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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Trader Joe's Parsnip Chips

Some of you may remember our little discussion about these chips from a podcast episode back in February. We discovered that, according to a local TJ's manager, they were only selling these chips on the west coast. So Sonia and I took a little road trip this past weekend...

Actually, no. We just found these guys at the Marlton Trader Joe's store. We were super excited. Apparently they do sell them on the east coast now. So to continue our streak of interesting root vegetable products featuring beetsjicama, and now parsnips, let's take a look at these unusual chips.

In appearance and texture, they're not unlike sweet potato chips I've tried. They're not quite as yellow/orange as that, though. I'd say they're a tad more pale, but there is an amber hue to them. 

They're definitely salty, but they're also much sweeter than I expected them to be. Maybe it's because I haven't had a plate of parsnips in a while, but I didn't think I'd be getting much natural sugariness at all. I checked the ingredients for some kind of sweetener. Nope. Just parsnips, oil, and salt. So...parsnips are naturally sweet. Who knew? (Most of our readers, probably.) But this foodie-hack sure didn't. It also says so on the back of the bag, but I rarely read those things before wolfing down a good portion of the product first.

They're beautifully crunchy and firm and just slightly oily and salty to the touch. There's just the tiniest hint of leatheriness, for lack of a better term. It's not at all unpleasant, though. If anything, the consistency of these parsnip chips is more pleasant than regular potato chips. 

Flavor-wise, they're somewhere in between sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, carrots, and bananas—there's also a distinct similarity to plantain chips. There's a subtle earthiness involved, but it's mostly just a salty, sweet, delightfully snackable taste.

Four stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Episode 24: Cookout Favorites

Warmer weather means it’s cookout season. In this episode, we share our favorite items to put on a grill, to put on things you grill, and to eat with the things you grill.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Trader Joe's Chile Lime Seasoning Blend

Chile and lime....together at last!

Oh, that is a bold-faced lie. Chili and lime have been together for years. If not married, they're certainly common-law at this point. I have at least two other containers of limeified chili powder in my pantry, somewhere (I wouldn't be surprised if it were more like four or five)...but when Trader Joe's comes out with a Chile Lime Seasoning Blend, well, we're gonna try it out, cuz that's what we do.

Glad we did...because this blend is different. Most other similar shakers I've had seem to be more along the lines of semi-citrusy seasoned salt. Not here. Really, the dominant flavor is lime...which is a refreshing change up from the norm. It's boldly lime, where lime has never gone before in powdered form. it's remarkable, really. Oh, there's enough heat from the chile coming through, but nothing terribly offensive - it's just enough to make it's presence known. This particular blend also purports itself to be lower in salt than most of it's brethren, which I'd say is probably fairly truthy. But in the end, it's really the lime that's the star of the show here.

Grilled chicken. Fish. Corn on the cob. Veggies. Tofu. Tacos. Salad. Much better on the mango jicama slaw than the dressing the slaw came with. Really, what can't this go on? Well, chocolate ice cream...maybe. Great little pick up for only $1.99. Thumbs up all round from the Shelly clan.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chile Lime Seasoning Blend: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Trader Joe's Mango Jicama Slaw

Ugh. Beets. All that talk from the South Jersey Rodgers Family department of the blog has got me sick. I hate beets. Beets are one of very few things I will not place into my mouth on purpose. Some people say beets taste like dirt; I say they literally taste a lot like something that can look like dirt but is far more foul. But...beet juice? Dehydrated beet chips? No. No. Hellz no. I don't care about Nathan's ambivalence towards them - I can't imagine even being friendly with them. If I saw a beet walking down the street, I'd cross to other side. Just thinking about them makes my stomach churn... maybe I need me some jicama. That's what you can use with an upset stomach, right? Not sure what jicama really is? You can read about it straight up here...

...or stop by your local TJ's for a tub of the brand new Trader Joe's Mango Jicama Slaw. It'll set you back five bucks, which is maybe a tick high if just looking at cost of base ingredients - a couple handfuls of jicama, cabbage, mango with a smattering of cilantro - but at least it's all made and ready to go in the refrigerated section near produce.

And it's worth it, too. We somehow neglected to take a pic of it, but the 12 ounces made one very healhty bowlful size which Sandy, a friend of ours, and I were able to get several helpings out of each. The slaw is very fresh, crispy and juicy, with the shredded jicama and cabbage kinda blending somewhat together into one flavor. I'm sure if I paid a little more attention I could have picked up on it a little bit more, but regardless, the two of them serve as an excellent platform for the other flavors, notably the sweet, tropical mango and all that herby cilantro. There's a smidge too much cilantro, in my opinion, as it kinda took over some bites, but in all, this is a very fresh, simple, clean tasting summer slaw.

There's also a dressing packet included with what's called a "lime mango vinaigrette" though it's this kinda weird orangey glop. As with anytime a dressing is involved, I'll make it known I'm not a huge salad dressing guy. And it only kinda works here. I'll pin it on the vinegar here - really, between lime, mango, and some kick from crushed red peppers, a decently strong vinegar flavor is not the one I wish to taste. Seems like because of the vinegar, at times the dressing seemed a little spicier than it actually was. The dressing just interfered too much with an otherwise simple, natural flavor vibe. A squeeze or two of lime, or a sprinkle of chili powder would have been perfect (or a little of both), but altogether as it was, the dressing was just too much and we both preferred our slaw without it.

Otherwise, an absolute winner in our book. I'm feeling inspired by this slaw to try and make my own - better sharpen them kitchen knives, I guess. But for the convenience, and something a little different to go alongside (or on top of) some grilled chicken or fish, or for a little cookout side, it's not a bad deal. Sandy's main complaint is also the dressing - really, with something a little better, we could be talking pantheon here - but we're just going to have to settle for being really, really good.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mango Jicama Slaw: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, May 23, 2016

Trader Joe's Just Beets Dehydrated Beet Chips

Now we know where all that beet juice came from.

Somehow, these little dehydrated beet chips—or "crisps," you know, in case you speak British—are almost as beety as their juicy counterpart, yet much more palatable to me. In fact, I'd rather eat these chips than regular beets—and if you didn't read the beet juice review, I mentioned that I feel pretty neutral about normal beets. 
So, I guess you could say my feelings about these chips are somewhat positive. I like the lack of sliminess

I love the texture of chips—and that's exactly what these feel like: thin, kettle-cooked potato chips, with maybe a hint of a baked potato chip type feel, a la Stax or Pringles. Mind you, they taste nothing like that. They taste just like beets. So I feel pretty indifferent about the flavor. But the nice texture puts my overall feelings just slightly better than neutral. 

But I could never be as positive about them as my wife is. Again, just for review, she's a big beet fan. Loving the flavor of beets and the texture of chips, Sonia says this product is one of her favorite new foods so far this year. Some of her earthy, health-food-loving friends appreciated them as much as she did. 

I can't imagine these will be universally popular, especially among junk-food-lovers, but they'll undoubtedly find a crowd that appreciates them way more than I do. And Sonia insisted that I point out the fact that the entire bag has only 140 calories and half a gram of fat. Plus, there's only one ingredient: just beets—how appropriate.

Three stars from me. An enthusiastic four and a half from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Trader Joe's Seville Orange Marmalade

Please pardon the huge chunk of Trader Joe's Seville Orange Marmalade missing out of the jar in the picture over there. I was hoping that the festive orangey glow of my sub-chair rail kitchen glow that the previous house owners so nicely left for us would help disguise the fact that this wasn't a full container, but no luck.

Actually, no, I am pretty lucky. Got a wife and two kids who love every Thursday to come visit me at work for lunch. Granted, the littlest ones just might be more excited for the cookies from the work cafe, or walking thru our indoor arboretum, but I'll take it. Along with the usual lunch they'll bring him - hot cup of coffee, some veggies and fruit, and PB&J. My older one, M (not quite four years old) loves making them almost as much as she loves eating them, so it's what she does. It's what we do. Even (and perhaps especially) on weeks where we haven't had the chance to hit up TJ's, like this week...hence the partially used jar of orange marmalade.

The kids don't like the TJ's marmalade. I don't blame them - it's a surprisingly sophisticated taste. Most orange marmalades I have tried focus on the super citrusy or super sugary or the thin line between the two...not this one. It's a deeper, stronger flavor than that. And, in comparative terms, it's bitter as well - not as in actually bitter (sugar is the first ingredient, after all), but it's fairly mature and won't leave you scurrying for a toothbrush afterwards.

There's that certain marmalade texture as well - stiffer than regular jelly, more preserves like, with a fair amount of orange peel shredded up and stuck in there. How did that ever become a thing? It's not like grapevines get chopped up and stuck in grape jelly...well, not on piurpose, I hope, at least. Somehow thru the magic of delectable fruit, incorporating what ought to be the disposable wrapper into the actual product works fairly well for marmalade in general, and for this TJ's one in particular.

Sandy and I have been to Seville on a day trip during our Portuguese honeymoon...well, that makes us sound like fancy folk. We're not. We may have seen plenty of Seville orange trees, but never partook of their fruit, so I cannot ascertain the taste we'll both settle for just enjoying the marmalade. Tasty on toast, scrumptious on scones, perfect for PB&Js - worth the pick up for sure.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Seville Orange Marmalade: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Trader Joe's Just Beets 100% Juice

You've got to be pretty heavily into the flavor of beets to enjoy this beverage. And more than that, you've basically got to be someone who has at least considered, if not already tried, chugging the juice at the bottom of a jar of beets. Because that's pretty much what this is. As noted on a recent podcast episode, this is just about the beetiest thing imaginable. The "hint of lemon juice concentrate" is just that—a detectable, yet very faint whisper of lemon in a sea of big bold bright red BEET.

Now Sonia loves beets. They're one of her favorite foods. And even she was overwhelmed by the beetasticness of this beverage. At first, she didn't think it was so bad. She liked the taste of this juice because she enjoys the taste of beets. But by the end of the $4 container, even she was beeted-out—not totally disgusted, but quite ready to take a step back from the ocean of robust beet flavor. 

My first sip of this drink had me "beeten." In general, I tolerate beets. If they're on my plate, I'll eat them without complaining. But I'm not someone who would go out of my way to consume a beet. I feel quite neutral toward beets. But I think I've had my fill of beet juice for the rest of my days here on earth.

Sonia will give a fair and balanced three stars to this product, stating that she wouldn't buy it again simply because of the price tag. I'll throw a generous one and a half stars at this brash beet beverage.

Bottom line: 4.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Trader Joe's Marshmallows

Ever since we got a fire pit for our backyard last summer, I've eaten more marshmallows than I have since I was about thirteen years old. It's not even that I like marshmallows that much—it's just that when you have a fire going, that's what you do. You roast marshmallows. And I must admit, when you get those beautifully golden-brown specimens, it's totally worth it. I do like the taste and texture of a perfectly fire-toasted marshmallow—although I'm not particularly skilled at it myself (see pic below). And who doesn't like s'mores?

With Trader Joe's offering, you're not eating a bunch of unpronounceable chemicals. I mean, we've all heard some scary things about carrageenan—and I'm not sure why they slipped something like that in this otherwise "healthy" marshmallow—but I'll take tapioca syrup and cane sugar over corn syrup and dextrose any day of the week. And indeed, they do taste better than traditional marshmallows, too, at least in my humble opinion.

Sonia thinks they taste more "sugary" than, say, Kraft marshmallows. I see where she's coming from. Especially raw, it almost feels like you can detect the cane sugar granules as you chew them. The tapioca gives them a very unique mouthfeel as well. Just think of a really tasty bowl of evaporated tapioca with a bunch of cane sugar to add sweetness, then congealed in a marshmallow shape.

Sonia and I had some at our little camping excursion this past weekend. (It's still "camping," even if it is in our own backyard...right?) I'd say they taste more like traditional marshmallows after they've been toasted—that is, it would be much harder to distinguish the Trader Joe's marshmallow and the traditional marshmallow in a blind taste-test if both specimens were toasted. I'm pretty sure I could do it if they were both raw.

I didn't feel like they puffed up as much as normal marshmallows on the fire. They browned around the edges okay, they got nice and soft, and they had that traditional yummy goo in the center, but they more or less maintained their original dimensions even after heating. 

Raw, toasted, or in a s'more, these guys deliver. Sonia and I both think that, as marshmallows go, these are among the best we've tried. With a long summer of campfires ahead, we'll undoubtedly buy more in the near future. Four stars a piece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Trader Giotto's Trofie Colore

With five different colors represented, this imported Italian spiral pasta looks super exotic and exciting. Unfortunately, it doesn't taste that way.

Like Russ's toddler being disappointed that the black bean rotini noodles weren't chocolate, I was similarly saddened that these weren't, like, the same five flavors as Life Savers. I mean, the red, orange, yellow, green, and ivory are pretty much exactly the same colors you get in both cases. That's tantamount to false advertising in my book. I was hoping to pair some sweet, fruity noodles with pineapple salsa or something.

I'm actually just kidding about thinking they would be fruit-flavored, although I was hoping they'd have a flavor as flashy as their look. But alas, they're just normal noodles. If anything, they're even more bland than other plain pastas. If you're going to check these out, they're going to depend entirely on the sauce you choose to serve them with.

Since they're actually a type of macaroni noodle, we decided to go with something cheesy and Italian: Trader Giotto's Three Cheese Pomodoro Pasta Sauce, which, much to my surprise, has already been reviewed on this blog. And as that four-year-old review suggests, the sauce is really darn good, and was a much bigger hit than the pasta itself, which will certainly fade out of memory quickly, despite its attractive packaging and colorful presentation.

To be fair, though, there are a few other saving graces in regards to this product. The texture was nice. Cooking them according to the instructions yielded a nice soft batch of semi-tender, twisty, fine-grain pasta. It was filling enough, and for under two bucks, you can hardly complain about the value. I'll offer three stars here. Sonia will go with two and a half.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Trader Joe's Gyro Slices

Yes, they exist.

No, I'm not talking about cell phone batteries that don't die every five minutes, pens that don't stop writing with only half the ink used, or a Justin Bieber song that doesn't suck. It's a not that good of a world out there. But at least we do have Chuck Norris-approved roundhouse kicking jeans. Listen, with those hidden gussets not binding your legs, you got some full leg-swinging freedom there, partner.

Nope, I am talking about Trader Joe's Gyro Slices. They do exist. I know, because I just had them for dinner. But if you're searching the shelves for them, good luck...much like their distantly related riced cauliflower cousin, you're much more likely to spot that Bieber character in your local TJ's than this particular meat package. It's that popular with demand that far underestimated that warehouses are out, so get yourself on the waitlist, and if you see any, stock up and sell on eBay.

Are the gyros worth the hype, though? Ehhhh...debatable. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy gyros at local Greek food festivals just as much as anyone reasonably can, so I was pretty hyped up as well. But the TJ gyro slices just aren't quite as good as those - close, but not quite.

The reason? Possibly ignorance, probably perception bias. But I've always thought that the meat in gyros at the food festivals was lamb, or at least mostly lamb. Now, there's lamb in these guys too...listed as the last ingredient before the "Contains 2% or less of the following" part of the credits. So, there just might be as little as 3% lamb we're talking about here...probably more than that, but undoubtedly more beef than lamb. As a result, I swear these taste more beefy than other gyro meat, which kinda comes off as vaguely Steak-Umm-esque, but how accurate that is debatable at best.

That sounded like an insult. I didn't mean it that way. In every other regard these seem spot on, with the breadcrumbs adding the right mealy-meaty feel, and spiced appropriately with the pepper and garlic and whatnot. And I'd be danged if altogether both Sandy and I didn't enjoy a good made-at-home gyro that we'd be more than eager to do again, all for the fraction of the price of gyros out. It helped that when all the sandwich components were together, the perceived beefiness became a lot less noticeable.

For the requisite "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" reference, I won't vouch these are entirely authentic, but will say spraying Windex at them will certainly not make an improvement. If you see 'em, snag 'em. Double fours.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Trader Joe's French Market Sparkling Limeade

Just look at the aesthetics of this bottle. Simple. Beautiful. And curvy—like a sexy woman.

Speaking of sexy women, Sonia really likes this stuff. She thinks it's reminiscent of Orangina, but lime flavored. I'd put it more in the same category as Wink, Squirt, or Fresca—but you get the idea with Orangina, too. Plus, unlike those other lightly-carbonated, citric acid-laden beverages, there's no high fructose corn syrup, brominated vegetable oil, or aspartame-type nonsense here—which is always good. 

We had some leftover tequila from last week's Cinco de Mayo celebration, so this past weekend, we tried it with this limeade as a sort of makeshift margarita. It worked okay, although not quite as well as Trader Joe's Margarita Mixer. We both agree this limeade is better without tequila. But we had it with tequila anyway. Maybe it's because we were a little goofy, but we turned on Netflix and laughed our heads off at what is undoubtedly the funniest Trader Joe's-themed stand-up bit ever.

But back to the beverage. Taste-wise, the lime flavor is there, but subtle. The citrusy essence is at least as strong as the lime, as far as my taste buds could tell. There's a bit of an acidic aftertaste, too, which I'm not a huge fan of, but it's not overwhelming. There's also the faintest hint of a syrupy sensation on the tongue, but for the most part, it's nice and "dry." 

Furthermore, the carbonation level is about perfect for this type of soda. It might be my imagination, but it feels like the bubbles are tinier here than in, say, a can of Coke or Pepsi, but there seem to be more of them, if that makes sense. It's a more pleasant sensation, in my opinion. Overall, it's a very light and refreshing beverage that works well on the rocks—a nice treat for those hot summer days lurking right around the corner.

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

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Trader Joe's Eggplant Garlic Spread with Sweet Red Peppers

 As you may have heard on our last podcast, the spreads shelf is one I commonly ignore at Trader Joe's. It's not out of any ill's just I'm much more apt to go for some salsa or hummus before checking there for a spready snack. So when given the challenge to find something I've never tried, it was kinda an easy call to scope out that section.

What's not as easy is to discern my opinion on Trader Joe's Eggplant Garlic Spread with Sweet Red Peppers. I...really don't have much of one. But I have a couple thoughts. Listen, I'm not gonna dock something just because it's not in my usual gustatory wheelhouse. But when something just kinda tastes like cold, wet, stringy veggie mush, without much else, I'm gonna call it as I see it. That's the case here. There's maybe a little red pepper or tomato sweetness, but not garlic or anything else to really add any dimension. I mean, "garlic" is right in the product name, I should be able to taste it!

Sandy's not huge on it either. But we're both not against the eggplant spread...there could be some very good redeeming qualities that we're just ignorant enough to overlook...and we're all for healthy snacks and appetizers and whatnot. We'd both eat this if served at a party or if we were invited somewhere. But to buy it for ourselves? Nah, probably not again, even though it's just a couple bucks. "Meh" is exactly how we feel, so a meh score is exactly what it's gonna get.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Eggplant Garlic Spread with Sweet Red Peppers: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, May 6, 2016

Podcast Episode 23: Shopping Spree

We gave ourselves a $15 budget to go on a shopping spree for products we wouldn’t normally try and we share our thoughts about those products in this episode.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger

Here's a confession I have no problem making: Not only did I not have high hopes for Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger, I really didn't want to try it either. It's not that ginger and chocolate can't work together - they can - but...big crystallized ginger bites. We have a history. It's not good. But, here we go. Why? Check out our forthcoming podcast episode.

Thankfully, all my trepidation aside: I actually like these. They're not going to be my newest BSFF (best snack food friend), but I will be sad to see this now nearly-empty container go. It's got to be the chocolate - there's a good, thick coat of the typical high-quality TJ's dark chocolate indigenous to all their other candies - with an added firmness and crunch from the candy lacquer. The middles are that formerly formidable crystal chunks that I usually like in only small doses. That softer core adds a nice textural change up, while that chocolate tampers down that fierce ginger bite into something more palatable.

These Raisinet-sized bites do hit a certain balance. On one hand, when I need a chocolate fix, they deliver. But I can eat way too much chocolate. Thankfully, the ginger, while pairing well enough with the chocolate, still makes odd-enough bedfellows that make eating more thana small handful seem like not the best of ideas.

Both Sandy and I enjoy them, not sure who likes them more. I got a good laugh when she thought at first they were the new cocoa-covered coffee beans...oh, the face she made. Priceless. Anyways, it's $4.99 for the tub, and worth a try.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Peaberry Coffee Beans

The whole chocolate-covered espresso bean/coffee bean thing is growing on me. Bite-sized blasts of earthy cocoa, sugar, and caffeine were never my go-to pick-me-up, but even non-coffee drinkers like me have to admit, there's a lot of good stuff going on here.

I've had quite a few different brands and varieties of this sort of snack, but this is probably the best one I've tried so far. Sonia agrees, and she's far more into coffee and its derivative products than I am. There's a delightful depth to the taste of these beans that blends seamlessly with the bittersweet chocolate. Everything from the crunch of the beans to the texture of the coating is on-point and amazing. 

When I walk into a coffee shop, I always smell the enticing aromas of roasting beans and steaming milk, but when I purchase that rare cup of coffee or espresso, I'm almost always let down. Even with the best blends, I always feel like the taste of coffee can't compete with its fantastic fragrance. Not here. These beans taste like that coffee shop smells: sweet, rich, robust, and downright delicious.

The biggest drawback to these peaberry beans is the inevitable urge to eat way more than you should in one sitting—not just for the calorie count, but also because you'll be buzzing and bouncing well into the night. If you want to play a really mean trick on someone, give them a tub of these treats right before bedtime and watch them try to eat just one.

Sonia will go with four and a half stars for these comestible coffee beans. I'm still not the biggest coffee bean backer or dark chocolate devotee in the world, but I can't go with less than four here.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Trader Joe's Chicken Spring Rolls

Although not quite as traditionally 'Murican as chicken soup or chicken pot pie, these chicken spring rolls are new to TJ's and review-worthy, so let's take a brief look, shall we?

The flour wrapper comes out nice and crispy when cooked according to the instructions. And I did. Aren't you proud of me that I didn't try to use the microwave? 

The filling is a nice soft blend of chicken, cabbage, and seasonings, with a detectable amount of sweetness, too. I've had spring rolls and egg rolls before, and I've never noticed anything sweet in the appetizer itself—perhaps in a paired dipping sauce, but not in the roll. Perusing the ingredients, I noted "sugar" right there in between green onion and basil. Interesting. Don't get me wrong, it's not excessively sweet by any means. Overall, the flavor is savory, salty, and somewhat successful, in my opinion.

Also, wouldn't these be egg rolls? After a brief Google research session, the main qualifications I found for something to be a spring roll were "not (usually) fried," "with no chicken or meat," and "with a thin translucent or transparent rice wrapper," none of which apply to these happy little snacks. 

And before someone scolds me for not knowing that all spring rolls have sugar in them or the reason why these are spring rolls and not egg rolls, let me remind you that I'm the dude that just asked you to praise me for using the stove top instead of the microwave a couple paragraphs ago. I'm not exactly a gourmet cooking authority.

But if you want my opinion on these rolls, I say they're teetering on the brink of "not bad" and "really darn good." Three and a half stars from me. Four stars from Sonia will push this in the direction of "really darn good." Her only complaint is that they don't come with a dipping sauce.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

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