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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Trader Joe's Lemon Elderflower Soda and Rhubarb & Strawberry Soda


I know you can make a pie from it, though I don't think I've ever had one. I know it's celery-esque and looks like a vegetable. 

And that's about it. That's a comprehensive summary of my personal knowledge of rhubarb up to this point. Sure, I Googled it and informed myself a bit more just now, but I never had any idea what it tasted like until I tried this soda.

Elderflower is a similar mystery to me. I assumed it was a type of flower that perhaps grows on the same plant as elderberries..? I'm apparently correct on both of those assumptions, although I'm guessing a good percentage of our readers could elaborate on the elder bush a great deal more than I am able to—and if you care to flaunt your botanical expertise in the comments section, I invite you to do so to your heart's content.

But evaluating something brand new with few preconceived notions can be a good thing.

First thoughts on the rhubarb strawberry soda: VERY unique. Like strawberry, but significantly more tart. Perfect amount of sweetness and carbonation. Just different enough from a run-of-the-mill sweet soda that it's worth a try simply for the novelty of the experience.

And the lemon elderflower offering? Similarly unique, but not to the same degree. Like a Wink, Fresca, or Squirt type soda, but with more true lemon flavor and an unexpected flowery essence. I'd generally prefer the classic citrus sodas over this Trader Joe's beverage. Sonia thinks there's something guava-esque going on here. I don't know if I'd put it like that, but I do agree that there's an odd aftertaste vaguely similar to that of guava. It doesn't taste like guava per se, but it confuses the tongue in a similar manner, if that makes sense.

We both like the rhubarb & strawberry soda slightly more than the lemon elderflower one. I wasn't expecting that going into it, since I tend to enjoy any and all citrus sodas, and products like Strawberry Fanta are palatable, but certainly not the first drink I'd reach for on a regular basis.

Considering the diminutive size of these cans, I think $3.49 is a bit steep. Each 8.4 oz can is just barely enough to quench my thirst at any given moment. I could easily go through all four in a single day. The quality here is very high. Good ingredients. Interesting flavors. Sonia and I would both consider buying the rhubarb & strawberry again for a special occasion. Sonia will go with four and a half stars on the strawberry and an even four for the lemon. I'll go a full star less than that on both.

Trader Joe's Rhubarb & Strawberry Soda: Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Trader Joe's Lemon Elderflower Soda: Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Trader Joe's Tahini, Pepita & Apricot Slaw Kit

This probably doesn't come as any sort of huge surprise or shocker, but...salad, in general, doesn't really excite me.

Most veggies are perfectly fine. I can eat broccoli, Brussel sprouts, squash, etc all day long. At the continued shock of my coworkers, I'll happily eat plain raw spinach at my desk. Aside from beets, off the top of my head, there's not a single vegetable I can think of that I don't like...still, salad leaves me ambivalent at best.

Maybe it's mixing up veggies. Maybe it's my usual distaste for many salad dressings. Or maybe it's just kinda the boring hum-drum that I find most salads to be, especially of the pre-packaged variety.

All that to say, I was kinda excited to try out Trader Joe's Tahini, Pepita & Apricot Slaw Kit. Don't let the name fool you - slaw? Psshhh. It's salad all chopped up in shreds.

I wish I didn't get my hopes up so high.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the slaw kit. But there's nothing overly right, either. It's the same usual base blend of carrots, broccoli stalks, cabbage and kale in roughly equal proportion to one another. That part is good, but formulaic enough now for TJ's kits that it's not exactly meant as a heap of praise either. It's just kinda a given at this point. Fresh, crisp, crunchy, all that excellent stuff...

...but moving on to what should be the exciting stuff, right? The extras and mix-ins! This is where salads make or break it. First up: dried apricot tidbits! Always a fun add...if there were enough to go around. Not this time. We got only a small spoonful which is hard to split up in multiple meaningful portions. A small nice touch, as were the pepitas, for a little crunch and all, but again nothing too remarkable.

And the dressing? Ugh. "Tahini orange" it says. So sesame, with a citrus flair, so it could work, but there's also this vinegar-y presence that kinda muffs it all up. Much like my three year old when choosing between dinosaurs or trucks for her night-night pull-up, it's just so indecisive and kinda frustrating. Like, it should be good, but instead just gets in its own way. Sandy said it kinda tastes like nothing. I disagree - it tastes like something, just I have no idea what it should be. And instead of tying up the whole salad as a nice cohesive dish, it kinda makes the salad a turnoff.

Oh well. It's not a terrible price at $3, and I appreciate the ampersand in the title for what it's worth. They seem to be disappearing from TJ product names, as are the different Joes from around the world. Times are a-changin' I guess. But my general ambivalence towards salads is not. Both Sandy and I give it a pretty middlin' score.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Tahini, Pepita & Apricot Slaw Kit: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Trader Joe's For the Love of Chocolate Mousse Cake

About this same time last year, I waxed poetic about love and marriage, inspired by some heart-shaped cookies from Trader Joe's. It was easy to get inspired both because my wife, Sonia, is pretty awesome, and because those cookies were surprisingly good. I mentioned how I disliked Valentine's Day, and how silly that ubiquitous traditional heart shape is—you know, the one this chocolate mousse cake is in. I'd much rather eat an anatomically-correct heart cake, especially from one of the few stores that might just be quirky enough to carry something that bizarre someday.

In the above-mentioned Raspberry Hearts review, I rambled on about sentimental nonsense and how "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and yadda yadda yadda inspirational what-have-you and "hope is just around the corner" type jazz. And of course the universe seized the opportunity to dish out one of the most challenging and difficult years of our adult lives. 

Well, my friends, I've decided to no longer dispense "wisdom" of any kind and to pout like a toddler until the universe lets up on us for a while. There'll be no "rising above the storm" this year. If things are as difficult this year as they were last year, I'll do nothing but complain and whine and moan like a bratty child, and we'll see if that strategy tricks whoever's in charge up there into giving up the whole "refining them in the fire" business or whatever's been going on lately.

I hope you all understand that I'm mostly just kidding. And of course, our troubles are not unique. I'm well aware of that. I'm frequently reminded of the age-old quote, often attributed to Plato: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Truer words were never spoken.

Ahem, on to the food review. 

There's a pleasant chocolate cake smell that wafts out from the plastic container right when the lid is removed. The presentation is quite nice, and the price is just right for a thoughtful little V-day gift for your significant other—$3.99.

The texture's just a tad stiffer than I would have imagined...and I won't say the cake is "dry" by any means, but it's not particularly moist, either. It tastes like multiple variations of chocolate and chocolate cake layered on one another, and it's pretty sweet, plenty choco-riffic, and would serve as an adequate dessert for the end of an average meal. It reminded us of the Chocolate Mousse Pumpkins we had, which of course are remarkably similar to the Chocolate Mousse Eggs, reviewed on this blog a couple years ago. I think Sandy Shelly said it best when she called them "kinda like a fancy Little Debbie." This product is no different, except it's much larger than a single Little Debbie snack cake.

The overall value and presentation isn't bad, so we won't besmirch it too greatly. A cake isn't a person, but we'll be kind anyway. I promise this won't be the best chocolate mousse or chocolate cake you've ever had, but there's a good chance it won't be the worst, either. Three stars a piece here.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Trader Joe's Baked Churro Bites

Let's have a moment of honesty here, please.

Do you really need me to tell you to go out and get Trader Joe's Baked Churro Bites as a big ol' baggie of snacky nom-noms? Look, it's churros. In a snack sack. No baking. No nothing. Just ready to go, rip open and inhale.

Likewise, did I really need to put on that facade around my wife on our most recent TJ's trip? I did a whole "Well I heard these were good so I think just maybe we should try them if only for the blog. You know, for science...yeah...that's it. Science" bit. Honey, please. There was no way I was not leaving without at least one package of churrolicious snackage, and it's not like I really had to twist my anyone's arm over it, either.

It's churros, AKA one of my favorite co-opted delights from our southern neighbors. Probably one of yours too. And now in highly convenient, prepackaged form, because 'merica. That's how we do it.

And true to fom, these churritos are muy delicioso.

Think of warm, soft, crispy outside/doughy inside churros, coated all over with cinnamon, but translated into big, crunchy, nugget form. That's what we got going on here. Tastewise, they're spot on, with strong notes of brown sugar and carmelization and all out comfort vibe. They're delectable as is, but they're begging to be paired with ice cream or fondue dip or whatever else. There's even a little requisite greasiness - no napkin worthy, but a good lick of the fingertips afterwards is the right idea. So it's pretty slight. Speaking of slight, there is the ittiest-bittiest hint of vanilla in the crispified batter, which adds a real nice, wholesome touch. Me gusta.

The nugget form works too, all things considered. When it comes down to it, I do prefer the soft doughiness of fried churros, but these baked guys get it done. The insides are airy and flakey but pack plenty of crunch, with even a little slight creaminess to it, like a good pastry, almost. The texture reminds me of something but I can't quite put my finger on it...maybe it'll come to me. But the corn flour makes a harder outer shell, with plenty of give inside, while still being sturdy all around. I guess kinda like a giant baked Corn Puff...but better.

So yeah, you don't really need me to tell ya about these! Chances are, if this is even remotely your kinda thing, you're on them already. But hey, we need you, our fans. It's where we get some of our best suggestions. One of our Facebook superfans, Ruthie, recommended warming in the over for a few minutes, which I wouldn't have thought of myself...a great idea! Added crunch and carmelization, though be careful, they do burn quick as I found out. And as something new, there's an already pretty great TJ's fan page on Reddit that you can join - I (Russ) just did to share ideas, tips, and fun. Hope to see you on there - I'm WGaTJ_Russ on there.

Enjoy, amigos.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Baked Churro Bites: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, January 22, 2018

Trader Joe's Coffee Syrup

In May of last year, I was slowly coming down out of a caffeine-induced psychotic break of sorts, desperately trying to regain my grip on reality, all the while dealing with some pretty heavy family and business stuff, weaning myself off bean-based brewed stimulants, and catching precious moments of shut-eye whenever the opportunity presented itself. Sometime during that java-driven haze, I became vaguely aware of this coffee syrup's existence. Neither my body nor my mind could have handled such a product at that juncture, so we steered clear of it last spring. 

By the end of the summer, according to multiple online reports, this product had been discontinued. Part of me was relieved, as the pressure to review such a dangerous substance had been lifted. I didn't want to fall off the wagon so soon and return to my caffeinated coma for many more months. But another part of me pined for the opportunity to taste a product that by many accounts was not only one of the best offerings of Trader Joe's 2017 coffee craziness, but perhaps one of their greatest coffee products of all time.

Well, friends, Trader Joe's Coffee Syrup is BACK, and IT. IS. HEAVENLY. It was prominently displayed on the "new products" shelf at the Wilmington, Delaware store. Nothing but cane sugar, water, and coffee. And that's all it needs.

Yeah, sure, there are other coffee syrups out there...and likely one of them is Trader Joe's third party supplier, though I couldn't tell you which one. And I certainly can't vouch for those other brands, but I can tell you that this stuff is divine.

It pours like a maple or agave syrup, though just slightly thinner. The thinness makes for easy mixing with milk, coffee, or your beverage of choice. It's still thick enough to make an excellent ice cream topping though, and the flavor blends seamlessly with vanilla. I tried a spoonful straight. It's got a strong coffee flavor just by itself, but it's also very sweet. I imagine it's not unlike a spoonful of Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate with equal parts liquid cane sugar mixed in. And yes, if one were so inclined, he could drink this stuff straight out of the bottle, though few would find the intensity pleasant after a sip or two.

I'm not even really a "coffee guy," as I've stated many times on this blog, but I must say this is quite possibly the best-tasting coffee item I've ever sampled in my life. My mochaphile wife was even more impressed. She's not only in love with java, but she appreciates many coffee-flavored treats and desserts as well. Up to this point, her favorite coffee-flavored dessert has been Haagen Dazs coffee ice cream—and she's in awe of this product's ability to approximate the flavor and quality of the Haagen Dazs offering when combined with vanilla ice cream. In this case, we used Humboldt Organic Vanilla, readily available at TJ's in our area.

It's actually awesome on pancakes, in place of traditional maple syrup. We haven't gone there yet, but rumor has it this product mixes well with certain cocktails. Its flavor isn't too far from that of Kahlua, so I'm thinking makeshift White Russians or Mudslides...? The possibilities are endless. Let us know what weird and crazy things you do with the stuff in the comments below...though, um...keep it family friendly, if you know what I mean ;-)

Sonia and I haven't added anything to the Pantheon in nearly a year and a half, so it's high time we bestow that honor once again. Five stars from Sonia. Four and a half from me.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Trader Joe's Zhoug Sauce

"Hooray for flu season!" - No One Ever.

Huzzah, Here it is again, flu season. I'm writing this review on Day 6 of a Tamiflu dosing regimen. Normally I wouldn't go that far, but poor Sandy had a confirmed case last week, and with small kids and their germs and whatever else in the house, I ain't taking my chances. We've been spared much of the worst symptoms, but the congestion and coughs and everything else...ugh. The temps pingponging between the 50s and 60s back down to the negatives surely isn't helping. We're also doing some nice home remedies...chicken soup, honey, hot tea, warm bathes, all that stuff...

And you know what else helps with those? Trader Joe's Zhoug Sauce. Seriously.

I'm not gonna sit here and purport to be any sort of zhoug expert. Heck, I don't even know how to pronounce it - zoog? zog? zawwwg? zowg? - and will admit it's my first go around. But apparently it's a pretty common concoction in Middle East cuisine - the package here says Yemen, some online sources seem to tie zhoug to more Israeli roots. Regardless, if I saw zhoug as a menu option somewhere I'd be reluctant to try it, but this TJ's take has me 100% on board with giving it a further try.

What TJ's zhoug seems most to me like is a cilantro pesto sauce with plenty of kick. That's really the other feel of the sauce - oily, herbaceous, and very, very green. No pine nuts or anything like that, though. It's not as overpoweringly cilantro-y as I thought it'd be, must be some conjuring in there somewhere.

Beware though - it's spicy. And that's an understatement. It's sneaky, though. It might not be on your first bite. And maybe not til your fifth or so. But out of nowhere - BOOM. It will get you. If it's enough to get abrupt notice from me, it's potent as all get out. It hit me on the first shot, with subsequent bites not nearly as powerful. Not sure if it's the jalapenos or chile powder or what - it's not a distinct enough of a heat to attribute the sauce, it's just plain HOT.

But yeah - that was a few hours ago at time at time of writing. And I'd be danged if my sinuses don't feel 100% better. Your mileage may vary.

Sandy and I devoured on crackers as a dip, but I think this would be good on most anything. Our dinner tonight was shrimp and cheese raviolis - that would have worked. Eggs, chicken, other noodle dishes, rice, dips, in a wrap - yes to all of those. It needs to be a little more even to score higher, but as is, both Sandy and I are pretty happy to have dropped the $2 on the tub. Give it a try, it's nothing to sneeze at.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Zhoug Sauce: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Trader Joe's Vegetable Pastry Puffs

For a moment, Sonia and I were thinking that this product came without the funky red tapenade-esque substance you see on top of the pastries, since the packaging plainly states "serving suggestion." The last time we encountered that little trick, there was no sauce included. But these puffs did indeed come crowned with what is apparently "herbes de provence."

Ours didn't puff up quite as much as the ones on the cover art, and they came out significantly more greasy than what we were expecting, but they were still moderately enjoyable nonetheless. The breading was soft and moist, and the topping was like a thick pasta sauce flavored with sun-dried tomatoes and herbs—French herbs, apparently. The squares were quite small, but there's a 5 x 5 grid in the pack, for a total of 25 of them.

Three and a half stars from Sonia. Three from me. $3.99 for the box, imported from France. It's a lackluster appetizer, presentation-wise, but if you've a hankering for some soft dough topped with tangy tomato sauce, this'll hit the spot. Sonia made a video sharing her opinion of the product, and it features the nutrition info and shots of the appetizer itself, as well:

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Oat Cranberry Flax Seed Cookies

Hrmm, let's see. Gluten free. Oats. Cranberries. Gulp...flax seeds.

And in a cookie too? What? Jeez oh man, what kinda healthy hippie treehuggin' BS are we about to get suckered into by Trader Joe's Gluten Free Oat Cranberry Flax Seed Cookies?

Okay, yeah, that's a bit extrreme. But is it okay if I admit I wasn't thrilled about picking up and buying this sixpack of cookies? I mean, I like cookies in almost every way, shape and form...just ask my family around the holidays...but, this? These don't sound like a treat to me. Instead, these cookies, on first pre-sampling impression, seem to be one of those gimmicky "Well if you're gonna eat snacky doodads, make them healthy ones!" products that seem to always suspiciously spring up right around New Years.

For the two, maybe three bucks, I figured worst case we could throw them outside on a snowy day if we didn't like them. You know, for our winged friends. Bird suet. Because that's how they sounded to me...

Jumping Jack Flash, these are a smash, smash, smash.

Seriously. These are awesome. I can think of no other word. Usually when I think "gluten free" I think stiff and cardboardy (or in the case of most anything made with rice flour, damp newspaper-y), but that is so absolutely not the case here. Soft, crumbly, slightly chewy, as if they're almost pulled from the oven, the texture on these cookies is simply unbelievable. From pure mouhtfeel standpoint, these are amongst the tops I've ever laid my teeth too. And that's saying a lot.

The oats make a good earthy base for the batter, perfect for the slight tartness of the cranberries to stand out. I almost wish there was a nut like some almonds just for a little added harvest-esque touch, but the cookies don't suffer much from their absense. To be honest, I didn't notice the flax seeds much one way or another, so I'll take that as an overall positive. Can't let too much hippieness get between you and a good cookie.

I'm impressed, Sandy's impressed. Gonna stock up on these suckers and try to hide from our growing group of kiddos. These are some of the rare store bought cookies that I know I couldn't make better myself. It's been a while since we've crowned something as an inner circle hall of famer, but it seems due now. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls...a perfect score. Now go out and get 'em!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gluten Free Oat Cranberry Flax Seed Cookies: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Trader Joe's Mini Brie en Croute

couple posts ago, we discussed my unsophisticatedness. I'm just not into truffles. Despite my late mother's claims that I'm descended from British nobility, I've never had a taste for "fancy" things. I'm just as happy dining with paper plates and plastic cups as I am using fine china. In fact, I'd prefer the paper and plastic since no care need be taken in handling them. 

Or take caviar, as another example. I'm intrepid enough to have tried it multiple times, but I've never particularly liked it. I wish I liked it, because people who like it are "fancy." I've had it as an hors d'oeuvre with crackers, and I've had it on sushi. As much as I love classic sushi rolls, and even sashimi, I could never fully appreciate caviar. I've got more bourgeois in my marrow than blue blood, it would seem.

And I've given my spiel about brie on this blog before, too. I know, I know. Who doesn't like brie? Well, in general, I don't. But in the case of the Shells with Brie, I found it tolerable, since the brie was merely accompanying a number of other ingredients. So how will this appetizer fare? Let's take a look...

After heating the brie en croute, most of the pieces leaked out a bit of cheese and fused to one another on the baking sheet. No biggie. We salvaged about half of them fully intact, and the others...well, they wouldn't be fit to serve at a fancy shindig, but for Sonia and I just munching on them here and there throughout the day, they were just fine. 

I'm not sure what it is about brie that turns me off normally. I like most common cheeses just fine. I think brie is just a bit more "earthy" than other cheeses, and perhaps a little more intense. And in this case, the breading helped offset the natural flavor of the brie somewhat, which I was thankful for. The breading was soft and flaky, buttery, and pretty darn tasty. There were only certain bites here and there that tasted overly brie-ish. If you paid attention in science class, you'll know that heat can change the chemical properties of a substance, therefore changing the flavor of a toasted or baked food, to a degree. And that is to say, I think I like toasted brie a little better than raw brie.

Sonia thoroughly enjoyed both the puff pastry and the cheese. She liked that the pastry part was "light and airy," and she's always been a fan of brie. Her first instinct was to slather the apps with jelly. She grabbed some Welch's grape from the fridge and went at it. My initial reaction was to grimace at such a combo, but I must admit, it's not that bad. We both think it would go much better with a strawberry or raspberry flavored jelly or sauce, though. It might sound kinda random, but I'd also like to try them with that lingonberry jam from Ikea. At this point I should point out that the cup of sauce on the cover art is merely a "serving suggestion," and that this product does NOT come with a dipping sauce.

$4.99 for 10 pieces. Sonia's score probably would have been higher if it were slightly more affordable—four stars as it stands. I'll throw out three and a half. Not bad considering I don't like brie.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Trader Joe's Shrimp & Salmon Trio

I wish I had an exciting story to share about these happy appetizers. I wish I could tell you we served these at some happening party, perhaps at a recent New Year's bash, sharing them with lots of beautiful people and getting tons of compliments for serving them. 

No, sadly. That's not the case. I ate these for breakfast yesterday morning. 

I'll explain.

You know it's been cold here. Today will see the first temps above freezing since Christmas, two weeks ago. That's pretty rare for South Jersey. So we haven't been going out very much. We've been hibernating and refraining from our usual grocery store runs. As I stumbled out of bed yesterday, braving not only the nip in the air, but also the Monday morning blues, I realized we were not only out of cereal, but also the fun little danishes I've been munching on for the past few days. So I proceeded to open up the freezer, and I dug into our "For Review on a Rainy (or frigid) Day Stash." I set the oven to 400° and minutes later I was eating shrimp and salmon for my morning meal.

And I don't regret it one bit. I mean, my waistline might. Those sat fat stats are definitely not all that. But I did force Sonia to eat some, too. She was going to do some boring thing like have toast and coffee for breakfast, but I insisted that she eat some of these yummy apps with me, both to get a second opinion on the food and to make me feel like less of a freak. Here are our findings:

The shrimp toasts are my favorite. They're nice and crispy, full of good shrimp flavor, and they pair quite well with the dipping sauce included in the package. There's just the right amount of breading and shrimp, and you'll find copious quantities of sesame seeds on top for both a nutty flavor and even more crunchiness. Ours were a mite bit greasy. 

The shrimp "parcels" are Sonia's favorite. They're like little shrimp-filled egg rolls. They've got mushroom, carrot bits, and little funky noodley things. Their wrappers came out crisp and delicious, and their filling piping hot. We learned fast to break them open and blow on them before shoveling them straight into our mouths.

The salmon pinwheels were least favorite for both Sonia and I, but for slightly different reasons. Sonia wanted more salmon and less breading. I think the ratio of crust to fish was just fine. I liked them slightly less than the others because they didn't work as well with the dipping sauce (salmon with sweet chili sauce?) and because the salmon was just a wee bit "fishy" tasting to me. It wasn't awful. It certainly wasn't the worst salmon we've had from TJ's. Click here and here for entertaining Trader Joe's salmon horror stories.

Finally, the sauce. This is the first time I can ever remember having sauce left over after finishing a TJ's product—not because it was bad, but because they actually provide more than enough of the stuff with these appetizers. I guess it didn't hurt that we used very little of it on the salmon puffs, but still. I used copious quantities on both types of shrimp snacks, and there was a good bit left over. It's sweet, it's sour. In fact, I might have assumed it was "sweet and sour sauce" if the package hadn't indicated that it was, in fact, "sweet chili sauce." There is a hint of heat, but I'll always be pining for more with sauces like this one.

All in all, it was a tasty breakfast. And you "normal" folks who eat it as an appetizer will probably like it, too. 12 pieces for $3.99. We're going with solid double fours here.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Trader Joe's Raw Shrimp

"What's for dinner?"

I hate that question.

I hate asking it. I hate it being asked. I hate thinking about it. I hate planning for it. I hate pretty much anything that has to do with it...and so does Sandy. To my continual amazement, she manages to have a warm, ready dinner when I come in the door from work at least 80% of the time during the week. I don't know what kind of modern wizardry that is, but she pulls it off time and time again. Amazing.

But to get to that  point, it's menu planning...and grocery list making...and all that other stuff...which Sandy rightfully asks for my help with. Drives both of us crazy. So, on a certain level, it was kinda nice (and vaguely romantic, if only for the sparing of the few braincells our growing family has left us) that I bought her a menu planning subscription for a whole year for Christmas. Granted, it's not exactly an Apple Watch or a trip to a love shack with a heart-shaped tub nestled somewhere in the Poconos, but it was with slightly more thought than, say, a new vacuum cleaner.

So, of course, with menu planning and grocery lists being made for us, it was off to TJ's for our weekly treak. On the menu: Shrimp chowder. Never would have thought of that ourselves. Awesome. Let's do it, and do it with some Trader Joe's Raw Shrimp.

Hey, life can't be all cookie butter and Stroopwafels.

With numerous shrimp-based TJ's products we've reviewed, I've noted the overall quality of the crustaceanic tidbits. More times than not, the shrimp is firm, fleshy, not overly salty or gritty or mushy or anything that'd be a turn off. It's much the same here. Of course, there's nothing that meets the overall freshness and quality of fresh caught seafood, and it's not gonna happen with a bagfull from the frozen section of your grocery aisle. But too many times, at other grocery chains, I've been so let down by the quality of shrimp that despite it being my favorite seafood by far, I'd stopped buying it.

Only comment is, wish the shrimp came already de-tailed. Not detailed, like a fresh buffer and wax job...but de-tailed, as in, no tail. One less step to take for a family trying to eat heathily but needs quick and easy dinner prep too.

For shrimp as reasonably good - big, meaty, and mild - at the reasonable price of $6 or $7 for the pound (misplaced receipt...again), this will be a repeat purchase for sure. Even if it took our five year old nearly an hour to eat one small bowl of chowder. She did mention she liked the shrimp, just not all the "onions" (actually leeks) that were in there too. Hopefully we'll find more than just mac 'n cheese for family faves...we're in fact planning on it. Good shrimp, and it'll great to have on hand as a new family staple.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Raw Shrimp: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Trader Joe's Organic White Truffle Potato Chips

Certain yummy things come from the ground. Potatoes, for example. 

I'd add chickpeas, lentils, and beans to that list, among other things. I can go either way on things like radishes, beets, and jicama. But in my book, once something has been in the dirt for a long enough time, it necessarily falls under the category of "things to burn," rather than "things to eat." Case in point: oil, coal, propane, natural gas—all of which are proving useful as sources of heat during this gnarly polar vortex we've got going over most of the country. You burn them. Nobody in his right mind tries to eat them.

I'd like to add truffles to that list. Fungi that have been in the dirt for 5-8 years have long since graduated from the "you should eat this" league, and are now well on their way to becoming fossil fuels for future generations to incinerate. Let's just go ahead and leave them in the ground for now.

Because they taste like dirt. They're bitter, chalky, and...I mean, some might use the term "earthy," but I think that word is simply too kind for this "gourmet" subterranean fungus.

Just the smell from the bag was too much for me. I'm not really even sure why. "Organic white truffle" is very low on the ingredients list, but there's nothing else on there that I dislike at all. Tapioca maltodextrin might be a little odd for potato chips, but I'm down with tapioca stuff. I like oil. I like salt. I like potatoes. The look, feel, and texture of the chips was just fine. If you lacked olfactory and gustatory senses, you'd never be able to differentiate these chips from run-of-the-mill salted potato chips. But for me, that truffley taste just overpowered everything else, and I could scarcely stomach two of the chips. 

I'd also like to point out that I'm in the minority here, apparently. The lovely Sonia enjoyed these soil-flavored chips, oddly enough. And our western PA blogging counterparts appreciated the Truffle Mac and Cheese exactly one year ago this week. I guess you can chalk it up to my lifelong aversion to fungi. I don't even really like mushrooms.

I, for one, hope to never eat another truffle-containing product for as long as I live. You can call me unsophisticated, but you can't call me unadventurous. Sonia and I consumed and enjoyed both alligator meat and python meat for the first time this New Year's Eve at a fancy hot dog place in Philly. Even those guys serve potato chips sans truffles. They know what's up.

I give these chips one and a half stars. I would have gone with zero, but their texture and appearance was just fine. It's the flavor I can't handle. Sonia will go with four. She thinks the flavor is "interesting," and she likes that the chips aren't as oily as other varieties.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Trader Joe's Organic Coconut Sesame Seed Clusters

First things first - Happy New Year everyone! Here's to hoping 2018 will be better than 2017, but not as good as 2019 will be, starting now. Or, if you're a Time Lord and into that wibbly-wobbly line of thinking, 2018 can start being better whenever it pleases.

Eight years of writing this blog, and that is only my second Dr. Who reference I can think of, and a weak one at that. Note to self: more Dr Who references this year. That would require Sandy and I to finally get caught up on episodes. That'd be great, especially to help fill the time until Stranger Things comes back So many cliffhangers there...won't say anything in case anyone's not caught up somehow, but man, Joyce's fridge...the heck?

Whether your New Year's resolution is to wach more Netflix or do that getting healthier thing (or both! I need to rid me of some adipose, personally), you need a snack. May as well give Trader Joe's Organic Coconut Sesame Seeds Clusters a try.

These clusters are definitely unique. I keep wanting to call them crackers, because that's what they feel and taste like - wafer-y, thin, airy, crispy crackers. In a way, similiar to a couple layers of filo dough baking together. Except, it's not flour and eggs and whatnot - it's just coconut. I've had dried coconut before, but none was think this - maybe I'm sheltered or naive, but for me at least it's a first. The clusters are irresistably crispy, and as a cool bonus, after a few chomps it's almost as if a little coconut oil gets extruded. That may not be accurate, but there's certainly an added coconutty presence that seems to ooze out. May sound weird, but nah - and it's delicious.

Black and white sesame seeds add a small textural varient and kinda help turn the nature of this snack into a more savory-type deal. Kinda odd bedfellows, sesame seeds and coconut, but it works. There's also apparently some Himalayan salt added, but honestly I don't detect any of it, so it's probably fairly negligible.

Eat them straight, put on a salad, put on some ice cream, but don't do salad and ice cream at the same time. That wouldn't work. These crispers are light and snacky enough that both Sandy and I could the whole bag, which probably isn't advisable even if it's coconut. At about $2 for the bag, these are repeat buy worthy for sure. We'll be on them for sure.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Coconut Sesame Seed Clusters: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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