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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Trader Joe's Instant Coffee Packets

As I've confessed many times, I'm not exactly a coffee connoisseur. Or even a coffee appreciator. But when it's twenty cents a cup for my daily dose of caffeination, I say "Bring on the java!"

Sonia's fine with this light roast too, because it's not only cheap, it's also ridiculously convenient to just pour the packet into hot water. There are no troubling mishaps with sugar bowls full of ants, annoying blunders with creamers that have been sitting in the fridge too long, or problematic incidents with unrinsed French presses. Just good, cheap coffee, ideal for travel.

I give this product a respectable three and a half stars. Sonia will throw out four on this one.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Trader Joe's Almond Butter Granola

So here it is...the week between Christmas and New Year's. In my family's case, it's the week between Christmas with our own little family and Sandy's mom, and Christmas with my side of the family, which is celebrated with coffee by the tankard and food and treats out the wazoo. Not that I'm opposed...because I'm not...but by now I'm entering into about the fourth straight week of my kitchen shelves overflowing with cookies, and my refrigerator being stuffed with cakes and miscellaneous treats. With coworkers buying us pizza and homemade treats. With going out to restaurants like one of my local favorites when we're downtown seeing the holiday sights or out with friends. And soon in my sights is another weekend go-around with family and All. That. Food.

Needless to say, I've gotten a wee bit pudgier. Those 10 p.m. solo mega cookie fests do catch up after a bit.

Guess I oughtta try and eat healthier for a bit to return to granola! Granola is a great thing. Crunchy and sweet like a cookie, but healthier. Still not all that wonderful, but it's a step back towards the good side, and with that in mind, I picked up Trader Joe's Almond Butter Granola.

A couple years back, I was big into almond butter as a Paleo-friendly peanut butter option. I've eaten a lot of it, so I know what it should taste like, and could when paired with typical rolled oat granola...but it's not there. Not even remotely. Well, okay, sure, there is an almondesque taste to the TJ's granola...but I'm thinking that's mainly due to the actual almond pieces in there, smattered about in usual style and ratio. There might be some almond butter mixed in with the mysterious brown rice syrup that serves as the epoxy for the big, crunchtacular bites...but mostly, I taste plain granola with a little extra nuttiness.

For what it is, it's decent granola, but it could be better. A lot better. More almonds. More almond flavor. Maybe somehow incorporating the roasted, creamy goodness of decent almond butter. But this granola definitely fell a little short of expectations. I'll eat it, for sure, as work desk drawer snack standby, but I look at it more as hunger void filler, not a treat I'll be eagerly anticipating every day. Given all the junk i've had recently, though, that's probably a good thing.

Flying solo on this review. Solid crunch, okay taste, not almond buttery enough. This has "meh" written all over it. So "meh" it is.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Almond Butter Granola: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, December 23, 2016

Trader Joe's Strawberry Champagne Truffles

These truffles are astoundingly good.

Set aside their lofty-ish price ($4.49 for about 15 pieces), their pink, floofy, girly packaging, and the fact that white chocolate just isn't as trendy or as "good-for-you" as antioxidant-rich dark chocolate—and you might be able to appreciate them for what they truly are: a festive, top-shelf candy product with a sweet, balanced flavor infused with strawberry, and an amazingly-inviting texture that will have you straining not to eat the whole box in a matter of minutes. They're perfect for any special occasion, be it Christmas, New Year's, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, Festivus, your birthday, or next Friday night.

Even Sonia—not a white chocolate person at all—was so enthralled by the flavor of this product that she was inspired to make another short video review. She gives the product an enthusiastic four and a half stars. Same here.

Interested in the nutrition facts? Jump to about 0:40 in the video.

Happy holidays, everybody!

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Trader Joe's Presents The Crispy Crunchy Mochi Rice Nuggets

Ever hear of the Mochi Rice Nuggets?

Man....they rock.

No, not like the band on the packaging of Trader Joe's Presents The Crispy Crunchy Mochi Rice Nuggets. I mean, that's a pretty ridiculous name...though I wouldn't be surprised if a band named that actually existed. There's bands with names like Neutral Milk Hotel, after all. I kinda would want to hear this nugget band though. I bet they could do a killer rendition of "Billie Jean" - you see that bassist with the 'stache and mane? He'd rock that bassline. And I will reward mega Internet points to anyone who can translate what the word bubbles are saying - I assume it's Japanese, because the nuggets are a Japanese product. But you tell me.

Nor are these particular rice nuggets particularly rock-like. Rocks, like stones (and not the Stones). Sandy and I neglected to get a pic of them out of the package, but they do closely resemble the non-cartoony aspects of the bag front - bite sized chunks of rice-type substance. Made from the same kind of glutinous rice paste as most other mochi, these mochi nuggets are crispified and fried. in a way - and this is meant as a compliment - they're more spongelike then the last product I reviewed, its name notwithstanding. Except instead of chewy, it's decidedly more crispy and crunchy while still retaining a slightly springy feel. Add in a little greasy comfort, and it's addictive.

The first time I bit into a nugget, the taste immediately reminded me of something familiar....something distinctive....something I haven't had in a long time. But I couldn't figure out what it was. Crispy, a little oily, definitely salty, with a grain kinda feel to it...ah, there it is. Bugles. Yes, the mochi rice nuggets taste almost just like Bugles, except in a form you can't easily stick on the end of your finger. And yes, I know Bugles are corn based, while these are rice...but the taste is very similar, and it's not just me saying it. One of Sandy's friends tried a few, and unpromptedly said the exact same thing. It's like each nugget was a handful of Bugles that got compacted down into a snackable cube-esque form.

It is worth mentioning that the nuggets are not labeled as gluten-free - according to the back, there's a chance of cross contamination with wheat. And also, of all things...mackerel. I don't even know how to say anything more than that. But there could be mackerel in your mochi. Seems perhaps some quality assurance could be better enforced at the factory, hmm?

I like the nuggets quite a bit. So does Sandy, and our kids too. I'm really hoping these become a thing with some different flavors and varieties coming out. Black pepper would be killer. So would garlic and herb, or even something like cinnamon and sugar. As is, though, the nuggets seem like they'd pair with almost anything, so there's some versatility. At $2.99, they'll be staple in our house for sure.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Presents The Crispy Crunchy Mochi Rice Nuggets: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, December 19, 2016

Josephsbrau Winter Brew

Another Princeton run? Nope. Sonia and I are in the South. And it's way easier to buy beer down here. Back in the Keystone State, you had to go to a specialized beer distributor to get your hands on cervezas. Our part of the Garden State wasn't much easier. No grocery stores carried the stuff—not even the happy Hawaiian-shirt-clad helpers at TJ's could sell you suds in South Jersey. Even Wilmington, DE was similarly prohibitionist. 

But my old stomping ground of Wilmington, NC had an especially alluring wooden shelf well-stocked with Trader Joe's brand bottles, including a "mix-a-six" option, where customers could try up to six different craft beers in one cardboard case, paying à la carte prices for each bottle—most of which were in the ballpark of one dollar each. Merry Christmas to me.

I guess Trader Joe's worked out a great deal with Gordon Biersch—they're mass producing all of the Josephsbrau label beers for TJ's stores. When I used to visit the Gordon Biersch restaurant chain during my time in L.A., I'd refer to it as "Gordon Beer-ish." As in, "That Gordon. He's such a beer-ish fellow, isn't he?" 

Quite beer-ish indeed, it turns out.

This brew was the first one out of the fridge. 7.5% alcohol content, seasonally-appropriate, and a sleek, handsome label? Seemed like the logical choice. 

Now keep in mind, I've only broadened my horizons to dark beers in the past few years. But in that short amount of time, I've discovered what I like and what I don't like, and this beer was somewhere in the middle.

It's got a nice deep brown color, and it pours with a small amount of suds on top. There's a molasses-esque sweetness about it, but it's still dark, malty, and very subtly spicy. It's not super thick or heavy the way some dark beers can be—I'm not a fan of drinking motor oil.

I still don't have my cicerone certification yet, but I'm working on it. When tasting new beers, I always make up my own mind about how I feel about them first, but I like to check BeerAdvocate after the fact to see just how far off I am from, you know...people who actually know what they're talking about. Seems these pseudo-beer-experts liked this brew a bit more than I did in general, but user "HopsAreDaMan" in particular summed up my feelings about this beer when he said, "...although I would happily drink this beer if offered to me, I would not seek it out."

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Trader Joe's Sponge Candy

Candy. It's everywhere, at all times, but especially this time of year. Parties. Stuck inside cookies, which are also everywhere. As small, easy to give gifts. In little thematic ceramic dishes with elves and penguins on them, and if you're lucky, that elf is riding a penguin. Just earlier today, as an unexpected gift, I got a one pound box of chocolates thumped on my desk. "Merry Christmas" it said, courtesy of one of my company's field reps. Could be worse: she's wasn't the one who dropped the remnants of a 4.4 pound monstrosity off at the company table (umm, that'd be me). It's always within reach, it's the holidays, you're supposed to indulge...

...and I'm getting tired of it. Candied out. That's not to say I won't eat more, because I know I will, but man, the end needs to be in sight. Please tell me it is.

So, to be honest, I wasn't exactly anxious to try out Trader Joe's Sponge Candy. Yes, it's a thing, although I've never heard of it before. Don't judge me, I'm just sheltered. But the name kinda conjures up a kitchen sponge covered in thanks. Now a name like honeycomb toffee, I could go with that.

Regardless, does this TJ's candied sponge variant belong in your holiday candy plans?

Ehhhhh....maybe. I took a couple bites, and maybe I'm candyworn and jaded, but it's not that great. Not bad either. Inside the box there's a plastic baggie all filled with various sized chunks ranging from a mousey morsel to a two or three biter. Inside, they're all much the same: a thin coat of reasonably decent milk chocolate, and a light, airy, crispy yet rigid chunk of toffee-like substance. The sponge candy. It's an apt name, seeing as all the little air pockets and layers do visually resemble a sponge. The texture is kinda interesting - think maltball mixed with a wafer, except much lighter - but it's neither compelling nor offputting. The taste itself is, as I said, fairly toffee-esque except a little scaled back. It does make a neat little bite, but after one or two, I've had enough.

Both Sandy and I aren't swayed much one way or another. At least I can say I've eaten sponge candy and no, it has nothing to with Spongebob. A couple bites, and a shrug each. Cost only $3.49 for the package, so seems reasonable enough, in case you really actually needed any more candy. You probably don't. But there's a chance you'll like this stuff anyways.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sponge Candy: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Trader Joe's Oatmeal Cranberry Dunkers with White Fudge Drizzle

I don't remember how much we paid for this tub of delight, but I'm pretty sure it was under five bucks. And considering the high volume of merry little cookies they jammed into this one transparent package, I'd definitely add it to our list of "Best TJ's Items That Come In Plastic Tubs."

Sonia thinks they taste "like something Grandma might make around the holidays." There is definitely something homey about them—a very wholesome oatmeal flavor.

But they're optimized for dunking—which means they're super crispy, crunchy, and firm, and they maintain their structural integrity even after being submerged in piping hot coffee or hot chocolate. 

They soften somewhat after being dunked, and their texture becomes even more pleasant. The oatmeal gets supple and warm, and the drizzle melts into something akin to fresh creamy icing from a bakery. I didn't mind these cookies by themselves, but even I, as someone who's definitely not in love with coffee, preferred them with a little java rather than plain. I haven't tried it yet, but I'd bet they're pretty decent with just a glass of plain old milk.

I wish the cranberry flavor were just a little more potent. It's there, but not very pronounced. And I'd also like to add: HOORAY for white chocolate/fudge! Call me unsophisticated or whatever, but these just wouldn't be as good with dark or milk chocolate drizzle. 

Sonia and I will both go with four stars on this one.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Commendation Bar

Years ago, in enough time passed that I can't recall what traces of logic I employed in deciding to do so, I invested about $5 at Bed, Bath, and Beyond on a universal TV remote. Not bad in the right circumstances, right? Well...this wasn't just any TV remote. The thing was freakin ginormous. Absurdly large. I don't recall the exact dimensions, but it was at least six inces wide, over a foot long (probably longer, and at least an inch thick. Each button was big enough that I could danced on top of them. Tom Hanks playing "Chopsticks" in the movie Big style, every time I wanted to change the channel. It took up half our coffee table. I guess I thought it was funny or cool or ironic or just dumb enough...I mean, it worked, but the novelty factor quickly wore off, and I ended up pitching it. I'm pretty sure Sandy shook her hood the entire time we had it, wondering what the h-e-double bendistraw I was thinking.

I forgot all about that until we bought Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Commendation Bar.

Don't rush to get too judgy. I suppose it's possible that Sandy and I could eat two kilograms of chocolate all by ourselves. Then again, it's also possible that I am the king of France. Possible? Yes. Probable? No freakin' way. But we hostd our annual holiday Cookie Potluck over this past weekend, and I figured, let's drop the $14.99 on it, we'll have enough guests, it'll be a cool thing to have on our table. In a pinch, we could use it as our table.

My pics don't do it justice. It's...just really ridiculously big. Should have really busted out the measuring tape, or found a VW Bug to use as a size reference. Couple feet long, About a foot wide. Over an inch thick. That pic over there? That's just half. It's way too unwieldy to even bust off a piece with your hands. I'm not sure I wanted to risk busting a kitchen knife. What you really need is a rock chisel, or a large sanitized flathead screwdriver and a mallet. With a complete lack of better options, I ended using the prong from our knife block to randomly stab and chip off some pieces.

Unless you're making an actual house out of gingerbread and you need shingles, there's no practical use for a bar this big. I totally get the appeal - larger than life chocolate bar, anti-Zoolander by its very existence - but once the novelty wears off, it's just chocolate. A lot of chocolate. Dos kilos. Whispering that in a Spanish accent makes it sound even more intimidating.

Apart from the size issues, it's pretty decent chocolate, though. Earthy, bittersweet, but with a hint of creaminess - those Belgians got chocolate down to a science. It's not earth-shattering by any stretch, but good and solid, and I guess if I had to eat 4.4 pounds of something, there'd be far worse options out there.

Dat size's too big. Over the course of several hours, me and a few dozen of our party guests chiseled away not even a quarter of the bar. If it weren't as thick, it'd go down easier. Personally, for a still really huge bar, I'd make it the same length and width but make it half as thick, and charge something like $8 or $9 for it. That's still an outstanding value, and makes it more likely the whole bar would be consumed. Both Sandy and I like it, but considered returning it just because there's too much left. I ended up taking it into work where we'll use it as emergency rations in case we all get snowed in.

Maybe there are some practical options for something this large. Maybe there's some really fun ones. Those are up to you letting us know in the comments below. Darn good chocolate, too darn big. Caveat emptor. I have no idea how to accurately and fairly grade this, but something around a "not bad" sounds right, all things considered.

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

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Nosh Show: Trader Joe's Gift Ideas

We were guests on another episode of The Nosh Show. Since it’s gift giving season, we shared our favorite Trader Joe’s gift ideas.

See the show notes by clicking here.

Subscribe to The Nosh Show on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcherTuneIn or via RSS.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Trader Joe's Brandy Beans

Prior to picking up this product, I had never even heard of brandy beans. If I had been asked what brandy beans were, I probably would have pulled something out of my backside along the lines of "Brandy beans are the beans used in the brewing process and fermentation of American brandy," trying to sound erudite and edumacated. And most of you would have believed me. Sorry, I guess that could be construed as an insult. Some of you would have believed me. Maybe.

Are these even a holiday item? They were released (or re-released?) at exactly the same time as a million other holiday-related items, so I guess they are. I guess getting blitzed on brandy is sort of a holiday-ish thing to do—or at least a holiday party-ish thing to do. Unfortunately—er, I mean fortunately, you can't get crunk off of these little brandy beans alone. You need to pair them with actual brandy in order to achieve that effect—even though there is a bit of real brandy in each bean. There's a fascinating spiel on the back of the box indicating "sale of this product to persons under the legal age for purchasing alcoholic beverages is unlawful." Wow. I certainly didn't even get a buzz from the product's 4.9% alcohol content, but maybe the youngsters could if they ate the whole box.

Because again, these chocolates are actually filled with real brandy. And it tastes like brandy, but thicker and much sweeter. The brandy filling almost has the consistency of maple syrup or honey. Somehow, it works with the chocolate. The packaging doesn't specify that it's "dark chocolate," but it certainly seems darker than your average milk chocolate to me. The moderate bitterness of the chocolate helps offset the sticky sweetness of the liquid center. It's a nice combo, and one that I've never had before.

Sonia reacted similarly: pleased, but not blown away. If brandy and chocolate is your thing, then you're probably more qualified to review these than I am, and we'd love to hear from you in the comments below. Double 3.5's from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Trader Joe's Jingle Jangle Ice Cream

There's a certain allure to places like Coldstone Creamery, or the local frozen yogurt place where you can put in all your own mix-ins, isn't there? It feels like an ice cream laboratory, where you, the Dessert Doctor, concoct your own blend of all sorts of various ingredients then devour it all. It's cool. You're in control. You know what you're doing. You're going to make the Best. Ice Cream. Ever. It's going to be amazing, and all yours.

Well, maybe that's your experience. Must be a lot of peoples', otherwise they wouldn't be so popular. But it isn't mine. Now, I'm a guy who likes chunky, wacky, jumbled frozen deliciousness as much as anyone else - I've been to the Ben & Jerry's mothership in Vermont literally about 100 times, and wondering when I'll have my next chance - but it's not been my experience. I take what I feel would be an awesome mix, and instead the outcome seems less than the sum of its parts. Like I did something wrong.

It's kinda like that with Trader Joe's Jingle Jangle Ice Cream. This oughtta be a slam dunk. Take TJ's semi-popular Jingle Jangle and mix into vanilla ice cream! Sounds like an easy yum! Can't go wrong, can you? does. Where to start? Let's go with the vanilla base. Now, I have a deep appreciation for good vanilla ice cream, and TJ's happens to provide one of the better store varieties out there. This Jingle Jangle stuff must come from a different supplier, because it's so...non-descript. Run of the mill. The most boring of boring vanillas. It's white, milky, vaguely sugared, and cold, which while that can describe vanilla, it's not really vanilla. It's uninspired low premium filler at best.

Not a big deal, you may think. That's why all the Jingle Jangle is in there....for flavor! That'll make up for it! Hate to say, but no, not really. I had to recheck our Jingle Jangle review to see what's even in it, because all I tasted was cold, hard chunks. And that's even when my spoon came across something - there's not a whole lot mixed in. There's little specs of dark chocolate this and that everywhere. I spotted a couple busted peanut butter cups here and there, and was excited when I found a shard of choco-covered pretzel, only to be dismayed when I bit into it and discovered how soggy it felt.

Major bummer. This ice cream is really rather ho-ho-ho hum. Now it's two seasonal products in a row I've reviewed that I've not overly liked. this time around it's not just me. Even Sandy didn't really enjoy it much either. The kids seemed to like it fine, which shows how easily content they are. I could really learn from that. Anyways, I'm not expecting to see this in our dessert mix again anytime soon.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Jingle Jangle Ice Cream: 3.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Trader Joe's Gelato Filled Panettone

This item wants to be eaten like a cupcake. I mean, look at it. It's got "icing" on the top with mini chocolate chips instead of sprinkles, a body made of something bready and cakey, a liner/wrapper thing, plus a yummy creamy filling. 

On the other hand, when I eat things like this with my hands, I tend to look like a baby by the end of it. Some part of the pastry winds up on my fingers, my face...and often in my lap, and I'm sitting there helplessly flailing around trying to lick some of the dessert out of my goatee. Not that babies have goatees. And not that there's anything wrong with getting in touch with one's inner child—however, I'm not nearly as comfortable with wearing my food as most infants are.

So I opted for the refined adult approach. I broke out a real metal fork and our finest dish (which happens to be made of plastic right now—don't ask). I set the thawed panettone in the middle of it, and dug right in. At first bite, I was mesmerized. Part of me wished I had opted to eat it with my hands so I could shovel it into my face faster. But then that seldom heard-from and even more seldom listened-to adult voice rang out in my head: "Slow down, my friend. This dessert wants to be relished and appreciated."

Because it's awesome—by far the best panettone we've had from TJ's. It's still the same fluffy, soft bread, and it still has some interesting dried fruits in it, but man oh man, that gelato is just amazing. It's both sweet and sophisticated—worthy of a top-notch Italian restaurant. It's worth using a fork just so one can measure out equal parts of gelato, cake, dried fruit, and chocolate bits in each and every bite.

Since the gelato is vanilla bean and there are lots of tasty chocolate drops, there's almost a cookies n' cream vibe about it. It's amazingly rich and creamy, and it blends together with the panettone bread and dried fruit much better than I would have guessed. 

There are pieces of candied orange peel, which I'm admittedly not a fan of just by themselves, but in this case they were so tiny that their texture was a complete non-issue. I thought they flaunted a poignant citrusy zing that really added something nice to the other elements. There were only a couple raisins, but they worked somehow, too. I could have sworn I saw a dried cranberry in there as well, but it may have just been a raisin with a sunburn or something.

If you like good gelato and/or panettone, go ahead and pick this up and thank me later. It's one of the best desserts I've had in a while.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Trader Joe's Soft Baked Drizzled Gingerbread Oat Bars

Must be bear season at Trader Joe's.

For the second time in scarcely over a week, here's another new, presumably seasonal product featuring a friendly, partially clothed bear offering some sort of treat. This time around it's Trader Joe's Soft Baked Drizzled Gingerbread Oat Bars. I mean, look at this bear - rosy cheeks, glasses, an ornament. Heck, (s)he's even holding a couple of the bars in a heart shape. I want this bear to be my friend. The fact (s)he's promoting a healthyish snack bar probably means I'm less likely to be eaten as well.

But that's not all that's on the box front. You'll have to look somewhat closely, but there's two, fairly often contradictory terms: "soft baked" and "gluten free." I'm not gluten-sensitive or anything by any stretch of the imagination, and I appreciate all the efforts that TJ makes to be celiac-friendly. That being said, whenever trying any product that's sans gluten, more times than not, to me, the texture leaves something to be desired. If this were truly a "soft baked" oat bar, it'd be quite a feat.

Unsurprisingly, the TJ's oat bars would not be what I'd describe as soft baked. Not at all. Dry, tough, and chewy? Yes, yes, and yes. It's a work out for the molars. Take a look at the ingredients - oats, almond butter, fig paste - there's no way it wouldn't be otherwise. The bite feels like a cross between a semi-stale Nutrigrain bar and my grandmother's molasses cookies (which I like by the way, Grandma!) that would be less disappointing if not promising to be "soft baked".

Aside from that, I like the bars quite a bit. Not a lot, if any of the almond butter or fig paste taste pop through - it's instead mostly oatty goodness with a heavy ginger bite. Seriously, the crystallized ginger in the bars are actually pretty close in potency to the Triple Ginger Snaps, so if a lot of ginger isn't your thing, stay the heck away. It's sugared over somewhat by the fair run-of-the-mill icing scratched over the top.

I think my kids liked them - which is odd, because if it's not mac n cheese or ice cream it takes them 45 minutes of begging to have them eat - but I wouldn't be surprised if that's not the norm. Between the chew factor for little teeth and the spicy ginger, it'd be hard to imagine them being a huge hit, cute polar bear be darned.

Anyways, for an on-the-go snack, or maybe even as a breakfast with an apple and coffee, you could do a lot worse. The price at $2.49 for a five piece box seems fair. Sandy didn't have much one way or another to say about them, so I'll assume that means a three. For me, I'll toss in a four - a lower score would be unfair to bear.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Soft Baked Drizzled Gingerbread Oat Bar: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Trader Joe's Chicken & Sweet Potato Sausage Bites with Cranberries Jerky Dog Treats

Happy December, everyone! Alfred and Sadie have stepped in to give us another dog treat review. Is this even a holiday item? We're treating it as if it is. There are cranberries in there, after all. And what's more holiday-ish than a cranberry?

These things smelled like the Wild King Salmon Jerky, much to the dogs' delight. How TJ's can make chicken and sweet potato smell like salmon, I'm not sure. Sonia thought they smelled like bacon. Maybe some kind of goofy rancid bacon, but hey—dogs love stuff that smells kinda funky.

The video features antlered pets (Sadie better watch out she doesn't wind up in that Venison Burger!) well as Sonia's take on the dog treats. They're still a little big and firm for our small dogs, but maybe not as bad as some of the treats we've seen in the past. Our dogs loved the taste.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Trader Joe's Joyous Joe

Let's do some quick analysis here: Thanksgiving is a four day weekend. That means four days off, with a couple small kids. That equates to a lot of coffee consumption for us adults. Conveniently, there's four mini-cans of coffee that come in Trader Joe's Joyous Joe, so there'd be like a new flavor every day, right? How can this go wrong? Heck, it might even made a great little holiday gift for a white elephant-type deal, right, so it'd double as review fodder. Really, can't go wrong here....


There's four flavors here: Peppermint Mocha, Wintry Blend, Pumpkin Spice Coffee, and Gingerbread Coffee. Each variety comes in a canister that holds enough pre-ground coffee to make a large 10 to 12 cup pot o' joe.  I'll go through them in order we tried them...

Gingerbread Coffee: Thanksgiving Day. There's an issue here. Usually, we're French press folks, which requires course ground coffee. It's the standard grind for these beans, which means a regular drip pot is required. No matter, we have one of those, with the right size paper filters, let's fire it up...Cue catastrophe. the gingerbread coffee has ground ginger in it which apparently "blooms" a bit when wet. Because of this, somehow, some of those ginger bits Houdini'ed themselves out of the paper filter and lodged themselves under the rubber gasket of the dispenser drip nozzle thing of our coffee pot. So, right after Sandy filled her first cup, the coffee just kept flowing - nonstop - all over the counter and floor and everywhere. I was in the other room and I hear her yell for help and in our pre-caffeined state we have to figure out what in the heck is going on. I have to take the reservoir off and carry to the sink while Sandy holds a cup underneath it to catch all the drips, which sounds easy enough to do until you remember: no caffeine yet. Not easy or fun. This happen to anyone else? Please tell me this happened to someone else.

Tasted decent enough, with a strong ginger flavor. A little robust, and I'm not sure I'd make it my usual cup, but it worked for the day. Probably my favorite out of the bunch.

Peppermint Mocha: Friday. With the Exxon Valdez-ian coffee catastrophe of the previous day behind us, and coffee pot fixed via thorough dislodging of ginger chunks with a toothpick (fun times!), it's minty mocha time. Not great, not awful. Chocolate and mint work well in tea form but never coffee for me - not sure why. Decent amount of mint, meager amounts of chocolate, tasted kinda watery and a little sad. Still better than the peppermint mocha Sandy picked me up from McD's the other day. I'd rank third out of the group.

Pumpkin Spice: Saturday. Enough said. You know what I am by now. Last in my book. Go away, pumpkin spice. Blecch. Go away.

Wintry Blend: Sunday. We are a house divided on this coffee. I think it tastes fine, with a little extra bite. Out of any of the varieties, I could see getting a full can of it. Sandy says it tastes like it was stirred with a burned stick. Hrmm, there are "spices" listed: cloves, nutmeg...and cracked pepper? Pepper, in coffee? Now that's a new thing to me at least, and it does add an extra little slap that I could see would be offputting - I do get the burned stick sensation, but I just so happen to like it. Not Sandy.

So, there you have it. I'd prefer a full bean version so I could use a French press; however I know not everyone has their own bean grinder so I get why it's pre-ground as a default. If you need an inexpensive (less than $10) gift for someone who likes flavored coffees, or if you just want a little seasonal variety pack, I could see it the Joyous Joe being a worthwhile pick up. But we'll probably pass going forward. Sandy's in the spirit with giving it a three, I'm bah-humbuggin' it with a two overall.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Joyous Joe: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Trader Joe's Chili Chocolate Collection

Ah, spicy chocolate. That concept was completely unfamiliar to me until I met Sonia. She and her friends introduced me to Abuelita our first Christmas season together, and I've been having it each December since. Turns out, Trader José has his own spicy hot chocolate, and it's worth a purchase as well. But here we have chocolate guajillo, jalapeno ganache, chili lime, and habanero chocolates—like actual candies with different kinds of chili in them, just in time for the holidays. Sounds pretty exotic...good thing I'm feeling adventurous today.

First up, Milk Chocolate Guajillo: Amazing. For a second, it just tastes like very sweet, ultra-smooth milk chocolate, but wow. Wow. A few moments in, there's this delightful warmth that skates across your tongue and glides down the back of your throat. It leaves your mouth tingling long after it's done. I loved it.

Next, Jalapeno Ganache: Where have I heard that word "ganache" before? Oh yeah. That bacon-infused nonsense. Apparently, it's like a chocolate cream sauce. Well, not only is this ganache pork-free, but it's also got a jalapeno-esque kick and happy little green jalapeno chilis printed right on the candy. If you ever wanted to know what a chocolate-covered jalapeno would taste like, this is probably pretty close. Not my favorite, but I feel just a bit more urbane and sophisticated for having tried it.

Then there's the Chili Lime chocolate: Outstanding. Never had a chocolate candy like this before. The "zesty lime oil" is tart, tangy, sweet, and simply awesome. Blended with chili, caramel, and chocolate, the lime flavor still stands out as dominant. It was an experience I won't soon forget.

Finally, there's Habanero Milk Chocolate: With an impressive amount of heat, this red chili-printed chocolate also features ganache. When I heard the phrase "chili chocolate," this is the flavor I imagined. It's sweet, it's chocolatey, and it's most definitely spicy. It's certainly not bad, but I think my favorite flavor was the chili lime, followed closely by the guajillo. Sonia wasn't as big on the chili lime, but she raved about the guajillo. This habanero flavor was her second favorite.

At $4.99 for 16 candies, they're not exactly giving them away, but this would make a great gift for any adventurous chocolate lover, and I can't emphasize the high quality of this product enough. And most other comparable chocolate collections are much pricier elsewhere. Four stars from me. Four and a half from the lovely Sonia.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Trader Joe's Chocolate Mint Flavored Black Tea

Finally, begrudgingly, reluctantly, and much to my chagrin, the heat is on my house for the fall/winter. It's not that I don't like being warm. Who doesn't? But what I don't like is paying a whole bunch extra on utility bills just so I can be comfy in a t shirt around the house. Plus: it's a 101-year old house I live in. Turning on the furnace does more than make it a little bit warmer; it also makes my dwelling's inherent draftiness all that much more palpable.

In my house, if you're cold: Put on another layer. Grab a hoodie. Lay on another blanket. Still cold? Go run a fast lap or two around the block then come back inside. Bet you're warmer then. There's other ways I occasionally recommend to my wife Sandy that we can keep each other warm, but she's not terribly amused by it. Fill in the blanks yourself. 

And of course: hot beverages. Coffee is nearly almost always welcome, but there are certain times and places a hot cuppa tea hits the warm beverage spot a little bit better. While in search of our favorite seasonal TJ tea, Sandy and I instead came across Trader Joe's Chocolate Mint Flavored Black tea, and were just intrigued enough we had to try.

Good stuff, this tea. Each tea bag comes individually sealed in a plastic wrapper that once cracked elicits a strong, fragrant mint scent that's fairly inviting. It's almost as strong as some mint gums, but in a more pure/less candified way. When brewing and sipping, it's still that same smell that carries through, so naturally, it's a pretty pepperminty tea. But that's not all there is. There's some coca shells in the tea bag, presumably crushed to itty bits, which add a definite chocolate flavor. The black tea itself, along with some chicory, make for a good tea base for the chocolate and mint to play off of one another. To me, sugar and cream aren't necessities, but I tried a sip of Sandy's, and with a little something added, the chocolate and mint seem to pop even more. I don't want to say it tastes like an Andes Candy in tea form, because that's not precisely it...but it's not terribly offbase either.

Gotta love the bear in an ugly Christmas tree sweater too, with the look in his eyes suggesting he just spilled some on his pant leg or bare bear feet. Would this bear wear pants? I'm thinking a nice pair of corduroy khakis.

Regardless, it's a fine tea, with just enough going on to suggest a dessert vibe. I could see getting some flavor fatigue if drinking this tea a few days in a row - admittedly, it does taste a little gimmicky. But I like it, as does the wife. She's going for a four, while I'm coming in a little lower - in the end, she's more of a tea person than me. No matter. Now pass me another blanket.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chocolate Mint Flavored Black Tea: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Trader Joe's Riced Broccoli

I don't really have a whole lot to say about this product, since it's nothing but broccoli—and my feelings about it are very similar to my feelings about traditional broccoli. I don't hate broccoli. Never did. But I've never loved it either. It needs a little "help," if you know what I'm saying. 

A little butter, salt, and pepper really add a lot to the flavor of this product. Or, if you're trying to avoid sodium, a few shakes of the 21 Seasoning Salute can also be a big help. On the other hand, if you're not really watching what you eat, but you still want some "greens" in your diet, this product is delectable when served with melted cheese, much like traditional broccoli.

You may remember the previously-reviewed Organic Riced Cauliflower. We tried it around the same time the Shelly family reviewed it, and it's become a repeat-purchase in our household ever since—whenever it's not sold out at the local Trader Joe's, that is. Cauliflower works shockingly well as a rice substitute. And it seems to work without adding much to it. We usually cook it up in a little olive oil, and that's really all that's needed to make it a very palatable side dish. For Sonia and I, this broccoli didn't work quite as well just by itself. Plus, it might just be some silly subliminal, psychological thing, but it's a lot easier to pass a vegetable off as "rice" when it's white, rather than green.

While chatting with Marvo from The Impulsive Buy one evening, he asked us, "What do you think Trader Joe's will 'rice' next? Beets?" He noted that TJ's likes to do interesting stuff with beets. (See: chips and juice). Sonia suggested something at the time, but she can't remember what she said. Jicama, maybe? Personally, my money is on parsnips or turnips. I'd like to see them rice up one of those. How about you guys? Let us know in the comments below.

Sonia gives this riced broccoli three stars. I give it three and a half. It could be a really slick way to sneak some extra veggies into that Thanksgiving meal you're about to have.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Trader Joe's Nutty Seedy Fruity Bars

Quite a while back, we made a big joke about there being a product called Trader Joe's Dog Food...For People. It's one of our finer works. Please, if you need a good laugh, take a peek, we'll be back.

I bring this up because there's now apparently a TJ's bird food...for people.

Yes, yes, I know, it's actually called Trader Joe's Nutty Seedy Fruity Bar, in yet another attempt on a grab 'n go snack/energy bar. It's not a bad concept, but the endless variations out there...and to my knowledge, none of them have tried to emulate bird suet anywhere as close to this one.

Yes, suet, like that stuff you put aside in the winter for the birds, only for it to be snatched up by some darn squirrels. Happens all the time.

At least "Nutty Seedy Fruity Bar" is an honest name. Let's see:

Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts
Seeds: Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds
Fruit: Date paste
All of the above: Coconuts, present in dried, oil and nectar form

Now, I've named each and every ingredient..but there's apparently 12% missing here. It says it's 88% nuts, seeds and fruit on the front. What's the rest? Tj's love and magic? Maybe.

Anyways, all these ingredients come to together to a dense, chewy, crispy bar. This thing got some girth to it. It's very dry yet oily at the same time - some hydration will probably be handy to have on hand. It's not something to be gnawed right down. Each respective ingredient is present, with the dates and coconut really holding it all together. The nuts are pleasantly earthy and roasty, as are the seeds, with the right amount of proper crunch and crisp for each. It's a nifty little feat.

But...I wish it played up the fruity element just a tad bit more. The dates are more adhesive than flavor additive, leaving mainly the coconut. Some dried blueberries would have a subtle little touch here, which would have also lightened it up a bit. There's a little too much earthiness, so as in life,  a little sweetness would go along a way.

Oh, if you haven't figured it out by now: There's nuts. And coconuts. Lots of fat. Lots and lots of good ol' natural fat of the saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated varieties. Make of that what you will for you. It's not a huge deterrent for me - better this than a Big Mac, IMHO.

The bars in all do make a nice little treat that packs more stomach filling power than one would think. I was quite happy for several hours after munching away on one of them at work, to the point where I almost forgot to eat lunch, which just doesn't happen for a guy like me. I like them, and for what it is, the $2.29 price tag isn't an outright awful value. I'd love that blueberry variety. Just me judging here, as unfair as that is, but Sandy didn't get to hers in time. I'll wing it a three, so double that up. Stock up for those hard winter months ahead.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Nutty Seedy Fruity Bars: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Trader Joe's Chicken Sausage & Cornbread Stuffing

Ah, this looks Thanksgivingy enough. Novembery enough, if you will. No Turkey Day dinner would be complete without some stuffing. And of course, since this has chicken in it, you could theoretically stick this inside the duck part of your turducken and still have turducken without an actual chicken as the inner layer. But I digress.

Overall, this stuff is bready and moist, the way stuffing should be, but I have some pretty big reservations about giving it a stellar score. Firstly, the whole Scarborough Fair thing is in full effect here. Yep. I checked the ingredients as I've done many times, and this product does indeed contain parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, although the front of the packaging only mentions sage and thyme. I think this is the first time I've consumed anything that contained all four. So yeah. Simon and Garfunkel would be proud. Or maybe not. Because there's too much of it in here. I'm not sure whether it's the thyme or sage, but one of those herbs is a little overpowering to me. After Sonia's first couple bites, she grimaced and said, "This tastes like an old woman's house."

I was hoping to taste more chicken, cornbread, and cranberry flavors. There are plenty of cranberries in there, it's just that they don't do that much for the flavor. I wanted some of that sweet-tartness, but alas...The Scarborough Fair Effect.

Texture-wise, I already mentioned the pleasant amount of moisture—even after heating in the oven. If anything, the product came out a tad too mushy for us. Bits of celery add a nice delicate crunch. And the cranberry pieces feel pretty nice, even if their flavor isn't coming through in a big way. I was also hoping there would be large chunks of actual chicken sausage. There aren't. 

In the end, I'd probably turn to good old Stove Top over this dressing. It's not a complete abomination, and we won't be returning it for a no-hassle refund or anything like that. It's just a different, very herby take on classic filling, and a little disappointing to both of us. 

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Trader Joe's Black Cold Brew Coffee

Like most semi-functional adults I know, I need coffee every day. In multiple doses.

Preferred methods of intake primarily include: a relatively leisurely French press pot at home, plunged by either my four year old, my just-turned-two-year-old, or, when the girls ask just sweetly enough, the dog (all with my assistance, of course). Or when the chance allows, a cup from a good, local coffee shop.

Preferred methods of intake do not include the work coffee pot or vending machine, or a tepid tankard of brown water from the gas station on the way to work. Though that's what I settle for far too often.

So, Trader Joe's Black Cold Brew Coffee can be a nice little mix up. Someone please explain why TJ's is debuting this cold brew can-to-go in November, though. In my little world, there is an inverse relationship between coffee temperature and the five day forecast. Hot weather : cold coffee. Cold weather : hot coffee. Simple, right?

Speaking of's this slim can o' cold caffeine. Unlike most cold brew or iced coffees I have tasted, this TJ's one doesn't try to be extra dark or roasty or overly robust or anything. So many of them can be so bittersweet that the taste nearly veers towards offputting. Not this brew. It literally tastes like regular coffee....except purposefully cold. Which isn't that wonderful.

I've been a black coffee drinker for nealry two years now, which I like to think has helped cultivate a discerning coffee palate. Even after waiting for the can to warm up a smidge to see if the temperature had any flavor locked up, when I tasted again, still, not really anything there. Fans of this website may appreciate the flat earthiness of the Doesn't do much for me, but not that I minded

For the record, there is a vanilla flavored version of the cold brew coffee as well, which my wife Sandy tried, but I didn't. From what she said, it's not a creamy coffee, but rather like a flavored oil (or however one makes flavored coffee beans), so it wasn't what she hoped for or expected, but tasty enough.

A can runs $1.79 a pop, and it's one of those fashionable little slim dinky cans, too. The price stikes me as fair enough of a value, but not one I'll go for terribly often either. the eight ounces got me just enough caffeine to last for a few hours at work, and I enjoyed more than the work options, so it's not horrible either. Just all kinda meh. Like me without enough coffee.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Black Cold Brew Coffee: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, November 11, 2016

Trader Joe's Hat Trick Trio of Bitters

I've learned several things as a result of purchasing this product: (1) I missed my true calling in life as a bartender. (2) When they say "bitter," believe it. (3) It's nearly impossible to squeeze 1oz of juice from the average lime with your hands. (4) If Trader Joe's wants you to pay upwards of $15 for something, there's a reason for the premium.

We made all three drinks described on the packaging: Joe's Whiskey Sour, The New Daiquiri, and the Citrus Grove Gin Rickey. To be honest, I've never had a whiskey sour or a gin rickey ever before in my life. And the daiquiri in this case was nothing like the strawberry daiquiris I've tasted. Yes, I know. Haha. I've only tried the girliest drink out of the three. To be fair, though, I don't think I've ever actually ordered my own daiquiri. I've simply tasted my dates' daiquiris. Honestly. What? Don't believe me? Fine.

And I also poured the bitters right onto my tongue. Guess what? They're bitter. And potent. They cost so much because they'll last you five years longer than it takes for the earth to crash into the sun...or until you decide to move out of your house and into a new dwelling for the fourth time in seven years and you pass the little bottles along to friends as part of your downsizing efforts. But who would do a crazy thing like that?

The recipes call for five "dashes" of each bitter in its respective drink. How big is a "dash" exactly? I'm pretty sure that's not a universal unit of measure. But whatever. I think I erred on the side of "more than five dashes," because I genuinely appreciated the flavor they contributed, although I added a bit of extra syrup as well to balance out the bitterness. We used an agave syrup we had on hand rather than the called-for "simple syrup."

I think I liked the whiskey sour the best, mainly because I love lemon. But the other two beverages were nothing to sneeze at. Sonia liked the rickey drink the best. It really did have a nice citrusy vibe, and the grapefruit bitter probably had the most interesting flavor in and of itself. We both enjoyed the daiquiri, but to me, the spicy bitter/white rum combo was the weakest of the three concoctions.

If you're not into the whole drinking scene, the package gives a few other suggestions for enjoying these bitters. It mentions using them on fruit or ice cream. I must admit, we did NOT try them that way, and we couldn't really see how that could possibly work. If you have tried the bitters that way, please let us know in the comments whether you liked it or not. 

The box also mentions using the bitters in non-alcoholic beverages. That we did try. But after adding them to several different juices, fruit-infused sparkling waters, and sugar-free energy drinks (okay, that last one was just me) Sonia and I agreed that nothing worked quite as well as mixing them with good old-fashioned booze. Also, it's curious that they're 40% alcohol themselves. Yet they can be sold at TJ's that don't sell alcoholic beverages. I guess that's because nobody could ever drink enough of this stuff straight out of the bottle to get any kind of buzz without plastering a permanent pucker-face on his ugly mug. And in case some of you are wondering—no, I didn't try to do it myself. I only drank a dash or two straight from the bottle. I just look that way naturally.

Anyway, score-wise, we know this product won't be for everybody. It's a relatively small amount of liquid for a relatively high price. But if you look up comparable gift packs of three bitters, most other brands will run you in the ballpark of $50 instead of $16. For that reason and for the quality of the product, I give it four and a half stars. Sonia will go with four.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

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