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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Trader Joe's Sauerkraut with Pickled Persian Cucumbers

2015: A year of a lot of achievements and milestones. Turned 33, celebrated sixth anniversary with my lovely bride, had a third and a first birthday in the house, hit the 100 pound weight loss mark, three years of the daylight job I tolerate, five years of the moonlight one I love (hint: this one!) complete with new podcast, and one, big, large, very expensive roof replacement job (ugh!).

On a much smaller scale of importance, but much more pertinent to this here review: I've learned to really like sauerkraut. Truth be told, I've spent most of my existence trying to outright avoid the pungent cabbage concoction that had me gag at the thought of it. but then: one night, at Hofbrauhaus, I forgot to mention I didn't want it as a side, so out it came. Now, I'm a believer in trying something you don't like every once in a while, just to see if you still don't like it, so I gave it the ol' college heave-ho....delicious. Then had it again on some kielbasa while apple picking when I "forgot" it might be on there. Then again at a church potluck. Then, on a whim, when out at Penn Brewery, the German-inspired brewery here in the 'burgh. Each time: Yum. Go figure.

Anyways, since it's New Years, and sauerkraut is a time honored tradition that's been with us longer than Dick Clark (I miss him more each year - go away, Ryan Seacrest), here's some Trader Joe's Sauerkraut. In the refrigerated section for $3.99. Of course, it being TJ's, it can't be played straight, hence the "with Pickled Persian Cucumbers" part tacked on. Also, unlike many store brands, this is raw instead of being heated to prolong shelf life before being schlepped in a can, therefore retaining a lot of the good bacteria that our tummies like after a weeklong Christmas cookie binge.

Well, that's all good and all, but how's it taste? Very...pickle-y. Especially those cucumbers, which are chopped up button style and intersparsed throughout the shredded cabbage thicket in each jar. Those bites straddle a line between cucumbery sweetness and garlicky wallop which can take you by surprise on first bite. The cabbage part isn't quite as pungent, but still packs a sharpness amidst the firm, crunchy shreds. Naturally there's a pretty decent amount of salt in here, but the garlic pokes through quite a bit, especially when any cucumbers are involved, making this a fairly different kinda deal from any other sauerkraut I've had, which admittedly isn't much, but still.

I could not pay Sandy to try sauerkraut. She just won't. But much to my surprise, her mom (who lives with us) did. She' do I say this?...very used to her foods being a certain way, and so, she bristles at most Trader Joe's offerings because they're not what she's used to. A shorter way to say this would be "picky" but that doesn't quite explain the depth this goes to. Yet, she tried this without much hesitation, when I asked her if she'd like to so she'd know if she needed to procure her preferred sauerkraut for New Year's. It had a little much garlic for her, but she liked it enough that we'll be splitting the rest of the jar come pork roast time. 3.5 from her. Maybe in 2016, I can slowly continue the conversion process....I don't like sad Germans, so I'm going with a near perfect 4.5 for this sauerkraut.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sauerkraut with Pickled Persian Cucumbers: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Trader Joe's Sticky Toffee Pudding

A month or two ago, some readers mentioned both this product and the Sticky Toffee Cheddar Cheese in the comment section below my review of TJ's Rustic Apple Tarte. I agreed to try this pudding item if Russ tried its much riskier cheddar cheese counterpart. He did. So here I am to honor my delicious end of that completely unfair bargain. (Thanks, Russ!)

We were planning on having this for dessert over the Christmas holiday weekend, but when it came time to eat Christmas dinner, we realized we had vast amounts of desserts, cookies, and other goodies that could surely last us well into the new year. Plus, with one less mouth to feed (rest in peace, Mom) the food would most likely be devoured even more slowly than in years past. 

So, after putting a dent in all of our more perishable holiday treats, we finally got to this delicious pudding Monday night as a sort of midnight snack after our regular bi-weekly podcast recording. And since it was late, neither Sonia nor I wanted to consume many calories before bedtime, but man, we really had to exercise some willpower not to eat the whole thing. The readied product looks like it just emerged from a fancy jello mold, although we failed to snap a picture at that particular juncture, and instead captured what the product will look like after being divvied up among many hungry holiday guests.

It's like a delicious bread pudding, but full of yummy dates and covered in this amazing liquid toffee syrup. Just imagine a Heath bar, sans the chocolate, but melted into this perfectly smooth, sticky, butterscotch-esque topping. It's absolutely divine.

At around $4 a box, it's not too pricey. It supposedly serves two, although with the amount of fat and calories it packs, you might want to spread it around to the whole family. The packaging specifies microwave preparation in just a couple minutes. I think it might be a seasonal item, but I'm not sure. If so, well...then most of you folks will probably have to wait until next year to pick it up. But Sonia and I are here to tell you it's definitely worth it. You've heard all that fuss about "figgy pudding" in that Christmas carol. Well, bring us some more datey pudding, and bring some right here.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Trader Joe's Deglet Noor Dates

Just like most of my dates in high school, Trader Joe's Deglet Noor Dates are almost certain to not be around very long, so let's keep it short here.

As a first foray into the world of these smaller, firmer, and less smooshy cousin of the ever popular medjool dates, I'm almost equally a fan of these deglet noors. As they're already pitted, these are much more portable and kid friendly version, as well as possibly a better choice for some make-your-own appetizers and salads. But because they're more fiber-y and less fleshy than the aforementioned medjools, think through before using them in a recipe such as paleo pecan pie. The deglet noors are a touch sweeter, but in all taste fairly close to medjools. Much less sticky, too, to my kiddo's delight.

Here's a bonus though. The pound-plus pack of these guys? Only $2.99! Grading by the fact that a doublepounder of topnotch dates from Costco retails for about $9, that's a pretty good value. We'll like them as long as they're around, but don't it personally when one day they're just gone without warning - they're in the seasonal section, after all.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Deglet Noor Dates: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Trader Joe's Rum of the Gods

As alluded to on our booze lovefest/podcast a few weeks back, Trader Joe's Rum of the Gods isn't exactly topshelf kinda stuff. A straight swig or two, and it tastes kinda burny, kinda medicinal, and fairly flat and bland all at once.

But then again...who drinks rum straight?!?!?! Not me.

Not sure what the gods have to do with it, but it mixes well with others. Fancy a rum and coke? Yes. Put some extra jolly in your winter wassail? Absolutely. Spike your egg nog? Full speed ahead, Captain...I mean, not "Captain" like Captain Morgan...sigh. Regardless, it all works, and for a pretty low price - I think I paid about $8 or $9 a few months back at the Princeton, NJ store for this.

It won't make you the hit of your holiday party, but at least it'll be a less of a hit to your wallet.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Rum of the Gods: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Trader Joe's Artisan Bread Pretzel Croissants

A year ago at this time, I was making some big ol' fuss about the paleo diet I was trying out and avoid grains this, no carbs that...blahblahblah. Probably drove some of ya nuts. Sorry to drag out the past out into the light.

Well, I'm not exactly following it any more. Don't get me wrong, I still have some caveman-esque diet tendencies...but I like carbs again. Well, never stopped liking them. But I gotta make sure they're a worthwhile indulgence. Hey, I worked hard to knock off a hundred pounds, I'd like to keep them off, all those Christmas cookies be darned. p.s. - Mom, keep them coming!

So...Trader Joe's now has what they're calling their Artisan Bread Pretzel Croissants. Gotta admit, I perked right up when I head that. Must. Try. I love croissants - light, flaky, crispy - and when I think soft pretzels, I think of the traditional Philly style - tough, dense, chewy - so to see how those two would combine carbo-forces into some interesting hy-bread, well, $2.49 for a two pack seemed a worthy investment.

These are some big guys. When I opened the bag there was the familiar deep salty/yeasty aroma of a soft pretzel, except a little lighter and perhaps more buttery. The exterior of each large palm sized pretssant (ugh, that doesn't work) looked much alike the skin of most typical pretzel rolls, except, well, croissant shaped. As for firmness, well, decidedly the crotzels (oh goodness, that's even worse) were much in the middle, again like a pretzel bun.

I am so sorry for quite possibly entering the word "crotzel" into the English lexicon.

Moving on, both Sandy and I had the same idea for these: Breakfast sandwiches. Slicing them proved to be a challenge, due to the flaky nature of their croissant heritage. But we were both able to get a decent sized slab to go on either side of our sausage and eggs...and fell into pretssanwich (I need to stop) heaven. Both the nature of a pretzel and the elements of a croissant were almost equally present. How can something be flaky but chewy at the same time? I don't know...but sure enough, each bite was soft and buttery at first, but quickly turned into something a little more chewable when mashed between the molars. Despite the initial flakiness when slicing, our sandwichable slabs did an excellent job of holding on to their innards. Tastewise, they perhaps veered slightly more towards pretzel, but still, so much butteriness....yum.

Both Sandy and I liked them quite a bit, and personally, I'm pretty happy that we got two bags of them, only for the kiddos and the mom-in-law to not be willing to try them for whatever silly reason. They instead opted for plain white toast. Ugh.  More for us. And that's a good thing. No real complaints here, but a little sprinkle of kosher salt on top of these would have been killer. Definitely worth the pick-up. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Artisan Bread Pretzel Croissants: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons     

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Trader Joe's Gingerbread Flavor Dog Treats

It's another dog treat review! As has been the case with all of our mostly-pointless pet treat reviews, the dogs inhale the treats with reckless abandon despite the fact that they're clearly optimized for larger dogs. However, in this case, the cute gingerbread man shapes lend themselves to easy bite-size snacks for small dogs by simply decapitating and/or amputating limbs from the hapless cookie men. Be sure to click on the video, because this one features beautiful Christmas decorations, animals wearing hats, and my lovely wife eating dog food! Enjoy!

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Trader Joe's Butternut Squash Parmigiana

Isn't this a fall item, you ask? 

Perhaps. Butternut squash does seem rather "harvesty," but in actuality, it's a winter squash. And when it's parmigianafied and topped with crunchy amaretti, it's downright delicious.

After reading the box thoroughly, we discovered that the included tray is, in fact, "ovenable." Thanks to TJ's, that word is now part of the American lexicon and we shall no longer have to thread together really awkward phrases like, "can be put in the oven confidently without fear of bursting into flames." So we did. We ovened the tray. And then we ate the dish straight out of the tray. One person could easily consume this dish by him or herself, but hey, it's the holiday season and sharing stuff with people you love is all the rage apparently.

It's hearty, flavorful, and slightly sweet. I'm not sure what we were expecting, but Sonia and I were both very pleasantly surprised when we shared this double-serving tray of gourmet butternut brilliance. I guess cheese, squash, and cookie crumbs were the last three things either of us would have ever thought to merge into a single dish. But somehow it works. 

To describe the taste to you would be extremely difficult, since I've never had anything quite like it before. It actually tastes like its constituent parts, but they blend together oh so much better than I would have ever imagined.  It's a bit on the fattening side for a vegetable-based meal, but if you're an adventurous eater, we think it's absolutely worth a try. I'm sure we're bound to get some dissenting opinions on this one, but as for Sonia and me, we're fans.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed With Goat Cheese

Late December weekend. You know what that means: holiday parties all around! I have two or three this weekend, plus hosting one. Yikes!

Might as well bring something really easy and really tasty to Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed With Goat Cheese. Seriosuly, rip a box open, stick in the oven for a couple minutes, and voila! You've got yourself one fancy hors d'ouevre. Each component works so seamlessly together - the medjool date, the goat cheese in the crevice where the pit was, and the apple smoked bacon wrapping it all up and holding it tight. It's a smoother-than-aniticipated bite that highlights the best aspects of everything involved - the salty-sweet awesomeness of truly good bacon, the soft creaminess of the cheese, the savory depth of a good date. I only wish for the price ($5 or $6 for a box of ten) either the dates would be a little larger, or there'd be a few more tossed in just to make it a little better value.

Bonus: As you may have heard on our podcast, my three year old made the acute observation that these look like Baby Jesus in the manger (date = manger, baby = cheese, bacon = blanket), and she's right. So, extra Christmas points for a delectable treat that points to the true meaning of the holiday. From the mouths of babes...

We like 'em. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed With Goat Cheese: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Podcast Episode 14: Nduja

In this episode we talk about some exciting new products we’ve tried, like the Wintertide Tea Cookie Collection, Chocolate Raspberry TamalesPanettone French Toast, and, of course, Nduja.

Click here for the show notes.

Click here for the MP3.

Click here for Stitcher.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Trader Giotto's Nduja Spicy Salami Spread

 'Twas two weeks before Christmas
And all through the pantry
I went a-rustlin' for a snack
Before I'd get hangry

Heard the mom-in-law yell
"Hey! No more eatin' my cookies!"
So over to the fridge
I went for a look-see

Trader Joe's Spicy Salami Spread!
Or, to be fancy, "nduja"
My soul get all psyched up
My tastebuds thought, "Yum! Boo ya!"

Fancy exotic meat time!
From the country shaped like a boot!
Been wanting to try this for a while
Now's finally the time! Whoot!

Though..umm...spreadable meat?
That sounds like a gamble
"No matter!" thought I
" Here's the best I can scramble!"

Back over to the pantry
Quietly for some crackers
Nduja and knock-off Ritzes
Sounded like nice snackers

I scooped up my first bite
And plopped into my mouth
And took only a bite or two
Before it all went south

It all felt kinda funny
Like semi-molten pepperoni wax
Was slathered on my cracker
Hey, just reporting the facts

As for the taste? Hrmm
Salami-esque with paprika for sure
 But there's certain things
 No spice can ever cure

How I do say it?
It tasted like it had some funk
Not fermented, per se
But still kinda like a skunk

Perhaps a little green olive-y
Would be a nicer way to explain
But that's not quite it
No, it's with a little more disdain

Plenty of a spicy kick, though
Paprika and pepper so black
Mixed in tomato sauce
Made an interesting snack

I've revisited the nduja
Several times at this writing
I've liked it a little more each time
So let not my words be spiting

Although I must warn you
Though spared too many troubles
After each sampling
My gut felt full of bubbles 

Sandy bravely tried it
She really tried her best
But her heaves said it all
"All yours is the rest"

Pick it up if you dare
You may like it just fine
Might work on your cracker plate
And hey, just $3.49

Though don't be surprised
If your tongue feels confused
Mine certainly did
I just hope you're amused

Bottom line: Trader Giotto's Spicy Salami Spread: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons   

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Trader Giotto's Panettone French Toast

It hasn't been all that long since our last panettone review. And since that review was posted two months ago, it has come to my attention that panettone bread makes excellent French toast. I had no idea. In fact, a reader commented and asked if I thought it would make good French toast. At the time, I said my admittedly not-so-confident guess was no. That just goes to show you that my culinary instincts are still solidly in the "foodie-hack" category and have not evolved far beyond that at this point in our Trader Joe's food product rating adventure.

Other readers posted comments on this blog as well as the Facebook page that the product did, in fact, make excellent French toast. I was curious about trying to make it myself, however, doing that would have involved cooking. There would have been eggshells all through my eggy bread. Sonia does enough around here, so I didn't try to twist her arm into making it for me, although the idea crossed my mind on more than one occasion.

Fortunately, Trader Joe's thought about all the culinarily-handicapped folks like myself and went ahead and made the French toast version on our behalf. Thanks, TJ's! Granted, this particular product is much more similar to French-toastified Panettone Classico, a product we looked at a couple years ago, rather than French-toastified Pumpkin Panettone (but maybe we can look forward to that for Fall 2016??)

Also since that Pumpkin Panettone review, I was made aware that we had been pronouncing "panettone" wrong the whole time. You're actually supposed to pronounce the "e" at the end, kind of like in the word "minestrone." Those zany Italianos. In the Panettone Classico review, I wrote a terza rima love poem to the product. I took great pride in the fact that my rhyme and meter was nearly perfect, but now that I know there's an extra syllable in the word "panettone," my iambic pentameter is completely ruined.

But let's get back to the product at hand, shall we? Because it's excellent. I like it better than any other French toast or panettone product I've had from Trader Joe's. We followed some advice that Sonia found online and heated it in the microwave, melted a nice dollop of butter on each slice, and dusted with confectioner's sugar. It's convenient and simple...and amazingly delicious. The toast slices are vastly more practical than the bizarre, though presumably more traditional, bell shapes we've seen in the other two panettone products. And I always thought Trader Joe's French Toast lacked a special zip. Well, the raisins and citrus peels in this panettone version were apparently exactly what it needed, because they blended surprisingly well with the egg and bread flavors here. 

Sonia and I both agree this is a "two-thumbs-up" product. She thinks the egg batter really makes the panettone bread more palatable, not that she had any major problems with the non-French toast versions. If you were hesitant to try the actual Panettone Classico or Pumpkin Panettone, this product is a great "gateway" food into the world of the festive Italian candied fruit cake. Four stars from Sonia. A near-perfect four and a half from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Trader Joe's Wintertide Tea Cookie Collection

This "wintertide" has been ridiculously warm here in the northeast so far. Granted, it's still not technically winter until next week. But this past weekend, I walked barefoot in my backyard wearing nothing but jeans and a t-shirt. It was in the 70's. All things considered, I'd prefer our normal December temperatures with highs in the low 40's, especially approaching Christmas time, but hey, if it feels like Florida in New Jersey in mid-December, I'll roll with least for a little bit. Not so much with Sonia. She moved nearly 3,000 miles to get away from the year-round "feels like you're inside even when you're outside" vibe of Southern California, and by golly, she wants it to feel like winter.

I must admit these high temps don't really put me in the mood to have hot coffee or hot tea, but I could probably count on one hand the number of times I've properly paired a tea cookie with actual tea in my whole life. Tea cookies and milk, yes. Eggnog, probably. Sugarless energy drinks, maybe, sadly. And by "maybe," I mean yes.

So right now, just for you guys, our faithful readers, I'm going to go heat up some hot tea and have it with these tea cookies so I can tell you how it works. I'll turn on the air conditioning if I have to. Brb.

<5 minutes later>

Okay, I have returned with a cup of steaming hot black tea. And yes, as shocking as it may sound, it pairs very well with these cookies. It really enhances their flavors somehow. 

My favorite, with or without tea, is the hot cocoa flavor. I think it tastes like a solidified version of actual hot cocoa. Sonia thinks it's just vaguely chocolatey. The Italian wedding flavor is the closest to just a sweet, run-of-the-mill, not-going-for-any-particular-flavor type cookie out of the three. It's a close second favorite for me. 

The gingerbread flavor is pretty heavy on the ginger. It leaves a nice little tingle on the back of your throat after consumption. Sonia thinks it's similar to Trader Joe's Pfeffernüsse, but she says she likes these tea cookies even more. They're her favorite of the three flavors. I guess they're vaguely reminiscent of the German spice cookies, but I feel like the pfeffernüsse had a more complex flavor and were slightly softer. I wonder if these gingerbread tea cookies would pair well with red wine as well...?

The box is $7, but as Sonia pointed out, if Starbucks, for example, were to offer any similar product, it would probably run you in the ballpark of $20. The packaging is attractive, elegant, and top quality. The box is worth hanging on to for future use. Each cookie flavor is packaged in its own bag and there are three separate compartments within the box. There's even a magnetic flap on the front of the box so it stays closed and keeps its shape without having to tuck ugly cardboard tabs into little slots on the side of the container. This product is very much about presentation and would probably be a great thing to take to a posh Christmas party or to give as a gift.

I'm not very big on any dry, powdery cookies in general, and these particular flavors are good, but they don't really have that wow factor in my opinion. I would never buy these just for myself to snack on, but as something to bring to a holiday gathering, they're just about perfect, so I can't go lower than three stars. Sonia gives it four stars, freely admitting that the beautiful packaging heavily influenced her score.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Trader Joe's 2015 Limited Edition Aged Sumatra Coffee

It's a good thing my middle school math teacher perhaps fibbed a little when she stated that I'd not always have a calculator with me, because I just whipped out my smart phone and figured that a pound of Trader Joe's 2015 Limited Edition Aged Sumatra Coffee costs barely over $9. A couple good cups of coffee at that price is a good deal, let alone a whole pound. And how that computes when you pay $7.99 for a 14 ounce canister...well, my currently under-caffeinated brain was not ready to do that by itself.

Speaking of being low on's this coffee. Typical for darker roasts, I know, but it seemed especially true with each cup. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing, but if you're counting on a cup to have the fog lifted, you might be left a little disappointed. I personally wondered if my coffee was broken once or twice.

At least this is some darn good coffee. It's certainly the most coffee-tasting coffee I can recall having. Very earthy, dark and roasty, no hints of acid, no frills or kooky flavorings or anything. Just straight-up serious java. Some might say it tastes "flat" for that, but I still feel there's a certain vibrancy to it. There's a whole fancy write-up on how fancy this is, with the natural process and aging and all for these "select", it had me at "limited edition", the price point, and the cool looking tiger. Not a wake up and slap-yo-face brew, but perhaps ideal for some afternoon-sippin' or a dinner/dessert cup. I'll let it pass with decent enough marks...which is what that math teacher did for me, for some reason.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's 2015 Limited Edition Aged Sumatra Coffee: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Trader Joe's A Joyful Trek Mix

I think they mixed up the ingredients list on this product. You're supposed to list the most prevalent ingredient first and then go on down the list. But both Sonia and I feel like those little M&M-ish things are by far the most ubiquitous ingredient. That's probably because it's our least favorite. 

Things like almonds seem rarer in the mix because we're both seeking them out like kids meticulously selecting only marshmallows out of their Lucky Charms. I guess that shows we're maturing slowly now that we're carefully selecting the least sweet ingredient out of the blend. Or maybe not. Maybe we're just getting nuttier as we age <press play on laugh track for 1.5 seconds then abruptly hit stop>.

Those M&M things, along with the yogurt chips make this one sweet trek mix. We were joking that it's a particularly "joyful" trek mix because it quickly gets you on a sugar high. Those Greek yogurt chips are actually pretty good, by the way. They're sweeter than most Greek yogurt products, but they still have that Greek yogurt a good way.

So yeah, it's a decent trek mix, but like last year's Jingle Jangle, it could use fewer of the M&M-esque dealies and more almonds...and pistachios...and cranberries. Basically, more of everything except those "milk chocolate buttons" (which are actually shameless M&M ripoffs). But overall, it's worth a purchase—if you don't mind a little candy in your trek mix. Also the container is pretty cool. Click here for nutrition info. Double 3.5's on this one.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Trader Joe's Cranberry Gingerbread Granola

TJ's has always loved throwing raw ginger into products. The Ginger, Almond, and Cashew cereal comes to mind. Or, you know, they might just give us a bag of nothing but ginger.

Don't worry, the ginger level in this product isn't quite that extreme, but it's certainly headed in that direction. In fact, that's the dominant flavor I'd say—more than gingerbread, cranberry, or oats. Good news for gingerphiles. Uhhh, no. Not that kind of gingerphile.

saw plenty of cranberries in the mix, but I, personally, wouldn't have minded some more. Flavor-wise, their sweet-tartness didn't do much to offset the gingeriness. In general, I'm loving this trend where we're seeing lots of cranberries in different Christmas items. But in this case, and in the case of another recently-reviewed item, I'm always wanting more cranberries than these products offer. Uhhh, no. Not that kind of cranberries.

On a more positive note, this granola is very filling, energizing, and works reasonably well as a cereal or yogurt topping. All in all, it's not bad, particularly if you're into that raw gingery flavor, but I'll probably go back to more traditional granola as soon as this box is done. 3 stars from me, 3.5 from Sonia. Here's a link to the nutrition info. And as always, your opinion counts, and we love to hear it. Leave your comments below, por favor!

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Trader José's Handcrafted Chocolate Raspberry Tamales

Please forgive my complete ignorance when I ask this question, but I seriously do not know the answer: Are dessert tamales an actual thing?

Yes, I know, you can do Google searches to find recipes to make your own. And of course, there's the fine fellows pictured to right - getting to them in just a minute here. But I've been to Mexico a couple times, have eaten many tamales down there...and all were delicious but decidedly undesserty. Same with Sandy. So do they exist elsewhere, or is this some gringo invention that came to be just because it sounded too darn good to not try?

Regardless of their origin, we've seen a lot of buzz about Trader Jose's Handcrafted Chocolate Raspberry Tamales on the interwebs. I was definitely intrigued, too, when Sandy snapped a pic of them while shopping one day while I was at work. Though we weren't sure what exactly to expect - corn masa-fied chocolate and fruit sounds potentially delicious but a little odd, perhaps - we knew we had to try.

Oh, good call. Good, good call. Listen: they may not be the prettiest treat when all done (especially after steaming them, like we did), but these tamales are downright delicioso. We got chocolate coming at ya two ways here: Cocoa powder in the masa and chocolate chunks in the middle. When prepared, those chunks melt down to a smooth, warm, almost fudgy filling. And corn mixed with chocolate isn't that weird when you think about it - I mean, Cocoa Puffs, right? But unlike the chosen cereal of my youth, these tamales feature a darker, more subdued variety of chocolate flavor, which pairs very well with the not-too-sweet/not-too-tart raspberry parts. I kinda wish these had a little more raspberry, to be honest, but the balance was approximate enough to not get me too riled up. There's definitely an added touch of cinnamon, too, which adds just a little nice subtle dimension.

One thing: These are a m-e-s-s mess mess mess. I've mastered eating most other tamales by hand without too much trouble, but with the chocolate ozzing and goozing everywhere, and the whole tamale being perhaps a little less structurally sound in its not-quite-brownie/not-quite-cake state of masa-matter (cocoa's fault?), you gotta go at these Aristrocrat style. Yup, a fork and plate. not a big deal, but if you're tired of constantly unloading and reloading the dishwasher, well, here's another dish. At least we have a dishwasher...learned the hard way sophomore year of college.

Not gonna lie: Sandy and I are plotting to stock the freezer with 'em. For only a buck each tamale for a four pack, it's a definite dessert win. However inspired, muchas gracias, Jose, mi amigo de comida.

Bottom line: Trader Jose's Handcrafted Chocolate Raspberry Tamales: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn with Butterscotch & Sea Salt

With a little intuition, you could guess that Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn with Butterscotch & Sea Salt is a lot like the original bag of wannabe widows, except it's butterscotch this time around. And, lo and behold, you'd be right. So the only question we got here is: Does it work?

Answer: Sort of. Butterscotch can be a tough flavor to pull off, especially in dusty form. That's the case here. As is usual with these type o' snacks, some bites were very heavy on butterscotch-y flavor, others not so much. With those that were lacking, I wanted more. But with too much butterscotch came too much juxtaposition between the sugary caramel-y sweetness and the natural grainy flavor from corn. I've yet to find a perfect bite, but not from lack of trying.

 Sandy rather enjoys it as a sweet, salty, crunchy treat, and honestly, for once, I wouldn't be too upset if she happened to have a little more than me.I think I just liked the original better, and I'd prefer a savory variation over a sweet one...hrmm...maybe something a little more baconesque? Please? Sandy's keeping her original score, while I'm knocking mine to match the price: 2.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn with Butterscotch and Sea Salt: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Trader Joe's Winter Wassail

I don't think it's ever come up on this blog before, but I was a band geek back in the day—a proud band geek. I played sousaphone in marching band. In December 1995, our 125-piece unit, including color guard and drum majors, loaded onto a plane and flew to Orlando, FL for the band trip of a lifetime. We marched in the Citrus Bowl Parade and took part in a few festivities right in the Disney parks. 

One of the highlights: a meal at King Henry's Feast, a now-defunct Medieval Times ripoff featuring live jousting, whole turkey legs served right on the bone, and an open invitation to refer to your waitress as "wench." I don't recall the beverage we were wassailing with—it may very well have been Coca-cola or something lame like that—but part of the program involved our host, King Henry, shouting out, "All Hail!" and we'd respond in kind, our cheap tin goblets raised high above our heads, "Wassail!" and then we'd take a drink.

Our feast fell on one of the days immediately following Christmas, and the "banquet hall" there in Orlando was still decorated for the holidays, so I've always remembered the word "wassail" as something very Christmassy and medieval. Apparently, we had been wishing one another "good health" and imploring some Anglo-Saxon gods to give us another good apple harvest the following year—or Coke harvest, as the case may have been.

Whatever that beverage was I was wassailing with those 20 years ago, it wasn't anything like what TJ's has offered us in this Winter Wassail. Because if it had been anything like this, I most certainly would have remembered it more vividly. Not just because this Winter Wassail is delicious, but because it's so unique. It's everything that the Spiced Cranberry Cider should have been, and then some. Granted, there's no cranberry juice, but it's sweet, tart, spicy, and has three types of real fruit juices.

The finish still has the faintest whisper of potpourri and spice drops, but I imagine it's not quite the same as drinking a scented candle, unlike the above-mentioned cranberry cider. It's super versatile: it can be consumed hot or cold (I prefer it cold), with or without cinnamon, and I hear it mixes pretty well with various alcoholic additives, including most red wines. It just tastes like Christmas smells. The Shellys apparently liked it even more than we did, as I was instructed to give it a good score or else my privilege to review it would be revoked. Sonia and I are on the same page here. Are double fours high enough, Russ and Sandy? :-p

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Trader Joe's Taste Test of Caramels

Want an exquisite tasting adventure and high stakes competition...all in one? You're sure in luck with Trader Joe's Taste Test of Caramels. For $5.99, you get a twelve pack of fine, dark chocolate-coated ooey gooey caramels in all sorts of delectable flavors like maple, fig and honey, and double espresso...but which is which??? Now, there's the fun! 

As recommended, Sandy and I chilled the caramels in the freezer for a bit to ease the slicing and dicing process one evening while visiting my folks, my sister and her boyfriend. Pro tip: For a crowd bigger than four, get another box - slicing these roughly smaller-than-an-inch cubes into representative bites smaller than a fourth is not an easy task. If you don't get quite the right bite, it's amazing how closely blood orange balsamic can taste like strawberry black pepper. But oh what fun. 

We sampled each, listed our wagers, and at the end, compared our answers against the master key included - the only one we all agreed on was the chili pepper. My sister, local pastry/dessert chef legend, and my mom, home culinary genius, led the scores with *only* eight right each. Sandy and I got seven correct, my dad six...and my sister's boyfriend won the participation award with only three right! Well, I filled all of his with toothpaste, actually, so he's as lucky a guesser as he is good a sport. 

All caramels were delicious and thankfully nothing like those awful pumpkin spice abominations. Be adventurous and snag your own box(es) of gamble caramels - definitely worth the pick up.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Taste Test of Caramels: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Podcast Episode 13: Favorite Holiday Products

In this episode we get into the holiday spirit by sharing a few of our favorite Christmas/Holiday/Winter products (and a couple of our least favorite).

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Trader Joe's Gingerbread Latte Naturally Flavored Drink Mix

We've never had a stellar gingerbread product from Trader Joe's, at least flavor-wise, but we've never had a terrible one either. I mean, the flavor of cookie butter isn't such a far cry from gingerbread, but it's oh so much better than gingerbread, as most of you already know. It's almost a curse more than a blessing, because I kind of want everything labeled "gingerbread" to taste somewhat like cookie butter. I know, I know, they're two different flavors. Speculoos isn't exactly gingerbread. But that begs the question: why didn't TJ's just give us a cookie butter latte mix instead of a gingerbread one? Who knows?

You'll rarely hear me complain about the texture of a beverage, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to here. There was a strange filminess to the liquid, for lack of a better term. I found it to have this unusual consistency regardless of whether we made it with almond milk or water. Strangely, I liked the mix slightly better with water than with any kind of milk. The milk almost made it too thick. Water yielded a concoction a bit more like a latte than a milkshake—and I guess that's a good thing, since they were apparently going for "latte" in the first place.

The taste is like a bizarre, milky, liquefied gingerbread man. You can taste cinnamoniness and nutmegginess, but there's also some other unidentifiable flavors mixed in there. The whole thing gives way to an unpleasant aftertaste and makes you want to drink something else to cleanse your palate. It's almost like drinking a slightly watered-down, gingerbread-flavored creamer—an additive intended to be consumed as a secondary ingredient in a normal black coffee or tea.

It's not the worst thing I've ever tried, but it's mostly an unpleasant experience in my humble opinion. 2.5 stars from me. Same from Sonia. She says it needs more espresso or coffee flavor—and it's very rare for her to crave more sugar, but she thinks this mix might be a little better if it were sweeter, too. I'm not so sure that's the problem, but I can't really put my finger on what is.

Dare I ask...what did you think of it? Are we being too harsh? Are we being grinches? Did you discover any preparation methods or additional ingredients to make it more palatable?

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Trader Joe's Sticky Toffee Cheddar Cheese

Lots of different kinds of cheese in the world, and from the looks of things, Trader Joe's carries a lot of them. There's some good solid favorites, some unusual ones (like a grill-worthy cheese? Inconceivable!), and, well, a few out-and-out bizarre ones like this chocolate-cheddar mash up from years back that was out right in time for Valentine's Day...

...but nothing, to my fairly faulty knowledge, has been quite like Trader Joe's Sticky Toffee Cheddar Cheese. I gotta admit, the name sounded intriguing, even though I wasn't sure exactly what to expect. It didn't make the blog, but not long ago, Sandy and I enjoyed a rather delicious creamy cinnamon toscano that TJ's had out, and if this were anything similar, it'd be a slam dunk.'s not. Maybe I'm just used to good ol' 'murican-style cheddar from the great states of Vermont and Wisconsin, with its solid sharpness, its blocky bite, its wax-covered wonder. And maybe I've narrowed my scope of anything labelled as "English cheddar" to the shelves of TJ's and therefore subject to solely their selections, as perhaps unrepresentative of the entirety of the genre of English cheddar. But, just like another English cheddar we tried a few months back (the ones with caramelized onions, also not reviewed - hey, sorry, can't do it all!) - this stuff seems sad, soft, slightly soggy, kinda like a half-molten candle. It's so soft - almost more like a brie than most cheddar I'm used to - that I was half tempted to find a cracker and a knife to do some spreading. I bet you it would have worked.

Aside from its overall mushiness, the taste doesn't do the cheese all that many favors. The one reason that I ate more than a bite or two was to try and get past some initial bewilderment to try and discern a fair opinion about it. It didn't really work. First and foremost, there's no taste I'd label as "cheddar" or "cheese-esque" or "somewhat akin to a dairy product" poking through. Instead, it's just outright raisin-and-date tinged molasses-y sweetness. Aside from the aforementioned fruits, the taste I pick up more than anything else really sides towards brown sugar. In a different format, the taste could be rather appealing, but in this semi-solid limp waxy form, it just doesn't sit right at all. Which isn't to say I'm disgusted by it, but it's definitely a little out there. If the cheese were firmer, with the "toffee pieces" that the label touts adding a textural changeup instead of melding along with the rest, it'd be a significant improvement.

Sandy feels much the same.We popped in our first taste simultaneously, looked at each other, and made a face. After repeating this ritual a couple more times, we finally gave up. I don't feel as though we necessarily wasted our money on it (sold in various sized chunks for $8.99 a pound), and I'm willing to give another shot, perhaps with some crackers and a dark porter or stout within reach. But as is, we're gonna hit it with some double deuces.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sticky Toffee Cheddar Cheese: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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