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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Trader Joe's Vanilla Overnight Oats

As I sit here in the early morning hours of New Years Eve 2019, eating some Trader Joe's Vanilla Overnight Oats, I can't help but think about life a little bit.

It's kinda like oatmeal, isn't it?

Sometimes it's pretty good, other times it can be a lot better. You gotta take your lumps and move on. Sometimes it's better to stir it up a little, other times it's best to let it be and wait.

And to relate a little further to these new(ish) overnight's definitely a little nutty, but overall sweet. It's perishable, so take proper care. And sometimes there's no shame in taking the easy, convenient route to get through whatever lies ahead of you, as long as you're prepared ahead of time.

Okay, enough of the life's not like I'm some Ralph Marston-esque guru. I'm just a 37 year old dude who ate some oatmeal, dangit, and I stayed in my own bed last night, not at a Holiday Express. Let's talk oatmeal.

This particular overnight oats seems really heavy on the almond flavor, coming from the almond milk/beverage the oats were soaked in. If you're not an almond fan, keep away...but at least it's good almond flavor. If I had some actual nuts to sprinkle in, I would just to mix it up a bit. There's also a decent amount of vanilla to really sweeten up everything, too. No added sugar needed, and that comes from a sugar junkie. There is a bit of a sticky sweet aftertaste that lingers on, which abates quickly with a little coffee or fruit.

It was surprising to see dates on the ingredient list, because they're imperceptible in pretty much every way. I don't taste them and I don't feel them. Of course, as in real life, dates can be really sneaky...let's move on, please.

As one would expect, the TJ overnight oats are a bit cold and somewhat lumpy but not in a gross way. I'm not smart enough to know if it's okay to heat them up, as the package gave no microwave instructions. I don't see why not except for maybe moving the oats to a microwave safe dish.

Not bad for $1.99. The oats are decent enough quality and there's a lot of convenience here, which always comes at a premium. I'm not sure I'd stock up on them personally, but for my lovely bride and I, it probably wouldn't be bad to have a couple around for one of our trademark crazy mornings on the run. That's just life, all rolled up and ready to go, and it's not bad.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Vanilla Overnight Oats: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, December 23, 2019

Trader Joe's Cultured Coconut Milk Nog

If you want super creamy eggnog without the dairy, this product is for you. I know there's almond nog, but this stuff is great for folks that want something a lot thicker—a snack rather than a beverage.

Sonia thought Trader Joe's Cultured Coconut Nog tasted more like coconut and less like nog. I felt the opposite. It's definitely a bit coconutty, but then again coconut yogurt tends to be that way. I was surprised how forward the nog spices were in this instance.

We've tried at least one other kind of cultured coconut from Trader Joe's, and all in all, I liked that blueberry flavor better. But this one isn't bad, and it's seasonal, festive, and noggy as it wants to be. The little coconut wearing a scarf is a nice touch on the packaging. I always wonder who does these illustrations. You'd think there would be animation studio execs busting down the doors of TJ's creative department trying to hire these folks to make the next Charlie Brown Christmas, but with coconuts wearing winter clothing instead of Peanuts characters. 

Anyway, Trader Joe's Cultured Coconut Nog is thicker than any drinkable nog, very much flaunting the texture of normal yogurt. It looks just like regular yogurt, too, with just a few flecks of nutmeg and cinnamon floating around in the mixture. Flavor-wise, it's a little unusual to taste coconut and "eggnog" side by side like this, but it's not disagreeable at all—a very pleasant pairing, by my estimation. I'm surprised cultured coconut "yogurts" aren't more popular, considering how ubiquitous milk allergies and lactose intolerance seem to be.

This $1.49 nog-gurt kinda grew on me by the end of the cup, but as a self-proclaimed nog connoisseur, I'm a tough grader. Three and a half stars from me. Sonia liked it at first bite. Four stars from her.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Trader Joe's Buffalo Style Chicken Dip

At no time, under any circumstance, is double dipping okay.

Don't. Just don't. Ugh.

I need to remind my kids of this constantly. I don't like to think I'm much of a germaphobe, but once something has been in somebody else's mouth I want nothing to do with it. It's gross. Listen - I don't even double dip when I know I'm gonna be the only one dipping. Don't do it!

Any serial double dippers out there? If so, shame on you, and I have a New Year's Resolution to propose to you.

All that being said, I'm double dipping this week when it comes to Trader Joe's Buffalo Style Chicken Dip.

Key difference: it's all just metaphorically speaking after my earlier review of the Green Goddess Dip, in which I admitted I'm not a huge dip fan. The big exception, of course, is buffalo chicken dip - who doesn't love it? Gotta go for it.

TJ's take is about average overall, in my opinion. There's some definite high points. For instance, these plenty of shredded-to-bits breast that literally make the dip chock full of chicken. Copious amounts of meat is always a plus. And there's a nice enough of a cayenne-inspired sting that slowly builds, enough to be noticed but not ever unpleasant. It's maybe a four on a 1 to 10 scale of spicy, which I think is accessible to most folks.

Issue's neither bird nor spice that make up most of the flavor. It's almost all sour cream. It's impact is somewhat dampened by cream and Monterey Jack, but also a little amped by the presence of vinegar in the cayenne pepper sauce. Because of this, when making my own buffalo chicken dip, I tend to stay away from sour cream. Buffalo chicken dip should be spicy, not sour, and here it is, mostly sour.

All that being said, yeah, I can eat my fair share of this dip, and probably more. As my lovely bride said, for being no work whatsover, it's pretty decent. But it could be better...much better. I've seen some online chatter about some other folks augmenting the dip with a little added spice of their own, which makes sense to me. Meh. Not great, not bad either, I'll take it for the $4ish bucks it cost for the tub. 

Both my wife and I want to give it a three, but since we ain't gonna double dip on scores, I'll sneak an extra half spoon on.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Buffalo Style Chicken Dip: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Trader Joe's Non-Dairy Oat Beverage

I don't know how Christmassy this oat beverage is, but there is a buzz about it on social media, and it's totally new to me. It seems each year, there's a new type of "milk" on the market. When I was a kid, there was, of course, the classic cow's milk, which I had sensitivities to as a child. Then they started pushing fake milks like Similac and other animal milks like goat's milk.

In recent years, they discovered they could milk soybeans, almonds, cashews, coconuts, and now, apparently, oats. Trader Joe's Non-Dairy Oat Beverage is a drink made of nothing but water and hydrolyzed oats. Simple enough.

Its consistency is similar to any of the above-named nut milks—that is, it's thinner than cow's milk and slightly thicker than water. Flavor-wise, it reminds me of milk left over from a bowl of Quaker Oat Squares.

I always loved that cereal. Always loved the milk that remained in the bowl. It tastes like that: lightly sweet, oat-flavored milk. The carton mentions there's an innate sweetness to oats, and this beverage lets that flavor shine in a way regular oat grains can't for some reason—something about breaking down starches into sugars.

I could see this as off-putting to dairy milk purists or people who don't like the flavor of oats. I didn't mind it one bit. I was, in fact, pleasantly surprised. I was fine sipping on it plain, it worked well on cereal, and it made a decent base for hot chocolate, too.

I haven't seen any other brands in mainstream grocery stores, but then again, I haven't really been looking. I'm sure it's just a matter of time until we see Oat Silk on the shelves of the local HyVee or Piggly Wiggly. Until then, I have nothing to compare this oat beverage to.

Sonia liked it as well, and she says she could see it replacing almond and dairy milk in our household. $2.29 for 32 fl oz. Four stars from her. Three and a half from this guy.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Trader Joe's Green Goddess Dip

Apparently, and surprisingly to myself, I'm now a cat person.

To put this in context: over the past few months, my lovely bride and our lovable munchkins have been begging to get a cat. I'd roll my eyes and grumble every time. Evidently one evening, after imbibing a particularly potent potable or two at a local brewery, I get one. As kinda like a Christmas gift for the family...not like animals are really gifts...but you know what I mean, I hope.

Well, now we have two. I got suckered into it. We've had Autumn and Cy in our family for about a week and a half now. I love 'em. Autumn is so friendly and Cy is still pretty shy. I was kinda sad when he hid in our basement for the most of the week and we couldn't lure him out, but I finally got to pet him for a good half hour or so last night. I will admit that I'm enjoying having these little furballs, so far at least.

What's that got to do with the new Trader Joe's Green Goddess Dip? No, I'm not recommending it as a snacktime condiment for ALF. It's just, I never thought this kinda stuff would be my thing, either.

If you're familiar with TJ's Green Goddess Dressing (I'm not), this dip is probably pretty similar. Except two things: look at first two ingredients: Sour cream (which I'm generally okay with, in moderation), and mayo (which I'm not). Apparently this makes the "dip" more of a classic green goddess dressing than the actual dressing TJ's sells...well, who knows.

The sour cream adds a little body and zip, and the mayo definitely helps thicken stuff up a bit. Other than that, the dips has all the hallmarks: citrusy, garlicky, acidic, a touch spicy but in a flavorful, not heated kinda way. I wish I could taste more avocado in it - all that seems to translate over for them is the color, and not as much flavor.

My only holdbacks, and this is just me, is the consistency. It's so smooth and gloppy and, well, dip-like. I just don't do dips. Why not? Couldn't tell you. I just don't. And while the green goddess dip isn't a complete game changer for me, after trying it I can totally get the appeal.

Sandy likes it more than I do. She actually employed it as a salad dressing for her lunch the other day, and has been scheming other ways to implement it. I might leave the rest of the container more or less to her - I might be too busy petting our new kitties anyways. Four spoons from her, I'll give it three.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Green Goddess Dip: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, December 13, 2019

Trader Joe's Old Fashioned Egg Nog Liqueur

I've always loved eggnog. It has always said "Christmas" to me more than any other single beverage or food.

In general, I think eggnog tastes better sans alcohol, although I've experimented at length with various alcoholic additives, including whiskey, bourbon, rum, and finally Jägermeister—my all-time favorite. Prior to this beverage, I'd never tried a liqueur version, nor had I ever mixed eggnog with brandy.

It works very well. It's basically what you'd expect from a very fine eggnog mixed with top-shelf French brandy and spiced rum. I feel like the spices are slightly more pungent than usual, but they're blended oh-so-perfectly in this instance.

This eggnog liqueur is super creamy, but not too thick. As much as I love creamy beverages—everything from fruit smoothies to blended coffee drinks to milkshakes to eggnog—I've never wanted them particularly thick. A thin beverage is more drinkable in my opinion, more chuggable—not that you'd ever chug Trader Joe's Old Fashioned Egg Nog Liqueur. It's best when sipped slowly, savored, and meditated upon. It's probably one of the best eggnog beverages I've ever tried—certainly the best pre-mixed version containing alcohol. Superb.

I, personally, think it's time to force beverage companies to put nutrition facts and ingredients on all their alcoholic products. I would think a drink as apparently top quality as this one shouldn't have many ugly secrets to hide. It would be a great selling point if they did publish them on the bottle, whether they were forced to or not. I'm sure it has more calories than we'd want it to, but at least we wouldn't be completely in the dark.

$7.99 for the bottle. Just under 15% ABV, so it's on par with a red wine as far as alcohol content is concerned. 

Eggnog has grown on Sonia since we've been together. She wasn't really a fan when I met her, but now, she's down with the nog. She's in agreement that Trader Joe's Old Fashioned Egg Nog Liqueur is a very tasty concoction. Four stars from her. Four and a half from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Trader Joe's Over the River & Through the Wood Trek Mix

Over the river and through the wood
On our busy lives we go!
Does TJ's know a way
For our hunger to be slayed
Oh please, don't tell me no!

I could go on...but we're all busy here. Tis the season. I'd much rather just go right into the details of this newish tantalizing looking snack, Trader Joe's Over the River & Through the Wood Trex Mix.

Man, there's a lot in here. It's almost easier to list what isn't in than what is. There's a lot of almonds, piles of pepitas, a plethora of pecans, copious cranberries, a peck of pistachios, and a plentiful prosperity of pretzels of the chocolate covered both dark and white chocolate.  Don't like anything in there? You must be crazy.

Really, it's a good mix. There seems to be the most of the almonds, pepitas and cranberries, which isn't a bad thing. If I wanted a bag chock-full of chocolate covered pretzels, I could buy one. Everything is crunchy and munchy and melds together well enough, with a couple noteworthy bits.

The MVP of the trek mix has got to be the pecans. The bag says they're pumpkin spiced, and there's definitely a little of that kinda flavor to them. But it's more mild cinnamon and ginger than over the top, slap ya outta your Uggs pumpkin spice which I more or less loathe. SO enjoyable, with a soft roasted bite, and there's a good amount of full pecans as well as itty bitty pieces, that really make the mouthful when present.

As for the LVP? It's almost unfair, but if I ahd to pick one, it'd be the sweetened dry cranberries. I like 'em just fine, but their tartness overrides most of the other ingredients when they're around. They mesh the least well with anything else here, so that's why I'd pick them. Part of me would almost prefer boring old raisins, but then I'd probably complain about boring old raisins, so maybe there's just no pleasing me here.

Everything else is on point. Love the chocolate pretzels in particular too. The pepitas are pepitas - what else can be said? Yum. Pistachios are always welcome, especially when there's no need to shell them. Just a small handful goes a long way.

Great mix. Highly enjoyable. Reasonably priced - well, I'm assuming so, misplaced the receipt, wife doesn't remember, I wasn't there at time of purchase, so one of y'all can fill us in. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Over the River & Through the Wood Trek Mix: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, December 9, 2019

Trader Joe's Cheesecake in a Bite

These little bites are, in fact, little more than bites. They're very small. If I would have read the box carefully before purchasing, I would have seen that the pic on the cover art does include a disclaimer about the image being "enlarged to show texture." On the back of the packaging, however, there's a much smaller pic of a cheesecake in a bite with the caption "actual size."

Another interesting point to ponder before even taking a taste of these little bite-sized cheesecakes: the preparation instructions. "Defrost at room temperature for 3-4 minutes." Three or four minutes? I'm not sure how hot these folks have their houses, but I wouldn't think 72 degrees could thaw anything in 3-4 minutes. Keeping Tiago the Tioga, our house on wheels, at 72 degrees is a near impossibility in our current climate. A small price to pay for the freedom we enjoy. But we're about to hit a stretch that won't see above-freezing temps for four whole days. We're more than comfortable in the low to mid 60's in our coach, and our multiple propane Buddy Heaters and electric space heaters keep the living areas in that ballpark pretty consistently.

So we simply defrosted for a few extra minutes. The cheesecake bites were thoroughly thawed, surprisingly. Their texture is exactly what you'd expect from cheesecake. The top part is smooth, creamy, and soft. The bottom provides some structural stability and a more cookie-like texture.

The tastes? Somewhere between good and great, in my opinion. Peppermint isn't necessarily a cheesecake flavor I'd ever seek out. I don't hate peppermint. I just think there are tons of other flavors I'd rather see cheesecake-ified. If you're on the hunt for an indulgent, creamy version of peppermint, the peppermint flavor in this cheesecake bite collection might be exactly what you're looking for. Flaunting a bit of chocolate flavor, too, it's not unlike a classic peppermint patty in cheesecake form.

I felt the gingersnap spice flavor tasted a lot like pumpkin pie, sans the pumpkin. Ginger is usually one of the dominant spices in a pumpkin pie or pumpkin cheesecake, so it makes sense this would taste a lot like pumpkin pie. There's also cinnamon up in the mix, as well as a hint of molasses. My favorite, Sonia's second favorite.

The maple vanilla flavor is pretty tasty. You can detect both distinct maple and vanilla flavors. I think maple could have easily overshadowed the vanilla if they hadn't taken any care to balance the two precisely. It's a bit like what I might have guessed pouring maple syrup on plain vanilla cheesecake might taste like, but perhaps a tad less messy. This was Sonia's preferred flavor out of the three, my second. 

I give Trader Joe's Cheesecake in a Bite collection three and a half stars. I've tasted better cheesecake in my day, but the presentation is nice, and there's nothing really lacking. It will all come down to your own personal affinity for the three somewhat unusual flavors they've selected for this product.

$5.99 for 12 cheesecake bites. Sonia's score? Four out of five stars.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Trader Joe's Ginger Snowball Cookies

Prepare ye the annual holiday cookie onslaught!

You know how it is. Every year around this time...cookies cookies cookies. Cookies here. Cookies there. As my five year old would gratuitously add, cookies in your underwear. Well, probably not there, but if you did, who am I to judge? We all need to get through our days somehow.

Cookies cookies I didn't really need to buy Trader Joe's Ginger Snowball Cookies...but yet here we are.

There's not much reinventing of the wheel here. If you're thinking these look like fairly typical holidayesque pfeffernüsse, you're on the right track. Soft, crumbly, buttery, lots of excess powdered sugar to dry up your mouth and cough out and make a flurry fall on your sweater...yeah, these check all those marks.

As a redhead myself, the phrase used on the package though kinda makes me blush. "Studded with ginger," it says. I mean...well, I don't know what I mean. But you know what I mean.

What Trader Joe's means by that particular phrase is interspersed throughout the cookies are little bits of candied ginger. These ginger pebbles will either make or break the cookies for you. There's two things about them. First, the flavor is really particularly mild. Ginger can be really over the top or under the radar, and TJ's chose the latter here. I kinda like it, but I want more ginger taste. And second, for the unsuspecting, their presence really interrupts the bite path. It's not quite like biting into a rock, but the rest of the cookie is so soft and crumbly that hitting as hard spot kinda interfered with the whole experience. Instud of these "studs", as it were, I'd prefer the flavor to be amped up and disseminated throughout the dough, maybe like a triple ginger snap reimagined as pfeffernüsse.

So yeah. We have our annual cookie party coming up, and these will likely not be on the tray. It's not out of hate or spite, but well I spent five hours baking yesterday so I'd rather have the fruits of my efforts be on display. But when that's not a possibility, I'd consider buying again for the $3 or so. They're good enough I s'pose.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Ginger Snowball Cookies: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Trader Joe's Cauliflower Gratin

After checking out an odd pasta plus cauliflower dish from Trader Joe's recently, numerous readers mentioned this particular pasta-free dish as an even lower carb, lower-calorie alternative. There are breadcrumbs in this cauliflower gratin, so it's neither completely carb-free nor gluten-free, but it does contain significantly fewer carbs and calories.

It's apparently only a seasonal dish, but it was still available on our last Trader Joe's run, thankfully. Sometimes I think "seasonal" at TJ's means "we get exactly one shipment a year, and if you miss out, just cross your fingers we'll get one more shipment next year about this time."

Anyway, we were curious to see how it would compare to the cauli and shells combo. Both dishes are refrigerated, not frozen, and they come with "best by" dates printed on the packages. I'd prefer them to be frozen so there's not a gun pointed at your head to eat them soon after purchase, but then I guess there's that whole "freshness" issue...

I digress.

There's plenty of flavor in Trader Joe's Cauliflower Gratin. There's a four cheese blend flaunting parmesan, asiago, fontina, and provolone. The cauliflower chunks are much larger in this dish, and I feel like they're slightly softer, but there's still a nice roasted quality to them, and they taste great alongside the copious cheese. The breadcrumbs were more plentiful here—another reason I enjoyed this gratin offering more than its predecessor. They're not panko this time—just regular wheat-based breadcrumbs with some herb flavoring.

Sonia raved about the taste and texture as she quickly downed her share of the dish. She was shocked at the conservative numbers on the nutrition facts at first glance, although if you pay attention, they're not as low as one might think initially. The recommended serving size of this product is half a cup, as compared with a whole cup on the cauli & pasta shell combo. They want us to eat half as much cauliflower gratin and somehow stretch a package to three and a half servings. Nope. Not gonna happen. This is two servings at best.

Both products are the same price: $4.99. In the end, this will get a thumbs up from both of us. We like it just a tad more than the very similar dish with pasta. The cheese combo and breadcrumb elements in the cauliflower gratin seem just slightly higher quality to me. Four stars apiece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Trader Joe's Crispy Rice Salmon Bites


If you're a guardian of some miniature trolls AKA have some young kids in the house, no doubt that's a familiar refrain. Undoubtedly it is for my lovely bride, with whom I just celebrated ten years of mostly married bliss, and I.

To combat, I troll right back. With hamsters.

Think Bubba Shrimp...except hamsters. Hamster stew. Hamster steak. Fried hamsters. Hamster meatballs. Hamster omelettes. Mashed hamsters. Grilled hamsters. Hamster flambe.  At least what's I tell them, making it up, over and over again until they stop nagging me.

Of course, they never really believe me, until I told them that Trader Joe's Crispy Rice Salmon Bites were hamster nuggets with a side of hamster sauce. The juvenile gulps were barely audible at the sound of the news.

Yeah, I can assure you these bites are definitely not hamster. TJ's does have a somewhat spotty history with salmon products but has mostly been on the upswing as of late. I think these continue the trend.

For $6.99, you get twelve respectively sized chunks battered somewhat tempura style with rice flour and spices. The breading does seem to crisp up pretty well while baking and maintain its texture without getting soggy over the fish. That's good news - nobody sane likes soggy nuggets. It does add a little bit of flavor, too, for sure, but pretty mildly so, leaving most of the flavor to the salmon.

So here's the thing. We do enjoy salmon in our family - well, 75% of our voters, at least - but mostly we do cold smoked on bagels, so actual fleshy chunks are a somewhat unfamiliar form to us. Perhaps that's why the strike me as a little bland - it may be the unfamiliarity of the protein more than anything else. There's part of me that feels I'd really enjoy chicken a lot more in this form than salmon. There's nothing wrong with the fish - it's perfectly fine - but just a bit fleshy and subtly flavored.

So that's why TJ's put in dynamite sauce! Kaboom!

What's dynamite sauce? Apparently it's like a sriracha/mayo remoulade with some soy sauce mixed in as well. I don't think it stands well on it's own - the soy adds a cloying sweetness that strips the sauce of much of its spiciness. I don't want to have a bottle of this separately. But when drizzled over or dunked with the salmon bites, it works, adding flavor that works well with the natural fish flavor without overpowering it. There's also plenty to go around. Our kids hated it - "too spicy!" they claimed, which is code for having flavor other than straight up salt - while I was indifferent. Sandy thinks it'd taste great on a burger.

Well, there you go. Serve as a hot appetizer or a side dish like we did to go along with some veggie soup. The TJ's salmon bites are a little different, and an interesting take. We'll probably buy once or twice again. Mostly thumbs up, with added points for not actually being hamsters.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crispy Rice Salmon Bites: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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