader Joe's Original Roasted Seaweed Snack. This stuff is basically the same thing—but wasabified. And they didn't skimp on the wasabi. These snack sheets of seaweed have a nice, sinus-clearing kick. Wrap up some rice for a delicious and unique (yet simple and cheap) meal. They're vegan and they're gluten-free. They're salty and they're spicy. With or without something wrapped up inside them, they make a wonderful break from the norm.

At 60 calories per package they won't wreck your diet, either. And I'm willing to bet wasabi raises your metabolism, too. Sonia isn't a huge fan of wasabi. It's a far cry from the Mexican chile-based spices she's used to. The plain seaweed snack got 4 stars from each of us. Sonia will knock this version half a star down, and I'll bump it half a star up. But it will still wind up with the same score:

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Gum's The Word Sugar Free Gum

Okay, I'll admit it, I was fooled. This looks like a Trader Joe's product, is packaged like a Trader Joe's product, and has the classic value of a Trader Joe's product (24 pieces for 99 cents? Nice!). Indeed, the only place I have ever seen this sold is at a Trader Joe's, right by the checkout, in fact. However, Gum's The Word is not labelled as a Trader Joe's product, so....I'm guessing it's not really a Trader Joe's product. Fortunately there's a precedent or two...or three...for these kinda situations on the blog, and since a) these are sold at Trader Joe's b) I can chew enough gum to give Violet Beauregarde a run for her money and c) I didn't notice this wasn't a TJ's product 'til literally about 30 seconds ago, well, I'm reviewing it and you can't do anything about it. Them's the rules.

And, well, I'm kinda glad it isn't a TJ's product, because it isn't all that great. The chief issues with the chewy chomping Chiclet wannabes is, they start off so incredibly minty that my sinuses would be cleared (which I kinda like) but within literally two minutes there's no flavor left at all (which I don't like at all). Seriously, goes from actually too much peppermint to none at all in no time flat with no happy medium. It's kinda like a sprinter who exerts too much effort from the start line to save anything for the finish line. There's another colloquialism or two I could use, but this is a family website. At least it's about the right consistency that would incline me to keep chewing if any it had more flavor that lasted any respectable amount of time. Other than that and the aforementioned value, meh. There's also a spearmint incarnation, which I doubt I'd like much better, as peppermint is usually higher up in the flavor hierarchy for me.

Sandy isn't as generally gung ho about gum as I am. She chews it occasionally on road trips but that's about it. "Meh, it's gum, and that's about it," she said. Yeah, at the end of the day, that's pretty much all that can be said. It's gum at a good price, with a cool package design and a name that tangentially reminds me of one of the most annoying Family Guy episodes ever. That doesn't mean it tastes great.

Bottom line: Gum's The Word Sugar Free Gum: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Hey you, don't forget to help support me in my Bike MS event for a chance to toss in your two cents on our blog! Every $5 you give puts one entry in a drawing for you to nominate something for me to review, and if you drop me a few lines about it, I'll get it included in my review! Contest ends on 9/22 with the winner being announced on Facebook on 9/24. To give, hit up this link and click on "Donate to Participant" under the thermometer-type thing. Thanks, and here's to world free of multiple sclerosis!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Trader Joe's Spinach & Kale Pie

If you're a fan of Trader Joe's Spinach and Kale Greek Yogurt Dip, and were ever like "Dude, I really wish I could eat something like this in a pie," guess what? Your prayers have been answered.

Although, I really wonder if the word pie was the best choice in this case. "Pastry" would seem to be slightly more accurate to me, but I've petitioned for that coveted Trader Joe's product-naming position repeatedly over the past few years and have yet to receive a response, so what do I know?

At any rate, this item turns out pretty well when cooked in the oven. It's extraordinarily flaky. Like, explosively flaky. Little bits of the crust wound up all over the table and floor as I crunched away each piece with my fork. But I was pleased with the taste. The crust was lightly buttery and croissant-like, flavor-wise.

The filling was very similar to the aforementioned spinach dip. And as was the case with the spinach dip, I definitely tasted spinach, but I really couldn't tell you if I tasted kale. Even after multiple dishes containing kale, I'm still not really sure if I know what it tastes like. That could be partly due to its blandness (but let's be kind and use the term "subtle flavor" instead). Or it may be due to the fact that kale and spinach are so similar in texture, flavor, and color, that it's completely pointless to put both of them into the same food together, except maybe to add a bit of exoticness to the name of the product. The only major difference between the spinach dip and the filling of this pastry is the absence of Greek yogurt in the latter.

With or without yogurt, spinach and kale would seem to be a healthy food choice. For a diet like mine, it might be a step in the right direction for the green roughage alone, but this particular item is chock full of sodium and saturated fat. The pie is pretty large, but not so large that a normal serving size is 1/6 of it. 1/4 of the pie seems a more realistic serving size to me, but you know how mathematically-creative people can be when drawing up the numbers for that Nutrition Facts column.

I think it's worthy of three stars. Sonia's going with three and a half on this one. Not bad.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10

Friday, September 7, 2012

Trader Joe's Petite Cocoa Batons

In honor of this particular petite product, I'm going to write only a petite (by my standards) review of Trader Joe's Petite Cocoa Batons. No tangential ramblings. No lengthy sidebars. No nothing but my straightforward opinion about the product at hand. Okay, here we go. 

Actually, that's just a polite way to say that there's nothing much to say about these mini choco-sticks. Well, to call them a stick, much less a baton, is a bit of an overstatement. To me, a baton is something able to be twirled about by a color guard member in a parade, and a stick is something I should poke my sister with. These, friends, are neither. Call them a teeny roll or micro-wonton, but don't call them a baton, because the only place these will be twirled with the all the freedom afforded by being baton is in your mouth or tummy because they're so small, like a quarter by half an inch, maybe. You can't even swish your coffee with these guys. It's not a baton. 

But they are petite, and they're certainly full of cocoa, but again, that's about all I can say. Imagine a wafery Cocoa Puff with a kinda creamy center, and that's about what these are. They're light, airy, and crispy, with a lil' dollop in the middle, and that's about it. If hungry, I could probably eat the whole box and not be remotely satisfied. After just a few of them, the taste doesn't do all that much for me, anyways. They're actually kinda boring. I suppose they could be a nice companion for that aforementioned cup of coffee as part of your a petit dejeuner, but other than that, I feel a little silly just munching on them as I sit on my couch writing this review. 

Anyways, Sandy likes 'em, with the disclaimer she'd prefer they sided more towards gran than petit. Me too. I'd imagine at least then there'd be something more we could do with these choco-batons than just munch them on down. Overall, they're probably not a repeat purchase unless when Baby M gets a little older and we want to give her a mini treat for doing something'll probably be discontinued by then anyways, which begs the question of why on God's green earth these or these are still available. Anyways, however you want to split our score below between Sandy and me, you're probably right.
Bottom line: Trader Joe's Petite Cocoa Batons: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, September 3, 2012

Trader Joe's Spinach & Kale Greek Yogurt Dip

I've mentioned before that we like to use yogurt instead of sour cream as a topping for baked potatoes and things. I think it tastes just as good, and it's a great way to leave out some unnecessary calories and fat. This dip applies the same principle. Some low-fat yogurt makes a great base for a snack dip without losing much flavor. We didn't see a non-reduced-guilt version of this product in the store, and we both agree they don't really need to market one.

As far as the "spinach and kale" aspect of it, it's rather tasty. Of course, neither Sonia nor I could tell you what exactly kale is supposed to taste like. I'm pretty sure it's seaweed... Oh that's right, we did have it once before. But even so, I'm gonna go ahead and say that you could just leave the kale out of the ingredients and very few people would notice the difference. Spinach would have done just fine. Although, "spinach and kale dip" sounds far more exotic and worthy of a purchase to easily-impressed consumers like me.

And Greek yogurt is certainly having its day in the sun. What with Fage, Oikos, and Yoplait pushing their Greek style products as the next healthy snack food craze—and even companies like Ben and Jerry's getting in on the action, it's no wonder TJ's is pumping out a few Greek yogurt type products. I myself have mixed feelings about the stuff. I have to assess it on a product-by-product basis, and in this case, it's a thumbs up.

We ate it with crackers and mini-pitas. It worked well with both, and we're quite certain the list of valid pairings could fill multiple paragraphs of this blog post, but we'll just let you use your own imaginations. If you've tried anything unusual with this dip, please let us know in the comments below. (Keep it food-related. What you and your partner do with dip behind closed doors is your business and no one else's.)

All in all, it's very creamy and a little spinachy, with a hint of spices and zestiness. I would liken it to a cold version of a good restaurant-style spinach dip. It's really yummy, if you like that sort of thing. Fortunately for this product, both Sonia and I do. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10

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