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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Trader Joe's These Peanuts Go On A Date Bars

Go to most grocery stores and look at the snack bar aisle. Ay yi yi. Granola bars as far as the eye can see, in all sorts of variants. That's all I remeber from growing up. These days, though...Clif Bars, Luna Bars, Larabars, fruit/nut/seed "protein" bars, heck even Gatorade bars. It's apparent we love these lil handy snack buggers.

So of course, here's another entry into healthyish snack bars, and as an added bonus, it's another TJ's style attempt at copying off a more famous brand with only subtle differences. This time, it's Trader Joe's These Peanuts Go On A Date Bars.

Let me get this out of the way: the name bugs me, and I can't figure out why. It's cutesy with the cheesy pun (we expect nothing less, Big Joe) that makes for an easy illustration, and as far as I know it's grammatical, but...I don't know. It doesn't sound right. Maybe they could have been called Nutty Date bars, and for a picture, have my high school girlfriend on there...but I digress.

The closest mainstream snack bar to these TJ's nutty daters would be, of course, Larabars. Dates and nuts as the base for a on-the-go grubber is pretty standard and shared between the two. But there are, of course, differences. I've had Larabars with dates and peanuts in them, but to my knowledge, none with "peanut butter" also listed. There's not a huge difference tastewise, except maybe the TJ's bars being slightly less datey and slightly more nutty, but man, the feel is different. TJ's are much softer, almost limp, comnpared to the usal firmness of a Larabar. I can sense it being a textural challenge for some, for sure.

But yeah, other than that: Dates. Peanuts. Flax seeds and sea salt, which don't do much in my opinion. Whoomp there it is. Nothing exciting.

They are a decent value compared to Larabars, which I'm accustomed to seeing at roughly a buck a pop. TJ's box o' five is $2.99, so not bad, and easier than making your own - I know, I've tried, and I have the burned out blender to prove it. They're worth a try if Larabars are your bag, if not you'd be happier skipping. Kinda meh all the way around - not great, not awful, which is alright with me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's These Peanuts Go On A Date Bars: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Trader Joe's Berry Flavored Soft Licorice Twists

Just past Memorial Day. School's almost out (huzzah!), the heat and humidity are beginning to get to me already in our AC free house, our neighbor across the way bides his evening sitting on the side porch listening to awful '80s love ballads..yup, it's summer.

Even if you're a solstice literalist, you gotta admit it's close enough to round up. Here we go, eh. Kinda wonder what the theme of this summer will be...

Remember a couple years back when it was mangopalooza everything at TJ's? If you're a newcomer, have amnesia, or have blocked that out of your memory for pure sanity's sake, just search for "mango" on here for a refresher. You'll see a lot.

Seems like, just maybe, this will be the summer of berries at TJ's, and here's a kickoff item: Trader Joe's Berry Flavored Soft Licorice Twists. There's some other berrylicious-lookin' type items we've spied around, but this was just the first one we happened to pick up on a recent trip. First outta many, I have a feeling...I mean, who doesn't like berries?

We've done TJ's licorice before, and all we can say here is it is much the same, except, you know, berries. There's a pretty tart taste that suggests raspberry, and a solid base that suggest strawberry or blueberry or maybe both. The ingredients don't really help out, listing just "natural mixed berry flavor with other natural flavors." I mean, whatcha hiding here? Give up the berries! What kinda scandal fruit are you hiding here...schnozzberries? I'd kinda like a better idea....

...especially because there's something here at it. It's more on the aftertatse. Sandy said there was kinda a medicinal essence to it. I'm not sure if that's right, but I can't quite put my fineger on tongue on it. It might be some gratuitous lemon or something else citrusy clashing a wee bit with the berry flavor. Not sure.

Anyways, the TJ's berry licorice bites remain a decent enough summer snack on the go. God knows between ballgames, amusement park visits, random road trips, little hikes, trips to the pool, and just lazing arounb the house, having a cheapie $2 sack of decent candy around isn't a horrible idea, and just may be this summer's thing. So also is "Hold Me" by Teddy Pendergrass and Whitney Houston" - thanks neighbor for playing that twelve times in a row while I wrote this on my front porch because the rest of my house is too hot. Happy summer kickoff!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Berry Flavored Soft Licorice Twists: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, May 25, 2018

Trader Joe's Spicy Cheese Crunchies

Just earlier today, Sandy was saying she wished I wrote for an ice cream blog, like say On Second Scoop, just so we could have a valid excuse to have a neverending stockpile of ice cream on hand.

Me? I sure am happy for our little TJ's blog, because without it, I'd never have a great reason to pick up a sack of Trader Joe's Spicy Cheese Crunchies.

But it doesn't stop there.

Nope, because if I never bought them, I'd never get the sneaking suspicion that were a lot like a more famous brand, like say Flamin' Hot Cheetos, but would be unsure as to the exact differences, and so purely in the best interests of my audience would also have to get those Flamin' Hots for direct comparision's sake. You know, for entertainment and science, and not just to mindlessly eat spicy cornmeal nuggets because yummmm.

See the pic here. I'm sorry, it's a sucky one, because I took it with my potato phone. On the left is the aforementioned FHC's, on the right is the newcomer TJ's. Visibly, they're different - the Flamers are decidedly more red and fierce looking. Must be all those artifical colors noticeably absent from the Trader Joe's spicy crunchers...score one for TJ's.

Once popped in the ol' snack hole, there's a few other fairly small differences. The spicy cheese crunchers from TJ's are a tad bit drier, it seems, from their Cheetos counterparts. There's a smidge less grease to them. This leads me to believe that the TJ's brand is baked as opposed to fried like Cheetos, and seeing that TJ's has 40 less calories and 5 grams less fat per identical 28 gram serving, I may be on to something.

But really, taste. That's what it all comes down to. Which one's better? It's...tough to say. The Cheetos seem more focused on vibrant spice and heat (if not a little on the vinegary side) whereas the TJ's is...different. Maybe slightly more cheesy. Maybe slightly less hot and more range of flavor (like garlic, turmeric, etc). Maybe, as Sandy said, more of a "tomatoey" flavor, by which neither one of us is precisely sure what she means, but there's something to it. In all, it's kinda subtle.

My three year old loves the TJ's spicy cheese crunchers. She'd melt after one Flamin' Hot Cheeto. So, there's that.

Anyways, if totally junky kinda grub like this is your kinda thing, grab a bag of the TJ's crunchies for only a couple bucks. I wouldn't proclaim them as "healhty" but they are "healthier" than the competition, and are of approximate quality. Admittedly and somewhat ashamedly I kinda like them both...slight edge to TJ's. Thanks for allowing me to eat these, my adoring fans!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Spicy Cheese Crunchies: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Trader Joe's Salmon & Sweet Potato Dog Treats

Our dogs are picky eaters. We're well aware that pets are supposed to be fed a steady diet of one type of food, but our mutts get tired of the same thing over and over, just like people do. As evident as it is with their main breakfast and dinner type foods, it's even more so with treats, so we try to mix it up for them, since they're much easier to control when they're actually interested in whatever "cookie" Sonia's holding in her hand.

At $3.99, these weren't the cheapest option we've seen at TJ's, but with only two ingredients—Atlantic salmon and sweet potato—we figured they were worth a try. We know from experience our dogs love salmon—even the salmon we're not thrilled with ourselves.

Also, the bag is full of mind-blowingly helpful tips like, "Please provide fresh drinking water for your dog at all times." Gosh! Thanks, Trader Joe's. Insert macabre, sarcastic remark about pets dying of thirst. Hopefully we'll be able to hang on to Alfred and Sadie a little longer by putting that wisdom into practice.

Four out of five paw prints from Sadie. Three out of five paw prints from Alfred.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Trader Joe's Blueberry Lavender Flavored Almond Beverage

Our house is over 100 years old.

On the exterior, it's all brick, and on the inside it's all drywall or plaster. For years and years, nearly a century, that's all there was, until Sandy and I moved in. Our first winter was frigid cold with arctic wind blowing right thru the walls. I'm not joking.

So we got an insulation job done, whole house, spray in type stuff. Our heating bill has been cut by two-thirds. It's awesome...but there's a flipside.

It's summer, or at least getting there. We have no AC, and with our Therm/os-fied house, once heat gets in, it stays in. It's not uncommon for it to be cooler outside the house than inside, and even with open windows and fans, only so much can be done. Next few months are gonna be extra sticky.

So, naturally, let's get a nice refreshing glass of milk. Ron Burgundy cringes.

But in the case of Trader Joe's Blueberry Lavender Flavored Almond Beverage, it kinda works.

Sandy and I are not big milk drinkers, dairy or nut alternative. We're just not. Our kids are another story. But there's just something tasty and appealing about this kinda almond milk. Just sounds good, doesn't it?

Blueberry is definitely the predominant flavor. It's fairly natutral-ish, though. There's no excessive sickeningly sweet added sugar that artifically ramps up the flavor in this TJ's blueberry almond milk...nah, just a small touch of blueberry that plays well off the natural nuttiness of the milk. I don't taste much lavender, though. There really tastes to be not much more than a small, small touch, if even that. Maybe my tastebuds aren't quite senstive enough, or perhaps I'm a bit clueless, but there doesn't seem to be much there, which is my only real knock.

The consistency of the berry almond milk is much like any other almond beverage - thre word "chalky" comes to mind. "Smooth" and "creamy" are definite overstatements in my opinion...I mean, it's not gritty by any means but there's a certain slight chunkiness to it that takes getting used to if not accustomed to it, as with any other nut beverage.

Blending some up with ice and yogurt for a smoothie sounds fantastic. Adding much else, even a banana, would probably overpower a lot of the subtle berry flavor.

We let our kids have some straight up. M, our almost six year old, immediately exclaimed "Oooo this is yummy!" and prompty gave it 10 Golden Spoons. She's well trained. B, our three year old, smiled happily and made her own big "mmmm" before saying it was good for "5 Golden Spoons, then a lot." That sounds pretty postive. Sandy also exclaimed it was a hit, making it very popular in our hot, hot house. I'll defer mostly to the ladies here, while adding I'm glad it's only $2 for the quart as I'm sure it'll be a repeat buy.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Blueberry Lavender Flavored Almond Beverage: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Trader Joe's Giardiniera

All I can think of when I see this product is that Iggy Pop track from a few years back: Gardenia. I realize it's not exactly the same word, but it's close enough that I get that bizarre, oddly-catchy chorus stuck in my head.

"Bizarre and oddly-catchy" wouldn't be entirely inaccurate if you were describing these veggies. Although the word "giardiniera" is foreign to me, the concept of spicy, pickled vegetables is not—peppers and carrots in particular. Sonia introduced me to the Mexican version—the La Morena brand—fairly early on in our relationship, and I fell in love with them. They're advertised simply as "pickled jalapeno peppers," but the small can contains carrot slices and onions, as well. La Morena has much more flavor and heat than this Trader Joe's product, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Things like pizza and pasta don't always beg for mouth-searing spiciness in the same way that many Mexican dishes do. That's when these pickled veggies come in handy. They'll spruce up just about any Italian dish that needs a little extra color and flavor—and even most American dishes for that matter.

The veggies are surprisingly crisp and crunchy considering they've been floating in liquid for a good while. The green and red peppers are noticeably limper than fresh specimens. It's the carrots, cauliflower, and pickles that flaunt an unexpected crispness. Some of the cauliflower pieces were large whole florets. I wouldn't have minded them in tinier fragments.

The liquid is predictably briny, but there's a pretty decent balance of the pickled flavor and natural veggie taste. For $1.99, this product makes a nice handy sprucer-upper to have on standby. I probably wouldn't recommend them as a stand-alone snack, although, I guess there are plenty of people who eat pickles that way, and well, there are pickles in here—pickled cucumbers, anyway. So if you'd like to expand your pickled veggie horizons, you should totally check out this jar of giardiniera.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

P.S. - Where are you, Giotto?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Trader Joe's Sweetened Dried Lemon Slices

I'm a guy in his mid-30's, but I'll freely admit it: I like my emojis. I won't go too overboard with them, I don't think. I mean, I'm not going to try and write the rest of this review using just them, or narrate my day, or do whatever else kids do with them these days, but I'll let them slip into my every day text conversations with my wife, in my emails and whatnot.

One thing I don't like, though, is how sometimes they don't technologically translate across different platforms. Take, for instance, when Sandy sent me an email from her iPhone to my work email stating she had just tried Trader Joe's Sweetened Dried Lemon Slices for the first time. What I got on my side, on some old Windows platform in Outlook (I'm not even sure if it's XP) was this grim-looking dull face with large eyes that were maybe crying, maybe horrified, or just getting poofy after being stung by a bee. Not sure what it was at all, but I took it as something bad, which to me wouldn't be unexpected after trying a sour mummified citric corpse slice, peel and all.

Nope. It was the hearts for eyes, big smile deal. As in, totally in love.

I'm not entirely sure that's my instinctive reaction, but I think I can muster a thumbs up overall. The package front of these zombie lemon discs say they are "moist" and "sweet." Those don't seem like entirely accurate descriptors to me. These TJ lemon slices are definitely dried out, with nary a drop of anything to be squeezed out. Robert Plant would probably be proud. But when biting through, there's still a softness and certain gumminess to them, that makes seem almost like candy. The candy vibe is kinda picked up by the added sugar which seems to accent the natural lemon flavor without going too overboard and getting too cloy.

What's kinda missing is the big, tart, citrusy bite one would expect from a lemon. Maybe that's contained more or less in the absent juice. Then again, these are fairly snackable as is, and could have multiple applications that a stronger flavor may not have. I could just as easily see these lemon slices as a garnish for a dessert - something creamy and/or had a fair amount of frosting comes to mind - as I could for simple summer salads, and maybe dishes like grilled chicken and veggies as well.

It's a decent sized package and seems a good value at about $3 for the bag. There's plenty to go around in there. These will be probably be a summer-long repeat-buy. Kinda can't wait to try them alongside some iced tea. So, perhaps in short: 🏜️🍋🔪😃👍 💵. Now it's just ⏰ for the 🥄s.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sweetened Dried Lemon Slices: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Trader Joe's Party Cake

"I'm coming up, so you better get this party started."

"Y'all want this party started right?  Y'all want this party started quickly, right?"

"Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1999."

"When it's time to party we will always party hard. Party hard, party hard."

"It's my party and I'll cry if I want to."

So many songs come to mind when the word "party" comes up. Most of them aren't particularly good songs, but they're somehow memorable nonetheless. Parties just have to have certain things: party songs, party people—and most definitely, party cake.

This isn't anywhere close to the best cake I've ever had, but I'll just state right here and now that this product gets a thumbs up from me. It tastes good. Nothing earth-shattering. No reinvention of the wheel here. This is just another one of the many cases where I'm forced to compare Trader Joe's offering to that of every other grocery store in America and I find their offering among the best in terms of overall value. You might be able to find something tastier and/or healthier from a mom and pop's bakery store, but you'd be hard-pressed to find something that can serve eight people for less than $7. 

Sonia will be the resident grump on this one and claim that the icing is "too sweet and oily." She also didn't care for the overabundance of happy, festive sprinkles. I will admit, I'd have enjoyed them a bit more if they were evenly distributed across the entire exterior of the cake instead of mostly just on the outside edge. But hey, we're nitpicking now. Also, I think they wanted the top to be free and clear of funfetti nonsense in case consumers want to plug the top of the cake full of candles or write in some cheesy personalized message like, "Lordy, Lordy, Look Who's 40!" or "Nifty, Nifty, The Washington Capitals Made It Past the Second Round of the Playoffs!"

We both agree the bread part is the best part of the cake. It's not overly sweet. It's soft and moist—er, "not dry," if you prefer. It's got a nice subtle vanilla flavor, and it goes great with milk. What more can you ask of a pre-packaged grocery store cake? Not much. For that reason, I'll give my standard four stars. Sonia's only game for three this time around. She wants a gluten-free version. They should be able to just substitute that wheat flour with rice and tapioca flours, right? Right. Let's get to work on that, Big Joe. Thanks in advance.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Trader Joe's Mint Watermelon Flavored Black Tea

Nothing says middle aged suburban peer pressure in the spring and summer than the distant drone of a lawnmower. If the neighbor's yard is mowed, yours has gotta be too. Once you hear one, you'll hear at least three more, guaranteed, in the next hour.

I literally have not had a chance to mow mine all spring long - too cold, too wet, too busy, too something - until this past Wednesday night. Yeah, it was so bad I had to attack it midweek, after work, before dinner. Kept losing the dog in the thicket. And of course, all my neighbors had already, so mine I was busting it out as quick as I could, pushing thru kneehigh grass, raking, sweating, feeling gross, had to get done before it got too late, with storms threatening to roll in so extra humid...ugh.

Fortunately, Sandy made a fresh batch of iced Trader Joe's Mint Watermelon Flavored Black Tea earlier that afternoon. Doesn't that sound like summer in a glass? And my longstanding "refreshment benchmark" is how cooling and pleasant a beverage is once I'm done mowing the lawn, so here was a perfect chance.


"Mint" and "watermelon" do not sound like natural flavor bedfellows to me. I hold both flavors in close to equal regard...but together? Potential chocolate gum theory application here. But nah, it works. Seems to me it's because both flavors are a very light, natural kinda of flavor, at least when unsweetened. The mint could have been bubblegummy, the watermelon could have been Kool Aid-y, but nope. Just light and crisp, with both flavors about equally present and wellbalanced, while backed by the usual steeped tinge of black tea.

This tea is some pretty good stuff. There's no sticky-sweet aftertaste, no artifical sugar crud, nothing along those lines at all. And yet I feel no need to guzzle it either. A good glassful is about all that's really needed.

Sandy and I didn't try it hot. We probably won't until temps are on the way down, not the way up. My instinct is that it wouldn't be as good as a steamy mug, but I've been wrong. You tell me if I'm wrong.

Count us as fans. Here's one tea worthy of a neighborhood-wide buzz.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mint Watermelon Flavored Black Tea: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Trader Joe's Smoked Salmon Poke Bowl

It's been nearly two years since Pokemon Go launched, and now there's finally a Pokemon-themed seafood and salad bowl available at TJ's. Go Team Instinct! Wait. What? You say this has nothing to do with the wildly popular augmented reality game that 39-year-olds should totally not be ashamed that they play on the regular?

Apparently, poke (POH-keh) bowls are pronounced similar to the first part of "Pokemon," but actually pre-date the whole Japanese pocket monster craze by a few centuries. Also, they're native to Hawaii. I'll admit I have no previous poke bowl experience. I've heard the term and been vaguely aware of poke bowl joints here in the Philly area, but haven't made it into one yet. I do, however, enjoy salads as well as sushi, so...I should love this product, right? Let's dive in.

I'll save you my usual spiel about Trader Joe's and salmon and simply state that there's no way this product would have worked with nasty salmon. Fortunately, this smoked salmon sushi was awesome. I learned from Anthony Bourdain that sushi isn't necessarily supposed to taste "fresh," but that in most cases it has been frozen at some point, and should boast an umami flavor that fish straight from the sea will never have...or something like that. I'm no expert. But this salmon was delicious. It was smoky, flavorful, and fresh not overly funky. In fact, it was the best part of the bowl.
The pickled veggies worked well here, blending with the fish, dressing, and rice seamlessly. They added tang and zip, but did not overpower any of the other elements in the bowl. The dressing was nice, too. It was very thin, with a texture similar to traditional soy sauce—but it had a delicate ginger flavor with just a hint of citrus.

The worst part of the bowl? The rice, simply because there was too much of it. I like brown rice just fine, but it was the least interesting element in the bowl. Sonia thought the rice may have even been a bit undercooked. For $5.99, you'd think they could throw a bit more fish our way, along with more exotic veggies and dressing. But the bowl was filled with rice. Before I mixed the ingredients, there was a large "brick" of rice all wadded together at the bottom of the bowl. Just out of curiosity, I checked out a nearby poke place's menu to compare prices. Looks like you won't find anything under $9 there, and most products are more like $10-$13. Couldn't tell you if the serving sizes are comparable or not.
Another negative: the packaging is a little clunky and overdone. It's difficult to open up the lid without jerking the salad quickly, sending vegetables and fish flying across the table. Likewise, the dressing comes in its own cup covered with a plastic film and desperately wants to be spilled as it's unsealed. And there's yet another little baggie full of miniature seaweed strips, which, to be fair, was quite simple to open, but still seemed somewhat unnecessary. I guess we don't want soggy seaweed.

In summary, we were both pleasantly surprised with the overall flavor of the bowl, but we have a few reservations. I'm certain someone with more poke-experience (no, not Pokemon Go XP) will chime in and give us their opinion in the comments below. If poke bowls weren't a thing, and this were just some random unique salad that Trader Joe's offered, I think I'd throw out four stars for creativity and pleasant taste. Knowing this is a centuries-old tradition with hundreds of restaurants popping up all over the country and offering their take on the dish, I feel tragically underqualified to give an accurate score. But in the end, I'm gonna go with my gut. Four out of five stars from me. Three and a half from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Trader Joe's Seedy Almond Salad Topper

What's the best part of pizza?

That's easy. It's the little wedgie of cheese that gets stuck on the pan or box after slicing it. With a little luck, there's a good tidbit of topping left on it, too.

Likewise, the best bite of cake? For me at least, it's little scrapey parts, mostly frosting, left over. Clean that up right, that's what I always say.

Or the best chip chomp? When there's just a few little shards left, down in the bottom, which makes them perfect from sliding right from the bag into your mouth. Yum.

So...salad. What's the tastiest part of salad?

Also easy. Gotta be the goodies you put on top.

Nothing against spinach or lettuce or shredded carrots or grape tomatoes or pepper slices or any other veggie part of salad. That's some wholesome goodness. They're what makes a salad good. But what dermines if a salad is goood is the toppings and munchies, especially if you're not one for salad dressing (like me).

So does Trader Joe's Seedy Almond Salad Topper make a salad good or not?

Couldn't tell ya. I ate it on eggs instead.

 To be fair, that's one of the recommended uses printed right on the front of the bag, along with "vegetables" (presumed of the non-salad-esque variety) and cream cheese bagels. We were having eggs for dinner. Had to write a review. Gotta do what you gotta do. And as much as the bag also suggested it was a great idea, I didn't want to eat a little baggie of seeds all by itself.

And yup, baggie. Inside the main bag there's eight seperate single serving size sacks o' seeds. Each contain about the same amount of almond slivers, pepitas, sesame seeds (white and black), and nigella seeds with a slight little spicy kick from crushed red pepper.  As you could imagine, there's nuttiness and a little earthiness, a good bit of sesame, and even almost a little bit of a onion-y to not quite garlic-y essence to the mix, backed by some heat. In some ways, it kinda seemed like the everything but the bagel spice blend, minus the salt but plus the nuts and pepitas. The whole mix is appropriately crunchy and munchy, with a varying texture that did seem a little odd perhaps on eggs - almonds on eggs? seriously? - but I could tell it'd work well in a hearty salad, or on some roasted chicken or grilled veggies, or in several kinds of ways I haven't quite come up with yet but perhaps you have.

It's $3.99 for the big bag, eight servings in there, so basically 50 cents a pop for a small handful of stuff. It'd probably be more economical to make your own if this blend is one you particularly enjoyed, so there's a slight knock. As always, there's a premium for convenience.

Not much else to really say. So, for some, here's the best part of the review: the end.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Seedy Almond Salad Topper: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, May 4, 2018

Trader Joe's Hi-Protein Veggie Burger

Maybe it's because of my 9th grade biology teacher, but whenever I hear the word "protein," I can't help but think of science. "Protein" was so frequently the answer to her on-the-spot quiz questions, that if you'd answer one incorrectly with "protein," she'd politely say, "No, but thanks for playing." And just about 50% of the time, "protein" was indeed the correct answer. Any other incorrect answer would be met with a gruff "NO!" along with a personalized insult of some sort, generally along the lines of, "You're out to lunch, Mr. Rodgers!" 

And heaven help those poor students who answered something other than "protein" when it was the correct response. Louise Grove's biology class was more than 20 years ago, but I'm still traumatized. To this day, "protein" just doesn't sound appetizing to me in any context.

But hey, at least the packaging doesn't read "Now infused with delicious structural components of body tissues!" I'm not sure if it would be accurate at all, but you'll never see them even attempt to advertise the presence of any other macromolecules. "Trader Joe's Hi-Lipid Veggie Burgers!" "Trader Joe's Hi-Carbohydrate Veggie Burgers!" "Trader Joe's Hi-Nucleic Acid Veggie Burgers!" None of those work even a little.

So protein it is.

I've gotten pretty good at putting personal bias on the shelf when trying new things from Trader Joe's over the years. I'm not 100% sure my aversion to the word "protein" isn't affecting me here, but there's a good chance it's minimal, at least. These just aren't the best veggie burgers we've seen from TJ's. The Vegetable Masala Burgers and Quinoa Cowboy Burgers would be at the top of my recommendations list.

There are two big, heavy veggie patties, individually wrapped in cellophane. They only give you microwave and conventional oven heating instructions. No stove-top method is listed. We heated ours in the oven. After baking, the exterior of the burgers was slightly crisp and dry, while the inside was a bit soft and mushy.

The main ingredient here is peas—or rather "pea protein blend," (YUM!) but the flavor isn't entirely pea-esque. There's something nutty about the taste, but you can also taste the black beans and a hint of garlic. The overall effect isn't particularly taste-tacular. It's a subtle flavor—some might even say "bland."

On the other hand, it's versatile enough, going well with cheese, lettuce, ketchup, and mustard—pretty much all the usual burger condiments and toppings, but in the end, I think this tastes too much like the veggie burger that red meat eaters are desperately trying to avoid. It tastes a bit like "health food" to me, and for that reason, I'll never buy it again. I do want to reiterate, though, that there are countless meatless options at TJ's that I'd happily consume on a regular basis.

Although she agrees this isn't the best veggie burger option at Trader Joe's, Sonia liked this product significantly more than I did. She liked that they were very filling and easy to prepare. Three and a half stars from her. Two and a half from me.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Toasted Sesame Caramels

"I like them."

"They're a little different, but good."

"I mean, they aren't like my new favorite thing, so I'm not like going to go out and buy all of them and them be my new go to staple item, but you know, they were all right, I guess."

After something like eight years and somewhere around five or six hundred reviews by your truly on here, whenever I ask my lovely bride Sandy about what she thinks about some sort of TJ's product, that's her response at least 90% of the time.

Please note: this doesn't include all the other TJ's things we've consumed but have not reviewed, so it's a lot. Imagine being asked for your opinion on almost everything you eat for years and years, full well knowing anything you say can and probably will be held against you on a blog accessible to everyone in the world. You'd kind of want to plead the 5th after a while, don't ya think? I'm grateful she'll still talk with me about it.

I bring this up about Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Toasted Sesame Caramels because, well, that about sums 'em up perfectly, and I have scant more to really say about them myself.

I like them. I mean, it's dark chocolate and caramel, primarily, which is a pretty solid base. Unless something really goes awry from here, it's a near given for at least a slightly positive review.

They're a little different, but good. It's the sesame, of course. The package shows these caramels as having a sesame-seed tcrunchy toffee base with a little dollop of caramel atop. I'm not saying it's inaccurate...but the amount of toffee itself seems overstated. There's a lot of caramel, and just enough sesame seeds to add a little crispy crunch and some subtle sesame flavor. It's not unpleasant at all, but really, one or two or enough. Theese TJ caramels are decidedly not bingeworthy, at least for me.

I mean, they aren't like my new favorite thing, so I'm not like going to go out and buy all of them and them be my new go to staple item, but you know, they were all right, I guess. Couldn't have said it better myself, love.

As a plus kids probably won't like them too much, and there's a kinda decadent element to them, so it's one treat us adults can savor and keep for ourselves. And at $3 or $4 for the bag, it's not a horrible value either. So when Sandy does her usual eye -scrunched "Hmmmm...three and a half, I guess" when I ask her how many Golden Spoons, that seems about right to me as well.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Toasted Sesame Caramels: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Trader Joe's Original Savory Thin Crackers

Sonia let me eat these crackers in our bed. She didn't really have a choice. It's not like I asked permission. She was still asleep.

In my defense, I did use a plate and napkin, and I don't think I allowed any crumbs to spill onto the sheets. If I had, our dogs would likely have gobbled them up anyway.

Often, before I begin my usual work for the day, I'll try to get a head start on the following day's post for this blog very early on. I mean, writing posts for this blog is usually—not always, but usually—the most fun project of the day. But still, I like knocking out as many tasks as possible early on. Lately, I've found myself waking up at dawn without the assistance of an alarm clock. I'm generally showered, dressed, and have completed a number of domestic tasks like yesterday's dishes or taking out the trash, along with a few tweets and pins by 7am or shortly thereafter. So if there's any way to justify my product for review as a breakfast option, it often becomes just that.

Crackers for breakfast isn't that weird I guess. I had these crispy crunchables with hummus, cheese, and the very last scrapings of our garlic spread dip. All of those toppings worked brilliantly with these gluten-free crackers, not that I was expecting anything less.

They're rice-based, and they taste that way. I've had plenty of other rice crackers throughout the years, and the flavor here is pretty similar. There's a significant sesame taste, too, by virtue of not only sesame seeds, but also sesame flour. Sesame seeds don't really thrill or astound me much these days, but likewise, I won't complain about their presence, either. In a cracker like this, the flavor is deliberately muted, so as to showcase the flavor of whatever cheese or topping they're paired with.

Texture-wise, they're nice and thin, slightly brittle, rigid, and very crunchy. They're stable enough for a chip-full of any kind of topping, but they break apart effortlessly when bitten into.

There's apparently a "mini" version of this cracker that's oddly available for purchase on just about every online retailer one can think of. I guess because they're so shelf-stable...? Anyway, this version is $1.69 a pack. Good price. Decent product. I'd buy 'em again. Three and a half stars from me.

Sonia says they remind her of Japanese rice crackers. She's certainly not wrong. She's eager to try them with some different toppings. Four stars from her.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

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