Thursday, March 31, 2016

Trader Ming's Kung Pao Tempura Cauliflower

From my childhood, I have what my lovely bride interprets as a bad habit on major holidays: namely, not really eat anything until the big dinner itself. You see, it's not a bad strategy when "holiday dinner" is at about 1 p.m. or so, so skipping breakfast isn't that huge of a deal, and come meal time, you have plenty enough room in your belly to eat your fill, and to be too full for dinner. Totally works because that's how I grew up. But on her side of the family, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and the like are more towards the evening (5 p.m. or so), making this strategery much tougher to employ. Not to say I haven't tried...but every holiday with a later big meal, I get the speech: "You're not going to starve yourself all day until dinner time! You're gonna eat something! Set a good example for the kids!" and so on.

And so it was this past weekend out here in the 'burgh. Easter dinner, our house, 5 p.m. Got home from church, she started launching it yet again...blahblahblah...yes dear, alright dear, I ran 5.5 miles that morning so kinda hungry anyways...

...and then she pulled out Trader Ming's Kung Pao Tempura Cauliflower from the freezer. Game, set, match. Stop twisting my arm already, this looks good!

As the name implies, what we have here is a bag of frozen lightly breaded cauliflower florets with some spicy kung pao sauce to stir them all around in. The camera somehow ate the picture we took of the finished product, but the picture on the bag is a more than apt depiction of the vibrant veggie vittles inside. Except...most of the blossoms are freaking huge. Ginormous, probably a whole serving itself. That's not entirely a bad thing, but they do present a textural variant that can be difficult to account for in preparation. Naturally, the stemmy sections retains more crunch and stiff fibrous feel, while the actual "trees" sections are kinda all over the place. Some were done roughly right, with a good bite, while others seemed smooshy and almost creamy due to being just way too soft. If they were smaller, I'd think it'd be easier to prepare them in a more even manner. It didn't inhabit us too much, but I could see it being a potential issue for some.

As for the sauce, I didn't care much for it straight up (yes, I tried it). It seemed a bit too cloyingly soy sauce-y, with a little tang of pineapple juice and a tickle of heat poking out.  However, once on the slightly crispy/greasy cauliflower, a lot of the soy tendencies mellowed out, while the spice amped itself a smidge. By the end of my bowlful, the heat definitely kicked up several notches from where it started. The breading itself is barely worth mention, except to say it was a fairly adequate medium between the sauce and veggie.

Overall, this particular Trader Ming's offering is a go...I'd feel slightly better recommending it if it cost $3.99 or so instead of $4.99...but chances are it'll be a repeat purchase for when the vaguely Asian food/don't feel like paying for takeout bug hits (which is often enough). Sandy offers up a four whereas I'll slide in a little lower.

Bottom line: Trader Ming's Kung Pao Tempura Cauliflower: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Trader Joe's Thyme Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

Talk about subtle flavors! This might have the subtlest taste of any TJ's product I've ever tried. The smell of this product is at least twice as strong as its actual flavor on the tongue.

Now I'm down with oil and vinegar dressings, or most any kind of vinaigrette or what have you, but this stuff...I'm not sure where the balsamic part of it is. Or the honey part. Or the thyme part. It's basically just olive oil if you ask me—and maybe not even the most flavorful olive oil I've ever had. It's pretty bland, pure and simple. Sonia and I thought "Hmmm, maybe all the flavors are on the bottom. Maybe we didn't shake the container enough." But even after ample agitation, the trace amounts of balsamic we dredged up from the bottom of the bottle barely produced anything more tangy or tasty than the first few drab drizzles.

It's been a while since Sonia and I busted out a thoroughly negative review, and I always cringe when I have to do this, because negativity typically begets negativity. There are defenders for just about every one of TJ's products, so it tends to be safer to either just stick to stuff we like, or to downplay our negative feelings in some cases. 

If you look back through the past year or so on this blog, the "Meh," "Not So Great," and "Blahhh" categories have been dominated by Russ. He's a braver man than I am. It's not that I've lied to you about Sonia's and my scores, it's just that we've tended to review products we have neutral or positive feelings for, and we've tried to do the whole "silver lining" thing when we can. But every once in a while, we just can't. This is one of the worst salad dressings I've ever had. And to top it all off, there are 21 grams of flavorless fat per serving!

Sonia adds, "I am really disappointed. I definitely won't buy it again." On a slightly brighter note, she liked the texture of it. One and a half stars from her. One star from me. 

Unfortunately, there's an even MORE negative review than this one on the imminent horizon. You might not see it on here tomorrow, but definitely before the end of the week. Stay tuned if you love drama.

Bottom line: 2.5 out of 10.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Trader Joe's Greek Yogurt Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

It could be the psychoactive opiates talking, but these muffins are really darn good. Lemontastic. And Greek yogurtastic, too. Alternatively, yogurrific, if you like.

Greek yogurt is taking over everything: spinach dipsguacamoles, and well...yogurts. That Greek yogurt is so hot right now. And with good reason. It usually tastes pretty good, it's relatively low in fat, and not least of all, it's being promoted by Uncle Jesse. But if history has taught us anything, it's that eventually the Greek yogurt empire will collapse and be replaced with...Roman yogurt, or something like that. So let's all enjoy this golden Greek yogurt renaissance while we can.

First of all, the Greek yogurt makes these things moist and dense. Creamy, almost. The texture is pretty amazing. These muffins really feel more like cupcakes because of the Greek yogurt. There are tons of poppy seeds, too, which add even more complexity to the already-pleasant mouthfeel.

Taste-wise, my first and only complaint is that they could be slightly more lemony. I love me some lemon. But there's still a decent amount of lemoniness—ahem, lemonosity, if you will—at least enough for normal folks and non-lemonophiles. Plus, you can taste Greek yogurt. It's that slightly sour, tangy taste you've come to know and love. In a way, I think the Greek yogurt flavor tones down the lemon flavor somehow, even though they're both sour-ish kinds of flavors. But don't worry, there's plenty of sweet, sweet cane sugar in there, too, to balance out all that tartness.

Among Sonia, her associates, myself, and a couple TJ's employees, we have yet to meet anyone who doesn't like these. But I'm sure some dissenting opinions are out there. We welcome your comments, lemon-lovers and lemon-haters alike...Double fours from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Podcast Episode 21: Favorite Frozen Entrees

In this episode we chat about our favorite Trader Joe’s frozen entrees. We also share some favorites from What’s Good at Trader Joe’s readers.

Thanks for listening!

If you like what you hear, please help us out and rate the show on iTunes.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Trader Joe's Organic Black Bean Rotini

Foods that are supposed to be black: Well, there's not many. The seared outside of my steak. Black jelly beans (my favorite). Black olives. Black mission figs. And that's about all I can come up with. Oh, Oreos.

But foods that aren't: Much easier. The inside of my steak. Toast. Eggs. Milk. Easter ham. And the list could go on and on....

...and at some point, it would probably involve pasta. Black pasta? That's, well, unusual, and sounds like some sort of joke gone wrong.

Until now. There's Trader Joe's Organic Black Bean Rotini, made only out of black bean flour. I wasn't even aware that black bean flour was a thing, but well, I've been wrong before.

Spoiler alert: These spirally noodles taste 100% identical to black beans. I mean, perhaps a little beanier, in some ways, because there's probably some magical ratio of 10 beans to each one noodle. But there's no mistaking the taste, these are very strictly black beans in pasta what kind of wizardry is that even possible? What a crazy world we live in.

If you take a look at the picture we snapped of them, you can probably imagine the texture a little bit as well. Probably the first thing I noticed is these noodles were noticeably drier than most of their somewhat distant semolina brethren.  This wasn't just on the surface, where they didn't seem to retain moistness as well as regular noodles, but also carried through in the bite, contributing to a grainier, perhaps slightly chewier mouthfeel. Which makes sense - I mean, it's beans in some sort of condensed form - and with that expectation in mind, it wasn't completely unwelcome. But I can understand it being a little offsetting for some.

Eating them straight, I didn't particularly care for them...but black beans to me are more of an accompaniment dish instead of main feature. So instead, we made them up for some taco pasta which was a great idea - the flavor played perfectly into the rest of the dish. Which brings up a good point - I'm not entirely sure I'd eat these noodles straight up with some marinara or whatever else traditional pasta flavors, just because they are too strongly beany.

Sandy and I enjoyed them and will probably pick them up again, but these legumey linguinis probably won't be our new normal. There was just a little bit too much resistance from the kiddos about these, partially because our 3.5 year old M was disappointed to find out they weren't chocolate like she so desperately hoped for. Anyways, we're both hovering around a 3, but I'll toss in some bonus pointage for novelty and innovation.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Black Bean Rotini: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Trader Joe's Lightly Breaded Reduced Fat Fish Sticks

Fish sticks have never been terribly exciting—especially when you start tacking phrases like "reduced fat" on to the title of the product. I mean, sure, one might argue that fish filets, croquettes, and nuggets aren't much better. But to me, they seem a little more "Trader Joe-esque" than just plain old fish sticks do. But I must admit, these aren't bad.

The texture of these depended greatly on their time in the oven. One slightly under-baked batch came out soft and delicate, another spent some extra time in the oven and came out crispy—almost crunchy. So it's pretty easy to tailor these sticks to your specific taste. The fish was fairly consistently flaky and white, with very few weird, dark spots and irregularities, as I've seen with some other brands of fish sticks.

There's a nice, subtle fish flavor here. The breading is indeed light and only lends a whisper of carby goodness to the tender pollock. Overall, though, I thought the product was a little too bland to be eaten sans condiments. Lacking authentic tartar sauce, we whipped up a makeshift batch using Miracle Whip and relish. We applied it sparingly to our fish sticks and found that it worked pretty well. With a salad and some juice, they made a pleasantly satisfying dinner for Sonia and I one evening last week, and there were still enough left over for lunch the next day. There's no reinvention of the wheel here. These are solid, palatable fish sticks—even if they are a tad boring. Four stars from Sonia, three from me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Trader Joe's English Ale Cheddar Cheese with Mustard

Wait...what? How is the vernal equinox now upon us? 2016 just started!

On the plus side, that means it's almost April and with it comes baseball season.

On the other...that means the demise of Trader Joe's English Ale Cheddar Cheese with Mustard is on deck. So, ya better step up to the plate soon so take a swing at TJ's spotlight cheese of the month.

Enough of the cheesy baseball puns. This cheddar is downright delish. Made with a splash or two of Old Speckled Hen and a dash or three of mustard spices, this otherwise fairly mild, creamy cheddar packs a lot of earthy goodness into every bite. It's sophisticated enough that I wanted to eat each cube pinkie-out style, yet accessible to the point that my kids would devour the whole chunk "Summer of George" style if I'd let them. The cheddar paired well with our Irish bangers the other week, but made great snacking/lunch-munching aside some turkey or pretzels. And yes, it did make me consider drinking a beer, just perhaps not Old Speckled Hen because I'm not my mom.

Sold in various size chunks at $8.99 a pound. Get it while you can.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's English Ale Cheddar Cheese with Mustard: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Trader Joe's Cookie Butter Puppy-Chow

Editor's note: Here's another guest post from my talented, witty, extremely attractive, and all around awesome wife. Yes, I outkicked my coverage. Anyways, here's a simple recipe using all TJ's ingredients for one heckuva great snack! Addictive. 

One of our favorite stories here is If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff. M likes to read it fairly often. If you aren't familiar, it's about giving a mouse a cookie and all the things that will happen if you do (he'll want some milk, a napkin, a hair goes on and on, until he asks for another cookie.) We'll, if you give a preschooler a snack, she'll ask for some milk to go with it. And if she asks for milk to go with it, she'll probably have to go to the bathroom while you're trying to get two kids through a grocery store at nap time. When she gets done with the bathroom, she will notice the papers lining the hallway and ask what they are. When she learns that they're recipes, she'll ask if she can make something. When you find something that she would actually have a chance of eating, you will have to go back through the grocery store to gather all the ingredients. Once you have all the ingredients, you will go home for lunch. After eating lunch, the preschooler will ask for a glass of milk, and chances are, she will want a snack to go with it...

...And that is how we ended up making Cookie Butter Buddies (or puppy-chow.) I don't know if your Trader Joe's has recipes hanging up by the restrooms, but ours has a ton, and there are a lot of good looking things to make! We picked this recipe because it was something fairly simple and kid friendly and approved.


Mmm, doesn't that look good?

First, melt about 8 tablespoons of butter (I chose Kerrygold because I love it, and would pretty much eat it if it were socially acceptable to walk around eating sticks of butter), the cup of cookie butter, I didn't actually measure this though, I just scooped out about half a jar, and the box of Milk Chocolate Mini Peanut Butter Cups, together in the microwave, in about 30 second intervals, until melted all together. In a large bowl, dump out the box of Puffins (M chose peanut butter, but I bet the cinnamon would taste great!) and pour on the chocolate mixture. Stir to coat. This was probably M's favorite part..."Stir! Stir! Stir!" she happily chanted while mixing it all up, leaving me for the "expert touch."

Add in about 2 cups of powdered sugar. I started with one cup, and added from there, until your cereal is coated.

Wimbly's dinner...our our dessert?

Spread it onto baking sheets so that it can cool and harden a bit. It looked so much like dog food when I did this, that it was easy to see where it gets the name puppy-chow.

Once it's set you can put it back into a bowl or into a large ziplock bag, add more powdered sugar, and stir or shake to cover it all. Add in a handful of the chocolate covered sunflower seeds and you've got a cookiebuttery, crunchy, tasty, and very, very, sweet treat.

The consensus at our how was that it was pretty good, except from M, who wanted some random left over Christmas candy instead. We ended up sending a little over half into Russ's work and kept a bowl here, which we ended up taking it to church to share because it was still too much. All and all? It was a super simple, quick snack, very kid friendly, and could probably be adapted to be nut free (you could probably leave out the pb cups and use a different kind of Puffin and just use chocolate and cookie butter to make it nut free)

So, our first cooking with a TJ's recipe gets 8 Golden Spoons.

Oh yeah, if you eat this, you'll probably want a glass of milk to go with it...

Friday, March 18, 2016

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Crispy Crunchy Ginger Chunk Cookies

A long time ago, Sonia and I checked out the chocolate chip equivalent of these and were fairly impressed. The cookie base is pretty much the same animal here. It's crispy and crunchy, as the name would imply. I do prefer soft cookies, but as crispy cookies go, these are top-shelf. I'm sure it's much more difficult to make a gluten-free soft cookie, anyway.

Flavor-wise, there's a nice sweet butteriness to the cookie. If you're taking modest bites, not every bite has a chunk of ginger, but the ones that do have a lot of ginger. Sonia wishes it were more evenly distributed. I totally agree. I'd prefer ginger bits to ginger chunks—which, incidentally, have nothing to do with fat redheads. Also, never ever Google "fat redheads."

The zesty, spicy zing of the ginger isn't quite as potent as that of some other products we've seen in the past, such as the Ginger, Almond & Cashew Cereal, but it's still strong enough to get your attention. In this instance, though, we both think the ginger flavor blends pretty well with the rice flour base.

As the front of the packaging suggests, there is a supple "melt in your mouth" quality about these baked goodies that's very pleasant for the gluten-sensitive and non-gluten-sensitive alike. As far as scores go, it looks like another four stars from Sonia and another three and a half stars from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Trader Joe's Irish Bangers

Despite my red hair, I'm not really all that Irish. A little, sure...but about as Irish as I get is drink some Murphy's and quote some Boondock Saints every once in a while. Or listen to some U2. I'm not the one who did a really good leprechaun imitation on the latest podcast episode anyway.

So, I'm not really sure how "bangers" is appropriate Irish verbiage meaning a sausage. And I'm not about to find out - after all, I'm typing this on my break at my work computer, and need to ensure I keep all Web searches HR friendly.

Regardless, there's that big Irish holiday coming up where we all decide to get our green on, and so apt enough, Trader Joe's Irish Bangers are back on the shelves for this season. They're really only around this time of year as an alternative to corned beef for Irish meat intake.

And it's too bad....because I really like these sausages. Pardon me, but these bangers are bangin'. Made simply from ground pork and spices and packed not too tightly, they're a perfectly delectable somewhat seasonal treat. Bangers and mash? Yes please! And that's exactly what we did last week one night for dinner, with enough left over for lunch the next day for me - happy Russ.

They're not exactly perfect, though. The pork flavor itself is fairly light, but at least in our last package, there was this - how I do say it - almost a sweetness to it not explained by the ingredient list. Red wine vinegar comes to mind for some reason, but that's not quite it. I don't think other times we've had the bangers I've noticed that, but I could be wrong. A little less of that, and a slight bit more pepper would have been great.  Also, probably just like ones your Irish nana used to homemake, there were a couple small hard pebbles of gristle in one or two of mine. I can accept or homemade, but for commercially produced...c'mon.

Our local TJ's was sampling the bangers over the weekend with some pickled sauerkraut and dijon mustard, though and man - that was a tasty combo. The pork was a perfect base and held its own in that triad of strong, hearty flavors.

 A pack of six runs only a few bucks and is well worth for firing up on the grill or broiling in the oven. My kiddos loved them and gobbled down without complaint, as did the wife and I. Get them while you can, and bonus points for no artificial green food coloring.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Irish Bangers: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Trader Joe's Semi-Dried Apricots

I like these better than actual apricots. As you might have guessed by the name of the product, these little guys are about halfway between dried apricots and fresh apricots. 

They're sliced very similarly to traditional dried apricots. However, these are also frozen. I think that's why I like them best of any apricot I've ever had. I really like that cold, icy texture. 

On a recent podcast episode, Russ indicated that he preferred fresh apricots. I'm sure there will be plenty of you that fall into that camp. There's no substitute for the original. But for those of you that like pre-packaged, frozen fruit or dried apricots, these will undoubtedly be a big hit.

Sonia raved about these things. She's going to give them four stars. Don't get me wrong, they're tasty, but I found the quality (at least in our bag) to be somewhat inconsistent. You can kind of tell from our picture there that some slices look pristine and perfectly ripe and others have spots or they're too dark. That slight inconsistency carries over into the taste/flavor category, also. Some slices were perfect, but others tasted a little too sour and weird. In general, though, I think they taste better than they look. I'll throw out three and a half stars here.

Click here to view the nutrition info.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Trader Joe's Extraordinary Eggs

Ah, Spring is in the air. And the temperatures are rising here in the mid-Atlantic. 'Tis the season for chocolate eggs—and other symbols of vernality and fertility like flowers, bunnies, chicks, and jelly beans. And much like the subject of Russ's recent post, these are seasonally-appropriate egg-shaped candies with a chocolate base. Now I'm no Russell Stover (in fact, I'd be Nate Velasco had I lived in that hypothetical matriarchal society), but I'm sharp enough to have noticed some significant differences between the two confections which we shall explore in the ensuing paragraphs. Let's get started.

First, these extraordinary candies are actually shaped like real eggs. Plus, they come in what is effectively a golden egg carton—not a carton that holds golden eggs, but a golden carton that holds candy eggs. Second, for $5, you'd think they could include one actual golden egg—or at least plate the carton with gold leaf or something. Goodness gracious, we're on a budget here, TJ's.

Thirdly, there are four flavors in the pack. You may have heard us riffing on that old Forrest Gump quote about life being "like a box of chocolates" from time to time...but in this case, you do know what you're gonna get, because there's a handy cheat sheet on the back of the packaging that tells you which eggs have which fillings. Green = Almond Praline, Pink = Raspberry, Yellow = Crispy Cookies. Now so far, those are my three favoritest flavors, in the order that I like them. Sonia would reverse those three, with both of us holding raspberry as a very close second-favorite on the list. Plus, we both agree the Orange = Caramel flavor is by far the weakest, simply because, in my opinion, it is the least unique.

Each extraordinary egg has a candy shell, not unlike other hard-shelled candies. Inside that outer shell lies a layer of tasty milk chocolate. But the real fun begins when you get to the center of the eggs, where there's one of four respective fillings (see paragraph above). Both the almond praline and crispy cookies are fairly similar in texture, like something akin to cookie butter perhaps, but not as creamy. The raspberry flavor is like a high-quality raspberry jelly, but more like a powerberry than a raspberry stick. And the caramel flavor...has caramel inside. Imagine that.

There are a total of 16 eggs in the pack. When you consider the value per egg, it's definitely on the pricey side, but they are high-quality and they taste really good. For a once-a-year holiday treat, they're worth a purchase just for the presentation alone. I'm sure kids would love 'em. Sonia and I are both leaning toward four stars a piece.

Stay tuned for a titillating episode of Let's Talk TJ's! in which we discuss the exciting relationship between eggs and swimmers and the psychology behind the branding of Trader Joe's candies—unless, of course, Marvo listens to his better judgment and edits out that segment entirely.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Trader Joe's Chocolate Mousse Eggs

So, true story. My name's Russ, short for Russell. Sandy's maiden name is Stover, which means, when we got hitched, if I were to take her name (instead of the opposite)...I'd be Russell Stover. Darn you, patriachal society, I could've been able to walk into any store at Valentine's Day, get a box of candy, say it has my name on it, and claim it's mine! Doh!

Anyways, might be for the better. When it comes down to it, there's not too many exciting Valentine's Day candy out there. I mean, box of chocolates? Kinda boring. Maybe part of it is the sugary hangover from Christmas is still kinda glazed upon me at that time. And with few exceptions, most notably that firecrackery Wonka-esque chocolate bar from last year, Trader Joe's has kinda followed suit, offering fairly ho-hum candies in February.

Well, for Easter? I love Easter candy. Chocolate bunnies. Jelly beans (especially black ones...yes, I'm odd). The bagfuls I could get as kid at Zern's for a buck or two from my dad's wallet. And of course, egg-inspired stuff (Cadbury Creme!!!!)...and, um, also Trader Joe's Chocolate Mousse Eggs.

Granted, these are more of a Tastykake/Little Debbie/HoHo type concoction than an actual candy candy, but they looked all decadent and seasonally fancy hanging around the rest of the cakes and baked goods on a recent trip. But the actual experience of ingestion of one of these eggs just doesn;t quite back it up. I mean, they're not bad. Unlike other similarly inspired confections, the chocolate coating actually tastes reasonably like chocolate instead of brown sugary wax, and it envelops some reasonably good cake and "silky mousse" i.e. frosting that thinks quite highly of itself. It's an enjoyable, soft bite that melds and holds together well, hitting a few classic comfort food points.

But ultimately, there's just not that much memorable about them, either. If I were in dire need of a chocolate fix, and these eggs were all I had, they'd work, but given the choice, I'd much rather hit up a TJ's Simply Nutty Bar for some chocosatisfaction.

Also...considering the visual of a chicken laying an egg, was brown really the right color choice? Maybe I'm too city boy and so the anatomical correctness is a bit askew, but that suggests something decidedly not appetizing.

Ultimately, the Mrs. and I will regard them as a fun, good little treat that we reasonably enjoyed once, but that will be that. Sandy did mention they were kinda like a fancy Little Debbie, which I presume is a compliment. Still, there's just something so kinda perfectly average to me about them that's not worth the rather empty caloric intake, so pardon the middling score. You can click here for the nutritional stats (these are apparently pretty much identical to a pumpkin shaped product that is out in the fall). 2.5 from me, 3 from the wifey.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chocolate Mousse Eggs: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Monday, March 7, 2016

Trader Joe's Mini Café Twists

I'm trying to think of what these remind me of. They're not quite like shortbread cookies or Dunkin Stix or Donut Sticks, although they are highly dunkable. There's another product out there called "French Twists," and I'm pretty sure that's what TJ's was going for here. I've never had that's probably why these don't feel familiar.

They're perfect with coffee or hot chocolate. Tea would work, too. When dunked, they manage to retain a decent amount of the warm liquid, yet they don't completely sog-ify right away. Somehow, they stay crispy even after a dunk or two—and yet you still get the nice warm wetness of the beverage along with it. 

These airy twists are moderately sweet, and they have a nice rigid texture. They're surprisingly low in calories (30 per stick) and contain no eggs, butter, or milk. With or without a beverage, they're pretty good at curbing the munchies, and at $2.29 for a tub, they're a pretty decent value, too.

Sonia recommends them wholeheartedly. Four and a half stars from her. I'll admit, they're much better than I thought they'd be, but I guess I'm not quite as enamored with the flavor. I think they're worthy of three and a half.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Trader Joe's Sweet Plantain Chips

My apologies for my review on the dark chocolate pistachio toffee earlier this week, for two reasons: 1) I am clearly in the minority in regards to my opinion about the product and 2) In retrospect, after Nathan's reviews on both the Baby Bananas and the Apple + Coconut bars, it's apparent that this is simply fruit snacks week here. Let's not derail that train, please, and go full steam ahead with one of the newer taste sensations out there, Trader Joe's Sweet Plantain Chips!

Particularly astute readers, undoubtedly like yourself, may be thinking right now..."Didn't TJ's already have plantain chips?" Short answer: Affirmative. But they are not sweet. Instead, the ones that have been around for quite some time are a saltier, savorier cousin of these noobs. Those are kinda like potato chips, except made from plantains (duh). These sweet guys, though similar in crunch and texture, are something else altogether.

If for some reason you're not really sure what a plantain is like, every time you read it, think "starchier banana" and you'll be on the right path.

I'm trying not to get hooked on them. Trying very, very hard. Plantains always have had a soft place in my heart after a trip I went on down to Peru back in 2003, where I ate fried plantains for breakfast every morning. And these chips are just about the sweetest variation I've found yet...and it's all natural! Nothing added! Except a little oil to fry them up in, of course. But, there's this whole write up on the back, where the plantains used for these crunchers were allowed to sweeten and ripen to twice the sugar level (apparently measured in something called "brix," I never heard of it either) of normal plantains. How much of that is marketing and how much is accurate, well, I don't know - but dang. Very, very sweet, in a very ripe sense of the way, almost like these fruits were just abound freezerbound for plantain bread before they got swooped in on, sliced, fried, and bagged. Sneaky.

The end result are these oblong crispity-crunchety chippies that are arguably healthier than most potato chips, with an almost-not-quite-kettle crunch. They're perfect for kids, too - my 3.5 year old and almost 16 month old both love them, as well as some of the kids Sandy babysits a couple days a week. Also, they're very budget friendly at only a $1.79 for a fairly large bag.

No real complaints from me, although perhaps a slight smattering of cinnamon would help cut through the sweetness and tamper it down a smidge. But man...good chips. Sandy's not as huge a fan as I am - she's eaten a couple and shrugged. This just might turn into one of those "more for me" kinda scenarios, and believe me, no complaints.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sweet Plantain Chips: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Trader Joe's Apple + Coconut Fruit Bar

The last product I reviewed contained exactly one ingredient. This product contains exactly two. All fruits. That's some good eatin'. If only I stuck to such a diet all the time... 

A while back, we looked at the Apple + Banana and Apple + Mango Fruit Bars and found them to be fairly successful. This is apparently a new flavor—or perhaps one that somehow slipped through the cracks before. Either way, it's new to us, and we felt compelled to try it. For those of you not familiar with these bars, they're basically just pieces of two different fruits smashed together into a bar shape. Not very complicated, yet decidedly different from other fruit bars, fruit snacks, or dried fruit pieces you'll commonly find in supermarkets.

This flavor is most definitely my favorite so far. I was wondering how the unique texture of coconut would affect the bar and also how they'd incorporate the coconut pieces into it. Would they be coconut chipsStrips? Slivers? Slices? 

I think the best way to describe the coconut in this case is "bits." They're teensy tiny little coconut bits. But so too is the apple component of the bar this time. Apple bits. The fruits are all but pureed here. But they're seamlessly blended together to make one scrumptious, natural snack bar. It's moist, but not wet. And the flavor is absolutely stellar. It's nutty, sweet, and tastes like something way more indulgent than just coconut and apple. This simple product is much more than the sum of its parts. Four stars from Sonia. Four and a half from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Roasted Pistachio Toffee

"Hrmm...what's that last word there? Squares? Alrighty, sounds perfect!"

That must have been my thought when picking up a tub of Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Roasted Pistachio Toffee...because I was downright surprised to bite into a big ol' thick chunk of toffee the first time I popped one of these in my mouth. And, I will admit, dismayed. It's not that I don't like toffee - I do, very much - but toffee and chocolate aren't always a perfect match for me. An exception can be made for Heath Bars, and I'm not sure if that's more the milk chocolate, or the thinner, crispier brand of toffee. But for these TJ's tidbits, there's just a thin coat of dark chocolate over a veritable chunky slab of toffee that threatens the integrity of your dental work with every bite. It doesn't help that's there just so. much. toffee. that its flavor overwhelms both the chocolate and the pistachio exoskeleton. I'll happily admit I liked the small palmfuls of nuts I could pick out off the bottom with a little chocolate attached ...I'd probably say 80% of the pistachios fell off and could be enjoyed sans toffee.

Bought the tub for four bucks-ish on a solo parenting/two kids in tow trip on a day Sandy didn't feel so great as a little cheer-up treat for her. That explains my lack of basic discernment in product comprehension, but at least I knew enough to get something right up her alley. I definitely made her happy with a two thumbs up and a four score from her. I don't share the same enthusiasm, but, as usual, I'm willing to be wrong here. Click here for the nutritional stats.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Roasted Pistachio Toffee: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons