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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Vinaigrette

Since you all know my blogging buddy Russ is a huge fan of pumpkin products, as well as salad dressings, of course I had to race to the local TJ's to purchase this product and beat him to the review. But here I sit, dumbfounded by this enigmatic dressing. Of all the hundreds of foods, beverages, and condiments we've reviewed these past six years, this might be one of the hardest to describe, as far as taste is concerned. We've seen every kind of pumpkin product, as well as plenty of salad dressings, but for some reason this one was hard to pin down for me. I couldn't even tell if I really liked it or not. But like a brave li'l foodie-hack, I'll attempt to tackle it anyway. Here goes nothing.

Okay, so the first thing that jumped out at both Sonia and I was that this dressing is surprisingly sweet. Like sweet is probably the first word either of us would use to describe it. It's not sweet like you'd use it as an ice cream topping kind of sweet. It's just sweet for the world of salad dressings. It doesn't taste at all like pumpkin pie or pumpkin spice—there's no cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, or allspice. And none of those spices would work here, so they're not missed. It does, however, taste like pumpkin, as pumpkin puree is the main ingredient. It has a squash-like essence. I guess that's because pumpkin is a type of squash. Sonia thought it tasted more like butternut squash than pumpkin, but I think I might have picked out the pumpkin flavor even if this had been a blind taste-test. But I'm probably overestimating my taste buds. My brain can't see a bright orange label with the word "PUMPKIN" written on it and taste anything other than pumpkin. I'm highly suggestible like that.

But beyond the pumpkin is where the flavor gets really complex. There's olive oil, dijon mustard, white wine, and turmeric in this stuff. And wow, it's like there's a fall festival in my mouth and everyone's invited. Yet I wouldn't say the flavor is super intense—it's just...complicated. It's not completely unlike other vinaigrettes, there's just more going on here.

Texture-wise, it's oily and somewhat thick. Toward the beginning of the bottle, there were little yellowish globs of what I can only assume would be pumpkin puree. None of said yellow globs were around by the time we snapped the above photo. But you can still get a vague idea about the product's viscosity, hydraulic stability, and other physical properties from the pic. And yes, I like a little salad with my chick peas. I call it the "garbanzaganza."

All I can say is, if you're into pumpkin, dressing, and consider yourself an adventurous eater, this stuff's worth checking out. And hey, if you're not into it, Trader Joe's has an excellent return policy. What's there to lose? Sonia gives it four stars. I think it's a little too weird for four stars, but I am glad we tried it. I'll be nice and give it three and a half.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Trader Joe's Shrimp Soft Tacos

Another week, another shot to grind my gears about something. Made my annual autumnal rant last week about pumpkin spice. Man, that felt good to get out. This week's target? Food trucks. By in large, I think they're dumb. I get that in some scenarios they may be a way of life...but man. Stand around forever in line just to overpay for one item, have to wait around forever in another line if you want anything else, all from some typically greasy grungy kitchen on wheels. No thanks. Here in the 'burgh, the whole food truck craze has really hit in the past few years. We're kinda slow on a lot of trends - can't wave a Terrible Towel without hitting a mullet or three - but in the past two or three years, any kind of community event anywhere, it's food truck bonanza! And everyone gets so excited! FOOD! FROM A TRUCK! WITH WHEELS! STAND AROUND ON ASPHALT AND EAT FOOD! WOW!

No thanks.

I bring this up in relation to Trader Joe's Shrimp Soft Tacos because on the official TJ's website, there's a whole thing about taco trucks when they start talking these tacos. Blah. That may be a way to entice a lot of potential eaters, but not me...but then again. it's a shrimp taco, so twist my arm.

I'm not going to say these are the best shrimp tacos ever, because they aren't. Far from it. But, I will say these are the best microwavable shrimp tacos that cost less than $1.25 each I've ever had. A three pack cost only $3.69, so keep that in mind with all I am about to say.

Though the taco filling looks nothing like what's depicted on the package, it's still plenty flavorful. There's a spicy heat radiating on nearly every bite, much more than anticipated - there's some potent jalapenos lurking in that salsa verde. Lots of black pepper bite, too. I wish a little more lime flavor were present to cut through the heat some - lime juice is listed as an ingredient - but something like a little lime basil would be killer on these tacos. Once done nuking, the soft 'n mild cotija cheese is kinda indistinguishable from everything else, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Surprisingly, there's plenty ample filling too. One could reasonably expect that a perceived premium taco stuffer could be shorted here, but it's not - not skimpy on the shrimpy. Each taco had at least two to three firm, fresh(ish) bites of shrimp in there. You're not getting cheated here.

As for the corn tortillas...meh. Listen, they do the job. Each taco is actually double-tortilla'd, which is probably the right call - if left with just one, it'd be too soggy and potentially messy. That being said, for a corn tortilla, they're not awful, but not particularly memorable either. I'm spoiled by the handmade ones from two trips to the mountainsides of Mexico, and it's an unfair comparision, but one I hold every other corn tortilla to. I would have preferred flour ones.

Really, not too many complaints. The tacos could really use some vegetation if you have some on hand, just to freshen them up a little bit. Some lettuce or tomatoes or avocado would be a welcome addition if I had any one hand. A little dollop of sour cream would be nice, too, especially to help dampen the spice. Both Sandy and I could totally justify picking up the shrimp soft tacos again, and, heck, probably will for a quick, easy, and somewhat different lunch. No food truck required.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Shrimp Soft Tacos: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons.     

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Soup Crackers

This is one of those TJ's products with a tricky name. It's not hard to pronounce or anything, but when I look at the box, my immediate assumption is that these are pumpkin-flavored crackers optimized for crumbling and throwing into a big bowl of piping hot soup. And I'm not saying they're not good for that purpose, but what the name actually means, according to the little write-up on the packaging, is that Trader Joe's took the taste of pumpkin soup and infused these crackers with it. Interesting.

It hasn't been all that long since we've had pumpkin soup from Trader Joe's. Sonia has made at least one repeat purchase of that soup since our review of it three years ago—I'm fairly certain we had a carton of it last year. Or was it two years ago already? Gosh, it sucks being old. Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that we both remember the soup being fairly pumpkinny. Despite the presence of pumpkin puree, these crackers, in our opinion, are not.

But they do taste "harvesty," if that makes any sense. There is the slightest essence of something squash-ish—undoubtedly due to the pumpkin puree. But more notable is the pleasant blend of herbs and spices, including salt, onion powder, and brown sugar. It's this blend of flavors that gives the crackers their "soupy" vibe. The taste is not unlike a homemade broth, but in a solid form. Sonia thinks they're reminiscent of original flavor SunChips.

Texture-wise, they're nice and crunchy. They taste and feel like they're made of rice and oats, which they are—and yes, they're gluten-free. If you were inclined to eat them in soup, they'd probably go best with something like chili or tomato soup, rather than lighter, clear-broth soups.

If you're avoiding the whole sweet pumpkin pie spice thing, but still want something autumnal, these might be what you're looking for. They didn't blow us away, flavor-wise, but there's a unique heartiness to them that's worth a looksee if you're after something subtle and herby. Three and a half stars from each of us.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Trader Joe's Organic Ginger Zinger

"Put your pears on the stairs!"

"Stomp and roar, out the door!"

"Put your sidewalk on the fidewalk!"

Yes...rhyming is all the rage these days with my four year old daughter. It's going on for weeks, nonstop. Most of our conversations sound like the classic Princess Bride talk between Inigo and Fezzik....sometimes with actual words, and as you can see, sometimes not. It's what we do, usually with a giggle...and a wiggle!

I'm fairly glad that I won't have to explain that the words "ginger" and "zinger" don't precisely rhyme, despite looking pretty similar. That "g" at the start of the second syllable is troublesome, isn't it? Close, but not enough. No rhyme, at any time.

But I ought to attempt to explain to all you fine folks how Trader Joe's Organic Ginger Zinger tastes, so here goes. Best way I can explain is, think of a bell curve, with one end designated for lemonade and the other for a mild ginger beer. Your tongue "rides" this curve as you taste this particular drinky concoction. At the foothills, there's the sugary sweetness of the lemonade, but when one would expect the tart bite to kick in, there's the intermingling of the ginger. This mix gets stronger, and just when the flavor you think would apex, it descends once more, this time more towards the ginger, with the very tail end leaving a meek, inoffensive ginger burn.

And that's pretty much it.

One end, a little lemonade, on the other, a little ginger beer, and in the middle between those two points there's a whole lot of not much. Well, sugar and water, yes, but really...nothing there. A little carbonation would have helped carry any flavor through, I think, because really, this kinda reminded me of flat soda. On the plus side, when I mixed a little rum in there, that middle ground picked up fairly well with a more solid base in there.

TJ's has proven how delectable ginger and lemon can be before. It's too bad the results can't be duplicated in beverage form here. Sigh. If this were still the hot depths of summer instead of slowly turning towards hoodie weather here in the Northeast, I might be a little more forgiving and use some words like "light" and "refreshing"...but not to be rude, I'm not in the mood. At $3.49 a quart, no need to rush it to your fort, but might be worth a shot...that's all I got.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Ginger Zinger: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Trader Joe's Quasar Bar

I've always loved the stars, space, and science-fiction. During my time at Penn State, I took as many astronomy classes as I could without declaring an astronomy minor—mainly because doing so would have added a boatload of math classes to my curriculum. I was never terrible at math, but I didn't really enjoy it either. So I took classes about archaeoastronomy (the study of archaeology and ancient cultures as they related to the stars and constellations) and the probability of life elsewhere in the universe. Incidentally, PSU has been in astronomy news recently, as one of its astronomers came up with the theory that the unusual drops in light levels coming from "Tabby's Star" might be due to "alien megastructures." I think that particular astronomer may have jumped the gun on announcing the potential existence of extraterrestrials, but hey, you never know.

My personal theory about those strange dimming patterns from star KIC 8462852: a swarm of Trader Joe's Quasar Bars en route to Earth...and BREAKING: the first wave has just arrived. Thanks to reader Ryan B. for the heads up on these TJ's brand "Milky Way" bars (who curiously has an alien featured in her Facebook profile pic).

If you like Milky Way bars, you'll most likely enjoy Quasars. They're extremely similar, with just a few key differences. TJ's offering is a little more salty, so there's a bit of that "salted caramel" effect. And it's coated with dark chocolate, rather than milk chocolate, so it's just a tad less sweet. There's still whipped chocolate on the inside, as well as caramel and nougat—so still plenty of goodies for those of you with sweet, sweet teeth?

It's got the classic, soft, nougaty vibe that we've all come to know and love, as well as a cool astronomical name, all for just 99 cents. And it's yet another bone thrown to the dark chocolate crowd, but there's plenty of sweet stuff in there too, so you won't hear me complaining on this one. I think I'll give this delectable candy bar four shooting stars. Sonia will go with four and a half.

If you're interested in knowing what a quasar actually is, I'll just point you in the direction of this article. It's a fascinating subject, but not one I'll elaborate on here on our adventurous food blog...because it would take up way too much space...and I still wouldn't be able to explain it adequately.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Trader Joe's Half Moon Cookies

I've already mentioned Seinfeld's Black and White Cookie on this blog once long ago. "Two races of flavor living side by side in harmony." But it really needs to be brought up again. Because this product essentially IS the Black & White Cookie. TJ's offering doesn't look quite as large as traditional B&W's, but other than that, they're remarkably similar in appearance.

Apparently very popular among New York's Jewish population, these cookies have been a mainstay at NYC bakeries for many generations. Trader Joe's went with "Half Moon" here, perhaps to deliberately avoid the stereotypes that go along with "Black & White Cookie," however, according to this article, penned by someone far more familiar with the history of these fun pastries than I am, a "Half Moon Cookie" is a devil's food cookie iced with chocolate and vanilla frostings. Cookies with a soft vanilla dough, such as these, are most definitely Black & White Cookies. The author of that article goes so far as to call people who refer to Black & White Cookies as Half Moon Cookies "philistines," and he points out that Black & White Cookies should be more accurately referred to as "Apartheid Cookies," which I found quite amusing, but that's neither here nor there in terms of this product review.

What is important is that these particular Trader Joe's brand cookies really aren't much to get excited about. I enjoyed the softness of the cookie part—and I liked that it wasn't too sweet. But I found both the chocolate and vanilla fondants to be somewhat disappointing. Each side featured a vague vanilla or chocolate flavor, respectively, but neither was a taste I was eager to return to. The fondants were far more firm than the cookie itself, and in a way, I felt like they ruined the nice texture of the doughy part. Sonia felt the same way. If anything, she was even more bored by these than I was, flavor-wise.

There's nothing particularly unappetizing about them, either. We snacked on them from time to time and didn't find it very hard to get through the package, but we weren't exactly fighting over who got the last one. In the end, they're just not particularly memorable.

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

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Trader Joe's Apple Pie Cheddar Cheese

There's a part of me that would like to take this opportunity to make my annual anti-pumpkin spice rant. It's that time of year, as Nathan started out last week, and as one Facebook fan put it, time for "white girls (to) rejoice!", and as we were quick to add, also white guys comfortable with their masculinity. What a little of sprinkling of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves has to do with given personal identity characteristics, I don't know, but...I'm not a fan. The "pumpkin spice everything" trend is far too ubiquitous, far too obnoxious, far too usurping of many other great fall flavors. It takes something rather special to really impress me in the pumpkin spice regard, so it's possible, but far too many items fall short. Pumpkin spice latte? I've rather have nutmegged toilet water, thank you.

On the other hand...apples. Apple crisp. Apple cider. Applesauce. Apple pie. Now that's something to get behind. Especially apple pie, cuz I'm 'murican, dangit. Forget any other political attack ad going on right now, if an ad came out that a politician didn't like apple pie, they'd lose my vote. Now, I've heard that adding a slice of cheddar cheese to apple pie makes it even better...I've never tried. Either it's my mom's or sister's apple pie, which is absolutely perfect as is, or if I'm need of dairy sidekick, I'd choose vanilla ice cream.

So Trader Joe's Apple Pie Cheddar Cheese is my first foray into crossing these two flavor streams. I know, I probably haven't lived...sorry. Same for Sandy. At least we were both super eager to give a chunk a whirl, even with its slightly-high-for-TJ's price of $10 a pound.

It's...interesting, to say the least. First of all, it's pretty strongly applicious. How can one up the applicity factor of an average apple? Boil in apple cider! Infuise more apple! Stat! I can't quite tell the type of apple used, but I'd guess something in the MacIntosh-type range - strong, yet not overly sweet nor tart. There's also enough presence for the typical pie spices like cinnamon and nutmeg that give it a pie-like vibe. The little tidbits of dried apple add a little taste and textural variant. Nothing wrong on the apple front.

I guess where it gets a little weird is the cheese. In of itself, it's a decent cheddar - soft, mild, not overly sharp, but rather salty. Must be that sodium that, to me, creates a little flavor friction. Salt and apples don't go together all that well, IMHO. I mean, it's not awful...I kinda like the creaminess of the cheese paired with the apples - but the salt, instead of accentuating the overall flavor, kinda muddies it up instead.

Also, if it's apple pie cheese, where's the pie crust tidbits? There's none, and that coulda been fun. I guess "apple pie cheddar" sounds nicer than "fancy applesauce cheddar." Meh.

We're kinda split here - not terrific, not awful, and certainly more successful than previous TJ cheddar mash-ups. Sandy's not entirely sure of what to make of it, except she'll reserve further judgment until trying out a grilled cheese with it. She went right down the middle with a 2.5. It's worthy of higher marks than that in my book, but I can't get over the salt - a few small bites left me in want of a tall glass of water. Heck, I'd even drink a pumpkin spice latte if it were close by just to help. I can't go higher than 3.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Apple Pie Cheddar Cheese: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, September 16, 2016

Trader Joe's Chocolate Chai & Almond Bar

No, I didn't crop the picture a little too close or accidentally leave out a letter in this product title. I also had to correct Sandy a couple times too, despite her usually being a stickler about such things. The state forest near her alma mater of Clarion University is Cook Forest, and if you call it Cook's...*guh*. Shudder. Brace yourself.

So when she started calling this product Trader Joe's Chocolate Chai & Almond Bark, I had to give it to her back. "Look! There's no 'k'! It's just a bar! C'mon! Jeez! Get with it! Ugh!"

Turnaround is fair play. It can also put a damper on the one night of the week that the mom-in-law's out of the house, after the kids go to bed, when you get to have some quality adult time doing adult drinking beer and playing mancala.

Anyways, no "k." It's just bar. Doesn't matter that it looks like a bark, eats like a bark, barks like a's just Trader Joe's Chocolate Chai & Almond Bar. Bars can be square, I guess.

Dang tasty bar. Just look at how gorgeous it is - a thick, milk chocolate base, with some darker chocolate marbled up on top, with full roasted almond nestled in fairly amply - very few bites without. By myself, I wouldn't have thought of infusing chai tea with chocolate - but it definitely works here, in a way I can't quite explain. It's there, and very present, but as pleasant accompaniment and not a dominant flavor. It's well balanced with the milder milk chocolate, while still accentuated by the dark, with the almond adding a roasted earthy bite. Well done.

And as I said, it's thick. Thicker than a normal chocolate bar, for sure. Sometimes, chocolate with this kinda girth can be hard to gnaw through, but that's not the case. Our teeth glided through each bite, with the only interruption being one of those tasty nuts. A tougher bite would have killed any goodwill with this bar, so thank goodness TJ's got this right.

Sandy and I gulped down the whole bar over a few games, with the last bite being wagered on who won a particular round...I lost :(. She's the one who found it on a solo shopping trip and couldn't recall the price...$3? $4? Whatever it was, it's worth it. Will definitely buy again...and again.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chocolate Chai & Almond Bar: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Caramel Corn

Labor Day is usually considered the cultural end to summer here in the US. School starts, summer schedules end, and most folks have taken whatever summer vacations they're going to take. The technical, astronomical end of summer is most definitely the autumnal equinox, this year falling on September 22. 

But personally, I consider fall officially underway when two things have happened: I've consumed a new pumpkin or pumpkin spice product from Trader Joe's, and the weather gets a little cooler. After a high of 92 degrees yesterday, yet a high of only 78 degrees today here in South Jersey, I'd say there's been a marked shift in air temps. That's not to say there won't be a few more warm days ahead, but for the most part, it's time to wear heavier clothing—both to keep warm, and to cover up the extra pounds I'll gain sampling most of the 60+ new and old seasonal pumpkin products arriving at TJ's.

As for our first new pumpkin product of the season? We're off to a pretty good start. 

Highly reminiscent in appearance and texture to June's Mango Coconut Caramel Corn, this is TJ's fall-themed follow-up to that summery treat. We enjoyed that previous product quite a bit, as did most of our readers. It's still crispy, crunchy caramel corn—not too waxy or stiff. But this version has a few tricks up its sleeve.

First, the taste is nice. The pumpkin spice flavor is there, but errs on the side of subtlety. It's sweet more than spicy, and slightly more caramel than pumpkin, I'd say. Pumpkin seeds add a nice nuttiness to the product and blend well with the salty aspects of the corn. 

The packaging alleges there are walnuts in this product, but neither Sonia nor I have seen much of them. I do think I've tasted hints of walnut from time to time. Maybe the walnuts are crushed into tiny bits and have simply eluded identification thus far. Or perhaps these reclusive nuts have congregated at the bottom of the bag. We'll let you know when we get there. (You won't have to wait long.) 

Rather than floating freely, the pumpkin seeds are "glued" to the corn pieces with sugar and caramel, so you don't need to worry about mixing seeds in with your mouthfuls of caramel corn in incorrect ratios. Trader Joe's has already measured them out for you, and they did a pretty good job of it in my estimation.

All in all, it's a well-balanced flavor. If anything, Sonia and I think it could use just a tad more pumpkin spice taste, but we won't complain about it as is. Double fours on this product, and happy fall to all of you.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Trader Joe's Organic Ginger Turmeric Herbal Tea

"It's kinda weird to drink something that smells like Indian food," Sandy stated the other night before sipping her first steaming mug of Trader Joe's Organic Ginger Turmeric Herbal Tea.

Yeah...ginger tea? Of course. But turmeric? That's a pretty classic staple for most Indian chow I'm familiar with. So how's this going to work?

First off: it's very aromatic. Not in an overly flagrant or fragrant kinda way...but when you cath a whiff, there's a lot going on. The aforementioned ginger and turmeric, of course, but there's a good citrus essence as well. There's a little something else, too, a "darker" element to give the aroma some depth, which I presume are the licorice and pepper... yeah, it kinda smells like what the ingredients says the tea is made of. Nice thing is, while all components can be individually detected, it comes across as a very nice, balanced cuppa tea.

Wish it tasted that way as well.

The sips start out pleasantly enough, with the dominant taste being a fairly mild ginger dose. The turmeric is there more in a support role, with the orange peel adding a nice arc. But hits. That aforementioned licorice and pepper. Listen, I love licorice and anise and all that much more than the average guy, but it just seems a little out of place, perhaps, and gets punctuated by the pepper. It's not harsh at first, but about halfway through the cup, it's about all I can taste, as if my mild cuppa tea slowly got polluted by a flavor overstaying its welcome.

It probably doesn't help that I'm more of a coffee than tea kinda guy...I rarely drink anything other than black coffee, water, or whiskey in fact. So, quite literally, this just might not be my cup of tea. Sandy, though, enjoys it quite a bit. More power to her. "It's a great fall tea," she said last night after the kiddos went down and a cool almost autumnal breeze blew in the kitchen window. "I dig it." After I finish my current cup (gave it a second taste to confirm my thoughts) I'll probably be done with it. But for $2.49 for a box of 20 bags, and the possible health benefits of turmeric, I can give it a little more appreciation.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Ginger Turmeric Herbal Tea: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Trader Joe's Coffee Mochi

Trader Joe's can and will turn anything into a mochi ice cream flavor—from basic flavors like chocolate to double mango to pumpkin pie, we've seen them run the gamut. We haven't seen mushroom mochi ice cream yet, but just to be clear, we're not asking for it, Big Joe. Not at all. Cookie butter mochi, on the other hand...

Now let's shift gears and focus on the product at hand, shall we? My major problem with this mochi is the same problem I have with traditional coffee ice cream: it actually tastes like coffee. I mean sure, it's kinda sweet and creamy, but the overwhelming flavor is that of dark, earthy coffee beans. I'll drink coffee, if I must, for its caffeine content, but I much prefer energy drinks (ones without high fructose corn syrup) for my morning wake-up beverage. Among coffee drinkers, that fact generally arouses suspicion, outrage, and indignation. Why would a non-coffee-drinker even review a coffee-flavored product?

Because I'll defer to my coffee-appreciating wife's opinion on this one. She liked these a lot. The texture is just like any other mochi we've reviewed: a soft, chewy, rice-based shell, a layer of smooth, cold ice cream below that, and similar to the aforementioned mango mango mochi, there's a glob of liquidy goo in the middle. I personally didn't feel like the "saucy mocha center" added much, but Sonia thought it added a nice rich flavor and extra creaminess to the product.

She loved the taste of this product because she loves the taste of coffee. The flavor of the mocha filling reminded her of Original Roast Coffee Rio Candy, which is apparently sold at some Trader Joe's locations.

Even though I didn't appreciate the taste quite as much as my better half, we do agree on one thing: this mochi is rich and intense enough that just one or two pieces at a time is more than sufficient for one sitting. Sonia gives this product four stars. My disdain for coffee might have led me to give this product a fairly low score, but I did say I'd defer to my wife on this one, for the benefit of all you sophisticated coffee I'll go with three and a half to make sure this falls squarely in our "really darn good" category.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Trader Joe's Marinated Rack of Lamb with Herbs

After yesterday's review slightly toeing the line of religious imagery. today's review will steer clear. There's a lot of lambs in the religious pasture. But to be fair, Sandy and I also partook of those three cheese wafers, and also came away with the unshakeable impression of communion wafers. The only thing I'd like to add is, I've been to Communion performed, by a very serious, straight-faced pastor...with a hot dog bun. There was a slight miscommunication that week for who was bringing the bread. Classic.

Sandy and I also tried out the new Trader Joe's Marinated Rack of Lamb with Herbs this past week. There's also the oddly placed and/or punctuated "fully cooked" part of the product name...are the herbs the fully cooked part? The lamb? The whole shebang? Well, let's drop the slightly premium price of $15.99 a pound to find out!

As much as we both love lamb...a lamb rack is not a cut of meat we're overly familiar with. See: that price point. The few times we venture into lamb, we're more lamb chops/lamb roast/gyro kinda folks. So what I'm about to say about the meat itself, not sure how much it is intrinsically indicative for the particular cut versus this TJ branded box. But...there's not very much meat at all. Once we got it on our dinner plates, our meat looked like mostly bones, with a lot of fat and sinew intertwined in there. I'd say we each got maybe three or four reasonable bites of lamb meat, then the rest was picking and baby bites before kinda surrendering. At a certain point, the visual analysis showed that the effort wasn't worth the payoff.

But what meat was on there...soft, tender, pink, delicious. Despite its nearly raw appearance, the lamb was fully cooked via the sous-vide method before we ever got our hands on it. Very savory, and the herbs added a great little smidge of flavor, especially some mild garlic, without overpowering the natural goodness of the meat. You can't have that much fat without some natural juicy goodness, which really shone through.

There's a couple oddities I think are worth note. First: So. Much. Packaging. The lamb comes vacuum packed...inside a box so relatively large I'm surprised it didn't say "Some Settling May Occur"...that is in turn shrinkwrapped. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that's to give the impression that there's much more meat in there than there actually is, so as to make the price point more appealing. Could be true, can't prove it's not. Also, the prep method: Heat in oven for 35 minutes (on a hot summer night? No way) or microwave then pan sear? Odd. We went the second route, and though not the nuke wizards the Rodgers are, I think we succeeded.

This probably won't be a repeat buy. Which is kinda a shame. I get that it's lamb, fancifully (and may I add skillfully) prepared, with some major convenience factor built in, and it's delicious, so I appreciate it all...but for paying $13 and change for what amounts to a few bites, can't say I'm completely satisfied, either. Wife is in the same boat. Oh well. At least we had a quiet small fancy dinner together, just the two of us, before it quickly devolved into some animalistic bone gnawing. Three each.   

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Marinated Rack of Lamb with Herbs: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Trader Joe's 3 Cheese Wafers

Holy Eucharist. The Lord's Supper. Body of Christ shed for you. "Thin & crisp for cheese & snacking..." and maybe for Holy Communion as well.

The only thing about these crackers that doesn't scream "communion wafers" is the very faint cheese flavor. And honestly, I'd be surprised if there isn't at least one church using these during worship services somewhere in this country. I've seen everything from homemade white bread to animal crackers serve as altar bread—and at least one group thought of using Doritos for a similar purpose

Apparently, the three cheeses present here are cheddar, parmesan, and mozzarella. But the three titles that come to mind when eating these crispy critters are "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."

Sonia was raised Roman Catholic, and I was raised Lutheran, or "White Catholic," as we're known in certain Latino circles, so it's really hard not to think of those bland yet sacred discs of...I-don't-know-what that we had when we partook of that blessed sacrament. Even the little raised pattern on these crackers is reminiscent of what we both remember. TJ's version displays little triangles all over them, which arguably could represent the Holy Trinity.

Texture-wise, again, I almost feel silly saying it, but they're exactly like communion wafers. I would have guessed that the ones I grew up with were rice-based, although these crackers are apparently made with wheat flour. They're very soft, yet brittle and crispy, and they melt in your mouth quite quickly.

Flavor-wise, I mentioned there is only a subtle hint of cheese flavor in my opinion. They're virtually flavorless by themselves. I felt that they went well with the recently-reviewed Jalapeño and Honey Chevre, but only because they didn't try to compete with the amazing flavor of that cheese. On their own, as a snack, these crackers aren't much to speak of. The three distinct cheese flavors are so subtle that you have to have a bit of faith to believe they're really there.

I'm tempted to leave you with some play on scripture that starts, "As often as you eat these crackers, eat them in remembrance of me," or something like that, but even though I'm not as churchy as I used to be, I'm still not a huge fan of blasphemy in all its colorful modern forms, so I'll steer clear of such wordplay out of respect for the Big Guy. No, not Big Joe. The other big guy.

Four stars from Sonia, who's anxious to try these in a big bowl of tomato soup. Three from me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Trader Joe's Jalapeño and Honey Chevre

This might be my favorite cheese in the world right now. The taste zings across your tongue like a bolt of lightning. I feel like I hadn't ever truly tasted a jalapeño pepper until I had this cheese. The tang from the chevre, the sweetness of the honey, and the heat from the peppers set one another off so perfectly—in a manner I'd never have imagined. 

But beyond just the heat of the peppers, you can taste the green, planty, earthy part of the peppers, too. There's a miraculous way the goat cheese allows you to taste it separately from the spice of the jalapeno. Yet the cheese is surprisingly sweet. It does taste like real honey.

Although I don't want to downplay the heat, because it is significant. This cheese is not for the faint-of-heart. The fire is there right from the first bite, but it also builds up on the tongue in a subtle, yet powerful way. After a number of bites in a row, you need to breathe through your mouth for a moment to cool it down, maybe take a swig of whatever beverage you're enjoying, and hold for a few beats before going back to the cheese. But don't get me wrong, it's not too hot. It's just right if you ask me.

We had it with some nice light crackers, neutral in flavor. I wouldn't want to pair this cheese with anything too strong because the main attraction should most definitely be the flavor of this amazing chevre. Sonia thinks it might go well with some kind of lightly-sweet honey bread. I'd eat this stuff with anything as long as it's relatively muted, flavor-wise. 

Once upon a time, I may have slapped a different TJ's chevre product with an unusually low score, and it may have been suggested that I don't appreciate goat cheese. Au contraire. I'm just not huge into goat cheese for dessert. Despite its sweetness, this cheese, at least in my mind, is a complex, savory side dish or appetizer that deserves a perfect five stars. Sonia gives it four and a half.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Trader Joe's Semi-Dried Green Figs

There's really not a whole lot to Trader Joe's Semi-Dried Green Figs. Nothing added or subtracted, but simply a fig, partially dried, and frozen. That's it. That could be the end of the review pretty much right there. But that's not how we roll...because while they do "taste...similar to fresh fruit" they do feel a little different. Had to leave out the "amazingly" because that's a bit too strong of a statement.

Anyways, if you're already familiar with their tried and true semi-dried formula first tested out on apricots, you can expect something similar here.  Those particular fruity tidbits have become a family snacktime favorite around here for 75% of our clan - I don't care about them one way or another, but Sandy, and particularly the kids, can polish off a bag for lunch. In fact, it was those apricots we were looking for when we found the figs and figured to assess them instead.

For taste...yes,  a fig. What we you expecting, a rutabaga? Tastes like a fig. The feel, though? I'm a dried fig aficianado - everytime we go to Costco I need to get me a bag, it lasts me maybe 10 days. I'd say these are much more similar to fresh figs, except I had those recently...too soft, too fleshy, too wiggly, too...I don't even know the word. That was another Costco purchase, and we made our way through the Montana-sized package, but with much less gusto. So I guess these fall fairly squarely in the middle. There's not the tough, chewy, fibrous bite of dried, but not the super soft mouthfeel of fresh. The seeds maintain their crispy qualities as well for a nice textural variant.

Sandy prefers these semi-dried guys straight from the freezer, because she's a little odd, but even when thawed a bit they retain a lot of their middlin' qualities. The kids seem to like them to, maybe not as much as the apricots, but their little chompers have less work to do than with dried, and I couldn't get them (or Sandy) to eat their fair share of fresh. Not a bad purchase for $2.99, we bought two bags and will happily finish them and likely go back for more.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Semi Dried Green Figs: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, September 2, 2016

Trader Joe's Blended Scotch Whisky

There's no such thing as vacation with small kids. It's just taking the show on the road.

I'm not sure where (if anywhere) I got that from, but those were the words I uttered a little over a week ago when my younger, kidfree boss wished me and the family a happy vacation. And that's pretty much how our extended weekend trip to Chicago went - four full days of family fun, sure, but all sorts of little kid hijinks, some with bodily fluids and byproducts involved, frustration, and weak moments. But overall, very good, highlighted by our family's first trip to Wrigley Field, despite the Buccos losing YET AGAIN and us buying tickets for seats that don't exist.*

Coincidentally, when booking a hotel, I didn't aim to find one right around the corner from a Trader Joe's, much less one we had to walk by everytime we hit up the Metro. But as Big Joe have it, there it was. And in an even bteer turn of fate, thank God for the sensible lawmakers of Chicago and Illinois who make buying things like Trader Joe's Blended Scotch Whisky readily available for sale, because man, after a vacation like this, Sandy and I both really needed a drink.

Blended Scotch whisky isn't all too fancy a drink to begin with. I've yet to find one that's silky smooth, sweetly palatable, and not overtly medicinal, like one of their pricier Highland single malt brethren. Such is the case here - harsh, burny, strong, very alcohol-y tasting. Some other quick takes I've read mention noting flavors ranging from apples to gasoline - I can't speak to those specifics, but, well, sure. Even while fully anticipating a strong inital encounter, I had to cough one or twice after the first sip or two. yes, you can clip off the corner of my man card.

I do prefer to drink my hard stuff on the rocks, so I will note there is a significant mellowing out as the ice melts. But there's still a significant residual burn, and perhaps this is now me being officially in my mid-30s...this is strong stuff. 80 proof. I swear I've had just as stiff if not stiffer beverages, but on both occasions I have partaken of this bottle, I feel like I've felt it a little more than I should.

I will mention another plus: it's cheap. Back here in good ol' Pennsylvania, I'm accustomed to paying at least $15 for 750mL's of the cheapie stuff. This? A full, vibrant liter, in all its metric system glory... for only $11.99. Now that's something I can stand behind. I'd pay that for some whisky to sip once or twice a week for sure, even with the tradeoff for not quite topnotch quality.

Sandy took a small sip or two and, surprisingly to me, didn't spit it right out. "Not awful," she said, although she's looking up some good lookin' mixed drink recipes for herself. Me? I'll just keep drinkin' it straight, because it is kinda growing on me a little bit. Not great, not awful, and tough to argue with the price - all for an inexpensive way of getting the job done. That pretty much sums it all up right there.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Blended Scotch Whisky: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
* I bought tickets from an online broker. Section 509, row 9, seats 13 thru 16. We get to Section 509, row 9...there's no seat 13. They stop at seat 12, and the seat next to it is renumberred (112, I think) denoting it is in a different section. I asked fans, seat ushers...there's no seat 13, 14 15, or 16 anywhere. We ended up sitting in a relatively empty row and no one bothered us so it turned out okay. Still...

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Trader Joe's Smoked Salmon Bacon

For the most part, Sonia and I both love salmon, and we both love Trader Joe's. But when unusual salmon products pop up at TJ's, we've found that they're always a bit of a gamble. The WG@TJ's team has seen everything from two kinds of salmon jerky to bagged pasta with salmon to salmon pastramiand that's just scratching the surface. Some of those products got the thumbs up, and some went straight back to TJ's for a no-hassle refund.

Now I love turkey bacon, and I was quite eager to try yet another "meat" turned into bacon, so this seemed like a logical purchase, despite a spotty salmon track record. No, not spotted salmon...I meant...ugh, nevermind.

As far as traditional bacon lovers go, they're probably not gonna love this. Most "normal" bacon fanatics tolerate turkey bacon, at best. And this is yet a step further from pork bacon.

But on the plus side, it's not revolting. At least we didn't think so. This might be a pescatarian's dream come true.

This bacon has a peculiar texture, both crispy and slightly chewy. Sonia thought it seemed like a synthetic mouthfeel—almost like a plastic intended for eating. The cooking instructions call for heating in a "lightly-oiled" pan, so the grease-factor of the finished product will depend on just how "lightly" you oiled that pan. I may have erred on the side of "moderate" oiling since the fish is significantly leaner than most bacon. If traditional bacon is naturally fatty and greasy, it's far less dependent upon added oils for flavor. I think the couple extra drops of olive oil I added helped the taste and maybe the texture, too. Also, I wouldn't say the product ever "browned" per se like the packaging suggests it might, but rather, it simply turned a darker shade of pink.

The "smoked" flavor in the salmon does approximate that of traditional smoked bacon to some extent. I actually found it quite pleasant. There's not a tremendous amount of fishiness, but I mean, it's salmon, so there is some, particularly at the finish. The product smells like fish, too, but not overwhelmingly so. It's salty and savory and again, in my case, a bit oily.

Sonia said she wanted to try the product raw and treat it like salted, smoked lox and have it with a bagel or something just to see what it was like. To date, neither she nor I have actually been adventurous enough to do this, though.

At five bucks per package, it's not cheap, but then I guess they aren't exactly giving away regular bacon these days, either. Score-wise, I think we'll slap this puppy with double three and a halfs.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

(Projected score for traditional bacon lovers: 0 out of 10)

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