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Friday, January 31, 2020

Trader Joe's Fig Butter

Ah, the wondrous fig. Did you know that figs aren't technically fruit? They're inverted flowers. And did you further know that there are, in fact, dead wasps inside each fig? Not particularly appetizing. But not to worry, the wasps are completely digested by the fruit—er, flower—by the time they're turned into delicious fig butter. Yum?

Anyway, this fig butter has been around Trader Joe's for a long, long time. It's been a mainstay on their shelves and in our pantry for years. Some time ago, Sonia took a recommendation from a TJ's employee to put fig butter and almond butter in a sandwich together. It has completely replaced peanut butter and jelly in her diet. I'll admit, it's a tasty combo, but nothing can take the place of good old PB & J for this guy.

Still, there are many uses for this yumtastic fig butter. I'll have toast with cream cheese and fig butter on occasion. It goes well with goat cheese and crackers. I'm sure you could use it as a glaze for certain meats, a topping for puff pastries, or even in a salad dressing mixture. What else could you do with Trader Joe's Fig Butter? You could make figgy pudding I suppose. Then when those carolers come around next holiday season you could really surprise them when they get around to that obnoxious verse in We Wish You A Merry Christmas.

It's naturally sweet, mostly smooth, and has just a bit of grit from the seeds. No, those aren't wasp parts, at least according to that article I linked to in the first paragraph.

This might be Sonia's favorite Trader Joe's product of all time. "Simply scrumptious," she says. Perfect five stars from her for this fig butter. I like it a lot, too. Four stars from me. I can't believe we didn't review this earlier. Better late than never, I suppose.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Trader Joe's Miso Vegetables and Brown Rice Sauté Kit

"Best by" dates on perishable refrigerated goods can be a tricky subject. Sometimes, at least in our experience, that bag of spinach that was supposed to be good for at least another three days looks like a soggy handful of seaweed. Conversely, sometimes, that broccoli that was supposed to be compost by now? Looks fine, tastes why not?

So in our house we try more or less to abide by them, but as our garbage can on trash night indicates, we're not always the best. Maybe that stamp could be renamed to "Best intentions by and best discretion after" but that's probably a few too many characters for an itty bitty stamp...I digress.

The best by date on our Trader Joe's Miso Vegetables and Brown Rice Sauté  kit was 1/25/20. The evening of 1/26/20 rolls around, my lovely bride is taking a pre dinner break, my turn to make dinner...and I see the date. Looks alright enough, alright, so we're going in.

In and of by itself, it's a pretty decent kit. Lots of good ol crunchy cruciferious veggies in here, and who can hate on that? I mean, chances are, everybody likes at least something  in there - broccoli, Brussel sprouts, carrots, cabbage, kale, carrots and snow peas? I personally say yes please to all of them! If you don't enjoy one of them, it's all easy enough to work around. There's also brown rice, which is more plentiful than first appearance - that little vacuum packed baggie holds A LOT of rice. A bit harder to work around, but really, why would you?

And it's a simple enough kit to follow. Warm up a pan, drizzle some EVOO (I found it needed more than the recommended tablespoon), add veggies, sauté  for a bit (preferably with cold beverage in hand), add rice which explodes out, heat it all back up, mix in miso sauce....BOOM. Simple easy awesome.

It all tastes good and holds together well. The miso is typical miso, which is a great thing IMHO. Mild with some good umami tingles. Kick it up a notch with a little actual seaweed action (no, not that month old saggy sack int he back corner of the fridge!) if ya want, it'll work, trust me.

Love it, no real complaints. There could something a little extra, maybe, but then that's borderline messing with a classic staple and if you're gonna do that, you best come correct. Am I right, Crystal Pepsi? Definitely healthy, can't argue otherwise.

Like it, 7.5 out of 10, would buy again, with best of both intention and discretion in mind.

Bottom line: : Trader Joe's Miso Vegetables and Brown Rice Sauté Kit: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, January 27, 2020

Trader Joe's Vanilla Flavored Baton Wafer Cookies

When I was a kid growing up in the 80's, for some strange reason my friends and I thought smoking was cool. We weren't the type of kids to actually go behind our parents' backs, obtain cigarettes, and really start smoking, so we used our imaginations. Candy cigarettes were readily available at the local convenience store, so we'd often ride our bikes there and pick up a pack or two. 

For those of you unfamiliar with the product, they were sticks of mostly flavorless sugary candy with bright red or orange tips and some powdered sugar at the end. If you'd blow hard enough on the other end, a little puff of white would float off the tip, thus simulating the smoke emanating from a genuine Marlboro or what have you. Stupid, I know. But we thought we were very cool with these counterfeit cancer sticks. In lieu of candy cigarettes, we'd use pretzel sticks, French fries, or even baby carrots as make-believe stogies.

I've been old enough to smoke since the summer of '97, and yet I've still never smoked a real cigarette. I'll have a cheap cigar here and there, and I've tried hookah numerous times, but the whole emphysema thing doesn't really appeal to me, so I generally steer clear of tobacco products. And yet, for some silly reason, I can't stop myself from imagining these batons are somehow oversized cigarettes or skinny white cigars. I'm probably walking a thin line between child-like and child-ish when I, at 40, pretend to smoke these baton wafer cookies, but if that's the worst crime I'm guilty of, my 2022 run for Congress is still within reach.

In addition to making great kid-friendly "cigarettes," these batons are pretty snackable, too. There's a nice, crispy, wafery quality about the cylindrical shells, and the flavor is moderately sweet and distinctly vanilla. I really enjoy the "vanilla flavored cream" filling in the middle. It's not too thick, not too sugary, but it tastes like actual cream. Each stick is the perfect size for a between meal snack, and as the cover art would suggest, they'd go great with some vanilla ice cream as a dessert. They're pretty good for dunking in coffee or hot chocolate as well.

I'm not sure if this flavor was available back when the coffee cocoa and petite cocoa varieties were reviewed on this blog, but I'm pretty sure these are my favorite so far. Sonia liked them even more than she liked the coffee ones. She said they reminded her of those popular flat vanilla creme wafer cookies. She grew up on those and thinks the taste of these is very similar but even better quality overall. I think the flavor of these vanilla ones is much more pleasant and appealing than either of the other baton wafer cookie flavors we've tried. 

$1.99 for the container. Four and a half stars from Sonia for Trader Joe's Vanilla Flavored Baton Wafer Cookies. I'll give 'em the thumbs up, too, but maybe with a little less enthusiasm. Three and a half stars from me. The fearless flyer website shows them as "archived," but they were definitely available just yesterday, January 26, 2020, in a Minneapolis area Trader Joe's.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Trader Joe's Uncured Pastrami

Some years ago, on a whim on some post on here that I can't seem to find right now, I referred to myself as a "meatatarian." Obviously it's a dumb word, and normally such an offhand statement would be shortly lodged in the memory and forgotten, much like the balance on the last ATM withdrawal. But it kinda stuck, I think a person or two called me out on the stupidity of the word, saying I should have used other more commonly accepted and appreciated nomenclature like "carnivore" because apparently the wide expanse of the English language has only enough room to allot one word for one's affinity and/or love and/or fondness and/or general pleasantry towards and/or preference and/or infatuation and/or passion and/or craving and/or enthusiasm and/or fancy and/or favor for meat.

I digress. I still love me some meat. And for Christmas I got a shirt that has a sectioned-up hog with the word "MEATARIAN" proudly displayed up top. It's a word now, haters. I may have lost any royalty-rights battles but I won the war.

One such way I show my love: on occasion, for any easy, tasty, just for me lunch, I'll get something like Trader Joe's Uncured Pastrami and just have me a go with it for lunch. Especially at work. No one there judges me, especially not the dude who eats Spaghetti-O's straight from the can unheated. Ugh.

Is TJ's pastrami the best pastrami in the world? Hard no. I'm quite partial to my dad's homesmoked, and have had some out at various smokehouses. I'd love to smoke my own but have been too intimidated as of yet - this shall change once weather warms, I hope.

But it's there, easily accessible, reasonably priced at $4.99 for a half poind of thin sliced goodness, and when there;s an itch that only a few cuts of pastrami can scratch, it'll do for sure.

Smoky, a little garlic, a little peppery...all the goodness, all the usual spices. It's pretty much a textbook pastrami. I mean, what else can be said? The goodness of the beef shines thru and is well accentuated by the spices and prep, and it's so easily and convenient to pick up. If it weren't any good, it'd be shuffled out of the TJ's rotation by now, right? Can't argue with that logic.

Be like me and eat straight up. Or put on a sammy with a little mustard if you will, or sneak into an almost Reuben. Still gotta go corned beef for that but life it short and it's close enough.

 P is for pastrami and this one's good enough for me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Uncured Pastrami: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Toasted Coconut Granola Bark

I feel bad. I really do. 

Apparently the past three products I've reviewed, like the antipasto vegetables, have already been discontinued at Trader Joe's. In fact, they were discontinued at the time I posted the reviews. Furthermore, all three of them had already been discontinued at the time we purchased them. They were just part of that leftover batch that hangs out on shelves for a month or two after TJ's gives them the axe. If you ask the friendly employees, they'll kindly check the computer to see which products are going the way of the dodo, but I certainly never think to do that. When I'm shopping Trader Joe's these days, it's usually a rapid deployment-rapid extraction type of operation. 

I mean, I get it. They need to make room for newfangled stuff like this. But it's getting to the point that you'll never know what you can find in the store. Or if they'll discontinue your favorite product while you're not paying attention. Just ask reader Bruce W. about his Black Toad Dark Ale. It's almost like a game shopping at Trader Joe's. You've gotta admit, they keep it interesting.

This new product is like the long-awaited sequel to the pumpkin spice version, released in 2017 and only available seasonally, of course. This one has coconut chips replacing pepitas and pumpkin spice and still contains rolled oats, dark chocolate, and maple syrup. I believe its predecessor came in random shards while this one comes in uniform snackalicious rectangles, which I prefer.

Flavor-wise, you can taste the coconut more than I expected, since it only represents a small percentage of the surface area of the bark bites. If you hate coconut, you ain't gonna like these, by my reckoning. Sonia was pleased that they didn't go crazy with the chocolate coating. It's thin and it's only on one side of the bark. Of course, I would have preferred a milk chocolate coating to push it ever so slightly in a desserty direction. The overall taste is slightly sweet, nutty, filling, and pretty well balanced.

Down sides: crumbs. I hate crumbs. Kinda silly. There are crumbs in life. I guess that's why we have dogs—although Alfred and Sadie aren't particularly diligent when it comes to their vacuum cleaning duties these days. Also, dogs shouldn't have chocolate.

I digress. Sonia liked this bark just slightly more than I did, and we'll continue our streak of thumbs up-ish reviews. Granola + chocolate + coconut. Kinda like a cereal but in a bar form. $3.99, organic, gluten-free, kosher. Sonia gives Trader Joe's Organic Toasted Coconut Granola Bark 4 out of 5 stars. I give it 3.5.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Trader Joe's Savory Banana & Nuts Trek Mix

Actual email I sent my wife from work this past week:

"Ummm...bad news for you....I really wanted to save you some of the TJ savory banana and nut trek mix....but it was kinda awful so I made sure it was properly disposed of. :/"

What can I say? This is our madhouse time of year at work right now. I needed a quick snack to grab on the way out the door. I just spent $2.99 of our hard earned money on it not a day or two before. Snagged it as I ran out in the wee morning hours as I overslept, thought to myself, nah, I'll make sure to save her some...

I failed. Failed failed failed. Failed hard, failed long. "Properly disposed of" is a good way to put it, as I did, but that kinda awful part? No, I did not forget the best return policy in all of grand and glorious grocerdom...I just neglected to tack on the "-ly darn good." 

So yes, properly disposed off, down the pie hole, in next to no time flat, because's GOOD. I was hungry too, but GOOD. 

So, Trader Joe's Savory Banana & Nuts Trek Mix. Awesome. The base of this newish snack mix is pretty simple and straightforward - standard banana chips, cashews and pecans. No peanuts or other fillers, straight to the good stuff. All business. I like it. All are appropriately crunchy, I'd say bananas are most prevalent followed by cashews. Pecans were a bit sparse. To be expected, I guess. 

"Lightly seasoned" though? Nah. Every square micromillimeter was coated in dusty brown spice mix which stuck remarkably well to the chips and nuts. Reading the ingredients at first for it, I was a bit concerned - coconut aminos mixed with apple cider vinegar and garlic, with some other standard stuff mixed in? How's that gonna play out?

Marvelously well. The end result is actually fairly mild, but still with a warm spicy sense to it. But there's a certain sweet vibe underneath it all, which still allows for the natural goodness of the nanners and nuts to come through. It's kinda like a light Caribbean jerk vibe, I guess. I called and the jerk store was out of it, so i couldn't quite do the direct comparison with the real deal and instead going off my increasingly faulty memory. Delicious though. I'd use this spice blend on just about anything. 

That's about it. Deeeeee-lish. No real complaints at all. I mean, it might be a slightly premium price at $3, but again it's all killer no filler ingredient wise so i get it. I wouldn't be surpised if something identical were at least a buck or two if not more somewhere else. Maybe a couple more pecans woulda made me happier, but in all it's really hard to complain too much about anything about this interesting snack. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Savory Banana & Nuts Trek Mix: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, January 17, 2020

Trader Joe's Antipasto Mediterranean Vegetables

Every once in a while, I get creative in the kitchen. Products like this one that aren't really meant to be consumed straight out of the packaging sometimes inspire me to throw a few items together and see what happens. Those spur-of-the-moment impromptu projects often end up a disaster. Just ask Sonia.

So it's fortunate that there was a recipe on TJ's site that included this product as one of the main ingredients. I modified it just a tad, as we did not have every ingredient listed, but I didn't go out on a limb this time—and in half an hour, we had some pretty delectable dip on our dinette table. In the pic below, you can see a before photo of the antipasto veggies by themselves and also the diptastic conglomeration that resulted from my little culinary endeavor. We ate it with tortilla chips, but it would also go great with baguette slices like the recipe suggests. It's much richer and tangier than traditional artichoke dip. The Superbowl's not too far away, and this recipe would be a total crowd-pleaser, in my estimation.

Trader Joe's Antipasto Mediterranean Vegetables are "semi-dried" and absolutely drowned in olive oil. I guess that's part of the preservation process that keeps them shelf stable pretty much indefinitely, but there's just a TON of olive oil in the little tray. Even after mixing them with four different kinds of cheese and lemon juice and baking them for 25 minutes, you can still tell that they're completely drenched in olive oil. Fortunately, I don't mind olive oil.

Glancing at the veggies, it appears there are mushrooms of some kind in the mix, but I think those are just zucchini slices with their edges turned down a bit. The flavors aren't super intense, but they're pleasant and vegetabley. The artichoke hearts are my favorite, followed by the zucchini, then the eggplant, and finally the tomato. I've never been a huge tomato guy. If they're cooked in some way, I'll eat them. In this case, the saturation of olive oil makes them palatable. They're nothing like fresh tomatoes in terms of taste or texture.

I did try each of the four vegetables straight out of the packaging, but they're much better as ingredients in some larger appetizer or meal. They'd be great on salads, pasta, sandwiches, or even burgers, though in most cases, they'd probably work better in smaller chunks. The dip recipe had me quartering them. I can't imagine an instance where they'd work better as the large chunks they come as, so it begs the question why they weren't cut in smaller pieces to begin with. I know, it's a silly complaint. The chewier elements, namely the eggplant, work much better as bite-sized pieces for almost any application.

Sonia and I both enjoyed this product overall, with our biggest complaints being too much olive oil and too large vegetable pieces. We're both thinking somewhere between three and a half and four stars for Trader Joe's Antipasto Mediterranean Vegetables, so we'll just go with one of each.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Trader Joe's Furikake Japanese Multi-Purpose Seasoning

Over the years on the blog, I've referred to myself as an amateur-foodie hack on occasion. If memory serves me right, Nathan's the one who coined the phrase. I'm gonna take this opportunity to rebrand it, at least for my lovely bride and I, and say that instead of being actual foodies, we're really just eaters.

What's that mean?

If it's good, we'll eat it. Even if it's not "the best" or most acclaimed or authentic or true. Sure, we'll give that consideration and all, but at the end of the day, it's taste over everything else. Is Hattie B's the best, most authentic Nashville hot chicken joint in Tennessee? Nah, probably not....but danged if I don't still dream of them on occasion. To make a musical metaphor, is Imagine Dragons the best band around? Nah, far from it, but I can enjoy at least some of their catchy fun songs - "Zero" for instance, from Wreck-It Ralph 2 soundtrack. Yeah, we'll go to depths for our guilty pleasures. 

And (un)luckily for you, if it's a TJ's item I ate and have strong enough opinion on, you'll read about it here. Coming soon: another buddy and I are soon launching an Aldi's review site, so my goal of grocery world judging domination shall ever so slightly increase, muhahaha.

Sorry for the long windup for Trader Joe's Furikake Japanese Multi-Purpose Seasoning. But it's a great example of this. Do I know even the slightest thing, really, about furikake? Nope. I don't even know how to pronounce it - furry cake (can rewrite some really awful Twenty One Pilots lyrics, like our Facebook caption)? Foo-ree-kah-kay? Glad we're not doing the TJ's podcast at this time so you'd hear me butcher it as our producer buddy Marvo would slap his forehead in the background. We had such a long awkward conversation about how to pronounce "sriracha

But...I bought it at Trader Joe's. Cost only a few bucks. Looked like worth the shot. So I'm gonna go home and eat it. I'm an eater.

For such a fairly simply blend, there's a few different stages to the flavor which make this Japanese-inspired seasoning interesting. I think that's the right way to describe it instead of "complex" or "multi-leveled" as, if ingested just as a lonesome pinch or two, there's at first this funky seaweed taste, like straight up "whatever I just ingested was definitely floating in the ocean" type flavor, followed closely by toasted sesame and finally a good heavy dose of salt. Not sure if "savory" or "umami" really quite apply - more salty than anything - but it's a fun little mix...

So good to eat, but on what? Whatever, just go for it. I put some on some roasted green beans last night - much milder, but delicious. Eggs? Sure thing. I don't think it'd be much of a stretch to recommend on rice or fish or most sushi variants. Chicken? Heck yeah. Sandy dumped some atop her ramen noodles the other day, just to class them up a touch, and she's been raving about that since.

That is the one point: The furikake is mild enough that food flavor can overpower it and diminish it to little more than salt. Maybe that's why the pour opening is so huge - you can fit a penny through it - and a recommended serving is so much. I don't think I've come close to using that amount over several tastings.

Regardless, we'll eat it and try it on lots of different stuff. We're eaters now, ya know. If it tastes good, which I think the furikake would be on a high number of things, we'll do it.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Furikake Japanese Multi-Purpose Seasoning: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, January 13, 2020

Trader Joe's French Onion Soup Bites

Baby Yoda. I just have to start off this post with a lead-in about Baby Yoda. I'm warning you right now, I don't have a decent segue into the food review part of this blog post, but I still have to find a way to work him in here. 

You see, Sonia and I just binge-watched The Mandalorian. It's darn good—all the production value of a Star Wars film in a one hour television show format. And for those of you who aren't aware, there's a character called "The Child" that looks just like, you guessed it: a baby version of Yoda. Of course, it can't be the actual Yoda, because he's dead by this point in the Star Wars timeline, so it must be another member of Yoda's unnamed race. Yes, we're geeks. 

But that's not the point. The point is that he's absurdly cute. Just Google him if you don't know what I'm talking about. I'm already on high alert trying to curb my lovely bride's inclination to accumulate all things Baby Yoda. I found a Trader Joe's-themed Baby Yoda tweet last week. It doesn't even make sense. He never drinks wine on the show. In fact, all he consumes are frogs. I feel like that might be my cue to tie in the French part of this product somehow, but nah. We won't go there today.

I will point out, however, that like fresh swamp frogs, these appetizers are slimy. I guess "greasy" would be a more accurate word—but they're so liquidy in the middle that it almost feels like a dollop of actual soup surrounded by some crusty bread. The onions and cheese are slick, silky, and slippery. The bread part ranges from soft and crumbly to crispy and crusty. The overall mouthfeel is a little too gelatinous for my taste.

The flavor, on the other hand, is very nice. You can taste lightly sweet caramelized onions, swiss cheese, and rich buttery bread. Trader Joe's French Onion Soup Bites are salty, savory, and oh-so-onionny—and we're both big fans of onions. There's a "vegetable base" listed on the ingredients, and I want to say you can taste that, too. There's a vegetable soup essence to the flavor that works seamlessly with the taste of the onions and cheese.

I found it difficult to remove the apps from the oven-safe tray without mangling them beyond recognition. The photo included here represents my three least-disfigured specimens.

$4.49 for 12 appetizers. In the end we'll both give a thumbs up to the taste and a meh to the texture of these French-inspired hors d'oeuvres. Three and a half stars a piece.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Trader Joe's Black Bean Dip

As a parent, one of the rules I have is "don't yuck someone else's yum." It's only polite, and encourages my kids to try new things. And naturally as a corollary, my kids aren't allowed to tell someone else they're not gonna like something, because, again, encouraging boldness and discovery. If you try, you're halfway to triump, and if you sigh, you're halfway to silence. So c'mon c'mon.

Obscure Rustic Overtones anyone? Anyone? One of the best concerts I've ever been to, like 20 years ago....I'm old.

Anyways, naturally, I'm guilty of breaking this rule on occasion, and most recently with my youngest who was making a beeline for Trader Joe's Black Bean Dip.

It was in best of intentions, even though I hadn't tried it yet. Look: jalapenos. Serranos. Even habaneros. This has got to be spicy, and I've seen my kids ingest anything with a hint of spice before...I didn't want to deal with it.

She tried it anyways, and come to find out, not only did she love it, there was nothing for me to worry about.

Listen: this black bean dip isn't spicy. At all. It's calm and surprisingly mild. Even the black beans at like Qdoba are way spicier. No heat, and no real flavor except cool black beans. Beans is all it is, it tastes. Sure, with a little work, there's a little sublety at play here - the smallest touch of heat, a smidge of garlic and whatnot - but no, not spicy. At all. None.

That's my major takeaway. My lovely bride thinks it has more flavor than I - it's possible, I've been scorching myself with the case of TJ's bomba sauce I procured recently - but she has another quibble. It's not really a "dip" per se. We broke so many chips trying to scoop out just a little. The dip is full of entire beans, with some smushed up as a paste-type deal to hold it all together.

More flavor, and perhaps a rebranding to "bean taco filler" or something hopefully more appetizing sounding than that would work. Really I could see this stuff working great as a base for tacos or filling up inside a quesadilla as a protein source. That would better use of its consistancy and allow for flavor optimization, so all problems solved.

In the end, I'm neither yucking nor yumming but more meh-ing. Same with my lovely bride. Double threes.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Black Bean Dip: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Trader Joe's One Potato Two Potato

Nothing like a little comfort food to get you through the coldest parts of winter. Potatoes and cheese? How could Trader Joe's One Potato Two Potato go wrong?

One Potato, Two Potato,
From the Trader Joe's,
Three potato, four potato,
See how that cheese flows.
Five potato, six potato,
It's a hearty dish.
Sev'n potato, eight potato, 
Scrumptious and delish.

As usual, there are heating instructions for the microwave and the conventional oven included on the packaging. I opted for the latter, as I was feeling less lazy than usual—kicking off the new year practicing good habits and all that. The directions simply state: "remove packaging," but don't specify if the tray that contains the dish is "ovenable," a term that Trader Joe's preparation instructions have employed in the past. I made the assumption that it was indeed ovenable, and as evidenced by the fact that the tray did not burst into flames while baking at 350° for nearly an hour, I concluded that I did make the correct choice. Also, had it not been for the tray, the veggies and cheese would have spread out all over the baking sheet and perhaps gotten a little too toasty.

What's working here: lots of big, chunky veggies, tasty and evenly-distributed cheese, a crispy, crusty outer layer, and an overall salty, savory taste, perfect for a winter side dish. The potato chunks and the places where the cheese browned a little around the edges are by far my favorite elements in this side dish.

What's not working here: too many sweet potatoes, which at first I took for carrot chunks. Oddly, they bugged me more than the mushrooms. Even though I've never been a fan of 'shrooms, there simply weren't enough of them to bother me here. Sonia actually wished there were more of them. 

The sweet potato chunks were plentiful and enormous. They should have called this Trader Joe's One Sweet Potato Two Sweet Potato, although I'm not aware of any nursery rhymes that involve counting sweet potatoes. I normally don't mind sweet potatoes at all, particularly if they're well-baked. However, I feel like the ones in this selection had an odd texture—almost spongy—and the chunks were simply too big. There was a lot more sweet potato than regular potato by my reckoning. So...I wouldn't have minded more regular potatoes, peas instead of mushrooms, and thicker, gooier cheese.

Still, despite one or two distinct weaknesses, this potato platter is a winner in my book. The overall effect doesn't suffer much from the overabundance of sweet potato—there are still some tasty bites to be had. $3.99 for four servings. 

Sonia's likes and dislikes were a little different than mine, but we'll still both arrive at the same respectable score for Trader Joe's One Potato Two Potato: 4 out of 5 stars a piece. 

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Trader Joe's Peanut and Crispy Noodle Salad Kit

Supposedly the whole point of a salad is to eat something light and healthy, right? Get a nice array of yummy, nutritious veggies in your system, like all those leafy greens your PCP is always telling you about. Salads are great. Salads are fun.

But the whole point of a salad isn't being healthy.

Nah, you're talking to a guy who lives in Pittsburgh, and you see what we do to salads here? That's a tame one.

Right, it's what goes on top that counts. Know anybody that actually really enjoys just eating plain romaine? Nah. I ate raw naked spinach for a while and you should have seen all the looks I got...and to be clear, it was the spinach that was laid bare, not myself. Nobody wants to see that.

Here's a perfect example: Trader Joe's Peanut and Crispy Noodle Salad Kit. Sounds great. Sounds...I don't know, as enticing as a salad can get? TJ's even emphasizes the fix-in's as the selling point in the name, which is a good thing if you look at the components.

I mean, just look. The whole base of the salad is the 100% routine, boring , generic cabbage/romaine/carrot mix that I swear makes up 95% of salads. It's like a stock photo come to life. Booooor-ing. Nothing wrong with it per se, except it is what it is which is all it's ever gonna be. Snooze.

So how can liven it up? Chopped peanuts? Well, okay...except those are kinda boring too. Nothing wrong, but nothing right. It's like a rerun watched too many times.

But then....crispy rice noodles! And peanut and lime dressing! Maybe there will be something worth writing home about here.

First off: the noodles. For some reason I expected chow mein type noodles, which was a completely flawed assumption on many levels. Instead, these are light, airy, tiny, airpopped Styrofoam-ish rice noodles that are remarkably crispy and crunchy for their size. There's not much taste to them by themselves, so naturally they absorb the flavor of whatever they're nearby, which really oughtta be...

The dressing. Almost every salad comes to the dressing. This peanut-lime take is pretty darn tasty. My lovely bride wanted to drench every inch of her salad with it and guzzle the rest from the packet...fortunately I stopped her. We've made similar sauces at home with peanut butter and soy sauce, but there's more here. Some different spices, and the Thai lime leaves are a real nice touch. I'm sold. It's another dressing that needs to be sold by itself, and there needs to be more of it in the salad if only we didn't have to squabble over the last few drips.

Pretty decent salad overall. Sandy and I had it as a lighter dinner the other night and were both pretty happy. It's not a bad deal at $3.99 and if you're looking for a new salad mix in this New Year, it might be tough to top this.

 Bottom line: Trader Joe's Peanut and Crispy Noodle Salad Kit: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Trader Joe's I Dream of Chocolate Cake

I made a New Year's resolution to eat way more chocolate cake in 2020, and by golly, I'm off to a good start. On New Year's Day, as I surveyed my frosty surroundings, I made the clutch decision to pull this Trader Joe's I Dream of Chocolate Cake out of our little freezer, thaw it, and eat it for lunch. Not after lunch, but for lunch. Sonia and I make our own hours, work from wherever we please, and gosh darnit if we want cake for lunch, we have it. Our actual resolution was about living life on our own terms, a la #fulltimetravel. Just kidding. I don't make New Year's resolutions. They're silly.

No, but seriously though if 2017 and 2018 were the worst years of my adult life, then 2019 was probably the best. We spent the year across 16 different states, saw a dozen national parks, monuments, and historical sites, and visited friends and family we haven't seen in years. I don't know what this year holds, or even if we'll be traveling, but I have a feeling it's going to be pretty special. For Sonia and me, that all starts with throwing caution and tradition to the wind—and doing things like eating chocolate cake for lunch on New Year's Day. Eat your heart out, pork and sauerkraut.

At this point I must confess that the whole chocolate on chocolate on chocolate thing isn't really my cup of tea in general, unless I have some kind of specific craving. I like chocolate cake as much as the next guy, but it takes something special to really wow me. I can't say this particular specimen completely blew me away, but it's pretty tasty nonetheless, not to mention uber-convenient. 

When I first tried the cake, I don't think it was fully thawed. The top layer in particular was reminiscent of chocolate ice cream, slightly melted. Even in subsequent servings, there was a creaminess there that still vaguely reminded me of chocolate ice cream rather than a typical chocolate frosting for a cake. It was extremely moist, including the inner cakey parts, almost to the point that it felt like pudding. It was dense, rich, and flavorful, and it tasted remarkably fresh for something so recently frozen.

$6.99 is reasonable for Trader Joe's I Dream of Chocolate Cake, I guess. There's enough cake in the box to provide dessert to a large family or a small party. It says six servings, but you could stretch it to more since it's so filling. Sonia gives it four stars. Chocoholics will like this even more than I do, and would probably score it very highly. I'll give it a thumbs up in the end, and about three and a half stars.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

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