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Friday, October 30, 2015

Podcast Episode 11: Alcoholic Beverages

This episode is all about alcoholic beverages we’ve tried from Trader Joe’s. If you have suggestions for others we should imbibe, let us know. Also, you might notice some minor audio issues. We apologize for those.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Trader Joe's Whole Wheat Butternut Squash Gyoza

Quasi-confession time: I had some behavioral issues in my formative years. More than most kids. Lots of fights at school and crap like that. One time, in fifth grade, I (rightfully so) got slugged square in the jaw and had a permanent tooth busted. Got it fixed at the dentist and was told no solid food for at least a week. Well, then, applesauce, Carnation instant breakfast, Jello, and milkshake time then, right? Wrong. My folks got food. And rightfully so. And perhaps still even rightfully so, stretched out a few days past the week we were told - you know, for "nutrition's sake" and "dental structural integrity assurance" and all. Had nothing to do with teaching some young punk a lesson, I'm sure. Nothing at all.

I bring this up in relation to Trader Joe's Whole Wheat Butternut Squash Gyoza because when I say I know what baby food tastes like, I know exactly what I'm talking about. I gagged on that stuff almost every day. I'm not sure what was worse, the smell or the taunts of my peers at the cafeteria table. I swore to myself then and there if I ever had kids, I'd never feed them baby food from a jar - and over 20 years and two kiddos of my own later, that is still true.

And while these gyoza weren't quite as bad as those squatty Gerber jars...they were fairly reminiscent. I'm not quite sure what it was. I generally do well with squash overall - spaghetti squash has become a favorite, I have no problems with roasted, either. Maybe it was the smushy texture. Or maybe it was the taste, too - it just seemed extra sweet, somehow. There's some added ginger and honey, which sounded good, but don't poke out flavor-wise nearly as much as the sheer squashiness of it. Maybe it was the particular blend of squash, butternut and kabocha, which to my knowledge, this was my first encounter with it. Good ol' Wikipedia says kabocha are a strong and sweet variety, and unrelatedly, is apparently revered as an aphrodisiac in some pockets of the world. Not that you'd put that in a baby food, but maybe if you want to make...I'm stopping there.

The rest of the gyoza fares only mildly better. For some textural variety, there's some small carrot bits and some edamame mixed in, which seem a somewhat odd choice. As is the whole wheat wrapper, which just adds a somewhat unnecessarily heavy feel to the whole package. Honestly, the whole concoction kinda felt and tasted like some outcome from a TV show like "Chopped" where the ingredients in the basket were whole wheat flour, edamame, and baby food, without much more added. I mean, this would be about the best one could do with such a mix, but that doesn't mean it'd be entirely satisfactory, either.

It's not just me in the household who didn't really like them. Sandy first turned her nose when she opened the package, noting an odd super-squashy scent. When it came time to dine, we both took our first bites with all the faith and good vibes in the world...and kinda scowled. The only way we made it through our plateful was dousing them in some "Red Dragon" to overpower the squash. Our toddler, M, kinda made a face but bravely soldiered through the bare minimum we allowed her. Baby B (almost not a baby any more!) seemed to enjoy them the most, appropriately enough. Then again, she eats anything at this stage. While we're fans of most of TJ's other gyoza offerings, I think we all agree these will not be a repeat purchase. Matching 1.5's.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Whole Wheat Butternut Squash Gyoza: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, October 26, 2015

Trader Joe's Chocolate Pecan Pudding Pie

It's rare for Sonia to be lazier than I am. That's why it kind of surprised me when the first comment she made about this pie was "You know, Trader Joe's has got to start pre-slicing their pies." 

Now there's a first-world problem if I ever heard one:  that moment when you realize you will have to cut your own slice of chocolate pecan pudding pie. But cut a slice she did—actually, one for herself and one for me—although, I would have been more than willing to cut mine myself.

Because I've been looking forward to trying this delectable dessert since I first heard about it a week or two ago on Instagram and Spotted on Shelves. It has a "this will be your dessert on Thanksgiving Day" kind of vibe about it: the name, the packaging, the $7 price tag. And there's another horrific first-world problem for you:  that moment when you realize you'll have to eat your Thanksgiving dessert a month early because you're an intrepid foodie-hack blogger. Inquiring minds want to know and all.

So I'm here to tell you that if you like chocolate, pie crust, and pecans...GO AHEAD AND BUY THIS FOR YOUR FAMILY'S THANKSGIVING DESSERT. I am not working for Trader Joe's. I am not making any commission off of this recommendation. I'm telling you this because you'll thank me. And even if you're one of those rare people that's somehow not in love at first bite with this scrumptious snack, I can pretty much guarantee someone in your family will enjoy this product.

My dear misguided wife was one of those rare people not in love with this pie. "It's too rich," she said upon her first taste. In my opinion, the benchmark for whether a pie like this is "too rich" or not would be whether you can taste the pecans or not. Well, you can taste the pecans in this instance. They blend seamlessly with the chocolate pudding in a way I wouldn't have expected to even be possible before trying this choice confection.

The chocolate pudding is quite rich, to be fair. But Thanksgiving dessert is supposed to be rich. It's thick, sweet, creamy, and very chocolatey. It's not like they dumped a few cups of Jello pudding in this pie, either—this stuff is disrespect to Bill Cosby...well, okay, I guess we've all lost a good bit of respect for Bill Cosby, but not because of his lifelong advocacy of Jello pudding and its derivative products. What I'm trying to say is that the pudding here is thick, fudgey, and among the best I've ever had. The crust is a typical pie crust—similar to any pre-packaged, store-bought pie you'd find this time of year. It's fresh, flaky, buttery, and delicious, but in a way, it's the only part of this pie that isn't mind-blowingly unique. Don't get me wrong, it's nothing to complain about. At all. And the, don't get me started on the pecans. If you like pecans, there are about a million of them in there. And if you don't like pecans, there are still a million of them in there. So...that might be one reason not to buy this product.

In my mind, this pie might be up there with cookie butter in terms of TJ's scrump-dilly-iciousness. Sonia's score will ensure this pie never sees the light of the Pantheon. My score will make sure it's remembered as better than simply "not bad." 3.5 from her. Perfect 5 from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Trader Joe's Sweet, Hot & Savory Honey Roasted Cocoa & Chili Peanuts & Almonds with Roasted Salted Pecans

Three adjectives. Three major flavors. Three nuts. Three ampersands (a TJ's first?). Three minutes to type out the name, and three breaths to say it all. Can you say it three times fast? Not me, at least not easily.

Yup, Trader Joe's Sweet, Hot & Savory Honey Roasted Cocoa & Chili Peanuts & Almonds with Roasted Salted Pecans. What an epic name. I suppose something like "Triple Nut Treat" sounds a little too, well, oddly suggestive, and I cracked enough "thanks for taking pictures of my nuts to put online" jokes to Sandy to continue down that track, so let's back up and just look at that name in all its 105-character glory.

Even just as an acronym: TJSH&SHRC&CP&AWRSP. Dang. But once you get over the length of it, just look at it al. Don't know you about you, but man - I was intrigued. Honey, chocolate and chili powder, on a perfectly great assortment of roasted nuts. Sounds promisingly, presumptuously and preposterously pleasant, piquant and palatable, and for just $4.99 for a not-quite-a-pound, like a bargain, too.

 Well, I wish I were a little more bowled over, I guess. It's not a bad sack o' nuts by any means. Though predominantly peanuts (as one would expect), there's more than ample almonds and pecans mixed in. Though pecans are further down the ingredients list than almonds, our particular bag seemed to have more pecans than almonds, which I think is a great thing. Almonds have always been the disappointment of the nut family to me - nothing personal, but they don't do it for me as much as a pecan or cashew or macadamia.

Regardless, in case you got lost in the product name (it happens), it's just the peanuts and almonds that are honey roasted then blasted with cocoa and chili powder. Not any of those flavors really stand out though. Instead, the dominant flavor upon first bite really seems to be the nuts themselves - crunchy, meaty, earthy, like any good roasted nut. A few seemed perhaps a little over-roasted but not by terribly much - could have been more a visual deception than actual reality. There's a little sweet twinge from the honey, and the chocolate chili dust is noticeable and it adds a nice taste, but it's more accompaniment than main feature. There's only a slight residual burn too, so if spice is a concern, you're probably okay here unless your palate is super-sensitive.

Of course, this dark dust slips off the peanuts and almonds and makes its way over to the pecans as well as a virtual powder reservoir towards the bottom of the bag. I expected to unearth some potent flavor when I started mining that particular area, but to be honest, not that much more came out. On one hand, I get it - keep a mellow balance, have a great little easily munchable snack, placate the masses, more or less. But on the other, I wish the flavor were a little more bold, with each flavor - honey, chocolate and chili - more amped up to a more distinctive taste. As is, it all tastes a little more muddied than anything else.

I can't debate that these super-long titled nuts are fairly decent as is, though. The wife, without much elaboration, concurs. I probably exasperated her enough with too many offline nut jokes for her to add much more than that. Appropriately enough, though, we both are going with the same score: Three.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sweet, Hot & Savory Honey Roasted Cocoa...seriously, I give up: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Panettone

This is actually the second panettone we've reviewed here on WG@TJ's. The first one—the Panettone Classico—was much smaller than this selection, and it was offered around Christmas time. The write-up on the packaging for this unique product mentions that it's also eaten traditionally by Italians at Christmas time. Strangely, this offering is brought to us by the one and only Trader Joe, while the aforementioned "classico" selection was brought to us by "Trader Giotto." I erroneously assumed the discrepancy was due to the classico coming from Italy and the pumpkin version coming from here in the US. In fact, both products state plainly "Product of Italy" on their respective boxes.

Speaking of the boxes, wow! HELLO packaging! Not only is this thing huge (much larger than its classico cousin), but it's also beautiful and ornate. In fact, there are little loops at the tops of the boxes in case one is inclined to use them as decorations. But if you do wait until the yuletide season to purchase a pumpkin panettone, I'd warn you not to hang the unopened box on your Christmas tree, as it is likely to bring the whole thing crashing down. At a full pound, this treat from the old country serves eight and is densely packed with "pumpkin flavored filling cream" and pieces of candied pumpkin. 

For about $5, it's perfect for parties or holiday gatherings, but when it's just you and maybe one other person, be prepared to open and close the packaging several times, as you'll never be able to eat this thing in one sitting. And be prepared for a struggle each time you open and close the package. In addition to the large, bell-shaped outer box, there's a big cellophane bag with a twist-tie and an oversize paper muffin cup around the cake itself. Serving yourself a slice of this dessert is rather like breaking into Fort Knox.

And as soon as you open it, there's a peculiar smell that's hard to describe. One might say it's a citrusy, fermented kind of fragrance. It's undoubtedly from the pumpkin ingredients. Sonia wasn't as pleased with the candied pumpkin as she was with the creamy pumpkin stuff. I found them both to be equally unexpected and unusual. They both taste like actual pumpkin, but sweeter. They're not too heavy on the traditional pumpkin spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. I thought the candied pumpkin was similar to any dried fruit you might find in a dessert like this. Sonia thinks they should have added pumpkin seeds to take the place of nuts, like you might find in a similar product.

We both wholeheartedly agree that the best part of this product is the soft, fluffy cake bread. It's almost like angel food cake, but slightly more bread-like. It tastes and feels incredibly fresh. In fact, I can't figure out how a shelf-stable, pre-packaged product like this one—one that's been imported from Europe, no less—can flaunt such perfectly soft bread. Well, actually...I take that back. The three hefty layers of packaging might have something to do with it. But still...the freshness of this bread is impressive.

I can't say the pumpkin cream and candied pumpkin were entirely appetizing to me, primarily because I'm not used to them. Sonia was even more weirded out than I was. But in the end, I have to admit that I'm glad we purchased this uncommon Italian holiday dessert treat, because I'm all about trying new things, even if they don't blow me away at first bite. This is the sort of thing I think might grow on me over time. And man, that fluffy breading is amazing. I can't go lower than four out of five stars. Sonia wants more pumpkin cream, less ginger flavor (I barely noticed the ginger in this product), and the addition of pumpkin seeds in version 2.0. Three and a half stars from her.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Podcast Episode 10: New Fall Products

In this episode we discuss several new pumpkin products at Trader Joe’s, plus a few new non-pumpkin products.

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Click here for show notes!

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Thanks for listening! If you’d like to help the show, we'd appreciate it if you rated or reviewed us on iTunes!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Trader Joe's Magic Beans

It's easy enough to see Trader Joe's Magic Beans and make the allusion to Jack and the Beanstalk, or if you're all hip and cool and into today's musicals, Into The Woods, but I'm not going there. I mean, if I traded my cow for these beans, maybe, but I digress.

Nope, going with the tried and true classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Not that there were any magic beans in that classic novel brought to life on the screen by Gene Wilder (totally ignoring you here, Johnny Depp, go prance somewhere else). But...wouldn't it be cool if Willy Wonka made actual magic chocolate beans? He made everlasting gobstoppers, a chocolate bar you could reach into your TV and grab, a chocolate river...why not a magic candy bean?

If these TJ choco-beans could conjure up any magical power, I know which one I'd want it to be: plant a chocolate tree in my stomach so I could stop craving chocolate practically nonstop. Over the past year, I've practically choked off almost all of my other candy cravings (I can resist Reese's products and Take 5s like a pro by now)...but chocolate? For whatever reason, it's grown only stronger, and it'd be so nice to have something in my tummy to make it stop. That way, I wouldn't have to end up making a video like these for the Jimmy Kimmel show after my kids go trick-or-treating...except it'd be real.

Well, I'm pretty sure that cocoa plant in my innards isn't going to happen with the lack of sunlight, soil, and basic science and all, but that doesn't mean I don't want to keep on planting these beans down in my tummy anyways. There's three different main colors - brown, green, and white - which are kinda marbley in appearance and identical in taste. The thick, candy shellacked shell (thicker than typical M & M) gives way to some pretty basic milk chocolate with an almond nougat middle. Pretty big beans, overall, with the nougat core taking up about half the insides, and adding a big ol' solid crunch.

Yes, a solid crunch, all the way through. Interesting. When I hear the word "nougat" I think of the stuff that resides inside something like a 3 Muskateers bar, and not this almost-but-not-quite toffee-esque substance in the middle with some almonds adding some girth. Some quick hack research on the matter (i.e., good ol' Wikipedia) reveals that not only what the 'murican standard of nougat is is something that's not quite the real stuff (go figure), but also that there's such thing as "brown nougat" or "nougatine" that is firm, crunchy, and made without egg whites. So that's what's on the inside here, in case you, like me, were expecting a soft iddle and were surprised by the wholly solid core.

Overall, the magic beans aren't a bad confection by any stretch. Just a few will really do the trick for a quick cocoa pick-me-up, and there is a small novelty factor to them. But while we both like them, neither Sandy nor I are particularly bowled over by them. That may be partially because the candies weren;t what we were exactly expecting, which doesn't make them less tasty, but maybe just more aware of our ignorance to the larger world of nougat out there. I'm also pretty sure to have any chance of these taking root and growing into that cocoa plant, I'd have to swallow a bean whole, and they're much too big for that - potential choke hazard for small kids, I'd think. Also, the price seems perhaps slightly high - $3.99 for a 7.7 ounce bag - which isn't horrible, but I'm used to a better value from TJ's. Cost less than a cow, though. Matching 3.5's here.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Magic Beans: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Tortilla Chips

I can't deny these are good tortilla chips. But Sonia and I have a small problem with them. We don't know how they want to be eaten. On one hand, they are salty and savory, with pumpkin seeds and corn flour. The back of the bag says to dip them in "any salsa or even a yogurt-based dip." You mean like a Spinach and Kale Greek Yogurt Dip?? 

The problem with that is that there's nutmeg and cinnamon on these chips. How often are you craving Greek yogurt, kale, cinnamon, and nutmeg all at once? I don't know. Maybe there's a type of yogurt dip they're thinking of that's just escaping me right now.

Now, I did try these fascinating tortilla chips with spicy, traditional tomato-based salsa. It worked just fine because the heat and flavor of the salsa easily outshined the subtle cinnamon seasonings on these snacks. If you only ever had these chips with spicy salsa, you'd hardly even know they were anything other than plain old corn tortilla chips. 

But I also tried them with Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter. And that worked, too. Magically, they were transformed into dessert chips in a way I'm not so sure plain tortilla chips could pull off. In this latter case, I think the cinnamon and nutmeg helped seamlessly blend the chips with the cookie butter.

When eaten plain, the chips feel and taste like basic tortilla chips, but then there's the definitely-detectable presence of the above-mentioned pumpkin spices—yet there's no innate sweetness. It's a bit confusing for my tongue. It's almost as if these chips don't know who they really are or what they want to be. And this isn't the first Trader Joe's product we've come across that's had an acute case of dissociative identity disorder.

But then there are those of you who will insist that I praise the versatility of this product, rather than dismiss it for straddling both sides of the fence. You wouldn't be wrong. For that reason, I give them four stars. Sonia isn't convinced. She wants them to be one thing or the other, and for that reason, she gives them only three stars. Who's right? Are these chips too creative for their own good, or does their weirdness make them wonderful? Let us know in the comments below!

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Trader Joe's Ghost Pepper Potato Chips


Err, I mean, yay! Finally, a perfectly seasonal item from Trader Joe's that has nothing to do with anything even remotely resembling a pumpkin or any of its usual camaraderie of spices. It's about freakin' time.

How are Trader Joe's Ghost Pepper Potato Chips "seasonal" you ask? Well - Halloween is just a few weeks away! And these are ghost peppers we're talkin' 'bout here, Willis. Although, as grammatically improper a statement it is, I don't believe in no ghosts. But ghost peppers? Listen: Anything that has potential to melt your face off as if you just peered at the Ark of the Covenant ought to be feared and respected. Although not the most capitally capsacin-incapacitated peppers out there...those suckers are hot! Beware!

So, it was with some fear and trembling that Sandy and I ripped open our bag the other night, and with even more trepidation that I took my first waft in preparation of placing one of these potentially unholy tater wafers in my mouth. Hrmm...not picking up much here. A quick glance brought to mind sour cream and onion chips almost - a dusty cakey coating of some type with little dark specks. And I got my first good luck at the chips unique (to me, at least) structure of being lattice cut - I've seen waffle fries and ridged chips, but never some combination of those. Maybe that's just my general chip world ignorance speaking there. Anyways, I said a quick prayer, gulped, and prepared for first bite...

Crunchy. Very crunchy and crispy yet lighter and airier due to design - in some ways it was like eating a flattened sheet of potato sticks, which I say as a compliment. Great texture, great munch. Then the flavor started sinking in...smokey, a little mesquitey, a small hint of sweetness, a scant of burn - hey, wait a second here! I just described a pretty adequate barbecue chip. And honestly, that's what these supposedly spicy suckers tasted a lot like, except with a little tingle on the afterburn. The spicy seemed to build a bit with each successive chip, but never to the point of unpleasantry. In some ways, after such a huge ramping up to get myself psyched, it was a big letdown.

Not. Hot. But don't take my word for it. Take my toddler's, who's adventurous as a three year old can be when it comes to food, but shies away from most spicy stuff. She insisted on trying a chip, though, and with some hesitation, Sandy and I offered her one, milk cup and tear rags ready to go just in case. "Yummy!" she exclaimed. "I wike these." I asked if her if she thought they were spicy, and she said "No, maybe just a little bit."

So, there you have it - another exotic sounding TJ chip which turned out to be more BBQy than truly unique. In some ways, I'm somewhat relieved of that - the munch factor was extremely high, so it was nice to not be inhibited by spice overload. But in others, I'm kinda disappointed - I wanted these pepper chips to have enough heat to scare me away a little, but be enough of a treat to keep me coming back for more.

For $2.29, they're tough to argue with, though. Sandy enjoyed them enough to give them a four, mostly for texture and crunch (seriously, try eating just one or two - not gonna happen) which seems around right to me. A little more spooky spice would send them over the top, but their overall tastiness isn't an apparition.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Ghost Pepper Potato Chips: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons    

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Trader Joe's Iced Pumpkin Scone Cookies

I recently took a look at some non-TJ's Pumpkin Scones. In the review, I mentioned that those scones were soft, fresh, and just a step or two away from homemade. That's the main thing Sonia and I liked about them. They had a freshness sticker on the container to let consumers know when their "best by" date expired. Beauty is fleeting, and apparently, so is fresh-baked pumpkin goodness.

But these scone cookies feel like they've been in the packaging for a while. And to be fair, they have. They're not meant to be super soft and have a significant shelf life. These scone cookies, in my humble opinion, are just a step up from something you might get out of a vending machine. Now, granted, I've had many a delicious and satisfying snacks from vending machines over the years, and one of my favorite purchases used to be Little Debbie's Donut Sticks. They get a "D-" for their nutrition information, and at first glance, TJ's offering would seem to be significantly less bad-for-you. But if you think about the relative serving sizes, I'm pretty sure two of these little scone cookies don't come anywhere close to one full donut stick. And anyway, the donut sticks are decidedly lacking in pumpkin spice goodness, although I wouldn't put it past Debbie—that saucy little minx—to offer us a pumpkinized version in the near future (if there isn't one out there already).

I must say, though, that texture-wise, that's what these scone cookies remind me of. There's a heavily-iced outer layer that's firm and sugary, and the bread within is dense and sweet—but not as sweet as the coating. Yes, the texture is similar to some other scones, but somehow I think the donut sticks analogy works better here.

Flavor-wise, they're not such a far cry from other pumpkin goodies in recent memory like the pumpkinny pumpkin bites, but the firmer texture of the scone cookies makes them a tad less palatable, in my opinion. They've got the pumpkin puree and signature spices (cinnamon and nutmeg) that we've come to know and love this time of year. But those spices, combined with the cookies' relative dryness, made me cough a bit here and there.

I wish I could give these a sparkling review, but during this autumn season, overwhelmed with Pumpkin Joe's pumpkinny pumpkin parade, only the true stand-outs will get anything close to perfect scores. And at this point, I do have to mention that I finally tried the Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls that Russ reviewed last year. Now THOSE are truly unique and delicious. In that case, ginger is the main attraction and pumpkin plays second fiddle, and I think that's one of the primary things that separates them from the pack, although there's still a uniquely autumnal, harvesty goodness about them. 

All things considered, these scone cookies aren't bad at all—and they're cleverly packaged in multiple sheets so you don't have to unseal the whole package at once—but they're certainly not the first pumpkin product I'd steer you towards in that ever-increasing ocean of orange.

Three stars from me, four from Sonia. She liked them significantly more than I did.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Trader Joe's Pumpkin-y Pumpkin Bites

If you're not sick of pumpkin by the end of October, then we're just not doing our jobs as food bloggers. This product is TJ's way of saying, "You want PUMPKIN?? Oh, we'll give you PUMPKIN!" And they found a clever way to work the word "pumpkin" into the title of the product not once, but twice. I'm certain there's a triple-pumpkin product on its way, but until then, here are some suggestions, Trader Joe, for more ways to work the word "pumpkin," or some variation of it, into the title of a product two times: Trader Joe's Pumpkintastic Pumpkin Cookies, Trader Joe's Pumpkiniferous Snack Bars of Pumpkin, Pumpkin Joe's Pumpkin Puree, Trader Joe's Pumpkin Flavored Pumpkinosity Blasts, etc, etc. I could go on for pages and pages. 

I do question the use of the hyphenated form of "pumpkin-y" over the more obvious "pumpkinny," though. I feel as if when creating fictional pumpkin-based adjectives that hyphenation tends to scream "This is a made-up word!" whereas simply adding a suffix to the previously inalterable word lends the fictitious adjective a bit more credibility—and, yes, perhaps even a bit more dignity. But I digress.

These dessert squares are indeed pumpkinny. But why these are worthy of the double pumpkin moniker and something like, say, Pumpkin Butter, is not, I'm not quite sure. They're about as pumpkintastic as any of the other myriad pumpkin products we've seen from TJ's these past few years. True, they do have "pumpkin flakes" (whatever they are), pumpkin puree, and pumpkin spices, but I'm not sure if I think these are head and shoulders more pumpkincalifragilistic than any other pumpkin product.

They taste like above-average pumpkin cookies. They're nice and soft, and the coating of brown sugar and spices on the top gives them just a hint of a firmer, almost crunchy texture. They're almost like little pumpkin-flavored coffee cakes. The batch we have here at home tastes fresh, without a hint of staleness. You can definitely detect certain pumpkin spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. The pumpkin spice flavor is moderately strong, but certainly not overwhelming. My guess is that it's not a product for "pumpkin agnostics," though. You've got to be pretty heavily into pumpkin and its affiliated spices in order to appreciate these.

But by the same token, these aren't as exciting as some of the other pumpkin products we've seen recently. There's a lot of novelty value plus a huge weirdness factor with products like Pumpkin Pie Mochi. For me, that's a good thing. Here, we just have pumpkin cookies—admittedly, very decent pumpkin cookies—being served to us as "dessert squares." Fun and festive and perfect for fall, this offering is another fine Pumpkin Joe's purchase, but for me personally, they will probably pale in comparison to some of the more peculiar products in the pleasantly palatable pumpkin pasture.

Three and a half stars from me. Same from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Trader Joe's Candy

Russ, Sonia, and I were recently guests on another great podcast, Candyology 101, to talk about our favorite and least favorite Trader Joe's brand candies with candy experts Cybele and Maria.

Click here for show notes!

Click here for MP3 link!

Click here for iTunes link!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Podcast Episode 9: Fall Favorites

In this episode, we talk about our favorite fall, pumpkin, and harvest items from Trader Joe's!

Click here for show notes!

Click here for MP3 link!

Click here for iTunes link!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels

Listen: it doesn't matter that I, Russ, truly enjoyed every tidbit of the irresistible Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter to the fullest. Or, as Nathan will be pointing out on an upcoming podcast about our favorite fall products, those Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls. I have been, still am, and always will be the self-proclaimed Pumpkin Agnostic, doubting the existence of an all-good, all delicious gourd in all the various/nefarious ways it tries to manifest itself this time of year. Maybe that Great Pumpkin exists for the rest of you, but for me, never. Although I will enjoy the occasional well-executed pumpkin product, I will continue to rail against pumpkin spice this, pumpkin spice that, as a voice calling out from the anti-pumpkin spice wilderness. We don't need pumpkin spice everything this time of year! Enjoy something else fall-related! Like apple cider! Or chili! Or Octoberfest brews!

And these Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels are a prime example of the trend gone wild. Look: there's absolutely no reason why this product should exist. I'll tell you exactly what this is: a nifty little box throwing out as many buzzwords as it can in an effort to part you from $5 in exchange for twelve bites of some of the most awful candy you'll ever try. Even if you like pumpkin spice.

Listen: it just doesn't work. At all. It's not the dark chocolate's fault. As is typical with most TJ's dark cocoa products, it's about 55-60% dark - I prefer darker, but that's a level palatable to most of the masses. It's more everything else> Listen: it's widely accepted fact that caramel and chocolate, and also salted caramel, are perfect matches. Salt and chocolate works. Pumpkin caramel can work for some at least...and Sandy did make a decent pumpkin bread with chocolate chips in it, so all that can work. But when all those elements get tossed all together with no real regard...blecch. The caramel reservoirs hold a smooth, rich, creamy center that tends to ooze a little more than what's in our picture, but it sports a hefty pumpkin pie-y flavor level that hits too hard then leaves a funky, almost chemically aftertaste. I'd liken it quite happily to what a dollar store Yankee Candle knockoff must taste like - just too much, too over the top, with no real attempt at subtlety or restraint that would help rein in everything. Honestly, it made my mouth and stomach feel funny, too.

Funny thing is: that's not even the worst part. Oh no. Look at that salt. No way around saying it: it's revolting. There's entirely way too much. Even knocking some off didn't help. Is this what rock salt tastes like? I'm tempted to try and write a pun with "salt" and "assault", leaving out the "u" but that leaves a hyphenated word that, apt as it may be as to describing the flavor, just doesn't appear to be entirely family friendly.  There's too much, it's too potent, and will completely override any other flavor, from start to finish. It's not an accompaniment, it's the center of attention, not because of it's own merit but instead of it's rude, inept clumsiness, like the awkward uncle at a family reunion. I grimaced at every bite I took before finally giving up. A little too much pumpkin spice. A lot too much salt.

So in short: Take decent dark chocolate. Add molten generic fall-themed candle and a pile of salt from your winter driveway stash. Insert in mouth. Chances are, you'll be happier.

 Unless you're my wife.

Listen: I'm not one to question her tastes - I mean, look at who she married, right? But Sandy said she actually kinda almost liked them. I'm flabbergasted. "I like the chocolate, and I think the caramel/pumpkin centers are just fine, but the salt...." she said as she shook her head. "No bueno." Ugh. I don't know what to say - she's literally the only person I've ever heard say anything remotely positive about these candies. And she'll give them a score just as high as her score for the pumpkin cookie butter - a three. I think we need to schedule her a doctor visit to get her taster checked. Anyways, if you can't tell, I didn;t like these. At all. For once, it wasn't just the pumpkin's fault. Absolute zero from me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

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