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Friday, January 30, 2015

Trader Joe's Fruit Bar with Flax & Chia Seeds

After clobbering you with gelatochocolatecookie butter productssriracha-fied goodies, and incredibly fattening broccoli this month, it's time to look at something not so indulgent (i.e., boring.) And to that end, these fruit bars are perfect. If you've ever dreamed of stacking like 4 or 5 normal fruit leather bars on top of one another and then using that stack to scrape the mucilaginous seed coating off your Chia Pet, then this product's for you.

They're filling, fruity, and sweet, but they're pretty heavy on the chia seeds, which makes them moderately gritty. It also makes them hearty. This little bar is more effective at curbing temporary hunger than it might look. For under a buck, it's a decent mid-day snack, and it's probably a healthier choice than, say, a Snickers bar.

The overall flavor is kinda strawberry-ish, though you can see there on the list that we've got multiple fruit ingredients going on including apple, pear, elderberry, and even lemon juice. It's slightly tart, as well as naturally-sugary—fructosey, if you will...

If you're a fruit bar enthusiast, definitely check these out. Though, an even less-indulgent choice with impressive flavor might be the Fruit + Fruit Bars we looked at a while back. For me, if I'm craving a fruit leather-ish snack, I'd probably reach for the smaller, cheaper (though, admittedly, less-filling) "fruit wraps."

Another 3.5 from me, 4 from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups

By now, some of you have figured out that Russ and I are indeed trying to make you fat. It's time to come clean. 

We've actually been hired by the Illuminati to help make America more obese, and therefore more docile and more easily controlled, for when they roll out the New World Order. They're targeting an audience interested in a grocery store that's known for being kinda sorta healthy, and hoping we'll steer the clientele towards the more decadent desserts instead of fruits and stuff. You know something's fishy when the guy who's on a paleo diet starts handing out cookie butter sandwich cookies to the populace at large.

However, rebellious young lad that I am, I must risk life and limb to defy the orders of my scheming handlers this time and tell you all that this is not a "must-buy" item in our humble opinions, and to save your precious calories for some other cookie butter product or even, heaven forbid, something kinda sorta healthy. So why review it at all, you ask?

Easy. The phrase "COOKIE. BUTTER." is clickbait. You guys click it every time. Thank you for that, by the way. Next time, I'm going to put up a Facebook post with something like "COOKIE. BUTTER. WIENERSCHNITZEL." and see how that goes. Cookie butter wienerschnitzel is not a real product, by the way, at least as far as I know.

But what IS a real product is this cookie butter candy bar that we looked at before. And it's almost exactly the same as these cookie butter cups. Neither product is bad. If either were my first cookie butter experience, I would probably be swooning. We just feel like the dark chocolate overshadows the cookie butter flavor in both cases—perhaps even more so in the case of the cups. I think the dark chocolate to cookie butter ratio might be even higher here. Both Sonia and I feel this way, and I must note that Sonia is a much bigger fan of dark chocolate than I am. I'd still love to try something with cookie butter and white chocolate—which yes, I know, is bad for you—but then again, I am supposed to be making you all fat.

Both Sonia and I were surprised at the firmness of the outer chocolate shell, a fact which Margaret over at the Impulsive Buy noted, too—in fact, it's significantly firmer than your standard Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. I'd say that's another weakness of the product, but if you like firm, dark chocolate, this just might be your thing.

In the end, it's a set of 3.5's from the lovely Sonia and I.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Trader Joe's Cookie Butter Sandwich Cookies

The United States Government defines Schedule I narcotic substances as those with high abuse or addiction potential, with no medical use and severe safety concerns. You know which ones those are. I think it's time we propose a new entry to the list: Cookie butter. If it's as addicting as crack, maybe it's time we start treating it like that.

Yeah, I said it. Listen: You know what it tastes like. You know it's addicting. There's no question about it. You know what you did that one night with that jarful and a spoon - have no shame, we've all been there. I know I have. And I know what it's done to me - listen, as tasty as it is, it sure as heck ain't spinach you're ingesting there. Scroll down and look at the picture of the nutritional information if you dare. Too much cookie butter, with all its palm-oily ways, will kill you. Just how bad is palm oil? It can even make broccoli unhealthy. That's crazy. Aside from the momentary seconds that speculoos graces your taste buds and tickles them in the gingery-cinnamony way that only it can, there's absolutely nothing beneficial about cookie butter, yet it seems as a human race we can't get enough of it. Just search the terms "cookie butter" on this blog and you'll see all of its incarnations - this stuff is super popular.

So, naturally, we now have Trader Joe's Cookie Butter Sandwich Cookies. Let's see...make cookies, grind them into butter, make filling for another cookie. Another stroke of genius, and another move towards total world domination by those speciously speculoosy Belgians. Of course Trader Joe's would bring these aboard - I fully expect Cookie Butter Two Buck Chuck by this time next week.

Not gonna lie: these are darn good cookies. Those buttery shortbread cookie twins are light and crispy and simply melt in your mouth. My goodness. I thought those Danish cookies a few weeks back were pretty good for a commercial cookie - oh, they were, but these are a whole 'nother level. These just crumble with perfection from start to finish.

How good are those actual wafers? As good as cookie butter is (and I know I am veering towards heresy here), the cookies themselves are by far the star of the show here. It's not even close.

Maybe I'm just used to the whole "cookie butter" thing and have grown jaded by its inherent awesomeness, I don't know. I mean, the speculoos certainly blends in for a smooth bite and full, rich flavor experience which is really satisfying, and I don't have any real complaints about the cookies. Maybe my body is trying to convince my brain it's not that good, so I don't need to go eat four more right this moment, so as to not further derail my diet.

Anyways, I bought two boxes of these, one for home for me and the wife, and the other for my neighbors at my cubicle farm - $3.99 for some collegial happiness on a crap-hit-the-fan week is a small price to pay. The votes amongst my coworkers were nearly unanimously for perfection, with comments ranging from "better than anything from a bakery" to "best thing I've had since the last time you bought me cookie butter" to a mysterious "mama's baby loves shortening" - maybe I'm a dealer who just gave them all their first hit for free. As for me and the wife, while we both like them, we're not as overly glowing, for reasons we just can't put our thumbs on. I figure the coworkers say a 4.5 overall (one said she flat-out didn't like them at all, though could not elaborate*) and Sandy and I average out to a 4, so that's what we're going with here. Score too low? Send us some love in the comments below!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cookie Butter Sandwich Cookies: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons       
* This is the same woman who thinks bacon should be relegated to "breakfast only" status, so take her opinion accordingly. :)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Nibs

Courtesy of the Hershey Chocolate World factory ride, which I've done roughly 5000 times where their song still haunts my dreams occasionally (think "It's a Small World After All," only about chocolate), I didn't even have to look up what a chocolate nib is. It's the cocoa bean, before being ground and smushed down to cocoa liquor or butter. It's sorta like chocolate in its purest form that's in some type of edible state. All there is, there ain't no more. But I had to look up up again why dark chocolate is good for you - some, in moderation, is acceptable on my interpretation of the paleo diet (close to 50 pounds dropped now!), and I've heard that there's benefits but have forgotten what they were. Well, about to drop some science on ya here: theobromine. Not related to actual bromine. What it does: Lower blood pressure. Helps you pee. Can even (maybe?) help prevent tooth decay. And it means "food of the gods." Not too much else you can ask from it, except for maybe some tax advice and to make Justin Bieber disappear forever. Darker the chocolate, the more theobromine, and since nibs are pretty much 100% dark chocolate, you can't do any better.

Though you can buy and consume just straight cocoa nibs, that doesn't sound overly appetizing, at least not to me. So what can you add to pure chocolate to make it taste better? How about....more chocolate? Brilliant!

Hence the existence of Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Nibs - nibs in a form that's palatable to the masses.  Take a nib, bathe it in some 65% dark chocolate, put it in a tin by the checkout, charge $1.99, intrigue guys like me who'll gamble a couple bucks on a whim - good strategy. If you've done the chocolate-covered coffee bean thing, these aren't too far off that mark, they're just a little smaller, like the size of a large Nerd. Once your teeth sink through the cocoa-coating, it's just the crunchy nibby middle. Though it can feel a little gritty with a large mouth full, just a couple at a time are texturally pleasing enough.

Now, 65% dark might seem like some pretty dark, bitter chocolate for some, but that outer layer is downright sweet compared to the actual nib. It takes a couple bites to really flush out the nib taste, and though there's not a lot, it's potent, the very definition of bittersweet. On one hand, I'm kinda surprised how much flavor can come from a toasted cocoa bean before adding milk and sugar and all that jazz - there's a slight nutty/fruity thing going on. Very slight. On the other, I'm not sure how much of just that taste I really want, so that little hit of "chocolate chocolate" from the outer layer adds a nice balance that helps smooth it all over. As an added bonus, the nibs come in a little pocket sized tin that I will have absolutely no practical use for, but will insist on holding on to anyways, much to the wife's chagrin.

Speaking of the wifey, Sandy tried a small handful and wasn't overly impressed. "They just kinda taste like crunchy choco-bits, and I could eat all of these at once and not mind," she said. While I agree on the first part of her statement, I couldn't disagree more on the second. This is coming from a guy who loves dark chocolate and is still learning about things like "self control", but only like five or six of these bitty bits are enough for me when I need a hit. Seriously, I've had the tin for about a week, and there's still about a quarter of it left. Maybe the nibs have struck the balance of "good enough to keep eating, not good enough to do all at once" for me, or perhaps they're just a little too potent as is. Not sure. Matching threes from the two of us.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Nibs: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, January 19, 2015

Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Broccoli Florets

It's time to check out Stoner Joe's Crunchy Chronic Cannabis Kernels, rushed overnight from the Denver TJ's. Just kidding. They're broccoli florets. Not quite as creative as "Inner Peas" or anything like that, but I suppose "broccoli" doesn't lend itself to that kind of play on words. I racked my brain for something to prove I'm nearly as creative as TJ's marketing department, Russ, and reader **Tammy**, but all I could come up with is a new kale product that might have Caesar dressing instead of zesty nacho, which of course would be called "Kale, Caesar!" 

Which conveniently brings me to my first actually-relevant point about the product itself—taste and texture-wise, these aren't all that dissimilar from the aforementioned kale chips, the biggest difference being the lack of a "dressing" type flavor in these broccoli florets. And if you go back to that kale chip review, you'll find that it's a highly polarizing, love-it-or-hate-it product. The comment section reads like a death threat followed by a love letter followed by a death threat, and so on. 

So my advice to you now is, if you hated the kale chips, you're probably gonna hate these bad boys and should consider avoiding them. You may still issue death threats via the comments section if you feel they're warranted. Love letters are also appreciated, but do note that I am happily married.

I thoroughly enjoyed the kale chips. And I'm enjoying these happy broccoli bites. I do wish that they had some kind of dressing, as well, though. They're weird, brittle, and crumby. They're also "planty," but they really don't taste or feel like broccoli to me, except for maybe the aftertaste. They're salty, and there's almost a nutty quality about them. 

They're surprisingly fattening for broccoli, which I guess can be attributed to the presence of palm oil. They're chock full of dietary fiber and vitamin C, so I think we can still declare them "healthy-ish." At $2.79, we're looking at a significantly lower price point than the kale chips. Plus the florets are filling and satisfying, so I'd call them a success in the "value" department. 

On the flip side, I'm dubious to declare that they could ever be a staple in our household or a regular TJ's purchase. So I think a 3.5 is an appropriate score. If you liked the kale chips and the idea of dried, crunchy broccoli doesn't turn your stomach, I say give 'em a whirl. Sonia echoes my sentiments with a matching 3.5.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Trader Joe's Jumbo Raisin Medley and Trader Joe's Just Mango Slices

Particularly astute readers may notice that thus far in 2015, we've been persistently (perhaps overwhelmingly) positive and glowing in our reviews. I mean, in the four previous reviews this month, there's been not one, not two, but three new pantheon entries? Those are some hallowed halls there, and we don't just hand out that badge to just anyone. For proof, it took three months for Nathan and I to give out our last three crested jackets (which seemed a bit quick then, but for primarily cookie butter-related reasons, we had no choice), and I, Russ, once went over a year between giving out pantheon grades (see here and here - again, the cookie butter!) , so three Hall of Fame passes in four reviews is really quite something.

Of course, look at what we reviewed. Salted caramel gelato - how can that not be awesome? Oh, it is. Sriracha bacon jerky- how can that not be awesome? Oh, it is. And organic sriracha and garlic barbeque sauce...well, you get the drift. Listen, if something sucks, we'll tell you. Like this. Or this. Or especially this. Big Joe isn't paying us to spread his gospel, we just picked a particularly good run of products, is all.

So let's take a step back and focus on something not so flashy - like raisins and mangoes!

I can't imagine how different my childhood would be if I associated the word "raisin" with things like Trader Joe's Jumbo Raisin Medley, and not the smushed up dry fruit shards in a tiny cardboard box that the neighborhood jerk gave out on Halloween, or the sinking "oh wait, that's not chocolate chip" feeling of not inspecting that oatmeal raisin cookie closer. I'd probably like raisins a lot more, because man, these are much different. These raisins are big and full and fleshy and full of bite, and the fact there's three kinds in there - what I'd call "regular" dark jumbo raisins (tastes like a raisin raisin), golden (lighter flavor, still plenty sweet) and then the exotic sounding red flame raisins (the most vibrant of the three) - make them a great snack. They work just as well eating as a small or large handful, one type or all three at a time. For $3.69 for a one pound bag, it's not a bad deal.

And as far as Trader Joe's Just Mango Slices go - listen, obviously, if mangoes are your thing, you'll like them. There's nothing funky added on, unlike that well-intentioned fling while chile powder that didn't go over so great, or any extra sugar or preservatives or weird stuff - it's, as the name implies, just mango slices, dehydrated to a chewy, sticky, state. It's like fruit jerky. And beware if you have some intricate dental work or sensitive teeth - once dampened by saliva, these fruity fellas will find a way to stick to any part of your enamel possible. Have toothpicks on hand for extraction missions, you'll need them. $2.99 seems like an okay price, although I wonder why the other mango slices with stuff added to them are half the price.

The jumbo raisins and mango slices are being reviewed together because I feel basically the same way about them both - I'm not overly impressed by either one, yet I've picked them both up several times to keep primarily as a work desk drawer snack stash. It's fruit, it's healthy, it's easily portable, and a bag of each will last me a week for a reasonable price, so while not overly special, they're worthy enough to be considered a staple, at least for me. Good to know Trader Joe's can do that kinda stuff well, too.

Bottom lines:
Trader Joe's Jumbo Raisin Medley: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Just Mango Slices: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Gelato

If I were reading somebody else's review of this product, there is no way—no matter how much praise they gave it, no matter how desperately they begged me to try it—that I would believe it's as good as it actually is. This was the biggest pleasant surprise we've seen from TJ's in a very long time. Make no mistake, cookie butter ice cream and cookie butter cheesecake were like heaven on earth, but it's hardly a surprise when the words "Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter" are on the product. TJ's does the salted caramel thing pretty well, too, but this one's definitely my favorite so far.

Although this was our first ever strictly gelato product from Trader Joe's, I must note that I've reviewed a number of other delicious gelato flavors. And I should point out that my intrepid blogging accomplice, Russ, was sharp enough to note that those S'mores he checked out years ago were actually filled with gelato rather than ice cream. Still, TJ's brand gelato is relatively uncharted territory for the WG@TJ's team.

Some might say it's strange to review gelato in January—and a particularly cold January, at that. Those people wouldn't be wrong. Truth be told, I never would have picked out this product had it been me shopping on this TJ's run. Sonia found this little gem all on her own, and I sure am glad she did. She thought it would be ironic and weird to review it in this coldest month of the year.

It tasted like butterscotch. Kinda almost like Werther's, but really probably more like those discs in gold wrappers. Now, I know what you're thinking: those butterscotch candies are okay, but they're not that good. Well, really I guess what I'm trying to say is that this product tasted like what butterscotch should the best butterscotch ice cream topping ever, but in gelato form. I guess I can see how salted caramel might be a close relative of butterscotch, but for both Sonia and I...this was most definitely butterscotchishness maximus.

The whole thing was smooth like buttah, which for most folks would probably be a plus. But I'm always craving chunks of delightful and delicious chewy, chunky things, even in the creamiest of ice creams and gelatos. So that would be my only complaint. We experimented by adding leftover Christmas cookies and candy bits, but in the end, we couldn't come up with anything better than the original smoothness.

It still gets 4.5 big stars from me. Sonia gives it a perfect 5. Don't take our word for it. Wait for the spring/summer if you must, but this is a product that needs to be tasted to be believed.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Trader Joe's Sweet Sriracha Uncured Bacon Jerky

Combine my last product review of 2014 with my first of 2015 and voila! It's like I knew this was gonna happen.

Actually, truthfully, I first became aware of the existence of Trader Joe's Sweet Sriracha Uncured Bacon Jerky through our good buddy Marvo at The Impulsive Buy. How he, on a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean enjoying 70-plus degree weather, can be first tipped off about it before I can is amazing. Must be all the time I spend grooming the icicles out of my beard here in the 'burgh. No matter, once I had the good news proclaimed unto me, I immediately became like the dogs in the Beggin' Strips commercials - "Bacon! Baconbaconbaconbacon! Bacon!" - complete with the deep doggy snuffs and all, and as soon as my master, I mean my wife, allowed me to go to TJ's to procure some, I came home with two fresh sacks.

Sandy I just devoured our third. Yes, I made another trip to TJ's just to get a couple more packs, all under the guise of "refamiliarizing myself with the taste before writing my review." The things we have to tell ourselves....truth be told, it's just that darn good. Be aware, you gotta like spicy - really like spicy a lot - to have a chance of ingesting this jerky. This sriracha's coming atcha' and is not playing any games. It's fully, peppery, fermented heat that will warm your insides through and through. Yet there's an initial sweetness that, although shortlived, is enough to ever-so-slightly play off that heat for a little nuance and character that will help convince your brain that your body isn't trying to digest straight napalm.

All of that is in the thicky, sticky, litte-bit-goopy glaze that coats all of the glorious, thickcut bacon. It's meaty, with only a little fat here and there, and is easily chewable - much more like bacon bacon and not actual jerky. The doneness straddles a good line between floppy and crispy, with a little bit of both here and there, like any good bacon should be. Fortunately, even with all the spicy sriracha all over the place, the taste of the meat pokes through as well, which really kind of binds the whole product together.

This is gooooood. Really really good. But, as jerky tends to be, kinda pricey. Most TJ's jerkies are in the $6 range for about 3.5 or 4 ounces. This bacon jerky? $5.49...for a measly two ounces. I mean, really, for that price you can't put in a couple more slices? There's some print on the bag stating "best if consumed within three days after opening." That's silly, TJ's - try making this last three minutes, let alone three days.

I guess, though, judging by my purchasing habits of the past couple days, my price complaint is only pretty minor. Other than that, this bacon jerky is something I feel is made especially just for me. Sandy loves it as well - she prefers her bacon to be cooked to be crispier than these slices were, but she loves that the bites aren't as chewy or stringy as most jerky is, and how this easily could have been. I'm pretty hesitant to start off the New Year with two straight pantheon reviews - that is an honor that's neither taken lightly nor given out often - but sometimes, you just gotta call it as you see it.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sweet Sriracha Uncured Bacon Jerky: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Trader Joe's Cinnamon British Style Crumpets

I'm comfortable enough with my masculinity, or perhaps my 'Murican-ness, or whatever it is I have to be comfortable with, to admit that I watch (and love) Downton Abbey. In fact, Sonia and I recently visited the Downton Abbey exhibit at the Winterthur estate in Wilmington, DE. Fun stuff if you're in the area.

And maybe it's the few drops of English nobility in my blood, but every once in a while I get a thirst for a spot of tea. I've often proclaimed in my best British accent—imitating Lord Grantham—that it's "time for tea and crumpets," but until this fateful first full week of 2015, have never actually had crumpets on hand. Generally, I had to substitute toast for crumpets, but now, thanks to Trader Joe, that's changed.

I'm pretty sure the traditional English crumpet isn't necessarily cinnamon-flavored like these muffins are, but the cinnamon was very subtle in this particular instance. They still tasted good with grape jelly, but I preferred mine heated in the toaster and eaten plain with butter—or even with a bit of maple syrup, which I suppose is more Canadian than British, but hey, I'm international like that.

They were almost like a hybrid of traditional pancakes and English muffins, but doughier than either of those. They were similar to little round sponges, soaking up whatever we put on them very quickly. We ate them for breakfast, served with TJ's Earl Grey Tea, and it was wonderful—enough to keep me speaking with an obnoxious British accent for hours, which by the way, is an excellent way to drive away strangers seeking small talk at bus stops and such, just in case you're tragically introverted and antisocial like I am.

At $2.49 for six, this product is simply brill. Sonia gives them 4.5 stars, and I give 'em 4. Really, really darn good.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Sriracha and Roasted Garlic BBQ Sauce

Talk about starting off the new year with a bang.

Just look at the name of the newest products to hit the shelves: Trader Joe's Organic Sriracha and Roasted Garlic BBQ Sauce. Daaaang. The first half is uber-hipster-buzzword-happy ("Trader Joe's," "Organic", and "Sriracha") while the second half just promises to be full of flavor. Add the two together, and it sounds like we got the makings of one very potent, very flavorful, very intense condimental companion to your next dinner time. Tastebuds, consider the gauntlet thrown.

That is not an understatement.

This one very serious, pretty boss sauce. Not any where in my recent memory have I had anything quite like this. There's some burning heat. There's smokiness. Lots of garlic. But even then, there's some tanginess and sweetness that all kind of balls up together in one solid, succinct yet complex flavor wave. It's tough to describe exactly - the first taste starts off relatively sweet enouh, with a little garicky crescendo - must be that roasted garlic goodness. But once the heat hits, it hits - there's no dillydallying here. Habaneros are listed as an active ingredient, after all. Although intense, the spiciness is a somewhat nuanced one, offset by some classic smoky barbeque flavor, with still a little bit more garlic poking through. And naturally there's a lingering hot peppery aftertaste which only grows with each successive bite.

As far as consistency, the sriracha barbeque sauce is a good, thicker, goopier kinda of concoction, with little bits of minced garlic floating around. That was a minus for Sandy - it seemed a bit too weird of a textural offset for her.

She and I are on our second bottle already. Our first go-around with the sauce was on New Year's Eve, when on a last second audible we switched the plan from grape jelly meatballs to simmering said meatballs in the crockpot all slathered up in this instead. Good call. The time in the slowcooker seemed to cancel out the heat a tad, though, while accentuating the roasted garlic - pretty good, nonetheless, and made the second time a pleasant surprise for its heat and potency. Tasted awesome with chicken, terrific with some peppers and carrots dabbed in, although (probably not suprisingly) not so wonderful with pineapple - the heat, yes, the garlic, no. Something independently propelled both Sandy and I to do that, though, so perhaps we're not too crazy.

No question about it: the TJ's sriracha-garlic BBQ is going to end up as a new favorite. It warms our hearts as much as it warms our bellies. Other than the small bits of garlic interfering with an otherwise smooth-as-can-be delivery, there's no complaints here. None.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Sriracha and Roasted Garlic BBQ Sauce: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons    

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