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Friday, April 28, 2017

Trader Joe's Chocolate Sunflower Seed Drops

"Better than peanut M&M's," says Sonia.

I won't argue with that assessment.

The sunflower seeds provide a decidedly nutty flavor, and there's just the right amount of, of course, a colorful candy shell on each drop. They're crunchy, addictive, and fun to play with. Makes you wonder why none of the big mainstream candy companies have offered chocolate-covered sunflower seeds yet...

We were inspired to make another short video. Please enjoy our crude attempt at stop motion animation.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Trader Joe's Shaved Cheese Blend

Cheese is an absolute currency in our household. It's an easy bribe for the kiddos, and if I give them even the teensiest nibble of cheese to one of them, without them asking, their excitement rivals what mine would be if you handed me a crisp $100 bill. Pretty please with a piece of cheese....yes, that's a thing here. Just another part of the fun of having a couple kids in the 4-and-under crowd.

But man...I love cheese too. Even when I was doing hardcore paleo a few years back, it wasn't chocolate or bread or anything else I really missed. It was cheese. Good cheese of course. Don't insult me with a block of Velveeta.

Trader Joe's Shaved Cheese Blend makes the cut as good cheese, in both mine and my kiddos' eyes. It's a simple yet sophisticated mix of toscano, "unexpected" cheddar, and Parmesan. Unexpected cheddar? If the tub tells me it's in there, I kinda expect it to be....unexpected cheddar is something that as far as I can tell exists solely in the world of TJ's and is a blend of cheddar and Parmesan. So think of the whole shebang as toscano, cheddar, and a double shot of Parm.

It's sweet. It's nutty. It's sharp and dry with a small touch of creamy. There's not an overabundance of saltiness or anything, and is decidedly not all that mild. But in all, it's a very smooth, even flavor, with the small crumbles being just as scrumptious as the big flakes. It melts pretty decently as well, though it seems perhaps a touch of flavor gets lost in that process. Regardless, deeeelish.

Most mornings, I'll toss some of the shaved cheese in some eggs with kale for a filling get-up-and-goer. I'll also admit to having a few pinches here and there, and to giving my two year a spoon to eat the last few crumbs straight. She was in heaven. Aside from that, I can't imagine the blend not working with almost anything. Salads. Pasta. Mixed into homemade bread and melted on top. Mac and cheese. Chicken dishes. Mixed into burgers. All that awesome stuff. Yes.

Sandy more shrugs about it, preferring the world of feta a bit more for all those aforementioned uses. No problem here, just her preference, and it pays off as it means more for me. As long as I can pry it away from the kids. It's a major winner, and at $2.99 for a 5 ounce tub, a pretty decent value.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Shaved Cheese Blend: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, April 24, 2017

Trader Joe's Vietnamese Coffee Caramels

So at this point, you must think I'm pretty daft to keep reviewing coffee items. Sure. Well, I'm not denying the fact that I'm a fool, but there's a little bit more to it than that, since I'm quite aware that most of you, like us, are sick of coffee-flavored things at Trader Joe's and have already made up your minds about most of these coffee products anyway. 

But as some of you may know, as of late, Sonia and I have been nomadic. And as we pass by Trader Joe's locations, we just buy up as many hot new items as we can at the time and try to make them last for a few weeks. During our last TJ's run, the vast majority of new products we saw were coffee-flavored. But I must point out at this juncture that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I believe (don't quote me on this) that this will be our last coffee item review for a while. So don't touch that dial, coffee-haters.

And now that we've gotten that silly disclaimer out of the way, we can go ahead and review these Vietnamese caramels. What makes them Vietnamese, I'm still not quite sure. And there's no uplifting spiel on the side of the tub to enlighten us any further, I'm afraid. I did a little Googling into the matter, as I'm known to do from time to time, and I did find out something about "nuoc mao," which is apparently a nearly-burnt caramel sugar sauce—a cornerstone of Vietnamese cooking. But as far as I can tell, there's nothing nuoc mao-ish about these candies. 

However, the image on the front of TJ's tub did provide a clue about the Vietnamese inspiration for these candies. Apparently, it's a Vietnamese coffee press, used in making Vietnamese iced coffee, which strikes me as being akin to one of my favorites: Thai iced tea. But anyway, I think Vietnamese iced coffee is what they were going for here.

It's a sugary, milky coffee flavor that's well-balanced and works perfectly as an after dinner sweet treat. It leaves a faint coffee aftertaste in the mouth. The texture is very similar to saltwater taffy—not quite as "stretchy," but just as soft and pliable. Both these caramels and saltwater taffy contain sugar, water, butter, and salt, so even the flavor is similar. There's no ground coffee here, which is good. Real coffee might have ruined this product's smoothness. We do have "natural coffee flavor," though, which seems to work just as well.

Neither coffee nor caramels are really my thing, but I found this product to be a pleasant surprise. So did Sonia. Three and a half stars from me. Four from her.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Trader Joe's Matcha White Chocolate Bar

The topic of "punishment meals" have been brought up before on this blog. The short version: days that us kids were being brats, my mom would make us a dinner we'd be sure to hate just to get back at us. usually it was tuna fish casserole. Blecccccccch.

Well, a punishment meal can have a punishment dessert, right?

Unfortunately, that pretty much exactly sums up how both Sandy and I feel about Trader Joe's Matcha White Chocolate Bar with Matcha Green Tea Filling. Sounded intriguing enough to plunk down $1.99. I really wish we hadn't.

First off, look at our product shot inside the wrapper. There's so much wrong with that picture. First off, it looks like that bar got runover by a dump truck. I get that shipping and transit is what it is, and stuff happens, but seriously? That's a bit much. Then the colors...ugh. Maybe I'm jsut much too basic, but chocolate is not supposed to be that color. It doesn't even look appetizing. Then there's that filling, oozing out everywhere, looking like little puddles of melted green Army guys. Appeal factor definitely went down a few notches there.

A lot of that can be forgiven if tasted No. No. Look, kudos for effort, I guess, but swing a miss here. The chocolate portion is actually decent enough, decidedly on the sweeter side, with a hint or two of green tea mixed in. Or maybe that's its that greenness playing tricks on me. Regardless, it's not the problem. It's the filling. Very strong green tea flavor. Very herbaceous. You could have told me it was spinach jelly and I would have believed you. And it alternately doesn't jive that well with the rest of the chocolate casing while also in conjunction with that chocolate tasting like way too much green tea.

Dark chocolate with the green tea filling might have worked. Green tea white chocolate with a regular chocolate filling would have worked. Or heck, even like a berry filling of some type with that green cocoa concoction. But as is? Too much...and I like green tea. So does Sandy.

Check here for the nutritional stats and ingredients...we neglected to get a pic before trashing the box. "Good," Sandy said. "It's awful and no one should eat it anyways." She's going with a 1 for the inspiration, but, man, that execution...ugh. I gave it a second try right before writing it and really could not think of anything all that positive to say. Candy so bad it gets thrown out in my house? Must be pretty awful.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Matcha White Chocolate Bar: 2 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Trader Joe's Vienna Coffee Meringues

These things are cavities just waiting to happen. 

There's something chalky about the texture that makes biting into these meringues like the dental equivalent of nails on a chalkboard for me. Due to their brittleness, many of the cookies were broken before we even opened the tub. They generally disintegrate into a chunky tan powder upon first bite, and they leave behind a tacky residue on fingers and lips. 

The parts of the meringues that do make it into your mouth are somewhat crunchy, but since they consist of mostly sugar and egg whites, they have a melt-in-your-mouth quality that's fairly pleasant. Their flavor is that of a sugar-sweetened sweetness with a bit more candied sugary sugar on top. There's a hint of coffee in there somewhere, too. And normally, I think we'd want the coffee flavor to come through a tad more, except that we're a bit coffee'd out right now.

We're well aware of Trader Joe's Vanilla Meringue Cookies, the predecessor to this coffee variety—one product that's been in that "After Heating Up These Dinners You'll Need To Gorge Yourself On Lots Of Candy And Cookies" aisle for years, and yet somehow has eluded our sights on this blog. A reader mentioned that these are very much like those, except for the faint coffee flavor, of course.

Sonia appreciates their visual appeal more than their flavor or texture. She says, "They're pretty, but they're not very tasty." She also likes the label on the packaging. How very graphic designery of her.

For that reason, they would be nice for a party or something like that where a bunch of people would just have one or two and then move along to graze on another snack. I can't see these being gobbled down by the dozen by very many people, but usually when I make claims like that, I turn out to be wrong. So who knows? These weren't Sonia's favorite, and they're definitely not mine, but if you want to sing their praises in the comments below, be our guest.

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

Bottom line: 4.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Trader Joe's Southwestern Chopped Salad

It wasn't until sitting down right now to type this review that I realized that the little "look in window" on the salad bag was shaped like a cowboy boot.

Cowboys. Eating salad. Mmmmkay. Not exactly what comes to mind.

But I guess if cowboys can eat chunky salsa and even chunkier chocolate bars, well, there may be room for salad. After all, they may have a soft spot for veggie burgers, of all things.

On to the salad. It's a darn good one. With one major caveat: You gotta like cilantro - a lot. Because that's really what every single bite tasted like - sharp, biting cilantro, accentuated even a bit further by green onion. I happen to enjoy cilantro to a moderate degree, and I was beginning to get close to a breaking point. Really, a fleshy, sweet addition - think grape tomato or even roasted corn - would have helped keep it all in check.

But everything else is pretty spot on. Good, crisp greens. Mild cotija cheese. The little baggie of mix-in tortilla strips and pumpkin seeds (I hate the word pepitas, call them what they are) added good texture and crunch with a little saltiness in there. And of course, the dressing. I'm not a huge salad dressing guy, Sandy's not all that into avocados, but we both loved it. There's a slight heat to it, so it's a bit like a soupier medium guacamole, which works really well with the rest of the salad components.

If only so much of the sald weren't drowned out by those ubiquitous cilantro sprigs.

We ate our salad with some grilled chicken strips, which made a pretty fulfilling meal. Some beef or grilled steak strips would another great addition, or even some tofu or black beans for a little protein. Would also recommend tomatoes and/or corn depending on your tastes. So it's not quite a "complete salad" kit in my estimation, but it'll get you most of the way there with a little room for customization to boot. Not bad for $3.99.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Southwestern Chopped Salad: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Trader Joe's Coffee Toffee Shortbread Cookies

There's something very Girl Scout-esque about these cookies. At least part of it is the box and packaging—a long rectangular cuboid with a cellophane sleeve and plastic carton thing. And although I've never tried them, I know the Girl Scouts offered a toffee shortbread cookie not long ago called "Toffee-tastic." By some miracles of science and Girl Scout magic, those were rice-based and gluten free. Here's one entertaining look at them in case you're eager to learn more like I was.

This Trader Joe's selection is wheat-based, glutenful, chocolatey, and vaguely coffee-ish. If I use my imagination, I can detect some toffee candy sweetness, too. But mostly, I'd say it's a dark chocolate and shortbread kind of vibe here.

They're crispy and crumbly, and the chocolate coating and drizzle acts as a waxy covering to these otherwise grainy morsels. The texture isn't entirely unpleasant, but the chocolate coating insulates these cookies a little too well from the sometimes-welcome wetness that stems from a brief dip in your hot beverage of choice. In other words, these don't make great dunkables in my opinion, because they're simply too "weather-proof," for lack of a better term.

The flavor isn't bad, but it's not particularly memorable, either—especially after a month or so of gorging myself on boatloads of coffee and mocha flavored products for the sake of this daring TJ's blog. I should probably break up this java jones nonsense with bread that isn't coffee-flavored once in a while.

But at any rate, I'm not alone. Sonia was underwhelmed as well. She doesn't even think the shortbread is very tasty. We're not hatin'. We're just not going to buy these cookies again, because there's nothing that we really want to hang on to here. If they had slurped up our hot coffee the way those Joe-Joe's did, these cookies might have been well-worth their $2.99 price tag—which really isn't unreasonable if these are your thing. We're just gonna bet that for most people...this isn't gonna be your least not in any meaningful way.

Three stars a piece.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Trader Joe's California Style Sprouted Wheat Bread

Happy Pesach!

Yes, yes...there is a certain irony to starting a review about bread, presumably leavened, with Passover greetings. I mean no disrespect. Originally, I had in mind to review chocolate coconut macaroons until at the last minute I realized I had already reviewed them two years ago. Those are Kosher for Passover, and having been more exposed to Jewish tradition and cuisine over the past two years through my daughters' preschool, I have a little more respect for them...not like they could beat homemade from Bubbi or Zaida but they're better than I gave them credit for previously.

That and Nathan snagged the other review item I had in mind this week already, so by default, here's Trader Joe's California Style Sprouted Wheat Bread.

At least I can make a tenuous tie to JudeoChristian sensibilities with this loaf of bread by saying it's similar to Food for Life's Ezekiel 4:9 bread. At least, that's like, the common healthy bread standard, right? Except for the fact it tastes like a cross between bird suet and 40 grit sandpaper, but man oh man, is it healthy.

TJ's take is better. Much better, in my opinion. It's softer, for one, with a still grainy texture not unlike most multigrain breads. Which is pretty awesome, for everything that got stuck in there: wheat, barley, millet, oats, soybeans, lentils, corn. I mean, that sounds like a mouthful, and it is, but it's really a pleasant texture, especially when toasted with a little butter melted on it. If you're used to just plain old white bread, it might be a rough adjustment, but if that's your thing, you'd never pick this up anyways. There's a slight fibery chewiness, with a little crispiness mixed in from presumably the millet bits. It's like it actually has to be chewed a bit, which is fantastic to me. I'm a white bread convert from my youth.

As for taste, I have no real complaints either. It's wheaty and grainy with a lot of nutty and earthy in there too. Between that and the aforementioned mouthfeel, there's nothing for me to really bristle at.

Couple extra benefits: It's filling. Quite filling. A piece or two of the sprouted wheat bread toasted and buttered, with a couple eggs with kale, and man, I'm stuffed til lunch. And, well, my digestive system seems happier too. I'll leave it at that.

Sandy has no real complaints either, and in fact I'm pretty sure this will become a regular staple in our house, especially at it's fairly reasonable price point of maybe $4. That Ezekiel bread? More pricey. We're both huge fans, with no real suggestions for improvement, and hope this is one deal you won't pass over.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's California Style Sprouted White Bread: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Trader Joe's Mocha Crunch Cremes

Leading up to these mocha-fied treats, six out of our last seven posts contained the word "coffee." I'm not sure if the Trader Joe's packaging people just got tired of typing the word "coffee" (I think all of us at WG@TJ's have), but they certainly could have slipped it into the title of this product if they had wanted to since there are actual ground coffee beans within each candy—in fact, most, if not all, of these coffee-laden commodities we've been looking at recently have contained actual ground coffee beans. 

Another fun fact: eleven of our last thirteen posts have been coffee or mocha-themed. So we're getting to be old pros at analyzing, assessing, and taste-testing coffee-infused snacks and desserts. I can bust out a three or four paragraph review after just a single bite of a Trader Joe's coffee product, because A) the caffeine makes my brain speedier, and B) I'm good at pulling useless fun facts out of my backside to use as filler. (See: this post up to this point).

But without further ado, I promise to start talking about these crunch cremes. Ready? Here we go. To the melody of the Tiny Toon Adventures theme:

They're crunchy, they're creamy, they're just a little dreamy.
They're not like sashimi, but they're totally gourmet.

That's all I got. If you want a complete review that's written as song lyrics or poetry, we've got a few of those. Try the Five Cheese FrustaPanettone Classico, or Nduja Spread. Word.

As for this review, you'll have to settle for my substandard prose.

The crunch cremes are appropriately both crunchy and creamy, with an emphasis on the cream side of the equation. The crunch is understated, for sure. It comes from the coffee beans which are most definitely already ground. There are no actual beans or even partial beans—just tiny granules of the aforementioned ground up substance. Flavor-wise, they're a pleasant mix of chocolate and coffee, with hints of caramel, vanilla, and coconut. The whole thing melts in the mouth easily, leaving just a few bits of ground coffee on the tongue. The texture is complex and hard to describe, flaunting everything from silkiness to grittiness, yet still somehow providing a cohesive snacking experience.

Sonia wishes there were more coffee in them. She thinks they taste too much like plain chocolate. I'm fine with the amount of coffee here, but maybe that's because I don't like coffee as much as she does. Three and a half stars from her. Four from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Trader Joe's Kona Coffee Cookie Mocha Swirl Ice Cream

Somehow, some day, this whole TJ's coffee deal will blow over.

I'm weary of it. So are you, I bet. it's okay, we're in this together...I mean, nobody wants to end up like poor old Nathan anyways. If you haven't seen, you must. I haven't seen him so wired since the one time he shotgunned six Red Bulls before busting out the out the most energetic, rousing rendition of "It's The End of the World As We Know It." Ah, college days.

But as (hopefully) close to the end of the coffee era as we are, we can't let it pass without trying Trader Joe's Kona Coffee Cookie Mocha Swirl Ice Cream. C'mon, that sounds awesome, gotta try it. the only question is, will this join one of all time TJ's ice cream greats, or be a massive disappointment?

As is the usual, the truth is somewhere in between, but decidedly much towards the optimal end of the spectrum. Twist off the lid and there it is - tannish brown coffee ice cream base, with dark swirls of mocha fudge. The cookie portion isn't all that visually apparent, but is more than abundant in nearly every spoonful in a soft, crumbly way that's somehow deeply embedded into the cream. The kona mocha ice cream hits almost every important taste touchpoint - rich, creamy, with good strong coffee depth more than tempered by sugary goodness, and that mocha fudge - oh my - great touch.

But...I'm on the fence. Somewhat. As much as I enjoy the ice cream, I can't help but think of maybe two little tweaks, and if it'd make it better or not. First: maybe, just maybe, either a vanilla or sweet cream base would be better instead of coffee ice cream. As is, it's tough to tell if the kona tastiness is derived mainly from the ice cream or the cookies mixed in. I kinda want the cookies to stand out a bit more. That brings me to the second point: the cookie texture. As a shortbread cookie, it's not much surprise about their softness and crumbliness, but something firmer, with a little more snap, perhaps. Just a little more rigid, you know?

Eh well. Really darn good ice cream as is, shouldn't quibble too much. Sandy was happy enough with it to forego her customary Halo Top for a night or two. She added that she'd really like to see this sold by the the pint and not just quart - as a non-kid friendly bucket, this will last us a while. That's enough to knock it down to a four for her? Me? That four sounds just about right. Hopefully this is giving the whole coffee craze its just desserts.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Kona Coffee Mocha Swirl Ice Cream: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Trader Joe's Coffee Glazed Almonds

Like their nutty cashew cousins, these almonds are covered in coffee...and sugar. They're more candied than coffee'd, but that's just fine by me. There's enough ground roasted espresso coffee matter present to taste distinctly like coffee, yet they're palatable to someone who's not really into the flavor of black coffee. The taste is more like a nutty cuppa with four or five sugar packets dumped in.

And of course, they still taste like almonds. If you hate almonds, you're not gonna like these. If you love almonds, it's not a given, but there's a darn good chance these will make it on your grocery list more than once. Even someone with a sweet tooth like me can appreciate that the sweetness is balanced out by the rich, earthy coffee essence. Sometimes traditional candied nuts can be...well, a bit too candied. The flavor of these nuts is significantly more balanced.

And since you don't get "sweeted-out" immediately, the addiction-factor rises. The natural goodness of almonds combined with the caffeination of espresso can make these crunchy morsels a potent afternoon pick-me-up snack, so long as you have the willpower to stop after a handful or two. Eating and drinking too much coffee can result physiological and psychological ailments, as we've all witnessed recently.

Sonia raved about these almonds. She used to snack on almonds all the time, and her beverage of choice was! So these are right up her alley. She enjoys the convenience of having the two flavors combined and appreciates the subtle balance of sweetness and savoriness. At $3.69 for the bag, they're significantly cheaper than the cashews and a decent price for a bag of plain almonds of comparable size.

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

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Trader Joe's Coffeepalooza


Normally, we take the weekends off here at What's Good at Trader Joe's....but not today. We can't. Not when we have breaking news like, it's not Dog Food for People or oddly sourced cookie butter treats that somehow never came to Trader Joe's shelves. This time it's real.

You know all those coffee products at TJ's recently? Kinda fun, right? I mean, as long as you can stomach the idea of a coffee-flavored sausage, I guess (strangely, it works). Apparently, this is just the first wave. The beginning. The dawn of new  at Trader Joe's. It's going to be the Espresso Era. The Mocha Epoch-a. The Americano Age. The Period of Percolation aka the Dawn of the Drip. 

Namely, everything (and we do mean everything) at Trader Joe's is going to be coffee-fied. And there's nothing we can do about it.

How did we find out? With the aid of an internal informant, we have knowledge of a memo from Big Joe. In it, it's detailed that, much like how Big Joe corners the market on cheap California wine to sell as two-buck Chuck, he decided to branch out to a new venue: Arabica beans.

And they're going to be in everything. Literally. Everything. Soon, you will not be able to go Trader Joe's and not buy a product not laced with roasted, caffeinated, high energy Arabica beans. Not just in your coffee. Not just as a gimmicky flavor trend for a few months. In literally everything...forever.

This will bring coffee to a place it's never been before. Just imagine your favorite Trader Joe's products....but all coffeefied. Man, coffeefied is a fun word....COFFEEFIED. Woo! Sorry, had to get that out. But we're talking...Coffee Cookie Butter. Crunchy Coffee Cookie Butter. Coffee cheddar cheese...oh wait, that exists already. Coffee chips. More coffee chocolate bars...

But no, even more! Coffee where coffee has never been! We're talking...Orange Arabica Chicken! Coffee Crusted Brussel Sprouts! Coffee tortillas! Asian Stir Fry - where the beans are coffee beans! Kona crusted salmon jerky! Coffuu toffee...I mean coffee tofu, I know what I mean! Mocha mac and cheese! Coffee garlic barbecue rub - oh wait, that exists already. Coffee coffee coffee everything....even coffee two buck Chuck! That'll be probably popular amongst today's kids.

Coming soon for'll be mango coffee twists on everything. In the fall, pumpkin spice latte everything! C'mon now, who wouldn't that as a marinated pork product? In the winter, holiday spice!  Sprinkled in here and there and everywhere will be all different coffees and roasts and sources...but all coffee, all the time.

We're getting all jittery here in anticpation, Narthan and preparation for this I've ingested nothing without coffee for about the past 48 hours so pleas excuse any typocs cuz right now i can barely keep my fingaers stedy ima doing what i can Please do not judge. this is what i get for for dmpign coffee ont op of my spaghetti and going all at it Elf style at dinner tonight. it's okay my kids loved it too. Dont judge they do not sleep evar anyways. We will all cope.

But everything, coming to a TJ's near you soon. You cannot escape nor will you be able to survive the withdrawal.

To get you even more primed here's a video from Nathan and Sonia, giving you a glimpse into all our futures:

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