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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Trader Joe's Peppermint Sandwich Cookie Cake

This item has pork in it. 

There is PIG in this product. Granted, it's just pig bones. Or possibly pig skin. But PORK GELATIN is listed on the ingredients. Didn't think we'd read the ingredients, did you, TJ's? Well, we did (unfortunately, not until after we got the cake home). And this product just isn't tasty enough for me to overlook that fact.

Putting pork in peppermint ice cream is nearly as gross as putting bugs in yogurt. Yes, Dannon and certain other brands put bugs in yogurt. LOTS of bugs. I'm not implying they put bugs in TJ's yogurts either...just yogurt in general. It's called "carmine." If you don't want to eat lots of bugs, look for it in yogurt ingredients. That being said, bugs are high in protein, low in fat, and are probably a lot better for you than the chemicals that some companies put in yogurt. But...they're BUGS. Similarly, I suppose there's not a lot of fat in pork gelatin. But pig-flavored ice cream just doesn't sit well in my subconscious. After this sandwich cookie was out of the freezer for a bit, I swear it started to smell like pork rinds, but that was probably just my overactive imagination.

Perusing the packaging of this porky peppermint product further, you'll discover even more fun facts that utterly defy logic, like "Product of France." Product of France?? They import this stuff?? What made them think this was worth importing?? You're telling me there isn't a better chocolate-peppermint sandwich cookie stateside? 

The peppermint is stiff, and it isn't particularly creamy or sweet. It's just minty. The chocolate cookie is powdery and kind of spongy. It's not very flavorful. The bread part and the ice cream part don't blend together all that well, either. You'd be better off mixing any other pint of peppermint ice cream with a chocolate Twinkie. 

This "Pork Peppermint Patty" is proof that the answer to "What's Good at Trader Joe's?" is not "everything," and this post is proof that we do not work for Trader Joe's. AdSense makes this blog lucrative for us, not TJ's. But at the same time, don't get me wrong—this blog IS a labor of love...just like this funny music video about the first TJ's in Denver, CO, or this well-written article about the guy who holds the "End of the Line" sign at a Trader Joe's in Manhattan, or this excellent cookbook about stuff you can make with Trader Joe's products. TJ's fans are enthusiastic, to say the least.

But in the end, we must give you our honest opinion. Sonia scores this product 1.5 stars. I give it half a star.

Bottom line: 2 out of 10.
And just so I don't sound like a Thanksgiving Grinch by leaving you with a negative review right before Turkey Day (or Turkey-Less Day, as the case may be), I'd also like to say that I'm very thankful for a lot of things, including most Trader Joe's products, and you, our readers. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Trader Joe's Belgian Dark Chocolate Bar

I've been known to exaggerate or flat-out make up stories time to time, but this one, I swear, is true: Back in college, between my junior and senior year, I worked with this one guy whose name I cannot remember, but he was rather, well, unique. Whenever he spoke (which was quite often), he spoke in this rich, silky, charming British accent that even made me swoon a little bit. The ladies loved it. So, one night when we were finishing a shift up, it was absolutely jarring and disorienting to hear him speak....with no accent at all. I think I just stared him stupidly, all wide-mouthed and whatnot, as he caught my expression and said, "Yeah, I actually grew up like 20 minutes away from here. I use an accent because the chicks dig makes me sound mysterious and interesting." I asked him how well that was working out for him. He winked as he flipped his accent back on and said "Very well." That was the only time I ever heard him break character. 

I kinda thought about that guy as I reflected upon the consumption of the Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Bar. It comes down to appearance management, to make oneself seemingly different from the "ordinary," even when the "ordinary isn't even necessarily a bad thing. There's nothing wrong with a guy from Port Matilda as is, nor anything wrong with a typical candy bar. But let's embellish it a bit. See here.  First of all, this is "Belgian" dark chocolate. How's that different from regular dark chocolate? Going into the purchase, I couldn't tell you, but the fact it said "Belgian" made it sound much, much cooler. Then there's also Thing on the label, holding that To/From gift tag, implying this is one serious present-worthy chocolate bar.

Welllllll....I'm not saying it's a bad dark chocolate bar. It's pretty decent, actually. Think of a good, dark but not crazy-dark chocolate bar, and you'll have this. But there's the point. Perhaps it's my complete lack of Belgian cultural awareness outside of pricey Trappist beers and classic cinema, but I can't tell you what makes this different and/or sets it apart from, say, a Hershey bar made in the good U.S. of A. I'm aware of the fact that the package says it is made in Belgium, which as my wife strained greatly to point out to me, makes it a "Belgian" bar, but I wanted to know what made it Belgian, if you know what I mean. The package isn't even the colors of the Belgian flag. Maybe one or two of you kindhearted, patient souls can out there can point me in the right direction.

Regardless, it's one thick, hefty bar that made out of six segmented logs (so it's only half the bar pictured). It's not easy to bust them apart - Sandy accidentally thwacked it off the kitchen table and it merely, begrudgingly, broke in half. If you had to build a house out of chocolate, they'd be a pretty good exterior wall. Yet at the same time, they're not too cumbersome for biting and chewing. Must be some of that chocolately melt in your mouth, not in your hand magic.

I'm pretty sure I paid two bucks for it at the local TJ's shop. I'd gladly enough pay another two bucks for it again, if they didn't have one or two of our other favorites readily available and I really needed that chocolate fix. My beloved wifey deems it worthy a four. I'm a little behind that.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Belgian Dark Chocolate Bar: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, November 22, 2013

Trader Joe's Curried White Chicken Deli Salad

Are you a fan of chicken salad? Are you a fan of curry? If you can answer "yes" to both of those questions, then you'll love this stuff. Before I tried this, I imagined what the perfect curried chicken salad would taste like. And the product matched what I imagined. And I mean exactly matched. This is the archetype. This is the genuine article. This isn't the shadow of curried chicken salad on the wall of the cave, this is the curried chicken salad itself

Somewhere, some culinarily-inclined East Indian person must have married a Mennonite or Amish person from Lancaster County, PA, or somewhere else where people make near-perfect chicken salad, and the two went about creating the most amazing "fusion" dish I've had in a long time. It's every bit as good as, though in no way similar to, Bulgogi Tacos.

There's just the right amount of spicy curry, just the right amount of chicken, and just the right amount of everything else. I should have taken a pic of the product out of the container, but I inhaled the whole thing too quickly and I forgot. Upon first glance, looking at the salad, there appeared to be an excess of raisins, but it definitely didn't taste that way. They balanced everything out juuust right. The chicken was moist, bite-sized, and had a great consistency.

I ate this with a fork, straight from the tub. I could have kicked myself for not picking up naan bread while I was there. I bet this would have been killer with actual Indian bread, but it also would have made a decent sandwich with just regular old Sunbeam.

This might not be the most common purchase for us or anyone else, but I simply can't imagine curried chicken salad tasting much better than this. Sonia gives this product 5 stars. Me too.

Bottom line: 10 out of 10.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Trader Joe's Turkey Gobbler Wrap

To start off, it's not like Trader Joe's Turkey Gobbler Wrap is a fairly unique product offering. Out here in Western PA, at Mad Mex restaurants this time of year, you can go get yourself a Gobblerito. I haven't partaken of that, nor I have tried Wawa's* Gobbler sandwich which is similarly boasted about. There's probably a zillion others out and around town right now, as if portable Thanksgiving leftover mashups are the new rage as everyone is finally getting sick of pumpkin-related stuff. To me, it looked like an just-interesting-enough easy lunch alternative to the usual same ol' same ol' TJ's trots out without fail or much variance. Really, as surprisingly good as they are, I don't think I can ever eat one of their tamales again. Too much.

TJ's take on the turkified Thanksgiving tidbits twirled into a tortilla is actually pretty decent. For whatever reason, I didn't have high hopes for it at time of purchase. It's a good sized wrap, certainly not the size of say a burrito from Qdoba (I've ridden in smaller minivans) but more like one that'd be par for the course from the local convenience shop. There was just enough turkey chunkage in each bite to keep me from feeling cheated - a little bit more would've been appreciated but not a dealbreaker. I think I just wanted more because the turkey itself was pretty good - nicely roasted, fresh, not too thick, not too thin. Nicely done. The stuffing was kinda nondescript (think more or less compressed StoveTop and it's close enough) but the dried cranberries....yum. Kinda like Lebowski's rug (warning, definitely NSFW), it tied the whole thing together into a wrap worth eating. Not sure if the cream cheese was really necessary - in fact, I'll say no, though there wan't a lot. The tortilla was replacement level at best, kinda a boring flour one, but not bad either.

However, let's talk about that "festive dipping sauce" mentioned on the label. What's "festive" about a tepid pool of grayish/brownish milky Frankengravy? It is Frankengravy as a quick scan of the ingredients states the sauce has both turkey gravy AND beef gravy in it. What the h-e-double bendi-straw is up with that? It's probably not a mortal sin to mix gravies, but it should be in consideration. Plus, despite that, about the only two things the sauce succeeds in is 1) adding a lot of unnecessary sodium and 2) making the nondescript tortilla soggy and not much else. I liked my wrap better without the sauce than with, but maybe that's just me.

Sandy hasn't tried this, not because she wouldn't, but because I bought just one and ate it all, so tough luck. A quick scan of some comments from our Facebook page reveal a lot of love for the gobbler wrap - Jes, a self proclaimed picky eater, states she loves it, as did pretty much everyone else. Kam, another fan, noted the nutritional info, though - yeah, it's pretty bad. Is it fair I grant this product a four on the behalf of you all? No objections? Fine, a four then. I'm thankful that this was pretty good as is, but it could've been better. Imagine, for example, big bites of turkey with mashed sweet potatoes with brown sugar and pecan crunchies, wrapped up in a wheat or multtgrain tortilla with cranberry dipping sauce. Patent that and make a million bucks. But for $3.99, I could've done worse. I'm going with a 3.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Turkey Gobbler Wrap: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
* Wawa is an eastern PA/southern New Jersey chain of convenience stores. There's a Pennsylvanian culture war between them in the East and Sheetz here in the western parts. As someone who's lived in both of their prime turfs, I prefer Getgo over both - they make the best breakfast sandwich, pure and simple..

Friday, November 15, 2013

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

These should be called "Pumpkin Muffins with Cream Cheese" because as they are, it sounds like they're regular muffins with pumpkin cream cheese. But they're pumpkin muffins with regular cream cheese. Just sayin'.

Unlike the recently reviewed Pumpkin Croissants, the pumpkin seeds on these muffins didn't really add much to the product. In fact, I wish they had done away with them altogether. The cream cheese, while pleasantly creamy and rich, was just a single slab right in the middle of the muffin. 

Sonia kept expressing her desire for more cream cheese. I do agree with that sentiment, but I also must point out that my well-thought-out biting strategy went a long way in preserving the lone dollop of cream cheese until I was nearly done with the bread part of the product. The procedure involved biting straight in from the perimeter of the cupcake and placing the incisors just at the edge of the cream cheese center. In this manner, a proportional amount of cream cheese came with each bite, and there was even a tiny amount left in the core of the muffin which could be coupled with the portion of bread just beneath it. This method can be improvised, but for greater accuracy, you might want to employ the use of a compass and protractor. I would draw a diagram for you, but alas, I am not as talented as my cross-state blogging comrade when it comes to MS Paint illustrations.

I personally liked the bread quite a bit. It was moist and slightly pumpkintastic. I would have eaten it sans a heavy topping, but Sonia insisted that it required cream cheese or frosting to be palatable. That's unusual, since I'm normally the one pining for more sugar and fat.

All in all, I think these make a happily-autumnal snack or dessert. If moist pumpkin bread sounds good to you, check 'em out. Just don't expect a whole lot of cream cheese.

Sonia gives them 3 stars. I give 'em 3.5.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Cashew Brittle with Sea Salt

Have you seen those Jimmy Kimmel videos of parents who tell their kids that they ate all of their Halloween candy? It's so cruel yet just so hilarious. I'm not sure that I'd ever do such a thing to my daughter when she's old enough for trick-or-treating and a big pillowcase full of candy to gorge herself on within three days just like how dear ol' dad used to do.

But I have no problem doing that with Sandy. None whatsoever. So one night, as she was coming down from upstairs, I hid the last few remnants of our box of Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Cashew Brittle with Sea Salt in our utensil drawer. When she asked where it was, I simply said, "Umm, sorry, ate it all." Please note: this was entirely plausible, as let's just say I have a history. Her reaction: Perfect, from the initial eyebrow raising, to the lip mini-quiver, to a definite pout, to only semi-playfully punching me in the arm. By that, I mean it's a good thing I don't bruise easily. It's also good that I'm a terrible liar (I smile waaaay too much), so she only half-believed me and took it easy. To really sell this next time, maybe I need to go get that plastic surgery some poker players get to help disguise their tells. 

Long time readers may know of my crazed, professed love of Trader Joe's Peanut Brittle. Seriously, it got weird for a while. It's safe to say I'm not quite as enamored with this particular version. It's not that it's not tasty or anything like that. Quite to the contrary. Much like it's aforementioned brethren, there's plenty of pieces the size of Greenland mixed in with itty bitty shards. Each piece is also definitely thicker than most brittles, adding an even bigger-than-usual crunch, and the sea salt makes a nice little addition. That's all well and good.

But there's two issues: the nuts and the chocolate. By "nuts" I more precisely mean nut distribution - some of those mega pieces had scarcely a nut or two in them, and if they were in there, they were hiding pretty deep down where you couldn't see them - like I said, it's very thick brittle. Meanwhile, some of the postage stamp-sized pieces had five gazillion cashews in them, which seems impossible except it isn't. Must be Time Lord technology, being bigger on the inside and all. And the chocolate - well, it's certainly good chocolate, as is most if not all of TJ's dark chocolate selections, but it just doesn't add that much, and instead kinda muddies the flavor some. Think about it this way: you already have a bunch of salty nuts fossilized into a rock solid chunk of corn syrup - how much more do you really need to play up the salty/sweet angle?

All that being said, yeah, Sandy and I housed it over two nights. The box isn't that big where we feel too guilty about it. It wasn't a terrible pick up for the four bucks or so, and it stands a more-than-decent chance to be a repeat purchase, even if just for something like a worky-office-holiday-party-type thing. Sandy's between three and a half or four spoons, and I'm a smidge behind that.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Cashew Brittle with Sea Salt: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Soup

This might have been the most pumpkinnish product we've had so far. Not in terms of ginger, allspice, and nutmeg—although "spices" were present in moderation—I'm talking about the actual large orange squash-like vegetable (or is it a fruit?). I felt like I was tasting pumpkin for the first time. And for those of you who've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know that it's definitely not my first time eating a pumpkin product.

This soup had a very natural flavor. Similar to butternut squash soup in terms of taste, this dish was just creamy enough, flavorful enough, and spicy enough to not seem, well...weird. Unlike tomato souppea soup, and lentil soup, pumpkin soup was entirely unfamiliar to me up till now. And when I try something brand new to me, my biggest fear isn't really that it will taste bad. If it's simply unpalatable, I'll just steer clear of it next time. I'm most scared that it will taste so strange to me—that the flavor and texture will be so far outside my experience—that I'll somehow be unable to appreciate a perfectly good product because of my own personal shortcomings; my failure to expand my horizons wide enough to incorporate this unfamiliar substance into my realm of appreciation.

Fortunately, neither of those scenarios was the case here. It was just really good soup that happened to taste like pumpkin. And Sonia and I were both appreciative of the fact that it's pre-mixed. There's no digging through the cupboards to find that measuring cup and then wondering whether you should use skim or whole, or whether you can substitute almond milk for cow's milk, or any of that nonsense. The mix was already done, and it just happened to be perfect. Plus, the box was less than $2. 

Our only complaint would be to point out that by itself, the soup is a bit boring. Some crackers or grilled cheese sandwiches are definitely in order if you want to turn this stuff into a meal, but happily, both crackers and grilled cheese complement this product perfectly.

If you're averse to pumpkin or plain, creamy soups, this product ain't for you. But if you're on the fence about trying it, Sonia and I both think you should check it out. Double four's.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Croissants

As Russ so delicately pointed out in his last post: I, Nathan, am an old man. And in all my long years, I have never tasted such delicious croissants. Ever. Not even in France. Granted, the croissant I had in Paris was from a sketchy street vendor guy, and it was super inexpensive. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't just wasn't this good.

Apparently, Russ and Sandy had a similar experience with the Almond Croissants, a delicacy that Sonia and I haven't had the chance to try yet. But if they're anything like these pumpkin dealies, they're going to be at the top of our next shopping list.

Man, where do I start? Like their almond cousins, these croissants need to thaw for 6-7 hours. I'm pretty sure the next time I buy these things, that the full thaw time won't occur...because I won't have the willpower to wait. I'm going to justify a shorter thaw time with a line of logic that goes something like this: "Because there's more heat in the oven, thawing will occur much faster if I just stick them in the oven now, and leave them in for, say...a half hour longer." And they'll come out burned on the outside and raw on the inside or something like that, and I'll be slightly disappointed, as was the case with the Chicken Pot Pie Bites.

But barring that or some similar calamity, I can't imagine you won't like these. The crust was amazing. It came out golden-brown, full of air, flaky, and very buttery. The pumpkin center was just as good. It's like hot pumpkin pie filling, but perhaps just a tad thinner. It's not overwhelmingly pumpkinny. It's just enough to balance out the bread part of the product. The pumpkin seeds add a nice element of texture, and somehow, they're the best-tasting pumpkin seeds I've ever had. As a kid, after carving our annual jack-o-lantern, my dad and I would roast all the seeds from our pumpkin, dump a bunch of salt on them, and eat them. I think the pumpkin seeds in this case have a little bit of butter and sweetness on them. I was skeptical that they'd work with something so dessert-like, but they definitely did. I guess they take the place of the almond slivers that crown the almond croissants.

I think I'm overdue for a perfect score. I give these 5 out of 5 stars. Sonia gives them 4.5. Scrump-pumpkin-dilly-icious.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Trader Joe's Mini Pecan Pies

I'm not sure how old Nathan is, but he must be older than I thought, or at least he has a much more old school music taste than I do. While I consider myself having a fairly encyclopedic song knowledge base, when he referenced that "Sweet Little Lies" song a few weeks back for a previous review of Trader Joe's Mini Pie Medley, I couldn't place that song whatsoever. Still can't. And it's not the first time that's happened, either.

I do, however, know another song called "Sweet Little Lies" by Michael Franti (one of the best concerts my wife and have been to, despite Franti's recent and kinda disappointing career turn), which she and I nearly simultaneously broke out into upon our first bite of Trader Joe's Mini Pecan Pies: "Give me pies, pies, pies, sweet little pies/ I gots to feed my sweet tooth/ Give me pies, pies, pies, sweet little pites/ Ummmm.....Help me fit into a toll booth?"

We added that last line because man, look at the nutritional information for these guys. Or maybe don't. Make of it what you will, but.....daaaaang. All that for a couple little bites of a little pie, when I honestly could eat two or three and not feel guilty until I looked at that? I'm 31, balding, mortgage, wife, kid, regular chiropractic appointments....I need to start watching that stuff.

So the question naturally becomes, are the micro-pies worth it? An excellent question, and I kinda waver back and forth on it. In the end, I'd say probably not, because I can't decide how much I like them. I mean, they're tasty, but....probably the tastiest part is the actual pie crust itself. It's shortbread style with some sugar glazed over top to add some sweetness that lingers and lingers well after the taste of the nut filling has gone away. It's like they put a lot of effort into the crust, and succeeded, but only to cover up the deficiency of the insides. It's a fair amount of pecans, and tons of brown sugar, and it tastes a little nutty and sweet but there's something missing. I'm not sure what it is. I've admitted before that I'm a pecan pie snob thanks to my Aunt Brenda's traditional Thanksgiving pie, and I'm not sure what she does differently (maybe she just licks her fingers while making the pie), and I know that it's probably not really a fair comparison, but man....there is something missing, and I can't shake that thought.

Regardless, the pies make for an okay dessert pick up. Just eat lots of raw veggies the rest of the day. I think the six pack cost somewhere around four or five bucks, and heat up in the oven in about 10 minutes. There's also a thaw-on-the-counter option, but that's been not-so-great before, so Sandy and I skipped out on that. Just a word to the wise: give them a few minutes to cool off before consuming, because the filling gets white-hot and stays that way for about five minutes after baking. Right, dear? Sandy liked them plenty, saying she wished there was more filling in them. About the only way that could happen would be a bigger pie, as they are amply engorged with the nutty parts. She gives them a four. I counter with a 2.5,

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mini Pecan Pies: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, November 4, 2013

Trader Joe's Thai Lime Shrimp Skewers

I've never been to a Thai restaurant outside of Pittsburgh, so I don't know if this is the usual protocol or not, but when you order your fried rice or curry or what have you out here, you're asked how spicy you want it on a scale of 1 to 10. There are certain things I may do in my life with a questionable percentage of my gluteus maximus invested, but heat is not usually one of them. I have to go ten. Sometimes, I get extra spice on the side. One particular time several years ago, an acquaintance whom I was dining with stated he could handle hotter food than I ever could. Game on. Ordered a ten, got extra spice, coated every bite with the hottest chile powder, peppers and curry paste, and didn't take a single sip of water, drip one tear, or heck, even cough. He tried to match me, and it was a cute effort, but it fell far short. That guy's still intimidated of me to this very day.

So, yeah, the Thai spices. Love 'em, though I'm also learning to appreciate other flavors and aspects of Thai cuisine, like sweet coconut undertones, and as experienced here and there, lime leaves. It's a good thing, because otherwise, these Trader Joe's Thai Lime Shrimp Skewers would've been a rather large disappointment.

If you have any preconceived notions that all Thai food is spicy, throw it completely out the window here. These are not spicy at all, in any way that any tongue, branch of science, or philosopher could ever discern. In yet another example of TJ's exemplary track record in overall shrimp quality, each one of these are firm, fresh, non-fishy tidbits that heat up quickly and easily. For flavor, instead of the usual spicy suspects, it's all about the lime, but not in a citrusy Warhead-esque way, It's more refined. Such is the way of the kaffir lime. Not sure how to accurately describe it - Wikipedia uses words like "aromatic" and "astringent" which sounds like a smelly zit remover description to me - but perhaps it's like a limey answer to lemongrass. The citrus is subtle, while the herbal taste isn't but it isn't overpowering either. It's just good.

However, it ain't all perfect. This is yet another silly pet peeve that I'm slowly becoming more cognizant that I have, but the tails on? Really? Haven't we evolved past this? I hate shrimp tails, especially because it's not always easy to get the last little shrimp nub in them. My toddler daughter also kept reaching for pile of tails, much like she usually does while making a scene trying to grab clementine peels, except she loves clementines and didn't care for this shrimp whatsoever. Also, these got cold really fast after finishing cooking them. I'm talking ice cold in about three minutes. That might be more me than my little crustacean cronies - anybody with some insight? I could also live without the skewer itself, but meh. Also, please just a little spice. Please.

All told, the shrimp skewers aren't a bad buy. They're definitely much better than our previous meat-unnecessarily-on-a-stick purchase. You get five sticks with five shrimp on each for either five or six bucks. That's less than a quarter each, and given that I saw a bar advertising 90 cent wings as a special the other day, I'm thinking a restaurant would charge much more. Sandy liked 'em enough to score them a four without much to say one way or the other. I'll counter with a three.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Thai Lime Shrimp Skewers: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons


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