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Friday, July 29, 2016

Trader Joe's Matar Paneer

Obviously, I was taking a risk here with Trader Joe's Matar Paneer.

I've braved both frozen and boxed Indian food from Trader Joe's, with more success than not. But doesn't matter how cool and printy and no labelly and kinda retro the can looks, it's still a can. A can. Conveniently with a pop-top tab, I may add, so in the history of cans, this can is up there...but, still, a metal, shelf stable can, prone to dents and questionable-by-association contents.

But that's not even all. If you can't tell by the photobombs by Optimus Prime and a cheapie USB plug fan from Target, this was my work lunch one day this past week. So not only did I have to open a can of Indian food, I would then have to heat it in the microwave. I don't mean this in any sort of rude way, but I didn't want to be lumped with the guy who zapped some fish (never, ever do that at work) or the nice lady who scorched her popcorn.  I didn't want anything to smell too curry-ous if you know what I mean.

And then I would have eat it, and again, not to be rude, but deal with any potential, umm, after-effects while on the clock. I do enough on my own every day the toes the HR-visit line, did we really need to tempt it?

I did. And happy to report, the matar paneer passed every test. Rather impressively, I may add.

After just a couple minutes and a stir or two from the break room nuker, lunch was served. The aroma was surprisingly mildly fragrant - definitely some warmth with spices, but my cubicle neighbor's chicken fingers made its presence known more than my bowlful of Indian. Got a few compliments from those closest to me but that was it. Visually, the curry appeared soupier than it actually was - the peas and onions thickened up the tomato base more than expected, without seeming too swampy. With a little rice mixed in after a couple bites, the feel and consistency was just right.

And goodness. Is it authentic matar paneer tase? Look: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I don't know. But purely on it's own basis, it's delicious. Plenty of the usual Indian spices - enough heat to help clear the sinuses a little, with a pleasant linger, but easy enough to cover up with a stick or two of gum afterwards. If you've had the paneer in other TJ's dishes, this is fairly like the others - softly firm, mild, a welcome bite, and there's plenty of it.

I'd say it's dang near perfect for a work lunch mix up from the norm - cheap (was it even $2?), easy (dump, zap, eat), quick, delicious. Just make sure you don't have an important meeting afterwards, and watch out for dribbling on the TPS reports. I'm going solo on this - Sandy wasn't entirely willing to take the risk until she saw how I fared - but sometimes with high risk, comes high reward. This is one of those times.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Matar Paneer: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Trader Joe's Vegetable Spring Rolls

There I was, minding my own darn business at my usual TJ's, chillin' out in the frozen aisle, when Trader Joe's Vegetable Spring Rolls went flying through the air and right into my cart.

Nah, seriously, courtesy of Pam AKA the Frozen Queen. Must be payback from that one time I demanded she find me churros and find me churros NOW. I've nagged her every time I've seen her since about anything new and interesting, and I guess this time she skipped the small talk and got right down to some serious appetizer business. "You gotta try them!" was all she said with a wink and a smile. Yes, ma'am!

Sorry it took me so long to get around to them, Pam. You wouldn't think it'd take a guy like me so long to finally try them out. But turning on the oven in this heat in a 101 year old brick house with no can understand, right?

Well, as it turns out, you don't have to stick them in the oven. Once I actually looked at the box, a recommended cooking method is zapping them to defrost a little, then sizzling in a skillet for a few minutes. I really hoped this make a perfectly acceptable, semi-greasy, crispy, spring roll full of warm veggie material - Kale! Edamame! Forget all the salt, this is health food! - that would be worthy of a full stamp of approval.

Oh, so close.

Unfortunately, even after defrosting, and frying them for over twice as long as stated to - the centers were still cold and clammy. This was with significantly browned wrappers. I don't see how this is user error. Sigh.

Everything else seemed right, or close to it, at least. The veggie mix - kale, edamame, mushroom, carrots - were about on par for a frozen spring roll, and blended nicely with the little bits of tofu in there. Nothing seemed too chunk or stood out too strongly, which was welcome from a textural standpoint - even Sandy ate them without complaint, and normally mushrooms make her gag.  Those veggies were seasoned fairly liberally with soy sauce and salt, and probably would have been better if more restrained. A little bit of black pepper helps balance that out, though.

For a small handful of bucks (maybe $3 or $4) I can't say I was overly thrilled, but wasn't terribly disappointed either. Sometimes a spring roll is just a spring roll and that has to be okay. Such is the case here. Sandy liked them a little more than I did, and we'd buy again.

Just hope Pam doesn't throw anything else at me after this review.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Vegetable Spring Rolls: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Mini Cupcakes

We've already seen TJ's knock gluten-free cupcakes out of the park. And this review is here to confirm that, yes, they've absolutely done it again. In fact, I know they have other varieties of GF cupcakes, and I've never heard anyone complain about them at all. Ever.

I read an article not long ago that scientists have found a way to make better gluten free flour. I'm wondering if these cupcakes are the result of said scientific breakthrough. Because I didn't miss the gluten at all. Maybe we just got a super-freshly-baked batch, but if anything, the bread part of the cupcake was more moist and more delicious than a normal cupcake.

The frosting was on point, as well. Sonia absolutely raved about it. It was slightly more in the direction of traditional frosting than the frosting on the Buttercream Cupcakes we linked to in the first paragraph. But this stuff wasn't stiff like cupcakes from a traditional grocery store bakery. It felt and tasted fluffy and whipped, with a really nice sweet, creamy flavor.

As has been the case with a few TJ's products in the past, I was significantly more enamored with the vanilla flavor than I was with the chocolate, although the chocolate was nothing to complain about. I'm not a vanilla supremacist. I swear. I just really want sweetness without as much richness sometimes.

Two thumbs up from Sonia and I. Double fours.

If you're interested in the nutrition facts, just click here.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Trader Joe's Mango Taffy

Sonia and I have made it to campgrounds in the Jersey Shore area a couple times this year, but we haven't spent much time on the beach or on the boardwalk, and thus, we haven't really indulged in the official state candy of New Jersey recently. In lieu of said saltwater taffy, we picked up this mango stuff from TJ's. It's not bad. In fact, I think both of us would choose it over most brands of saltwater taffy we've tried. Granted, we're not huge into taffy in general, but we've had enough to know decent taffy when we taste it. 

The first thing that jumps out at me about this candy is how incredibly soft it is. Oh, wait. That's probably just the near 100 degree temperatures and ridiculous humidity making it extra squishy. Somehow, it works, though. It's still solid enough that you can slurp it off the wax paper wrapping in one piece. We cranked the AC for a while and found an unusually solid specimen for the pic on the right.

Now, I might be alone here, but I swear there's this moment while I'm eating the taffy where it feels like it's not going to dissolve properly in my mouth. It seems to display the physical properties of chewing gum for a few brief moments and my gag reflex wants to kick in. But before it does, the taffy finally thins and magically deliquesces down my throat and into my belly.

Flavor-wise, it's a sugary, yet natural-ish kind of mango flavor—not quite like the actual fruit, although there is "mango juice concentrate" listed in the ingredients—but similar to what you might expect from mango gummies or mango sorbet. It's a candied mango kind of taste—very pleasant if you enjoy mango-flavored things.

In most cases, this would not be my dessert of choice, just because I'm rarely in the mood for taffy. But as taffy goes, I must admit it meets, if not exceeds, my expectations. Three and a half from me. Sonia, also not really a taffy girl, was even more impressed. Four from her.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Trader Joe's Organic 100% Melon Juice


There's such a thing as orange honeydew? I've only ever seen green ones...the only orange melon I can think of are cantaloupes...but an orange honeydew? Dang.

Shows what a sheltered life I've lived for close to 34 years. File this away under "something new every day." And I now feel as knowledgable about fruit as my 20 month old daughter who calls every fruit an "apple." Gets me every time.

Anyways, there is a TJ's variant of a cold-pressed cantaloupe juice floating around, which I knew this wasn't, but when seeing the label and shade of Trader Joe's Organic 100% Melon Juice, I presumed it was cantaloupe.

Which made my first sip very interesting...because, naturally, it tasted pretty much just like honeydew. Perhaps the orange variety are a a slight touch sweeter, because there seemed to be a little extra natural sugar at play here. Also, I'm perfectly comfortable with being further labelled as a fool for saying so, but I also tasted a small amount of subtle astringency here. Maybe that's stemming from the optical illusion that this murky orangey semi-greenish water could kinda kinda look like some type of citrus green tea variant.

Eh, whatever. It works. It's a clean, simple healthy juice that tastes like it's straight from the Sledge-O-Matic and refreshes nicely on a hot summer day. I'd still prefer to reach for some tasty lemonade after mowing the lawn, but if this was all we had, there'd be no disappointment. Winner in the wife and kids' eyes too, so not bad at all for just three bucks.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic 100% Melon Juice: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Trader Joe's Stacked Eggplant Parmesan

If someone asks you if you've tried "Trader Joe's Eggplant Parm," you've got to ask them if they mean this Stacked Eggplant Parmesan or, you know, that other abomination. Because in my opinion, this stuff is in every way superior to that Trader Giotto's eggplant dish that comes in a tray. The nutrition info for both products is comparable, although the serving size for the Stacked is somewhat smaller than the other dish. The only good thing about Trader Giotto's Eggplant Parm is that our review of it sparked a dialogue about this delicious offering. I'm super glad we tried it.

Far from being chewy like the previously-reviewed parm, the stacked variety, if anything, is too supple and soft. I understand some people prefer their eggplant on the crispy side. If you're in that boat, then I guess you might have a legitimate complaint about this particular product. I felt like it flaunted a nice "melt-in-your-mouth" quality, but Sonia thought it fell apart a little too easily. That's not to say she didn't enjoy it. She loved the flavor. And what's not to love? It's a collection of every stereotypical tasty ingredient commonly found in Italian food all mixed in and "stacked" on amazing eggplant. Especially impressive was the ricotta cheese. Tomato, bell pepper, and bread crumbs help round out the taste and texture.

We ate ours with pasta, and it worked really well. I'd be perfectly happy eating this dish all by itself, or you could slap a slab of this in between some quality Italian bread and make a sandwich of sorts. I'm not known for my culinary creativity, but I'm sure some of you guys have come up with some interesting ways to eat this entree. 

Apparently there's a third TJ's brand eggplant parm product that has somehow eluded us up to this point: Trader Giotto's Eggplant Parmesan Towers. Let us know if any of you have tried that one and we'll add it to our shopping list. Sonia and I haven't been on a proper TJ's run in a hot minute—we actually had these stacked eggplant parms a while back—but now we know there's a Pokéstop right next to the local TJ's, we have another good reason to go!

Four stars a piece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Trader Joe's Mahi Mahi Burgers

Ever see what a mahi mahi looks like? As in the actual fish? I sure as heck hadn't, and since I have a sick sense of humor in which I like to put a face to whatever animal I'm currently eating, I Google image searched one the other night while standing out by my grill and came across this. Um, wow. Like, I'm not sure what I exactly expected a mahi mahi to look like, but it wasn't quite that. Big ol' paint dropcloth looking thing. Um...yumm?

Well, in burger form...absolutely.

There's many fine and wonderful and fancy ways to enjoy a good slab of mahi mahi, but for a quick, easy, and convenient preparation, it may be hard to be beat Trader Joe's Mahi Mahi Burgers. These frozen fish pucks are yet another example what draws me to TJ's seafood products - it's overall fresh and clean vibe. So many other frozen seafood I've had is salty or mushy or overly fishy or just off.

But nope, not here. The fish itself has a very mild, clean flavor, with a couple spices like paprika and rosemary put on for a little character, but there's not much standing in the way of the actual fish flavor. One thing both Sandy and I particularly liked: these actually really hit the "burger button." The texture and mouthfeel approximate that of a regular beef or turkey burger - a little softer, yes, but as close as a fish can get to a burger, these do. We're impressed. And even our kiddos love them - our just-turned-four year old M grins with delight every time we tell her fish burgers our on the menu.

Put anything on these burgers you like - we particularly enjoyed some salsa or slaw or (as pictured) the chile lime powder. It's light, good eating. The box of four runs about $6, which isn't awful for some decent quality fish, and as a pro tip, they even reheat well without stinking up the joint (so says Sandy, I'd be too chicken to try that). Great summer time pick up to toss something a little different on the grill, so we're going with some high marks here. I took awful pics of the nutritional stats so see them here.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mahi Mahi Burgers: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Podcast Episode 27: Mango Mayhem

It’s mango mayhem at Trader Joe’s and in this episode we talk about the glut of TJ’s mango products and share our thoughts about many of them.

Thanks for listening!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Trader Joe's Mango & Strawberry Flatbread

Well since Mr. Shelly is retiring from the wonderful world of mango product reviews, I guess it's up to me to keep the mango insanity astir on this blog. And even under threat of home invasion and sedation, that mango cookie butter is MINE! You'll never get within a hundred feet of our house without our Alfred and Sadie-driven home security system barking us awake, Russ. NEVER!

Be that as it may, I'm sure that yet another mango review is not only encouraging Big Joe to make more of these mango products, but it's also annoying the heck out of half of our readers. (Please see survey at the bottom of this review.) But honestly, I think this product is worth a looksee. It's a complicated product, far more sophisticated than most of the mango offerings we've seen this past month or so.

First of all, we have to be familiar with the Law of Balsamic Reduction. It states that "any rectangular flatbread with balsamic drizzle can be reduced into exactly five smaller rectangular flatbreads with sides exactly one fifth the size of the original rectangle, but despite maintaining the same side to side ratio, all toppings, including balsamic reduction drizzle, shall be unevenly distributed across said flatbreads." In layman's terms, this means that once cut into smaller slices, some pieces of flatbread will have tons of toppings and others will have very little—specifically, the end pieces will have an unfavorable bread to topping ratio.

Never has the Law of Balsamic Reduction been more apparent than with this ambitious attempt at a gourmet appetizer. Nevertheless, the center pieces of our flatbread came out quite tasty, in my opinion, flaunting two delicious fruits, wilted arugula, and varying amounts of the aforementioned sweet balsamic reduction drizzle. Sonia thinks the mango and balsamic together resulted in a taste too intense for her tongue. She doesn't think they clashed exactly—she just thinks one or the other would have provided adequate sweetness and that both together was overkill. I'll agree that they were both quite sweet, but they were two very different kinds of sweet, if that makes sense. 

It's definitely a roller coaster ride for the taste buds, but you know, every once in a while, I really like to take my tongue on the big boy rides.

If you're open to a suave kind of sweetness, I recommend this product wholeheartedly. My biggest complaints would be that there weren't nearly enough strawberries and that the toppings were unevenly distributed. The balsamic reduction sauce did come in a separate packet that I put on myself, so I guess if that was unevenly distributed, I only have myself to blame.

I give this product four and a half stars. Sonia will only spring for three.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Trader Joe's Mango Brooklyn Babka

Yes, yes...I know. Another mango product review. Believe me, I'm SICK of mango stuff. It's part of the gig - Trader Joe's leads a mango onslaught, it's my job to figure out what's good and worthwhile, and what simply isn't. Way too many products have been middling at best thus far. Seems even the TJ's employees I've talked to, informally, are tired of mango everything.

Well, here's a proclamation: I (Russ), as of the completion of this review, am DONE with any mango-related review from now on until eternity. Pretty much the only exception would be IF (and it's a big part two-part IF) something truly amazeballs would debut, like, say, mango cookie butter, and I drove to South Jersey first, and chloroformed the Rodgers clan to make sure I got to it first. That's...probably not going to happen, Pennsylvania turnpike tolls being what they are.

But I'd be absolutely derelict in my duties if I didn't tell you about Trader Joe's Mango Brooklyn Babka. Hands down, it's our absolute favorite TJ mango concoction we've had yet. And this is coming from a very mango-weary man. It's been multiple-purchase worthy, which for a treat and non-staple, is very, very high praise for our establishment.

It must be said this babka is my only frame of reference for babka - I've led a sheltered life. It's a large, weighty pastry loaf which I'd liken most closely to a danish - it's chewy and layered yet kinda flaky. I guess there's a certain denseness to it, but not as much as what I've heard re: the chocolate babka ("condensed brownie" are the words I recall). No, a slice will practically fall apart along the dough spiral lines, with a sweet, sugary, but not overkill mango puree swirled in, with extra mango flavor coming from the faintly orange dough. A little light mango glaze on top adds just that little extra oomph as well.

A little look at the ingredient list offered a surprising insight that might explain this product's overall success: that "mango puree" I mentioned? It's apples, followed by apricots, and then the mango. It's odd, because it is decidedly mangotastic...maybe the apples offer a suitable base, while the apricots seamlessly boost the flavor...I don't know...but it works. No question about it.

A slice of babka with a cup of coffee makes a nice little morning treat, or skip the coffee for some dessert. I've heard there's ways to grill babka slices (which would be awesome here, I think) or get a scoop of vanilla ice cream to go alongside. Lots of good possibilities here. If even half the mango stuff out there, in its own context, tasted as good as this babka does, there's no doubt that the Summer of Mango would have been a blockbuster.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mango Brooklyn Babka: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Trader Joe's PB&J Bar

Trader Joe's isn't quite as adventurous with peanut butter and jelly as they are with say, oh I don't know, MANGO perhaps. But they have done some interesting things with the classic sandwich combination in the past, including Greek yogurt and chocolate bars. And quite frankly, this is by far the best PB&J product I've tried from TJ's thus far. Plus, it has the added benefit of being gluten free, by virtue of it being made with oats and oat flour instead of typical wheat flour.

Unlike the previously-mentioned PB&J chocolate bar, which featured raspberry jelly, TJ's went with strawberry jelly in this particular snack. I'm not sure what they have against good ol' grape, but strawberry has always been my second-place choice for pairing with peanut butter, and it totally works here. The bars flaunt a very nice balance of peanut butteriness and fruity jelly sweetness, although I wouldn't say they taste like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches precisely. I think using wheat flour and grape jelly might have helped push them in that direction. As they stand, there's a definite breakfast bar/cereal bar vibe about them—but I, for one, would certainly not hold that against them.

There's plenty of sugar in them, but if you're having them for breakfast like I am, it's easy to justify: you've got all day to burn it off. Plus, there's eight grams of whole grain in each serving and the ingredients look relatively natural and healthy to me, but then again, my English and film degrees didn't require a whole lot of food science when rambling on about the "healthiness" of various ingredients, I should always put forth the following disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about. 

But my taste buds don't lie, and furthermore, I have a very sensitive system. And I can confidently state that these bars made me feel happy, energized, and properly-nourished. And yes, they're tasty. Not exactly like a PB&J, but certainly PB&J-inspired.

I give these bars four and a half stars. Four from Sonia, who adds that they're not too sweet and not too dry, although she wishes they made a version with almond butter instead of PB.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Trader Joe's Kentucky Bourbon BBQ Sauce

Do I even have to say it?

Yes, it's 100% mango-free.

Thank God.

Trader Joe's Kentucky Bourbon BBQ Sauce has a lot of other things in it, though...namely, bourbon, which adds a nice earthy, smokey, maybe even slightly oaky little flavor flair. It's a little more noticeable in this saucy incarnation, then, say, the apple bourbon barbecue sauce. This particular baste-worthy bastion is also noticeably less sweet and more strongly BBQy than its applicious compadre. The ingredients list pineapple (not all that strong) and caramelized onions (oh yeah) as well as the usual spices that make a strong, layered, yet not overly complex sauce that was welcome to the wide spectrum of flavor palettes around our usual dinner table. Not too spicy, not too sweet, not too anything one way or another...instead it straddled the line just right for all.

Although we've only made pulled pork with it, I'm under the strong impression that this is a versatile enough sauce for a variety of needs. Burgers, ribs, chicken, fries...I just got a craving to start dunking a bunch of onion rings in here. We may have our summer sauce of choice right here. For $2.99 for a large bottle, it's an absolute must try.

You can check out the nutritional stats here.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Kentucky Bourbon BBQ Sauce: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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