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Friday, November 30, 2018

Trader Joe's Chocolate Covered Lebkuchen Cookies

I took three years of German in high school and one semester at Penn State to fulfill my foreign language requirement. One might think I regret choosing German over Spanish since I married into a Spanish-speaking family. I dunno. Even after 9 years of marriage, I'm still struggling to hablo some bueno EspaƱol, but all through those school years, the kids who took French, Spanish, and Latin wandered the halls, frazzled and frustrated, trying to cram for their latest vocab quiz, while the German students pranced around singing songs— "Sie liebt dich, ja, ja, ja!" —and looking forward to their next Deutsche Klasse.

There's just something about German that's intrinsically fun. In addition to the language, we learned exciting things about German culture like Oktoberfest, the speed limit-less highway known as the Autobahn, and even some pop culture tidbits via Deutsche Welle—like German music videos. For that reason, I think we retained a lot of what we learned. I don't recall specifically hearing about Lebkuchen, but as soon as I saw them at Trader Joe's, I immediately knew they were cookies—kuchen. According to Wikipedia, the "Leb" part of the equation is less clear, but I immediately assumed it came from the same root word as Leben, the German word for "life." I figured it must have been like the medieval German equivalent to that silliness that Millennials are always saying on social media: "These cookies are giving me life."

And they do indeed "give life." Their insides are vaguely reminiscent of another traditional German treat we looked at on this blog many years ago, but not quite as heavy on the spices. It's similar to gingerbread—soft and slightly chewy—almost spongy. There's a citrusy essence to them, as well, since they've got candied orange peel mixed in—it's not overbearing, though. Almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts give them a nutty flavor. The chocolate coating is waxy, thin, and semi-sweet. It goes together with the bread pretty well, although the combination of the two textures is relatively foreign to both Sonia and I. The undersides of the cookies are like very thin wafers—yet a third distinct texture to add to the mix—although it's not as noticeable as the first two.

Although she was initially turned off by the sponginess of the inner-cookie, Sonia fell in love after a few bites, since the cookies paired so perfectly with coffee. She was happy to have a holiday snack that's a bit of a departure from the norm. No doubt someday our insatiable wanderlust will take us to international destinations like Deutschland, but until then, we're thankful to have snacks like these at Trader Joe's.

Double fours for these cookies.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Trader Joe's Butter Toffee Pretzels

Let's see...don't have the actual spreadsheet available, so this'll all be from memory:

Pringles. Baked cheese curls. Most chips. Sour Patch Kids. Most sugary cereal. Peanut butter cups. Fun sized candy bars. Reese's Pieces. Nutella. Cookie butter. Sliced pepperoni. Other things I'm sure...

And add to it Trader Joe's Butter Toffee Pretzels.

That's my "do not buy" list. Not because I don't like's quite the opposite problem. It's that I like them too much and I feel like I have no choice but to inhale them if given the chance.

My goodness. These are irresistible little buggers for sure. Pretzels are already pretty high on my list, particularly if paired with a little cheese...but these are something else altogether.

Maybe it's the crunchiness of the pretzel (solid) mixed with the crispiness of the butter toffee shell that's semi-caked on. Maybe it's the irresistible combo of butter and sugar...seriously, that glaze is full of amaze. It's rich and sugary without going too far, and when hit with a hefty dose of salt from the, it's like heaven. I love it. The inherent grainy goodness of the pretzel base ties it all together...I could eat the whole bag and have only a small dose of guilt. That'd probably be made up for with a new cavity and/or the diabeetus.

Poor Sandy. We picked up a bag last week before she ran the Philly marathon. For the record, she kicked its bunny tail, and all she wanted afterwards was a couple more of these pretzels ...except I'd already destroyed them. Negative husband points were earned that day. Even now, she got another bag, and I promised her I'd sneak only one or two before writing this review to "remind myself of the taste." I omitted the word "handfuls" though. And I promised her she could have the rest...maybe I'll just have to get my own.

Awesome little snack for sure. Absolutely addictive, so consume with care. I'm not 100% sure of the cost, but whatever, it's worth it. These toffee pretzels are good enough to be holiday tin-worthy in my opinion, provided you'd actually want to share them. Not that I'll get them, really I shouldn't....mustn't....Russell, behave....I think I've made my opinion clear. Good enough for at least a 4.5 in my book. Sandy's not as in love with the pretzels as I am, but still gives them a solid 4.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Butter Toffee Pretzels: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, November 26, 2018

Trader Joe's Sour Cranberry Ale

Just recently, the WG@TJ's team has looked at cranberry wrapped up in meatballscranberry goat cheese, and a turkey dinner with cranberry sauce. We're on a cranberry kick. 

So when selecting our beverage of choice to go with our Thanksgiving meal, we opted for this unique brew, which is certainly new to us. Not sure if it's new to Trader Joe's. 

It's still very novel for us to walk into a TJ's store and see a beer and wine section—this case, in Des Moines, Iowa. None of the Trader Joe's near us carried alcohol of any kind while we lived in the greater Philadelphia area. We're anxious to see what we've been missing out on.

This beer has a witbier base and a good bit of cranberry flavor—but make no mistake, this isn't a "girly" drink. It's an ale. That is, it's not sweet at all. It tastes like a traditional witbier, but with the sourness of cranberries. Witbiers tend to be naturally slightly sour anyway, so the cranberry gives it a double dose of mouth-puckering tartness. If you're not hoping for or expecting any sweetness, it works quite well.

Some of you might remember that Sonia and I decided to do a turkey-less Turkey Day this year... 

Unable to procure the turkey-less turkey on our last TJ's run, we simply opted for fish on Turkey-less Day, which was, to our surprise, available at Cracker Barrel on Thanksgiving Day. We did take-out and ate the meal with this crantastic beverage. We still had some traditional sides like mashed potatoes, corn, rolls, and green beans. This ale paired just fine with most of those foods, providing a sourness in between all our salty, buttery bites. 

As you can see in the picture, it poured with a very large head—no doubt enhanced by the fact we drove with the beverage for a hundred miles or so before opening. It's a pretty light red color, and it smells subtly like tart cran-wheat.

Apparently, there are other flavors of these sour ales available at some TJ's, including raspberry, which I'm now eager to try. These beers originate from a well-known brewery called Petrus—masters of the sour brew, from what I've gathered. The bottle runs $7.99, which is a bit steep for any beer, if you ask me. We splurged since it was a special occasion, but wouldn't make this a regular purchase. 5% ABV. If you're really into SOUR beverages, it's worth a try.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Trader Joe's Cocoa Peppermint Flavored Almond Creamer

Turkey's carved and packed up, leftovers stashed away in Tupperware, the belt is loosened and the shirt's a little bit snugger...means Thanksgiving has come and passed once more.

I love Thanksgiving. I'm lucky to have much to be thankful for. Sandy and I just marked nine years of marriage, with much more "really darn good" if not "pantheon" moments and not too many "blahhh" times. We have our girlies, who we love and whom I'm pretty convinced they're all smarter than me already. We have our extended family and good friends and a house that keeps standing and jobs that keep paying and cars that keep starting. Do we have it all? No, perhaps we're not that close, at least materialistically speaking. But we choose to fill our hearts with love and hands with gratitude.

It's all part of the reason that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday...and why I dislike it being trampled over by Christmas every single year. Kinda grinds my gears. Shops being open for Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving? Ugh. Nothing like trampling over someone for $30 off a blender the same day you're supposed to be thankful for what you have. Thanksgiving calls for peace of the soul, Christmas as celebrated secularly calls for not having enough...or for buying, buying, buying to prove your love for someone.

Sorry for long preamble, I blame the excess tryptophan flowing through my bloodstream right now. And what does this have to do with Trader Joe's Cocoa Peppermint Flavored Almond Creamer?

When I sat down to write this, I really was thinking of this dairyfree creamer in terms of it being a "Christmas" item. "Cocoa peppermint coffee creamer" just sounds inherently Christmassy, like it should be guzzled by lactose-intolerant Santas all across the land. But of course that's a little bit preposterous, it's more of a general winter/colder weather combo, but explains why even we've had it around for over a week, I'm just getting around to the review now. Save the Christmas stuff for after Thanksgiving, right?

It's a decent creamer, though. I poured some in my coffee the other morning and didn't immediately hate it, which is saying something as I usually just do mine black. There's a pleasant balance of mint and chocolate, without either being too overpowering or cloy or sickeningly sweet or anything. Also, there's a little bit of nuttiness too. It's a good flavor, and it didn't color my coffee too tan either. Sandy is a big fan, as she prefers alternate milks and creamers but usually doesn't like almond ones as they can be too thin and watery. "It's almost as creamy as regular cream," she said. I'd take her word for it.

So maybe instead of bah-humbugging too much, I can choose once again to be thankful, even for something small like a flavored coffee creamer that I'm not completely enamored with. It's good enough, vegan, dairyfree, at a good value ($1.99!), and represents a lot of what is right with Trader Joe's as a store. And I got to write about it for a blog I love and an audience I'm pretty fond of, too. Y'all are pretty great. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving and will have a fulfilling run through your holiday season ahead. Gonna need some coffee to keep ya going, it's not the worst idea to spill some of this creamer in at least every once in a while.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cocoa Peppermint Flavored Almond Creamer: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Trader Joe's Cranberry Chevre

Crantastic. Tarterrific. Chevtacular.

Move over, cranberry sauce. I don't know how well this cheese would pair with turkey and stuffing, but I'd rather see this stuff on my Turkey Day spread, personally.

In my opinion, this is the best fruit and goat cheese pairing possible. It's the double dose of tartness that gets me. Sure, there's a good bit of sweetness from the cranberries—both natural and added, but by and large, this is a mouth-puckering, tart, tangy, sour patch people, spread-on-bread but preferably water crackers kind of snack here. Pairs nicely with a malbec or merlot. I just looked it up right now and wine people are telling me that it goes best with a Cabernet Franc. If they say so. I've never even heard of it. Cabernet Sauvignon? Sure. 

I'm learning to appreciate sweeter chevres like blueberry vanilla more than I did in years past, but every time I try them, there's still this notion that "blueberry vanilla" should be an ice cream flavor, not a goat cheese flavor. 

When I taste this stuff...I feel like this is why God invented goats. 

There's the perfect amount of smooshed, dried cranberry matter all around the outside of the cheese. If it's straight outta the fridge, it's a bit difficult to spread. I think the flavor comes across a little better, too, when the cheese has been left at room temperature for a spell. Most of the time, the cranberries stick to the cheese pretty tenaciously, yielding a well-balanced cheese to berry ratio in each bite. Water crackers provide the best neutral venue for this chevre to shine—not just flavor-wise, but the crispness serves as the perfect foil to the cheese's smooth creaminess.

Sonia liked the cheese, too, adding that the product has a melt-in-your-mouth quality that she wasn't expecting. "It feels like a fall food since it's so cranberry-ish," she said.

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

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Trader Joe's Mini Stroopwafel Ice Cream Sandwiches

"I-C-E C-R-E-A-M S-A-N-D-W-I-C-H P-L-E-A-S-E."

"Great job, M, Now spell 'stroopwafel.'"


"It's okay, baby. I don't know how to spell it either."

So it goes these days with my oldest daughter M. She's just a few months into first grade but knows how to spell most anything we can throw her way...and the thing is, she actually enjoys it. Weird kid. But she insists on spelling things at random, including when requesting her dessert the other night, which, of course, was one of Trader Joe's Mini Stroopwafel Ice Cream Sandwiches.

There's been a buzz about these recently. And with good reason. I mean....stroopwafels. Who can hate on them one bit? And ice cream too! These seem to be a match made in heaven.

I'll have to admit that I'm underwhelmed here, unfortunately. I kinda hate when something seems to be so built up, so buzzworthy, and purported to be something so amazing and divine, just for my experience to be so lacking. Is it me that's wrong, or is it all of you? Hate those questions.

Where to start? The taste. Yes, as one would expect, there's a fair amount of caramel here. But it's flat, very flat. The layer in the stroopwafel is frozen and hard and kinda bland, and it's not a strong flavor out of the ice cream either. There's none of the purported saltiness.

Also, frozen stroopwafels aren't particularly fun to bite through. Which I guess shouldn't be surprising - they are a wafer meant to be placed atop a hot cup of coffee, and we're at the other end of the spectrum here - but it's a little stiff cardboardiness going on. Ice cream layer is just fine.

I'm not impressed to be honest. These mini ice cream sandwiches could have been better with some stronger flavor and softer caramel. A serving size is two of these buggers but I was happy enough with just one - a second didn't seem worthy of my caloric indulgences for the day. I cannot be any less excited about them, which pales in comparision to how I felt pre-purchase. it's just meh all the way around, no matter how you spell it. Meh meh meh.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mini Stroopwafel Ice Cream Sandwiches: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Friday, November 16, 2018

Trader Joe's Turkey & Stuffing En Croute

There's always something to be thankful for. So why not have Thanksgiving a little early?

In addition to wanting to sample this Thanksgiving-in-a-box for all you "Trader Nation" folks, Sonia and I are very thankful for a number of things. We're thankful that we sold our house and can now travel the country nonstop in our RV, and we're also thankful that despite a severe stroke, Sonia's mom is in stable condition and now seems to be on the mend in most ways.

We'll still be hitting up Trader Joe's stores as we pass by them in different cities, but we'll seldom be patronizing the locations at our old haunts in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey. "But how will you see the states that don't have Trader Joe's?" you ask? Apparently, there are only 8 left without one, and they're generally either A) close to a state that does or B) not in the continental 48. Alaska and Hawaii will have to wait a few years. Furthermore, Sonia and I aren't looking to go too far out into the boonies, since we both need cell reception and internet for our day jobs. We'll be sticking relatively close to the cities most of the time—places where TJ's are anyway.

On to the review.

I'll just start off with some positives first. Let's look at the cranberry sauce. Yes, it comes with a pouch of cranberry sauce as well as a pouch of gravy. I hadn't realized that at the time of purchase. I can't think of any specific examples right now, but there have been a number of products throughout the years from TJ's that appear to come with some kind of dipping sauce or condiment and in our excitement, we purchase the product without really reading the packaging, only to get home and be disappointed to read "serving suggestion only" on the label. This product is the opposite. There's a small note on the big box explaining, "gravy and cranberry sauce packets included." That's a good thing. That's one of those things that you can go ahead and print in a large font on the cover of the product. Although there's not a ton of it, the cranberry sauce is sweet, tart, citrusy, and full of festive spices like allspice, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon—tasty. It reminds me very much of a gelatinized Winter Wassail. It's a nice treat on its own or mixed with the turkey and stuffing.

In typical Trader Joe's fashion, our bird required an extra half hour in the oven to remove the last bit of pink from the inner turkey. There's a nice subtle blend of herbs and seasonings in the dish, and the copious outer layers help keep a ton of benevolent moisture in the TJ's brand "butterball."

Speaking of the "outer layers"...

My goodness. After eating a slice or two of the product, one begins to realize the shocking ratio of pastry crust to meat. As in, there's more "en croute" than there is turkey. Fortunately, most of it is flaky, bready, flavorful, and almost worth eating on its own. I'll remind you now that Sonia is a professing pescatarian, yet she sampled this product after realizing that she could eat a good bit of it while only taking a bite or two of turkey. I confess, I prodded her into it. In exchange, I agreed to eat only turkey-less turkey on actual Thanksgiving this year. Fair exchange.

Oh yeah. There's the gravy. It's okay. I've never been much of a gravy guy, truth told. This particular dressing is nothing special in my humble opinion. It's super salty. It's almost like miso soup with turkey fat swirled into it. Not terrible. Just unnecessary in this instance. The turkey was juicy enough on its own.

About $13 for the meal. Plenty of food for two people, even on T-giving Day. You could probably stretch it to four if you had a few extra sides to go with it—and I'm not talking USDA "suggested serving sizes," I'm talking Thanksgiving Day, pig-out, all-you-can-eat, give a plate to each of the dogs, let's celebrate life kind of servings. 

Three and a half stars a piece. And an extra half a star. Because I'm in a good mood. Why not?

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Trader Joe's Cauliflower Pancakes

Really wish I could, but as close as it comes to actually working, it just doesn't. Cauliflatkes. Get it?

It's almost an apt word to describe Trader Joe's Cauliflower Pancakes. Almost. So close. It's caulifower. It's a wannabe potato pancake, which is more accurately a latke. It's a cauilfower latke.

But a cauliflatke? It just doesn't work.

Oh well.

Which is too bad, as these cauliflower latkes are incredibly decent. It's nearly shocking. We all know by now how versatile cauliflower can be, and how well it can mimic rice and potatoes...still, let's be honest. You can usually tell if something is cauliflower. If it's not in the feel, it's in the taste. Kinda like how you can sense gluten free goods more times than not, or diet sodas. There's a distinctive difference more than times than not.

File these wannabe spudders under "not." If I didn't know these were cauliflower, I would've assumed there were regular potato. The cakes are dense and heavy, with a lot of "build" to them. Granted, they do look a little different, as there's not toasty shredded bits of potatoes here and there, but eyes closed, not sure I'd tell the difference. Even when baked in the oven, as we did, there's a greasy crispiness that makes me wish we woulda deepfried them. I'll have to settle for the gratitude of my arteries.

There's a small taste difference, though, but not due to base matter. Almost every latke I've ever had contained onions in them, and weren't shy about it. No onions here. Instead there's a small amount of Parmesan cheese used as flavor. It's not over the top, but could more paltable for the anti-onion crowd, whoever you are. Weirdos.

Bake them, fry them, eat them straight, top with sour cream, serve with applesauce. Eat at dinner, at celebrations, as a party appetizer...heck even be weird like us and have them for breakfast. Nutritionally speaking, they're a black hole, but this time, less carbs, amirite? It's every bit a latke. These TJ taterless cakes aren't labelled as gluten free but I'm not seeing anything indicated on the ingredients that would have me to expect they're not...correct me if I'm wrong please. You can't say the same about the regular TJ latkes.

Small note: the box of six costs $3.99. That's one of those odd price points that screams neither screaming deal nor complete rip off, which probably means it's fair for all involved...but as much as I like them at $3.99, I'd like them even more at $2.99.

Call them whatever you want. Maybe with enough support "cauliflatkes" could be a thing...but I'm not counting on it. Count this though: double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cauliflower Pancakes: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Trader Joe's Vanilla & Pretzel and Trader Joe's Coconut & Almond Greek Lowfat Yogurts

Chobani Flips, Fage Crossovers, Yoplait Mix-ins, Siggi's Simple know what I'm talking about. They're yogurts that come with their own toppings. Pretty much idiot-proof. Just open up both compartments and dump the side with the mixables into the side with the yogurt. If you can land the toppings in the container and stir them up without spilling anything onto the table or the floor, you've passed the test. Just consume and enjoy. 

I think these products indicate that the yogurt industry is trying to combat the idea that plain yogurt is boring. It certainly can be, but I'm still fine with non-mixable yogurt. Maybe it was all the business little yogurt shops like Yogurtland and Pinkberry were taking away from the mainstay yogurt guys. 

"Oh, you want to PUT STUFF on your yogurt?" said yogurt CEO's, annoyed with their customers for not being a little more brand-loyal. "We hear you loud and clear, friends. Here's yogurt with STUFF you PUT on it. Sheesh."

Now, it's Trader Joe's turn. These were the only two flavors we saw on TJ's shelves so far. If any others have been sighted, let us know in the comments below.

Sonia and I both share our thoughts in this short video review. Sonia gives three stars to the vanilla pretzel offering and four stars to the coconut almond one. I'll throw out three and a half to each.

Trader Joe's Vanilla & Pretzel Lowfat Greek Yogurt: 6.5 out of 10.
Trader Joe's Coconut & Almond Lowfat Greek Yogurt: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Trader Joe's Turkey Cranberry Meatballs

....somehow it's almost Thanksgiving already! What the what!?!?!

Seems to me that Halloween starts off a verifiable gauntlet of activities and festivities for the fam. Yes, there's the usual Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years stretch...but mix in there Sandy and my's anniversary (almost nine years!), a couple kids' birthdays, our growing tradition of a holiday cookie party, other activities and parties and occasions, along with it growing into the busy season at work, and all along all the normal humdrum and business of day-to-day life...we're busy! And we need to eat, preferably altogether and happily as a family.

Which means I don't really want my kids complaining about whatever meat may be on the table. With that in mind, with Turkey Day coming up too, getting Trader Joe's Turkey Cranberry Meatballs was an easy choice. Who can ever complain about a meatball?

I'm not here. Listen, I know these aren't as good as your Aunt Millie's famous homemade recipe, but for a frozen convenience poultry protein sphere, I'll gladly take them. As they come fully cooked, it's only a few minutes in the oven or microwave that's needed.

The reward for those three nanonseconds worth of active prep? A warm, soft yet appropriately firm meatball that's decidedly lighter than an average beef ball. It's pretty par for the frozen meatball course, with an absolute comfort vibe. But there's a lot more to like here too. There's some pretty decent rosemary in there to really enhance the flavor of the meat with some herbal savoriness. And the little dried cranberries add a nice touch. They're not intrusive from a textural standpoint at all, and definitely add a little "Thanksgiving" to the overall feel.

These turkey treats aren't perfect, though. One scroll through the ingredient list - "mechanically separated turkey." gulp. If you don't what that is somehow, go Google it...not gonna tell ya here, it's a family friendly business we run here. Also, and this is just a suggestion, but meatballs usually incorporate breadcrumbs, right? My grandma took it a step further and used crumbled homemade biscuits. Well, since it's for Turkey Day...why not use some stuffing in there too? That'd literally be almost all of Thanksgiving all rolled up in one morsel, provided that it got tossed around like a football, hollered at about politics, and drenched in gravy as well.

Mmm. Gravy. These do taste better with gravy as I sampled at the local TJ's shop. Interestingly, the dude running the counter advised microwaving instead of baking the balls, so as to retain a little more moisture and not dry them out as much. I prepped one half of our bag each way and to be honest I didn't notice too drastic a difference. Your mileage may vary, though, so there's that.

Sandy and I liked them. The kiddos tolerated them well enough and turned their dinner time ire more towards the brussel sprouts. I'll count that as a win - usually they devour their veggies and slowly whittle our will to let them live by taking four score and seven years to eat a bite of meat. The bag of about 20 meatballs (roughly four or five servings) ran $4.49 locally, so a decent enough of a value for a repeat buy. I'd think they'd work as a dinner or party snack option, so whatever you got going on, these can come alongside. Double 3.5s.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Turkey Cranberry Meatballs: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Trader Joe's Chantilly Cream Vanilla Bean Mini Sheet Cake

Icing: it's the best part of the cake, and the worst part of hockey.

If you're not sure exactly what that means, just turn to the hockey fan nearest you and ask them about it. Right now, as I compose this post, the Capitals and Penguins are playing one another. #ALLCAPS! It's a big rivalry—almost as big a rivalry as the ultimate argument about cake. There are those like my lovely wife that claim the bread part is always best. And then there are people like me. I'm usually an icing kinda guy.

Not long ago, Sonia and I sampled TJ's Party Cake. I liked it a bit more than she did in the end, but we both enjoyed the cake more than the frosting in that instance. In this case, the vanilla bean icing is the main attraction for me. It actually tastes like vanilla beans more than regular white icing in the same way vanilla bean ice cream tastes more like true vanilla than even a highly respectable French vanilla. And like vanilla bean ice cream, this icing has actual ground vanilla beans in it.

The icing isn't completely even across the top of the cake. Around the edges, it's significantly shallower than in the middle. There are a few areas that even seem to have greater quantities of frosting than cake—as in, you take a fork-full, and you're chewing two parts icing to one part cake. It didn't bother me much at all because the vanilla bean was so tasty. You bready cakey people might disagree. However, even I must admit the bread here is nothing to complain about. It stays moist and fresh-ish for quite a while after opening the product. It's not unlike the bread part of the Party Cake, but perhaps a bit denser and richer by virtue of the presence of beaucoup buttermilk.

In general, I'm not even a huge cake and cookies guy anymore, but I'm sure I've consumed hundreds of pieces of cake at parties and get-togethers over the years, and many of them, perhaps even most, have been vanilla. I generally prefer vanilla cake over chocolate, although there have been notable exceptions. I eat less cake these days for a number of reasons: health concerns, weight, not to mention I don't get invited to many parties these days, and I attend even fewer. All that to say it takes a pretty decent cake to impress me at all. 

$4.49 for the dessert isn't a bad deal. Four stars from me. Three and a half from Sonia...who didn't even finish all of her icing.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Flavored Hot Cocoa

Let the milk and cocoa...simmer on the heat...don't ya know the bitter cold makes the bitter sweet?

Ahem. If you have children under the age of 10 or so, you may be aware of a band called The Okee Dokee Brothers. In short, in a world full of mostly wretched, ear clawing, about to drive you mad kid's music, the Brothers band is surprisingly fresh, fun, and more than tolerable to the point of practically downright enjoyable for the whole family. We'e trekked out for an overnight trip out of town to go see them play in Columbus, OH a few months back, just in time for their new album release Winterland. Solid album from start to finish...and believe me, I know. It's been on repeat for the past month everytime we've driven anywhere, so I am intimately familiar with each song on the album, including the lead off song "Blankets of Snow" where the first line of this review came from.

Could be a lot worse. Could be Kids Bop 265 or whatever they're on now.

So my apologies for not being able to think of another way to start off a review of yet another hot cocoa concoction for TJ's, this time Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Flavored Hot Cocoa.

Unlike my kid's number one choice of music, this one may slightly tilt towards the older crowd. My kids are just happy with anything brown and sugary (it counts as "chocolate" for them") and if there's marshmallows it's a bonus.

Salted caramel is much more the lead flavor of this beverage. It starts with that flourish, then delves into the cocoa after a brief semi-salty interlude. I'm not sure I'd say it's exactly "high quality" salted caramel...but it works with the chocolate elements enough to make a fairly drinkable, fairly enjoyable product. Even when made with water, there's a pretty rich, developed taste which I'd imagine would be even more so with milk, but after a tummy bug knocked me out for the last day and a half, I wasn't gonna try. I can definitely down some on a cold day while not feeling too bad about leaving the kiddos with a packet of Swiss Miss.

Odd point: this mix goes through the trouble of being made with coconut creamer powder, yet still contains milk in that said powder. Coconut creamer doesn't really even need milk, so why bother? It'd be cool to have this as a dairy free option, but no dice. 

This caramelly cocoa runs $3.99 for the squatty cannister which holds enough for eight servings, so about 50 cents a cup overall. Seems like an okay but not amazing value to me. At least it comes with a free three tablespoon scoop, and it'll be a cannister that I'm sure my kids will fight over once emptied. Oh well. It's all okee-dokee with me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Flavored Hot Cocoa: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, November 2, 2018

Trader Joe's Soft Honey Nougat with Almonds

The moment Sonia popped the confection into her mouth, she said what I was thinking: "Weird."

"Mmhmm," I agreed, mouth bulging with candy.

"It tastes fake," added the missus. 

I didn't disagree, but I looked at the ingredients. First on the list: glucose syrup. I was hoping to see "cane sugar" or "honey" there.

At first, this candy feels fake, too—almost like hard plastic. The nougat quickly softens, though, and goes from stiff and rigid to soft and pliable. The nuts are the only elements that remain hard after a few moments in the mouth, and they add the only non-sugary flavor to the product. The taste of honey is detectable, but I wish there were a good bit more of it.

We both agree the almonds are the best part of this sweet snack, and since they're playing second fiddle to a block of vanilla-flavored sugar, they still don't redeem the product entirely, in my opinion. Sonia started enjoying the candy more and more as she tasted the almonds, got used to the unfamiliar texture, and learned that the nougats came all the way from South Africa. I'm not sure why we have to import something that could potentially be little more than wads of corn syrup, but I guess we're just that much more sophisticated for eating foreign confections.

Despite an initial wariness, Sonia will bring a respectable three and a half star score. At $3.49 for 8 pieces of nougat, I think it's a little overpriced and uninteresting. I'd prefer a product that's simply nice big whole almonds with just a thin coating of this candy. Two and a half stars from me.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

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