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Friday, January 29, 2016

Podcast Episode 17: Favorite Healthy Products

Is your New Year’s resolution to eat healthier? In this episode we share our favorite healthy Trader Joe’s products.

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

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Trader Joe's Steamed Chicken Soup Dumplings

Ah, January. If you're anything like me, you know what this means: head cold season. Seriously, I've had one lingering for at least a week, and it's gotten to the point that I can't hear as great out of my right ear. Which wouldn't necessarily be an awful thing, given how my kiddos love to shriek incessantly. Except I have to spend a decent amount of time on the phone at my daytime job, usually with overseas call centers, so I have to ask them to repeat things a couple times, thus giving off even more of the impression that I'm the weird old guy at work to all my younger colleagues (including my boss, who's 26. 26!!!). I'm only 33. It's not my fault those young'uns don't know basic '80s movie references (inconceivable!), random ODB lyrics, or who Homestar Runner is.

Anyways...head colds. Fun. Even more fun when you have a newly reset high deductible HRA insurance plan that makes going to the doctor for routine stuff like this somewhat cost-prohibitive. So, as I can imagine my nonexistent Southern grandma saying, I just need to eat some chicken soup, dumplin'.

Or maybe my ears failed again, and she said "Eat some chicken soup dumplings." Well, either way, here's Trader Joe's Steamed Chicken Soup Dumplings, available in the freezer section for $2.99. Cool concept: Take TJ's mostly successful potsticker/gyoza line, cross it with classic chicken soup. So basic, yet kinda genius.

So how's it work? Not bad. These were ready to rip after about 10 minutes in the steamer basket on the stove top. There's also microwave instructions but I'm not that kinda guy. Anyways, the six of these puffed up fairly impressively during cooking (we have clear glass lids for our pots so I could watch) and they were positively puffing and pulsing. Yummmm. When done, on the advice of the box (and using a shred of common sense), Sandy and I waited a minute or two for them to cool down so biting into them wouldn't unleash a boiling gush of broth straight down our gizzards.

I won't say the dumplings tasted exactly like chicken soup. As kinda a duh-ism, there's a lot more noodle to it than usual. I will say the doughy parts straddled a good line between usual soup noodle and potsticker dough-type flavor. But there's also not a whole lot of broth, either. I mean, yes, it's there, but the box's claim of being "filled with a warm and savory broth" may be a slight overstatement. Also, the chicken...not sure what spices you all usually put in your chicken soup, but the stuff here, between soy sauce and ginger and garlic made the meat part taste almost chicken sausage-esque. Sandy agreed with that. Also, no typical soup veggies like carrots or celery. End result: The chicken soup dumplings tasted much more like a somewhat juicer version of the regular chicken potstickers than a large bite of chicken soup that inside-outted itself. 

Which, I really like those, and I'm not a huge fan of chicken soup, so overall, I'm happy. They're pretty filling and decently okay for you caloric content, etc wise - get some fresh veggies on the side for a good enough lunch on a cold day. I mean, yes, the salt content is somewhat horrific, but name something that isn't, and if that's the worst you can say about a frozen prepackaged meal, it's not that bad in my book. Not that much worse than chicken soup. I liked 'em, Sandy borderline loved 'em, so these will be a repeat buy, I'm positive.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Steamed Chicken Soup Dumplings: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Trader Joe's Molten Chocolate and Salted Butterscotch Macarons

Ah, macarons, macarons, macarons...and macaroons. Not the same thing. Here's a PopSugar article explaining the difference, which was undoubtedly inspired by ignorant blog posts such as this one, written by uninformed foodie-hack blogger types. And now that we know how to differentiate the two kinds of cookies, let's take a look at TJ's latest offering in the macaron—with one "o"—category.

If nothing else, the actual product looks like it does on the packaging. There's an attractive, well-formed flaky pastry with a soft, fluffy center. Plus, the molten part is really kinda fun. While peering into your microwave, you can actually see the pastry's gooey center liquefy and slide down the sides of the product just like a middle school science fair volcano. The only problem with that is, you have to time it right. The box suggests 40 seconds. Our microwave is a little on the old and feeble side, so it took about ten seconds longer. Leave it in too long, and too much of the center winds up sliding down onto your plate; not long enough, and there's nothing "molten" at all. But if you stand there and stare at the product, it comes out pretty well if you yank the microwave door open just as the filling starts to ooze. And even I have the attention span to stand and stare at something for 50 seconds or so.

The texture of the cookie part of the macaron was a bit stiff and crust-like. It wasn't altogether unpleasant, but also certainly not the finest example of macaron texture we've seen from Trader Joe's. The filling was more like the creamy center of a toasted marshmallow, and when eaten with the outer shell, helped to compensate for the comparative dryness of the other component.

Flavor-wise, the butterscotch version was a run-of-the-mill salted caramel kind of vibe, with an emphasis on the sweetness—just a hint of saltiness. And it wasn't a particularly complex flavor, either. To be honest, I'd be slightly disappointed if I were served this dessert in a restaurant. But there's usually some taste sacrificed in a product that goes from frozen to ready-to-eat in less than a minute. Sonia liked the flavor of this butterscotch one more than the chocolate variety since the butterscotch filling reminded her of cajeta, a Mexican caramel made with goat's milk.
As for the chocolate variety, the texture was identical to that of the butterscotch, as far as I could tell. I liked the flavor slightly more in this case, as it was very similar to a brownie. Sonia wasn't as impressed. In the end, she'd just rather eat a brownie.

Apparently Russ and Sandy were not fond of these cookies at all. I don't really blame them. I certainly wasn't as blown away by them as I thought I would be, but as they are, I think I'll score them somewhere in the "not bad" range. Let's go with three and a half for the chocolate version and three for the butterscotch from me. Sonia will throw out three stars for the chocolate version and a four for the butterscotch.

Bottom lines:

Trader Joe's Molten Chocolate Macarons: 6.5 out of 10.
Trader Joe's Molten Salted Butterscotch Macarons: 7 out of 10.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Trader Joe's Sriracha Hummus

Sriracha and hummus...simple idea. Never occurred to me for some reason. But brilliant. How can it fail?

The existence Trader Joe's Sriracha Hummus puts another test to my so-called "chocolate gum theory" that two things that are great separately are not so necessarily good together. However, this is an undisputed win in my book. It's so much more Bowie - Mercury than Bowie - Jagger. Instead of having a bright red pool of sriracha in the midst of some basic hummus, the two are blended seamlessly together in this near radiantly muted orangey glowy glop, with the two flavors coming together just as well as the colors. Lots of the typical sriracha heat, but enough tahini-fied hummus bringing up the base that offers a little break from the spice storm. But still, so much bite in its smooth and creamy ways. This dragon hummus is not for the faint.

Too tasty, two bucks...too easy winner in my book. Perfect five. Sandy though? I thought she'd love it, but perhaps it's a little potent for her. After one bite, she made a face, then went right back to our alternate tub of roasted garlic hummus we had for the kiddos (their favorite). I asked why the rejection, but she just couldn't put her finger on it. More for me then! I couldn't be happier.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sriracha Hummus: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Trader Joe's Organic Granny's Apple Granola Cereal

When I hear the words "granny" and "apple" in the same phrase, I naturally think of Granny Smith apples—especially when I see that lovely shade of light green. And although the ingredients don't specify what type of apples are used in this product (just says "organic dried apples") I'm pretty sure they're not Granny Smith. But that's not a bad thing in this case. I'm thinking Granny Smiths would have been too sour. The apples we find here are nice and sweet, and they mix very well with the organic oats sweetened with organic milled cane sugar. I was actually pretty pleased with the amount of apple bits throughout the cereal. There were walnuts, too, but those were fairly sparse in our box.

Apparently Sonia wishes there were more pieces of apple. Her comment: "I wish it had little pieces of apple in it." My reply: "It does." Her next comment: "Hmm funny I don't remember eating them. But then again I am a little weird." Oh, Sonia. In her defense, though, they do blend in pretty well with the rolled oats and other granola ingredients—visually, as well as flavor-wise. Strangely, she still liked it enough to give it four out of five stars.

It's a solid, hearty, granola-based cereal. Just think of any other granola cereal you've had from Trader Joe's or anywhere else for that matter, and throw in some dried apple bits, and that's pretty much what you have here in terms of taste and texture. Considering it's completely organic and naturally-flavored, I can't go lower than four stars either. Like Russ's last post, this product has been a mainstay on that TJ's cereal shelf for at least four or five years now—but we just tried it for the first time this past week and we're here to tell you that it's worth a purchase. It just might wind up on your grocery list week after week.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Trader Joe's Triple Berry-O's


I had this completely, totally, fun, cute idea for this review of Trader Joe's Triple Berry-O's. Basically, it was going to a review from the standpoint of my three ("an' a haff!", as she proudly exclaims) year old of what I thought was her favorite cereal. I'm talking in-depth review and analysis, complete with bite-by-bite play-by-play, with telestrator and all. Might have even called Madden out of retirement for it.

But...M, in typical three an' a haff year old attitude, completely refused. Come to find out, she's more intrigued these days by "grandma crunchers wif brown sugar an' milk on dem" (i.e., Corn Chex) or "Corn Chex, cuz dey have corn on dem" (i.e., Kix - see the box) or Rice Krispies (no cute name for those) these days. When we ran out of all of those and had only Berry-O's left was she reluctantly willing to have them for breakfast once more. It helped that I fibbed that we were out of waffles and bread for toast. I swear, she used to eat an entire box, by herself, every week or so, not all that long ago.

Might be a good thing, though, because her food critic skills are AWFUL. I gave her a simple test, like Chef Ramsay's "Chicken, beef or pork?" taste test, only it was "blueberry, strawberry, or raspberry." I gave her a bite with one of each berry in it with her eyes closed, and asked her what berry she tasted. After the blueberry bite: "Nothin'!" This is after she said blueberry was her favorite. After raspberry: "Blueberry!" She did manage to get the strawberry, right, though, probably because of shape more than anything else.

Anyways, the TJ triple berry O's are pretty straightforward. I like the O's part - simple, basic honey oat munchers, like any other store brand. It's one of my favorite cereals, non-Cocoa Pebbles division. But, to be honest, I hate the berries part. Like any freeze dried fruit, they're too strong, too sweet, too acidic almost, too sugary, too jarring with the rest. If there's going to be fruit in my cereal, it's got to be fresh, because at least then I'll get that from an actual piece of fruit, not the dried up remaining shell of one. At least I'd say the box is 90% O's, 10% fruit (at most) so it's not anything to make too big a fuss out of.

Naturally, the berries are my kids' favorite part, so I can pick them out of my cereal, give the berries to them, win Best Daddy Ever award, not miss out on anything I like, and be left with a bowl of cereal I'm perfectly content with. Seriously, the look on their eyes when I give them a berry would look just like mine if you gave me a hundred dollar bill.

In M's words, "I used to like them, but now I only like dem a lil' bit." That's because "dey make me sticky." I'm not sure what she means either. When I asked her how many spoons she wanted to give them, she just grunted then asked if she could wear her jammies all day and when she could watch Daniel Tiger. Eh well. For $3.29, the O's were quite a regular pick up for us, and I get the appeal of them. Bonus points for being fairly nutritious and no silly cartoon characters or movie tie-ins. I recommend giving 'em a try.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Triple Berry O's: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Trader Joe's Organic Fair Trade Espresso Dark Chocolate Baton

Two of these happy little bars ensnared Sonia at the checkout counter on her last TJ's run. She enthusiastically devoured hers before she even got it home. She suggested that I try mine immediately. She even mentioned it on our last podcast episode and gave me an ultimatum to eat my bar by the following day.

But my bar sat on the counter for the better part of a week. That's not a testament to my willpower, believe me. That's a testament to the fact that dark chocolate and espresso doesn't really excite me that much. I finally tried one of the detachable sections and thought, "Yeah I can totally see how Sonia is into this." The remainder of the bar lay dormant on the counter for the next few days. I offered it to Sonia and she politely declined and said she might eat it later. That probably IS a testament to her willpower in that, apparently, she has some.

I ate about a section per day for the next three or four days. I don't remember how many sections the bar had exactly...somewhere between four and six I'm pretty sure. But I found that for me, it hit the spot most when I was getting into my post-lunch afternoon coma and needed a little shot of caffeine and sugar. If you're into chocolate-covered espresso beans, you'll surely enjoy this firm, crispy candy bar. There's plenty of dark chocolate flavor and there are tiny, crunchy espresso bean bits all through it. Sonia gives it four and a half stars and I'm torn between three and three and a half. I'll go with the higher score since the product is only 99 cents and I'm sure most of our readers will appreciate it much more than I did.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Trader Joe's Pour-Over Coffee Brewer

I'm wiling to be shortsighted and/or wrong here, but I have a hard time seeing the practicality of the new Trader Joe's Pour-Over Coffee Brewer. Not that I'm entirely sure how it works...seems to be some sort of disposable filtered plunger-less French press-esque contraption. But, for a single serving, look, it's silly. "Backpacking!" you may say. I had that thought as well...but then thought of all the excess material to pack in/pack out, along with the cost (somewhere between $1.50 and $2 each), you'd be better off with a French press mug if you're a serious hiker, or something like Starbucks Via for the occasional hiker. Maybe if you're car camping for the night...maybe. I wouldn't pull this out at the office, and I have at least four coffee makers at home that I can think of...this seems silly.

Although, it's decent coffee. Just straight up black, doctor however you wish (if at all). It's better than Starbucks Via/any other instant coffee that comes to mind...since this is actual brewed coffee. And I don't mind Via, not because it's great, but because anything tastes better in the Great Outdoors (as opposed to the Typical Corporate Cubicle, the Reliable PreOwned Hyundai, or the Kitchen In Desperate Need of Remodeling). Nothing fancy, not all that much character to it that's absolutely distinctive. Just plain ol' coffee, better than gas station coffee (though in the same price ballpark) and much better than Wendy's (worst coffee I've ever had!), but more of a fuss to make between pouring in hot water, etc. It'll get you warm and caffeinated on some fairly reasonable terms, which as good as it gets sometimes with ultra-mobile coffee.

Solid but unspectacular. But there may be something to this particular set-up that I'm whiffing on, so if I am, please fill me in!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Pour-Over Coffee Brewer: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Trader Joe's Convivial Cookie Collection

Someone in TJ's marketing department was paying attention during vocab. The word "convivial" just means friendly, agreeable, or enjoyable. I've only heard it used once or twice in my whole life during casual conversation, but hey, it adds to the alliteration in the title of the product. And alliteration is clearly convivial to the cochlea, don't you concur?

Leave it to Trader Joe's to combine trains, friendliness, and random cookies from Germany with very European-sounding names in a way that doesn't make any sense...and yet still there's this inexplicable impression that they know what they're doing. It worked on us, right? And we've no major complaints about this product, either. When they say 24 cookies in the box, it's not a trick in this case—unlike their five-ounce tuna cans and bags of "about" 40 churros.

Each type of cookie is pretty good, although there were definitely some I liked better than others. I liked the crispy cylindrical cookies the best. It might have been my overactive imagination, but they had an almost citrusy, lemony essence about them. A close second for me were the Kit Kat-esque wafers covered in dark chocolate. I might have liked them even more if they were covered in white chocolate, but the dark kind worked just fine in this case. I'd also say the same about those butter cookies with choco-fied edges. Those were my third favorite. In fact, if you look at the picture, Trader Joe's conveniently laid out the cookies from left to right in the order that I like them.

Overall, Sonia liked the cookies even more than I did. Plus, she was a huge fan of the nonsensical train-themed packaging and clever quips spoken by the cookies, like when the circular coconut cookie says, "I'm always around" on the back of the box. Her favorite cookie is the one with the knight from a chess set on it. Sure, the knight is made of white chocolate, but there's barely enough to taste it at all, especially considering it's surrounded on all sides by dark chocolate. She liked that there were seven different cookies to choose from, and that when you tired of one kind, there were still others to try. She gives this product four stars.

I can't get super excited about the packaging in this case, and I'm not really the biggest dark chocolate-covered cookie guy in the world, but I must admit that for $3, these are high-quality selections of confections. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Episode 16: New Dec 2015 - Jan 2016 Products

Listen to us chat about some brand new stuff coming out on Trader Joe's shelves!


Show notes!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Trader Joe's Oakwood Cold Smoked English Cheddar Cheese do you smoke a block of cheese so it doesn't melt? I mean, where's there's smoke, there's fire, right? I had no idea until Googling it, so if you're interested, here ya go.

We've had a somewhat spotty history with Trader Joe's Spotlight Cheeses of the Month. See Exhibit A and Exhibit B. But Trader Joe's Oakwood Cold Smoked English Cheddar Cheese is a winner. Unlike other English cheddars from TJ's I've had, this isn't of the cold and clammy variety. No, it's more of the traditional waxy/creamy hybrid of most other cheddars, and it's strong, too. It's not the sharpness itself that really sticks out - I'd say it's midrange at most - but the smoke. And it's definitely oak dad smokes meats quite a bit, experimenting with different wood chips, so I can discern between oak and maple and cherry and whatnot. Very oaky, very smoky. It's almost a little too uniform, though, making me question a little if this cheese were truly smoked or just add smoke flavoring added - I'm giving TJ's the benefit of the doubt and saying the first.

Regardless, this is an excellent cheddar, and a good deal at $7.99 a pound. Pair with a pour of bourbon, some slices of pastrami or roast beef, make a killer mac 'n cheese - lotsa possibilities here. Go at it! Bonus points for the Flanders-esque "Oakely Doakely" on the label as well.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Oakwood Cold Smoked English Cheddar Cheese: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Trader Jacques' Tarte à l'Oignon Alsatian Style Onion Tart

If you like onions, you'll undoubtedly like this onion tart. Why? Because it's nothing but a boatload of caramelized onions on a bed of buttery bread. Is that a good thing? Yes...if you like onions.

From the moment we peeled back the plastic wrapping, that pungent, oniony fragrance filled our entire kitchen. Even standing five or 10 feet away from the product, it was still noticeable—and possibly even overwhelming, particularly for onionophobes. Good thing both Sonia and I like onions.

We've noticed that the scent of onions on one's breath is vaguely offensive only if you have abstained from the consumption of onions. If you've been eating them too, then it's not so bad. Who wants to kiss someone with onion-breath, except perhaps someone else with onion-breath? Garlic possesses similar qualities.

We heated the product per the instructions, but felt that it came out a little underdone. We were both quite hungry at the time, so we bypassed the option of putting it back in the oven and ate it as it was. It was still delicious, if perhaps a little doughy. We both agreed that the more thoroughly cooked parts were superior in taste and texture. The little bit of browning and crisping we had around the edges and corners was very welcome. So, if anything, I'd say err on the side of overcooking this product just a tad.

The crust is very similar to a pizza crust. There aren't many surprises there. As mentioned before, the onions are caramelized and also fairly creamy. I'm not sure if this would make a great stand-alone dinner just by itself, but as a side dish, it adds a nice, classy international element for under $4 (although TJ's official web page says something about zombies and clowns potentially changing the official price tag). This product is actually imported from France. Sonia and I have both been there, although never together. On our next visit, we will most definitely make a stop in Alsace Lorraine. 

Sonia liked it even more than I did. Four and a half stars from her. I think it deserves a four.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Trader Joe's Mini Cinnamon Sugar Churros

There's a moment in an upcoming podcast episode where I get called out on the privilege of my youth: namely, there being churros in my school cafeteria! In suburban Philadelphia, of all places! Shout out to you, North Penn, because apparently this is not the standard across the nation. Not even for Sonia...and she grew up in SoCal! I had no idea this was such a foreign concept. Mind : blown. Maybe I shoulda checked with Sandy to see what her school did...

Anyways, yes, on taco days, we could buy churros at the school cafeteria, as long as our cafeteria trays were wide. And come to think of it, I remember them more at elementary school, not middle or high school...okay, now that's a great idea. Give a bunch of kids a large sugary stick of fried dough, then expect them to learn the 3 R's. What foresight.

But those churros: I remember them being amazing, and kinda the standard to which I hold all other churros. I've had them a few times since, I'm sure - must have had at least one or two at Disneyland (the standard, Sonia opines).

These Trader Joe's Mini Cinnamon Sugar Churros are right in line with the cafeteria ones I recall. For once, comparing TJ's to cafeteria food is meant a compliment. You can find a big baggie in the freezer section for just $3.99. And they're designed to bake up in your oven for just a few minutes (six or seven) before pulling out and dusting over with the included package of cinna-sugar.

My goodness. Delicious. Churros are usually meant to be fried, but despite their ovenly preparation, the churros still taste and feel and even smell fairly fried. Think of them as small hexagram logs. The pointy peaks get crispy and oily, with just the right bite to them - in retrospect, I should have rotated them halfway through baking, since the bottom pan side of these guys did get slightly burned. But no matter. The middles were fluffy yet chewy like any good funnel cake-kinda concoction. And all the cinnamon and sugar...there's plenty enough cinnamon in the actual churro dough, and there's plenty more to add from the side package. I'd say that side satchel seems mostly cinnamon and not quite as much sugar, but still, plenty of sweetness to offset the cinnamon bite. Muy delicioso.  Each churro is about a bite and a half big.

But...not a perfect item. Like myself, perhaps the fine folks who drew up the back label were to hopped up on churros to learn some third grade math, because it's kinda fuzzy, at least as it pertained to my bag. Listen: if a serving is 10 churros, and there's four servings per bag, there should be 40 churros per bag. Now, I can read, so I understand it says "about 4" servings, not just "4 servings." Still...when I got 36 churros, and not more in the acceptable 38 - 42 range, well, it seemed off. Nathan brought up on excellent point about this, though....which you'll just have to listen to the podcast to find out what it was.

Also: You really don't need to eat ten of these anyways. I think Sandy and I each had five and felt like we had our share. Each churros is about a bite and a half big, which is actually perfect. Portion control! Kid friendly!

We like them. A lot. And we're dreaming of different ways to eat them. With vanilla ice cream, fleur de sel or dulce de leche, and maybe some pineapple? Yes. Have a churro bar with all sorts of different dips, like chocolate and fruit and whatnot? Ooh yeah. Make a churro cheesecake somehow? Oh goodness. Yesyesyes. I'm sure you have some fun ideas too, so fill us in!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mini Cinnamon Sugar Churros: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

p.s. - Major shout out to Pamela AKA "The Frozen Queen" at the Pittsburgh McCandless Crossing Trader Joe's for tracking down a bag full for Sandy and me - straight off the truck! Folks like you, Shandra in Salt Lake City, and the nice cashier in North Wales who gave my mom some flowers on the house when recovering from surgery are truly what's good at Trader Joe's - the people!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Trader Joe's Lemon Ginger Echinacea 100% Juice

I'm starting to notice a pattern. With a few anomalies, I really like drinks with that raw ginger flavor: those exploding bottles of Triple Ginger Brew, most non-alcoholic ginger beers and ginger ales, and stuff like Crabbie's alcoholic ginger beer. Pancakescereals, and other solid foods with raw ginger flavor? Not so much. And although it's distinctly different from other ginger beverages, this drink is no exception to that rule.

It definitely packs a heavy ginger punch, but the lemon and echinacea add an unexpected softness and complexity to the flavor. Just imagine iced echinacea tea sweetened with honey, mixed with lemonade and a potent ginger brew. It's not for everyone. Sonia was turned off by the heavy ginger flavor. It's especially noticeable in the finish. You're left with a sinus-clearing blast of ginger spice—and I don't mean Geri Halliwell. I liked it for that reason, unlike my sweet wife.

I must admit, there is something "medicinal" about the taste, for lack of a better word. It's almost as if they started with Thera-flu as a base, then sweetened it a bit more and threw in some raw ginger. But along those same lines, it felt therapeutic, too—like it might help ward off a winter cold. 

I'm sure this beverage would work well hot, served steaming in a coffee mug. But neither of us tried it that way. I was happy to chug it down on the rocks. Sonia just wanted more lemon flavor, and less of that vibrant ginger. Sonia will go with a 2.5, and I'll go with a solid 4.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Trader Joe's Smoked Ghost Chilies

Maybe you want to add a little extra something to your chili or soup or whatever for dinner. Maybe you had those TJ's ghost chili chips a few months back and thought, "Hey, those weren't so bad." Maybe on a recent trek to Trader Joe's you saw the Smoked Ghost Chilies grinder and thought, for $4.99, it'd add a nice little kick but something you could easily handle.

And you'd be wrong.

Listen: Unless you know what you're getting into, leave this pepper alone. It's beyond hot and spicy. The fact it comes inside a little plastic baggies inside the grinder should be a clue - I think it's so the capsaicin won't eat thru the grinder itself while still on store shelves. It's hot. Listen: most times I've used it, I've turned the grinder only the minimum necessary and let the few small flakes fall out...and that's seemed a bit much. A quarter turn would make things downright uncomfortable...a full would be a reason to go the ER.

Such is the way of the bhut jolokia, rough translation: butt igniter. Super fiery hot. Proceed with caution. No kids. No contact with eyes. No nothing. It'll take me years to get through this...and I like to think I'm a spice aficionado. I like the ghouly grinder but in small doses, and it's far from an everyday kinda thing. Maybe I'm just getting old. But be careful, kiddos.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Smoked Ghost Chilies: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Trader Joe's Scandinavian Swimmers

Ah, so many fun things come from Scandinavia: vikings, danishes, Spotify, Ikea...and now this. Just what we need after a month of sweets, cakes, parties, and junk food: more candy! 

And in our house, the holiday season just ended last night. It was Three Kings Day. Some of you might know it as "Epiphany." Latin Americans often celebrate it with a rosca—a big cake full of candied fruits and a plastic baby Jesus baked into it somewhere. Tradition states that whoever gets the piece with baby Jesus has to host the party the following year. Good times. But we did without a rosca this time around. Instead, we celebrated with tres leches cake, miscellaneous libations, guessed it: these soft, seafood-themed candies.

In light of recent events, Trader Joe's seems awfully confident they won't get sued by Swedish Fish over these "Scandinavian Swimmers." We see what you did there, TJ's. Very clever. You just went slightly more vague with the terms used in your product title. could be referring to Norwegian Lobsters and Danish Dolphins for all we know. And depending on who you ask, Finnish Seahorses and Icelandic Porpoises might be included in the bunch as well. Regardless of all that, I like them. I call them "Scandies." Get it? Scandinavian candies. Scandies. It's a contraction of the tw—oh, nevermind.

There are four different flavors (and colors). I like all of them except the yellow flavor. It just doesn't taste like anything to me. It's vaguely sweet, but there's very little tart lemon essence or luscious pineapple or anything like that. It's just...there. I can't really identify any of the other distinct flavors either, but all the rest seem like they belong there, though none pack the sour, citrusy zing that we found in last year's Sour Gummies T's & J's. It might just be my imagination, but I think the blue (dolphin) flavor is slightly berry-esque and the orange (fish) flavor is sorta orangey. I'm not even going to venture a guess as to the red flavor. Maybe the ladies over at Candyology will eventually offer us some concrete insights into the matter.

Texture-wise, they're wonderfully soft, and I must admit, my inner five-year-old thinks the shapes are kinda fun. The number one ingredient is cane sugar so, as candies go, I'd say these are a higher quality product than most mainstream offerings. Neither Sonia nor I are huge candy folks, but after being wowed by the aforementioned T's & J's, we decided to check these out as well. They're certainly not bad, but both Sonia and I would take the sour gummies over these guys any day. It looks like double 3.5's on this one. I might have gone with a 4 if that yellow flavor weren't so...blah.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Trader Joe's Meter Long Beer Bratwurst

Alright, alright, alright. Let's be upfront and get this out of the way already here.Yes, there's a lot of jokes that can be made about a, ahem, sausage of this size. No, I'm not going to repeat any of them here. One of my buddies and I sure made enough of them on New Year's Eve when I brought over Trader Joe's Meter Long Beer Bratwurst, much to the annoyance of our two much more lovely, much more mature, and absolutely more sober wives. We had our meat, we had our drink, we had our fun, now it's time to get down to the business of reviewing this fairly significant feat o' meat...

Hrmm, "Feat o' Meat" - that has a nice ring to it. I like it. How about naming it that, or similarly, "Three Feet of Meat"? If you must stick to that silly, worldly, completely logical metric system. how about "Meat-er Long Brat"? C'mon, it's quite possibly the longest, most readily-commercially available meat product out there - have some fun with it!

Relatedly, I may have just blown any chance of ever landing a gig with the Fearless Flyer. Drats.

This one heckuva monu-meat-al achievement though. As in, it's a seriously good brat. As you can easily tell from my picture, my buddy Nick tossed it on the grill for about a good 20 to 25 mins, flipping halfway through, to get a good, charred, cracked casing. In my opinion, that's really the only way to cook such a thing. The end result was positively mouthwatering: hot, sizzly, juicy, like a sausagey siren bent on leading me and my diet astray. Like any bratwurst worth the name, TJ's beer brat is a good mix of both pork and beef - I can't say exact ratio, but noticeably more pork. It's a good blend, though - not too grainy or rubbery like some I've had, but even and intact inside the pork casing.

And, of course, there's beer! Due to silly Quaker-heritage Pennsylvania laws, I haven't had the pleasure of Trader Joe's Vintage Ale too very often, so had to look up what the experts have to say about it. Hrmm, okay, yeasty, bready, some "banana esters" (whatever those are)...okay, I kinda remember that one I had a couple years back. To be honest, I didn't pick up too much of the actual beer flavor in the brats, but I'm willing to bet that's more my palate's shortcomings, as I rarely can in any beer brat. I mean, there was some beery aspects, but not enough to make it super noticeable or give me pause. I more noticed the paprika and peppery aspects than any beer ones. That's all well and good, since the flavor is mild enough to make it prime for pairing with any of your favorite sauces or mustard or whatever, while still enjoyable enough to consume straight up..

All to say, I really enjoyed shuffling off this meat-al coil. I definitely ate more of it than I intended to, I think - my intake modulator wasn't working that night. Good thing it's a great deal - it's over a pound and a half, and costs only $6.99. I'm pretty sure I've seen it around for a while, so hopefully it'll continue to stick around for a bit. Both Sandy and I are wavering around a 4 to a 4.5, so let's call it one of each.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Meter Long Beer Bratwurst: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons    

Monday, January 4, 2016

Trader Joe's Jicama Sticks

Sonia had purchased this product on one of her solo TJ's runs, so it was a surprise when I found it on the kitchen counter. "What are these Ticama Sticks?" I asked. Just then, I noticed it said "Jicama Sticks," with a "J." I had been thrown off by the peculiar font TJ's chose. 

So I re-phrased my question to: "What are these Jai-camma Sticks?" butchering the product name like a true 'Murican. Sonia's reply came back with the correct pronunciation. "Oh, the Hee-comma Sticks? They're really good! I used to eat these growing up. My mom would give them to me when I was sick."

They're basically just run-of-the-mill root vegetables, similar to radishes or turnips, but sliced into long, narrow sticks. When you Google the phrase "jicama tastes like," the top two auto-fill choices that pop up are "like apple" and "like dirt," a not so subtle clue that there may be two distinct camps when it comes to jicama appreciation. I'll agree the texture is very similar to a fresh, crisp apple, but I must admit, when it comes to taste, I fall squarely in the "tastes like dirt" category.

I can appreciate fresh root vegetables: potatoes and carrots are great, radishes are nice in salads, and even beets have their place, but jicama? Meh. Not for me. Sonia loves it, though—at least most of the time. Must be a Latin/Hispanic thing.

I'm a fan of almost anything with a few drops of lemon juice and a dusting of chili powder, but even that combo couldn't redeem these things in my humble opinion. Sonia describes jicama sticks as "nutty and lightly sweet." She's got a great imagination when it comes to jicama apparently—although she did dock some points in this case because Trader Joe's selection was "not as sweet as the jicama (she) grew up on."

Sonia's going to go with a 3.5. Even though they're not the greatest representation of jicama, she's quite impressed that TJ's carries them at all. I'm tempted to go with one star, but I'll go with a 2 since they're healthy and nutritious, cheap and convenient.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Trader Joe's A Complete Salad: Kale & Hemp Seeds

Happy New Year!!!!!!

Two lucrative industries come January 1: Gyms and salads. Not a bad idea after all that holiday splurge anyways. For the latter, Trader Joe's has been making it easier with their A Complete Salad line to have a healthy, tasty, delicious salad ready to grab, rip, and gobble down, and the newest entry, Kale & Hemp Seeds, is not an exception.

Abundant kale with a little red cabbage. Almonds. Dried minced dates. A couple big shards of parmesan cheese. All topped with a light lemon vinaigrette that nicely ties everything together. To be honest, I didn't notice the hemp seeds much if at all - they don't taste like much, and any crunch could have easily been an almond instead. But they're in there, and probably good for you, so there you go.

Our only real knock was the lack of mix-ins. So much kale, and plenty enough dressing, but a lot of bites were just those two ingredients. Really, doubling the nuts et al would have been welcome. Still, for $4.49, it made one heckuva good dinner salad that if inspired differently would have great with some grilled chicken or shrimp tossed in. Sandy also would have preferred a couple varieties of greens instead of straight-up kale as well. No matter, pretty darn good as is.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's A Complete Salad: Kale & Hemp Seeds: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Podcast Episode 15: Best of 2015

In this episode, we talk about our favorite (and least favorite) Trader Joe's items from 2015.

Here's a link to the MP3 file!

Here's a link to the show notes!

Here's a link to us on Stitcher!

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