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Friday, April 27, 2018

Trader Joe's Cauliflower Gnocchi

Cauilflower...what can't it do?

Well, plenty, I suppose. Top of the list no-can-dos have to include facilitating world peace and being an adequate bacon substitute. But really, here's yet another product predominantly and scientifically featuring  Brassica oleracea var. botrytis...Trader Joe's Caulifower Gnocchi.

Cauliflower was a definite punishment veggie growing up. You know what I mean: the kind you were made to eat for dinner after a day full of misbehavin'. Gnow this is the kid of stuff we gnaturally reach for. Odd.

Anyways, we sauteed our gnocchi per the recommended prep directions. As is our usual, we gneglected to take an actual picture of the finished product - tsktsk, I know - but let me assure you: it looked GNOTHING like the package picture. Look at that gnocchi, with it's fine tan lines and gnice browning. Gnope. Our was pale and limp and and kinda soggy. That may have been our fault, a little, but we did the best we could. Sandy said somewhere on the interwebs there were some folks who suggested alternate methods to achieve that gnice gnocchi as advertised, but we didn't get there with what TJ's was telling us to do.

The rest kinda tasted as it looked. Soft, doughy, not really all that firm, slightly gnuanced with maybe a slight garlic flavor (coulda been our EVOO there, gnot sure what Sandy used), with a definite cauliflower taste. Gnot bad, and okay, but the rest of the fam kicked it up a gnotch with some marinara and cheese, which is common enough for gnocchi consumption I suppose.

Of course, it's gnot just cauiflower here. There's also cassava (basically fancyish potato) and potato flour as ingredients, I guess to help hold it all together. I'm gnot an expert on such things, but, say, if the point of cauilflower rice is to enjoy a rice-like substance which is gneither rice gnor grain, then what's the point of this gnocchi? Is it to be more gluten-free than anything else? It seems to me that this TJ's cauli-gnocchi contains right about as many carbs as regular gnocchi, so if that's a concern for you, you may have to pass. Maybe that's a gknock, maybe gnot.

Sandy said she'd buy again and experiment with prep for her lunches. I could take it or leave it with this gnocchi to be honest. Kinda like uneccessary silent letters in that regard. Middlin' marks from the two of us.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cauliflower Gnocchi: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons   

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Trader Joe's Just a Handful of Olives Pitted Salted Manzanilla Olives

Ah, it's springtime, and the forsythias are blooming again. Who knew forsythia bushes yielded green olives? Not this guy, that's for sure. Fun fact: they don't actually. But we put these manzanillas there anyway, because, you know...pretty picture.

I hablo enough of the Español to know that "manzana" means "apple." So I figured "manzanilla" might mean apple...something or other. Applicious? Probably not if they're salted. I didn't really think that one through.

Actually, "manzanilla" translates to "chamomile." Do these happy, snackable olives taste like chamomile? You'll just have to watch our short video review to find out.

Closing thoughts: are olives fruits or vegetables? Technically, they're fruits, but for culinary purposes, they're treated as veggies, so I tagged them as both. 4.5 from Sonia. 4 from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Trader Joe's 4 Authentic Belgian Waffles

What's your breakfasty carb of choice?

Speaking solely for myself, it's gotta be potattoes. Hashbrowns are king. But sweet potatoes mixed in with some eggs, cheese and salsa...mmm.

But for my fam as a whole? Undoubtably it's waffles. A freezer waffle on the go is a busy weekday morning breakfast of choice for our kiddos. There's a place within easy walking distance of our house that started a weekly waffle brunch every Saturday, and if we're in town, we're there. My brother and his wife even throw a fancy homemade "Wafflepalooza" every year complete with mountains of almost every kind of homemade waffle and topping imaginable.

So...we know our waffles.

And of course, waffles aren't just for breakfast anyways. Like with what we did with Trader Joe's 4 Authentic Belgian Waffles when we used them as a base for an open faced ham/cheese/egg sandwich for dinner. Okay, that's like breakfast for dinner, so kinda cheating...but nah.

Perhaps this is just recency bias, as we almost literally just ate them, but I cannot think of a better frozen waffle I've had in quite some time. These Beglain boys are a bit thick to fit in our toaster, so instead Sandy heated them up in our oven for a few minutes, which of course worked just as well if not even better. The outcome: hefty, square doughy grids with a crisp outer shell giving way to a warm, almost creamy interior. There's a slight sweetness to the batter which plays well with the buttery aspects. Really, it's a surprisingly decent Belgian waffle, and although a serving says two waffles, really one is reasonably enough.

And there's no way to argue it's not an authentic Belgian waffle either. They're right from Belgium, not some Belgian style imposter by way of Vancouver or something silly.

 Sandy and I were pleasantly surprised by how overall decent these waffles were. And remember: we're waffle people. Our two little waffle experts weren't as impressed, though. Might have something to do with the rest of dinner (eggs are give or take) or whatever...I'm sure if we scooped ice cream atop or covered with fruit and whipped cream or did any number of other tasty waffle options that they'd be much more amenable.

These are worthy waffles to be freezer staples. Can't believe we've not had them til now. Deeeee-lish.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's 4 Authentic Belgian Waffles: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons  


p.s. Perhaps appropriate this week while also on the topic of waffles. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Trader Joe's Garlic Spread Dip

"Garlic ambrosia."

No, not fruit salad with marshmallows, ambrosia. Ambrosia, as in the food of the gods, ambrosia. Lemme tell ya, she's not wrong. And, as reader DogMaTX pointed out, it's very similar—if not identical—to the garlic spread from Zankou Chicken. Thanks to both of you for the heads up on this product. I feel like at least one other reader brought this to our attention on our Facebook page, as well.

It's a creamy, smooth condiment that spreads like mayo or cream cheese. I'd say the texture is right in between those two, in fact: slightly thicker than mayo, slightly thinner than cream cheese.

And it doesn't fail in the flavor department either. It's garlicky—very garlicky, but simultaneously not overpowering somehow. Where raw garlic brings a heavy staccato "punch" of garlic flavor, this spread causes a gentle "wave" of garlic to wash over your tongue. It's just as powerful, but there's a little bit more of that "mmmm" factor and a wee bit less of that "whoa!" effect.

It's strong enough that you don't need to use a ton on your food, but at the same time, if you do choose to slather it on in great quantity, it still enhances the other flavors and doesn't bury them completely. We had it with tuna sandwiches, pizza, and falafel. I know it will go well with chips, chicken, fish, and other Mediterranean dishes, too. Can't wait to experiment with it. It's a fine addition to TJ's legacy of delicious condiments.

$2.99 for the tub. Vegan. Four and a half stars from me. Four stars from Sonia.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Trader Joe's Yellow Jackfruit Curry with Jasmine Rice

Apparently I don't know jackfruit.

You probably knew that already.

My wife certainly does, bless her heart. So I was really kinda curious when she was trying to tell me that some people consider jackfruit to be kinda like a vegan pulled prok kinda deal. On the surface, that sounds kinda ludicrous to me. How can a plant be meatlike? Pssh, sounds like other crazy stuff she tries to tell me, like that Tupperware has a particular place and organizational method for storage. Yeah, right.

Anyways, in another attempt to yank my coworkers' chains, I picked up Trader Joe's Yellow Jackfruit Curry with Jasmine Rice for an at-desk lunch this week. This would have to do it, right? C'mon now.

Mission failed. No raised eyebrows. No mention of anything. Everyone was too nosedeep in gossip and TPS reports, I s'pose. 

At least I got a pretty good lunch out of it. jackfruit kinda like pulled pork?

Tough for my admitted carnivoresque self to say. Visually, I can somewhat see the similarity here - there's kinda a stringy, chunky look. In this curry's instance, though, the jackfruit gets a little lost amongst the rice. There's a soft chewy feel here and there, but not really the fleshy bite. Kinda the difference between pig and plant, I suppose.

As for the rest of the dish? Delish. Somewhat unlike the jarred TJ's yellow curry sauce, the curry here definitely has a sizable, decided kick. As in, at first, it's pretty spicy...probably about an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. Took me by surprise at first, but once accustomed to it, the curry heat took on more of a pleasant, sustained warmth. There's a little layered aspect too - I wouldn't necessarily say complex but there's some sweetness from the coconut base, the mentioned spice, and a healthy dose of turmeric as well. The only real relief from it is the few biggish bites of eggplant here and there that the curry sauce doesn't really sink into. There's something about the bell peppers that makes it kick up a notch.

Altogether, I'll admit I was pretty pleasantly surprised by the overall wholesome goodness of this curryous dish. It was no more than a couple bucks for the tray which took about five minutes in the microwave - I would have expected (and been reasonably happy with) paying for something of similar quality from a restaurant. It's all there - good flavor, good heat, good firm rice. And it's all good enough that I want to try and make my own now, too - apparently there's a canned jackfruit TJ's sells for just this purpose? I'd be down. Sandy wasn't quite brave enough to try it herself yet, but probably will now. I'm just gonna go go out on my own here and give it some double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Yellow Jackfruit Curry with Jasmine Rice: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Trader Joe's Tempura Shrimp

Bubba never mentioned shrimp tempura—and boy, was he missing out.

I've always loved shrimp, fried, steamed, or otherwise, and I've always loved tempura anything. So there are plenty of things stacked in favor of this product right off the bat.

There's also one big thing I have against it, even before tasting it: the price. At $7.99, this product ranks right up there with the most expensive things we've ever bought from Trader Joe's. I'm not saying it's not a good value. I'm just saying that it takes a lot to get that much money out of me for a single product at the grocery store. In other words, I'm cheap. When compared to a restaurant, of course, the price is more than reasonable—and these shrimp are most definitely restaurant-quality.

They're huge, farm-raised, and tasty as can be—not fishy in the slightest. We baked ours in the oven, followed the directions pretty closely, and they came out just about perfect. The tempura is good, too, although, I'd say it's a bit thicker here than most tempura products I've tried. I've only ever had tempura as a very thin, crispy outer layer. In this case, the tempura is crisp on the outside, but there's enough of it that there's almost a doughy layer in between the crispness and the shrimp. It's not so thick or soft that it's off-putting in any way. It's just not quite what I'm used to.

The sauce is simply a sweet soy sauce—basically what you'd get if you dumped a bunch of sugar into those ubiquitous packets from Asian restaurants. And there's TONS of it. I'm generally a gluttonous condiment hog, and there have been dozens of TJ's products throughout the years that were super-skimpy on dipping sauces. Not here. There are two large packets where just one would most likely have sufficed. If I had it to do over, I would have only opened the first one and saved the other for leftover rice and veggie dumplings from our next Asian take-out run. Oh well. Live and learn, as they say.

There are ten shrimp in the pack. Three work well as a single serving. They're quite filling and satisfying, and definitely not wanting as far as quality is concerned. The price tag alone will prevent this from being a regular purchase in our home, but if I ever get a particular craving for shrimp, I have a feeling this product will quickly come to mind. Sonia enjoyed them, too, but I don't think she's quite as big a shrimp-o-phile as her hubby. Three and a half stars from her. Four from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Trader Joe's Crunchy Maple Ladders Cereal

Ladders? Really?

I'm sorry, but Trader Joe's Crunchy Maple Ladders Cereal does not, in fact, look like a bunch of mini bite sized ladders.

Look at the cereal pieces. There is nothing ladderlike about them. The completed, enclosed ends negate any chance of them being able to reasonably be perceived as a ladder. It's three conjoined boxes smushed together. It's a segmented rectangle. It's a threepiece. It's not a ladder.

Really, what these maple cereal bites more cinderblocks.

And not just in appearance.

Okay, that's probably a bit harsh for the TJ maple ladder cereal. But I'm stuck at a place where I really want to enjoy them more than I actually can. I LOVE the idea of maple flavored cereal. And as a glutenfree option? Even better! That's not a necessity for me but it is a preference.

Yet the feel seems off. It's a bit too much of a dry, kinda blah crunch. Is it the chickpea powder's fault? I have no clue - have never had cereal made from chickpeas before - but the usual munchiness of corn and rice based cereal is missing, even though corn and rice are ingredients here as well. So I guess it's the chickpeas. Oh well, at least it didn't dissolve into hummus, I guess.

The texture issue could be assuaded some if only the maple flavor was stronger. Unfortunately for this cereal, it's just a little too subtle and lowkey. Just a smidge more. I don't want to say a little sugar is needed, but I considered it. I liked what I could taste and wanted to taste it more, but instead was left hanging.

In all it's a decent cereal I guess, but it's not what I hoped for. For funsies I did mix some with some cinnamon cereal, which made it all the more enjoyable...except any traces of maple flavor got wiped away. Sandy was similarly underwhelmed and wondered aloud if somehow the lack of gluten made a suboptimal flavor base for the maple to build on. Not sure if there's anything to that or not, but it's a theory at least. I'm more in the camp that a cereal that I wanted to be a little too junky is instead trying to be a little too healthy instead. I'm just going to have to deal with my disappointment, one step at a time.

Trader Joe's Crunchy Maple Ladders Cereal: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Trader Joe's 3 Seed Sweet Potato Crackers

Every once in a while, Sonia and I will get so busy that we'll go a few weeks without a Trader Joe's run, and we'll glance in the cupboard and realize there are no new TJ's products to review. I freely admit this was one of those occasions. Fortunately, there was one product we bought a while back that hadn't been reviewed at the time of purchase: these "sweet potato" crackers. We're pretty sure this item is still available, although the post about them on has already been archived. They also offered a 3 seed beet flavor that we skipped.

First off, these snacks didn't taste a whole lot like sweet potato. Barely a hint. They tasted much more like traditional corn-based tortilla chips, but with a nice seedy nuttiness. 

Likewise, they behaved like little round "chips" rather than "crackers," despite clearly being marketed as the latter. If you've tried the Sweet Potato Tortilla Chips—again, not 100% sure they're still on Trader Joe's shelves currently—you'll know that despite functioning as tortilla chips, they actually tasted noticeably like sweet potato, as observed by Russ and Sandy.

For $1.99 per box, the value isn't bad at all. There are plenty of chips, er, crackers, in the package. By virtue of their diminutive size, they work well in soups, although I'd much rather have dipped them in salsa or queso sauce like real tortilla chips. 

They're crispy, crunchy, salty, slightly oily, and as mentioned before, seedy. I think in many ways the beet flavor would probably work better, since there's more earthiness in the flavor of a beet that might blend a little better with the taste of flax, chia, and sesame seeds.

They're gluten-free and kosher, and not a bad value for the price. We're certainly not hating on them, but we've seen at least one sweet potato chip/cracker in recent memory that's a little tastier. Looks like it'll be three stars from me again and three and a half from Sonia.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Trader Joe's Sriracha Shrimp Bowl

This was gonna be it. This was gonna be my revenge.

For all the slightly too loud talk with a little bit too much TMI. For all the ice crunching and nail clipping and shoe stripping. For all the times my jokes weren't laughed at - I mean, I'm not always funny, but be a little polite, ok? For all the burned popcorn and odd smells and perfumes and other scents, whether from something mass produced or from something...rhyming with what I just wrote.

Yes. I was gonna microwave Trader Joe's Sriracha Shrimp Bowl for my lunch at work, right in the central break room. I was going to parade it proudly back to my desk, as the aroma of nuked seafood and various spices would waft around the cubicle farm.

I try to get along as best I can....but today would be different. Revenge, in this case, would be a dish best served hot.

Too bad it didn't quite turn out that way.

Surprisingly, this spicy shrimp and rice bowl is not overly aromatic, whether from a seafood or a spice perspective. It's almost completely innocuous. I don't think a single coworker noticed. No one asked. No glares. No nothing. I just looked like a dude eating lunch at his desk.

Overall, it makes for an okay lunch. For $3.49 you can't expect too much, so that's how I'm trying to approach this. The biggest issue seems to be the shrimp itself. My bowl had five in there, which seemed to be a reasonable number. But the shrimp just didn't taste all that great, mostly because it wasn't seasoned, and the sauce didn't have a chance to really flavor the shrimp either. The result was every bite with shrimp had a big, fleshy, taste-tempering feel that wasn't too spectacular.

Everything else was about on par, though. Mostly brown with a few red grains spinkled in, the rice added a hearty, earthy bite, while the veggies remained steamed yet firm enough. And the sriracha was about what one could expect, and it definitely helped tie it all together, too.

I'm not sure if this says more about me or the dish, but one letdown was, only about an hour after eating it, I was kinda hungry again, enough to consider running downstairs to our work cafe for chicken fingers or something along those lines. I'd definitely advise not considering thes hrimp bowl to be an entire lunch in of itself, but pack along some fruits or veggies or something to help complement it all.

Good chance I'd buy this TJ's rice bowl again. There's only so many times I can eat leftovers per week, and I certainly can't buy/order out every day...unlike most of my coworkers...but that's another story. Just me grading it this time around, so gonna double up.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sriracha Shrimp Bowl: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, April 6, 2018

Trader Joe's 27 Layer Sesame Croissini

As I sit here pondering how to kick off this croissini review, my mind wanders to the significance of the number twenty-seven, as in the "27 layers" mentioned on the packaging. That's a lot of layers. It's referring to the thin sheets of croissant dough in these pastries. And yes, I did attempt to count them at one point. I didn't get exactly 27 because a few of the layers sort of fused to one another, but it's entirely believable that there are, in fact, 27 layers in each croissant-ish stick. 

As far as the number itself goes, all I could think of is Nikola Tesla saying something enigmatic about 3, 6, and 9 and an old Schoolhouse Rock song about three being "The Magic Number." And what does three have to do with 27, you ask? Well, 27 is three to the power of three. It's three cubed. So if three is a magic number, then 27 should be, like, meta-magical.

And then after biting into the first pastry, I realized I shouldn't have thought at all about the number 27...because "meta-magical" is a word too lofty for most members of our Trader Joe's Pantheon even, let alone these croissini. I should have meditated on sesame seeds instead. I can't remember the last time I was impressed by something covered in sesame seeds.

Now don't get me wrong, these croissini aren't entirely unnoshable. They're slightly crisp on the outside, nice and buttery on the inside, and they're optimized for hors d'oeuvre-style finger food snacking. They're not particularly flavorful—honestly, not even as flavorful and bready as a traditional croissant, if you ask me. The sesame seeds do add a touch of flavor and texture, but again, who wants to eat something that gets "rescued" by sesame seeds?

The sticks are slightly more enticing when served with a sweet sauce. We tried honey. It worked very well. It turned the croissini into something nearly baklava-esque—something more dessert-like than a plain old breadstick.

There are eight in a pack for $3.99. These would work best in a party environment with people just mulling about not entirely paying attention to what they're eating, as opposed to someone having them as a stand-alone meal, preparing to pen an online food review about them, thinking way too much about sesame seeds, and counting the 27 layers of dough.

Three stars from me (and there's that magic number again). Three and a half from Sonia.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Trader José's Serrano Salsa Fresca

Why is my boss younger than me?

Why can't I recognize any song on the radio unless it's tuned to the classic rock station?

Why am I more excited about my company's pledged increase to 401k contributions than its also new quarterly bonus program? Not that I'm not excited about both...

Why do I want to be in bed by 11pm, although that's rare? Why is it notable if I'm still in it after 7am, which is even rarer?

Why does my knee hurt?

And is Trader Jose's Serrano Salsa Fresca actually spicy, or am I just becoming a wimp?

I'm turning 36 this upcoming summer and it's these kinda questions I'm pondering. Growing "old" i guess...I know, I know, but it's a relative term, and so for me, I'm at least not getting younger.

Getting back to this tub of fresh salsa straight from the TJ's refrigerated section, it's a pretty potent mix. I'm actually not sure if spicy as in heat is the right word, as there's a lot of flavor coming out. Decidedly, it's a little heavy on the cilantro and garlic, so if you're not a fan of those, you're better off staying away. But there's also subtle sweetness and cooling from tomatoes, a little bite from some onions and peppers, and yeah, a good amount of heat as well. I'll admit the first bite I had seemed a bit vinegary at first, but that must have been a bad sample as none of the rest seemed that way.

Overall, there is a restaurant quality vibe to the serrano salsa. The minute little chunks and semi-wateriness seem on par with most nonjarred salsa varieties I've had at the pseudo-Mexican style joints around here in the 'burgh. That's a compliment. But after a few bites, it all begins to get a bit much, and I'm not sure if that's just me getting a little wimpy or not. I had some this morning on my breakfast eggs, and again tonight with a couple tortilla chips, and, well, let's just see what tomorrow brings, if you know what I mean. At least I haven't needed any Rolaids, yet.

Getting back to my new old man tendencies, I wasn't able to figure out how to take an adequate picture of nutritional info and ingredients, so I'll just link to it here. Didn't even need the AOL keyword to find it, so ha! Sandy and I will rank the salsa as good, not great, with me sneaking extra pointage for the use of Jose instead of Joe....I like the different characters who seem to be disappearing from the good ol' days.

Bottom line: Trader Jose's Serrano Salsa Fresca: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Trader Joe's Banh Mi Inspired Noodle Bowl

So it turns out that Cauliflower Cookie Butter isn't a thing...yet. And it also turns out that previous cookie butter selections are already vegan. I hadn't realized.

Know what else is vegan? 

Not this salad. 

But it is vegetarian, and it's also Vietnamese. "Banh mi" apparently means "bread," which is super inappropriate, because there's absolutely no bread in this product. Trader Joe would like you to purchase a baguette separately and stuff the contents of this salad into it for an authentic Vietnamese-inspired banh mi sandwich. Or you can just skip the bread and the carbs and eat it salad-style, which is exactly what we did.

I'm down with sriracha. I'm down with tofu. And I'm definitely down with sriracha-baked tofu, and that, in my humble opinion, was by far the strongest element of this exotic salad. Apparently, it can be purchased separately at TJ's. We haven't gotten around to reviewing it just by itself on this blog yet.

I'm normally a fan of most salad dressings, but this stuff was a little odd to me. It was slightly sweet, but there was also a tanginess involved that I found off-putting for some reason. It was almost sour to my taste buds. Also, the pickled vegetables were a little too pickled for me. The noodles? They were just kinda there.

Sonia? She loved it. And I'm glad, because she downed the salad quickly after I had given up on it. I wanted to like it, but there was just too much pickley tang. I gobbled up some lettuce and srirachified tofu chunks at the onset, but most of the pieces were slathered in that dressing, so I deferred to the wife at that point. I'd give banh mi another chance if I ever came across the bona fide sandwich at a Vietnamese place, but in general, I'll stick with pho.

Sonia enjoyed each element of the salad, including the dressing. She thought all the flavors worked well together, and she appreciated that the tofu was nice and firm—it gave the salad some body. She thinks it was a little too pricey at $4.99, but other than that, she'd consider getting it again.

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

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

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