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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Trader Joe's Olive & Herbs Mixed Nuts

Well, working from home has been an adventure thus far.

For about the past week, I've been set up on a card table in the basement. It's a bit cool and drafty down there, but it works. I never knew I was raising a herd of elephants though - man, my kids are LOUD stomping around. My colleagues are still kinda catty, and the commute still kinda stinks (I mean, I walk right by the litter box), so not everything is completely different...

One thing that'll never change: need work snacks.

Vending machine or work cafe not an option for now, so instead I gave Trader Joe's Olive & Herbs Mixed Nuts a try.

I always gotta try new and interesting looking nut mixes, especially ones that aren't primarily peanuts. I have nothing really against peanuts, but nothing really for them...I mean, technically, they're not even a nut. There's just so many better nuts out there, especially cashews and pecans, and almonds aren't that bad, either.

Those aforementioned nuts are the basis of this entire snack. If asked for ratios, my bag seemed to be about half almonds at most, then a quarter each of cashews and pecans. That's above and beyond acceptable in my box. Each nut is roasted nicely,, enough to give them a satisfying crunch and bite, while displaying their respective nutty earthy flavors.

But that's not quite all.

Nah, you see, when I read the "Olive & Herbs" part of the title, I presumed without looking further that it meant just the flavoring sprinkled atop. Indeed, there's a lot of herbal medley plastered everywhere, and while I'm not knowledgeable enough to really point out which herb was strongest - there was some variance from bite to bite - I figured olive would be a flavor in the mix, too.


Dried Kalamata olives, in the actual mix, along side the nuts.

Wasn't prepared for that.

Maybe I'm over-sheltered but I've never had dried olives before, I don't think. They're...a bit odd. Think dried out raisin, not chewy, more of a just a shell than anything. Olive mummies, maybe. Their oddness stands out more if consumed solo, but with a couple cashews, the bite is pretty seamless. In fact, I wasn't even aware I had some in a handful until I tasted them, because it's unmistakable. So potent. So strong and vibrant. So...dry. How is this even possible? I don't know.

Good thing my brilliant and lovely bride had the foresight to pick up not one but two bags - one for her, and one for me. At $4.99 for a 10 oz sack, it's not an awful deal by any stretch. Over the past two days I've eaten my entire ration, leaving me wondering what I'll find to graze on today. I'll have to go to work on that, I guess. For a unique-to-me snack at a good value, and all those cashews and tasty olives, I gotta go full five. Wouldn't change a thing. Sandy, who has way more self control than I do, shrugged and gave 'em a four based on her few small handfuls.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Olive & Herbs Mixed Nuts: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Trader Joe's Chile & Garlic Cashews

Cashews have never been cheap. I grew up in a home full of nuts. And I mean that as a double entendre. All three of us in the home were nuts, and likewise, we frequently consumed nuts. All manner of nuts: pecans, pistachios, almonds, macadamias, and of course, cashews were very often our go-to snacks. 

I can recall, sometime in the middle of college, or perhaps shortly after graduating, getting a craving for cashews rather out of the blue. I walked into a convenience store in downtown State College, PA and tracked down a little bag of cashews. I don't remember exactly how much they were, but it was enough that I immediately dismissed the cashew craving and opted for a fifty cent bag of peanuts instead. My parents weren't wealthy people. Not sure how we afforded things like macadamia nuts and cashews on the regular. No wonder my dad had trouble paying the mortgage throughout my childhood.

But regardless of financial status, you've gotta splurge once in a while. These particular cashews are a good choice in our opinions. Six bucks for the bag is a little steep, but they are oh-so-tasty.

On top of the classic flavor of salted cashews, the blend of chile powder, garlic powder, and onion powder makes them even more savory, flavorful, and full of a spicy kick. It tingles the tongue and warms the back of the throat and begs to be chased by a cold beverage. These cashews will definitely make you thirsty. Sonia and I both absolutely love their flavor. 

They're roasted to perfection, pleasantly crunchy, and not too salty. There's a decent amount of sodium and fat, but you'll find that with many nut mixes. It's mostly "good fat" or so I'm told. 

I'd complain about them being imported all the way from India, but apparently there are very few places in the United States with a warm enough climate for cashew farming, so "buy American" can't really apply here. That's probably the main reason for the hefty price tags.

Sonia's going to try adding these to a stir fry. I'm sure they'll blend in seamlessly. We'll report back if anybody's interested...

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

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Trader Joe's Battered Halibut

Any other year, right around now, the most happenin' spots in Western PA on a Friday night are at the local Catholic church, school, or fire hall.

That's right, grab your pierogi tight and hold hope for haluski, we're talking fish fry dinners!

It's the best around here. So much fried fish, so little time. They're all over the place, with fillets so big it's questionable if it came from a regular fish or humpback whale. Mobbed with people, with long lines.... yeah, those ain't going on this year any more. We got to one, first Friday a few weeks back. See ya next year, we hope.

Doesn't mean you can't have a little consolation while hunkering down in fish fry-solation.

Is making a batch of Trader Joe's Battered Halibut the same as whatever Lenten sorcery that makes fish fry fish so good? No, of course not. There's certainly not the same ambiance, unless you happen to have a stash of cheap faded plastic lunch trays from the 1980s stashed at your house. Those definitely help.

But you know what? It's darn good fish. My lovely bride and I snagged a couple boxes for our at-home fish fry for our crew. Coulda baked them. Coulda put them in air fryer and baked the fries...or air fry the fries, and deep fry fish on our own in my trusty cast iron. Sacrifice tastes best when deep fried, so that's exactly what we did. If the Good Lord wants our hearts, He may as well have our arteries as well.

There's much good to be had here. Love the batter - it's neither too much with too many crunchies a la KFC chicken, nor too skimpy. It's just right, and crisps up nicely and evenly when fried, in a warm, happy glow. Tastes great too. They used corn and rice flour, apparently. Whatever, it works, and works great.

The fish is pretty tasty too. The halibut is mild and fresh, and plenty fleshy. Admittedly there's not much flavor in the fish itself, as it seems mostly derived from the batter. That's no matter, it works really well, or can easily stand up to having a little hot sauce, or tartar, or squeeze of lemon, or whatever.

In other words, these halibut fillets are a perfectly good substitute for an at-home fish feast, and as bonus, there's no priest around asking for donations for the school AC that's been broke since 1975. No 50/50s either though.

And of course it should go without saying that you don't have to enjoy them the way we did. Fish 'n chips? Baked? Just eat 'em without thinking about 'em too much? Sure thing to all that and more!

There's seven fillets per box, each being probably four to five large bites, and a serving considered two fillets. At $8.99 for the halibut, it's not exactly cheap but enough for 3 folks, and the average fish fry dinner costs at least that much each, so for us there's some value there. In a rare move, it got a thumbs up from everyone in our little family. Nothing wrong with a little comfort in some trying times. Life is better when you focus on what you have and not on what you don't. Thanks for getting our backs, TJ's.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Battered Halibut: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, March 23, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Sparkling Yerba Mate Beverage

Yerba mate. Ginkgo biloba. Myocardial infarction. Antidisestablishmentarianism.

There are some words and phrases I don't get to say on a daily basis, but I wish I did. Dispensational premillennialism, for example.

I guess I should have been a theologian, herbalist, or doctor if I really wanted to say those words. 

Wait. Does anyone really get to say "antidisestablishmentarianism" on a regular basis? Pretty sure they just made up that word for the purposes of fun facts and spelling bees. Anyway, I wish I had occasion to say it more often. 

On the other hand, meh. The grass is always greener, methinks. I should just be grateful I get to say "yerba mate" a few times on this glorious day...another day of social distancing and elbow bumps instead of handshakes. A day full of other wonderful phrases like "shelter in place," "toilet paper hoarders," "hydroxychloroquine," and "cytokine storm" --things I never imagined I'd come to say on the regular. Yet here we are. It's a brave new world of weird new phrases.

Can't say I know much about yerba mate. I've had a yerba mate hot tea or two, thanks to the lovely Sonia, a veritable tea aficionado. It has an earthy and faintly bitter tea-ish flavor. I guess it has antioxidants or something like that, too. Sounds good. I like antioxidants. I'm quite certain it's a placebo effect, but I always feel better when I eat and drink stuff that's rich in antioxidants.

This tea is no exception. Maybe it's the caffeine, but it's invigorating somehow. It's super refreshing and the flavor is light, flowery, and faintly citrusy. It's a very interesting flavor, especially considering there's no sugar and zero calories. The carbonation is a nice touch. It's bubbly, but not overly so. And I love me some carbonation. It makes everything that much fancier. Take water, for example. It comes out of your tap, basically for free. Add carbonation, some weak flavoring, and stick it in a can? Suddenly you can sell an 8 pack for $3.38 at the local Walmart.

I think carbonated iced teas are the future. I hope to see more drinks like Trader Joe's Organic Sparkling Yerba Mate Beverage. $1.49 per bottle. I give it four stars. I was quite certain Sonia would like it even more than I did, but she wasn't blown away by the taste. She expressed a desire for a stronger flavor—more hibiscus in particular. Three stars from her.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Cold Pressed Orange Juice

Lots of things seem backwards and out of order these days. You don't need me telling you that.

But man...if I can't even make sense out of a product name, that's when I know I'm in trouble.

See this: Is this Trader Joe's Organic Cold Pressed Orange Juice? That's a logical name to me. But that's not what the label says. It says: Trader Joe's Organic Orange Juice Cold Pressed from top to bottom. If a little punctuation were tossed in, say, to make it Organic Orange Juice - Cold Pressed or even Organic Orange Juice, Cold Pressed, those make sense to me too. But not as it is. And since my teachers always urged me to think outside the box, I'm not relying on the green background rhombi for too much clarity, and instead will name this product based solely on what makes most sense to me.

Call it focusing on what I can control. It's what I (we?) all need right now, even in small instances.

Whatever this OJ is actually called, it's good! Cold pressed juices always seem to get the very best out of its ingredients. I don't profess to know the magic behind it, but man, love the results, time and time again.

TJ's cold pressed OJ, new out, is no exception. It's of medium consistency, with some pulp but not too much. Most folks would find it accessible in that regard, I think. And it's nothing but oranges either - no added sugar or water or anything, so results may vary bottle to bottle. But it tastes like pure, unadulterated orange - tangy, ripe, sweet but not too much of any of those - in a bright, citrusy fashion Tasty enough to savor despite my inner compulsion to chug.

The price is a little debatable, or could be to some. Cold pressed juices tend to be pricier, and at $1.99 for a small single serving bottle, you can make out of that as you will. It strikes me as fair enough, but not a price that I'd willingly stock up on for every day use.

And of course, it's got all the vitamins and minerals and goodie-goodies. Loads of Vitamin C - it's nearly twice the daily recommended in just one bottle. And that even in "normal" times isn't a bad thing. Scurvy anyone? No thanks.

But I enjoyed my bottle full, and kinda hoping that the extra one I bought theoretically for my lovely bride will be ignored over the next couple days to the point where I wouldn't feel guilty partaking of it. That's not under my control, naturally, but then again, what really is when it comes down to it?

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Cold Pressed Orange Juice: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Trader Joe's Vegan Mac

Like...couldn't you just make vegan cheese by getting milk from vegan cows? Y'know? Just feed the cows, like, only grass and hay and plants and other vegan stuff. Then you'd have milk from vegan cows, which, logically would be vegan milk, right? Why'd Trader Joe's have to go and use coconut milk and stuff?

Hopefully it goes without saying that I'm joking. But, unfortunately, in this day and age, it doesn't.

I'm here to tell you that even if you're not vegan or lactose-intolerant, this mac is edible, if nothing else. If the coronapocalypse shoppers have cleaned the local TJ's out of Joe's Diner Mac and Cheese and all the other lactose-laden varieties, you can go ahead and buy this one and at least give it a whirl. It doesn't quite have the comfort food quality of real mac and cheese, but there's a distinct creaminess and faint butternut squash flavor that's fairly pleasant in my opinion.

For vegans and dairy-free folks, this might be a game-changer. Sonia and I have tried "mozzarella" non-cheese before that we both found utterly revolting. That's not the case here at all. The unique blend of coconut milk, butternut squash, and various oils yields something unusual and cheese-esque, without trying too hard to make cheese out of stuff that is clearly not cheese.

Sonia noticed a slight oddness to the taste right at the finish. She said it wasn't like a lingering aftertaste, but just a hint of something that was a little out of place. I guess I might have noticed it, too, but it's extremely subtle. You'll get that when you mix five kinds of oils together. I'm telling you we just need to start milking vegan cows...

The macaroni were shell-shaped and larger than I'm used to in mac and cheese. They might have been slightly softer than most mac, too. You can heat on the skillet or in the microwave. We tried each one, both yielding very similar results.  

Trader Joe's Vegan Mac doesn't have a super long shelf life and needs to be refrigerated, so it's not like it's great apocalypse food. Eat that perishable stuff while you still can. After the third week of rice and beans, people will start killing for stuff like fresh mac, vegan or not. $4.49 for the tub. I think you could get four good servings out of it, honestly, especially if it's just a side accompanying a larger meal. 

Scoring this as lactose-loving non-vegans, we'll go with three and a half stars a piece.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken Mochi Balls

I've said before I'm an eater, not a foodie. This means I'm not necessarily all that well educated in different food terms. Longtime readers of this blog probably know that already.


As far as I knew, mochi was only a term for ice cream treats! You know what I mean - those little rice dough covered balls of frozen deliciousness. A little chewy and odd on the outside, creamy and delicious in the middle, and once accustomed to them they make an awesome snack. That's all what I ever knew mochi to be without ever having much reason to look into it further. I knew I liked mochi already.

So imagine my initial reaction when I heard of the new Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken Mochi Balls.

Intriguing? Yes! are they gonna incorporate ice cream into that?

Obviously, there's no ice cream here. Mochi is just a general term, more or less, for the rice dough balls which can be served in a variety of ways. TIL.

But anyways on to the mochi - oh goodness.

I can say that in relation to a lot of different factors here. That rice dough? It's a marvel, especially when cooked in an air fryer! Dry, dusty, crusty on the the outer shell, but that's just so, so shallow a layer that somehow hold plenty of crisp with a little crunch. The flip side (the innards) is completely different - wet, doughy, moist. Yes, I hate that word too. But it all suggest a slight bit of almost sauciness - that's the wrong word, but I don't know what else to use - when interacting with the rest of the set up. More on that coming up next paragraph. But really, for so thin a shell, the mochi is AMAZING with two very different, very enjoyable experiences. I'd suggest to maximize it use an air fryer instead of oven if you have it - about 10 minutes at 400 made 'em just right.

And the filling? Wow. It's HOT.

As in spicy? Yes. Kung pao usually has a couple heat notches. All the spices and peppers and whatnot combine into a pretty potent punch. It won't be the spiciest thing you'll ever eat, but I don't feel as though they're for the faint of tongue, either.  Despite that, I can still taste the chicken and garlic too. I love when spice enhances and doesn't overpower other foods, and that seems the case here.

But it's also HOT in the physical sense. As in, not cold. Those mochi shells hold some heat! I cracked one open and tried to let it cool for a few minutes before eating - still burned my tongue a little. Have a glass of water nearby, or prepare to let us sit and cool for quite some time.

I love 'em. My only complaint is I wish there was a bit more filling as the package picture implies - however I'm glad it's also not that magenta glow either. So there's that. The kung pao mochi has a fair price point too I'd say - it's $3.49 for a pack of eight golf ball sized dumplin's. My lovely bride enjoys them too, and they ought to be in the regular Asian-inspired dinner rotation. 4.5 from me and a solid 4 from her.

Save the ice cream for after!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken Mochi Balls: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, March 13, 2020

Trader Joe's Mandarin Style Orange Chicken Bowl

While Sonia and I were on the road, traveling almost every day sometimes for weeks on end, we'd often take advantage of Walmart parking lots for quick overnight stops. Most locations welcomed RVers with open arms for up to 24 hours. Many were adjacent to strip malls, mini malls, and occasionally classic indoor malls. And, of course, many of these malls had a Panda Express as part of their lineup of eateries and shops. 

At this point I should mention I've been referring to Panda Express as "Poison Panda" since college. No, I'm not racist against Asians. I have cute little nicknames for every fast food chain including Toxic Bell, Booger King, Pizza Butt, and Jack in the Crack. Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that, perhaps part of some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, not once but twice, Sonia and I fell ill after eating Poison Panda on the road. We had running water in our RV, but for those of you familiar with RVing, it's very limited. You can't take 30 minute long showers, use a gallon of water for each flush, and run the sink the whole time you brush your teeth. You have to dump your tanks and refill your fresh water often unless you're extremely frugal with your usage. All that to say, if you're sick in an RV, it's not fun, and I'm not a fan of Panda since. Maybe I should just stop calling them "Poison Panda," and I'll have better luck. Law of Attraction and all that.

Fortunately, now I can get my orange chicken fix without going to a restaurant. Yes, I know there are decent orange chicken offerings that come frozen in bags and can be made on the skillet, but if you're pressed for time or want a decent break room lunch-at-work type of deal, this selection is quite satisfying.

Prep is simple. 4-5 minutes in microwave, thaw sauce in warm water, mix, serve. It's pretty close to restaurant quality as far as taste, but it's pert near impossible to make any kind of breaded chicken come out perfectly in the microwave. It's on par with Poison Panda orange chicken after you reheat the leftovers. I was surprised how much food there was in the bowl. It was actually filled to the brim. Maybe it's because we eat way less meat these days, but we were also impressed with the plentiful amounts of chicken in the mix. I might ask for more carrots, peas, and broccoli in place of some of the rice, but it was still a decent ratio as it was.

The included orange ginger sauce alone is adequate as far as condiments are concerned. I wouldn't have minded a tad more of it, but there's enough in the packet to coat the pieces of chicken and even some of the veggies and rice. You could throw in some soy sauce or sriracha if you were so inclined. I added a clove of raw garlic to mine, because I LOVE me some garlic and it has tons of health benefits. Also, I hate vampires. Go Team Jacob.

$3.99 for the bowl. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Four from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Pizza Dough

So, what kinda pizza crust do you prefer?

Thin, airy, crispy, and crackery? Delicious.

That thin but incredibly flexible New York style, that somehow hold everything together though it defies logic? Noooommmmm.

Deep dish, with some burned edges, with a required tenacity to chew and chomp? Thinking about you, Chicago and Detroit. Oh goodness yes.

That typical cardboard stuff for half the freezer pizzas out there? Yeah, not so much.

My preference? When I was young, I asked my grandma which grandkid was her favorite. She simply replied "Whichever one I'm looking at." Similarly, my favorite pizza crust is generally the one I am eating, unless it's one of those aformentioned frozen pies that I wish were something else.

Well, the other night, for the first time and at the urging of the good peeps at the North Hills/McCandless Crossing (Pittsburgh) store, I had Trader Joe's Gluten Free Pizza Dough.

As you can see by the second photo, my lovely bride and I cheated a bit by making breadsticks with the dough to go alongside oour pasta dinner. Mmm, carbs with carbs. It's a successful enough business model for both Olive Garden and Panera, so don't judge.

Still...surprisingly, it worked. Texture and moutfeel is huge for dough, and gluten free stuff can miss the mark. Not so much here, on one condition: if you can be open to slightly chewy dough. That'd be the best word. Nah, it wasn't quite rubbery, and the edges that got hit with a little extra EVOO did get a litle toasty and crunchy, but really, the main feel was chewy, in a way that worked.

Other than that, this TJ's gluten free dough didn't particularly stand out in any way. That's kinda compliment, in its own way. The taste seemed right on, enough that I wouldn't have necessarily guess gluten free if I didn't know it was. Plain yet comforting. I like it.

The main ingedients are tapioca and rice. Well, that explains the chewiness a bit. A bit plain, for sure - a litlte rosemary or herb wouldn't be uncalled for, but not everyone likes that kinda deal either. The dough was simple enough to work with as well - it took a bit to flatten down and I have my doubts whether or not it's make a full 12 inch circle like the directions say it will. However, I didn't allow for ther full 30 minute warm to room temp time either, cuz man, on weeknights, who's got THAT kinda time? I sure don't.

Good dough, and good call from the peeps at my favorite TJ's. Overall I like this dough much better than the cauliflower crust kinda dealie TJ has. I'm not sure I could make it my everytime go-to pizza dough, but it can be in the rotation for sure. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gluten Free Pizza Dough: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Trader Joe's Sparkling Strawberry Juice Beverage

I've always been a tinfoil hatter. I won't get into my specific beliefs or reveal my true level of crazy because 1) this isn't a conspiracy blog and 2) your well-intentioned requests for me to seek professional help will fall on deaf ears and be a big waste of time for both of us.

But in light of coronavirus doom and stock market doom, I have to start factoring in "prep-value" for these various items we're picking up at Trader Joe's. We'll see if the powers that be throw in a world war and go for the ultimate trifecta of doom. Either way, it can't hurt to have a deep pantry. 

Anyway, things like shelf life, nutritional value, cost, and even stackability have always been factors that I've considered, but may focus on more so nowadays. I like square or cube-shaped packages because they utilize limited space so efficiently. However, most preppers would argue that things like...I dunno...maybe like water would be something to look into before strawberry soda. So the whole premise of this review and lack of an appropriate segue means you just wasted a bunch of time reading these first three paragraphs and I wasted even more than that writing them. Hey, I mentioned I was crazy all the way back at the beginning.

Appropriate for the end of days or not, Trader Joe's Sparkling Strawberry Soda is unique and refreshing, if nothing else. In terms of packaging style, sweetness level, carbonation, and overall intensity of flavor, it's very similar to the watermelon juice we saw last year. It's a subtle flavor compared to, say, strawberry-flavored Fanta, and not nearly as sugary. I'm perfectly fine with the lack of syrupy sweetness here.

Trader Joe's also put out an offering a couple years back that flaunted both strawberry and rhubarb flavor that was reminiscent of this beverage. I liked the rhubarb element more than I thought I would, and I kind of miss it here. Still, plain old strawberry has always been a great flavor for everything from pies to jams to ice cream, and I think it's highly underrated in the world of soda. I'll take a strawberry carbonated beverage over a cola any day of the week.

The product costs about four bucks, and you get four small (8.45 oz) cans. While the pricing isn't outrageous, it's not a particularly great value in my book, especially since I could down all four cans in one sitting after a half a mile hike on a warm day. In general, pretty packaging and quality ingredients don't come cheap.

Sonia loves the flavor and would happily purchase another box. Four and a half stars from her. While I'm okay with the taste, I think I'd opt for the more exotic strawberry rhubarb soda if I had a choice between the two. Finding a way to keep the cost down would also be a big plus for me. Three and a half stars from this guy.

I don't think anything super doomy will happen soon, but even mentions "drought, pestilence, bandits" and "zombie apocalypse" at the bottom of each and every product description page. Could they be sending us a message?

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Trader Joe's Soft-Baked Snickerdoodles

Sometimes, there's just the easy choices.

For Career Day at my daughter's school, I could either talk about my fulltime day job - insurance verifications and authorizations for a medical equipment company. It's good enough work, for sure, but, well, kinda talking about it even bores me.

Or....I could talk about this here fine blog you're now reading and win them over with a treat.

Clear choice. Cookies always win.

Of course, since it's kids with any myriad of food allergies or senstivities, and you don't want to leave anyone out, gotta make sure you have something easy, safe and tasty for everyone. On recommendation from Debi, another great member of the crew at the McCandless Crossing / North Hills store, I picked up several boxes of Trader Joe's Soft Baked Snickerdoodles. Look at them...if you're allergic to anything in there, I'm sorry, I can't help you. Easy choice.

And here's yet another one: would you rather have me do a full usual review, which Nathan covered admirably well in our blog's fledgling stage...or hear what all those pretty awesome second graders had to say?

Right, I figured. So here we go, actual student quotes. No names or anything for privacy's sake. But all are accurate. Here we go, with occasional commentary by me.

Me: "Everyone, you know how grownups are always right, right?" Mixed response ensues. "Well, plenty of grownups have told me how good these cookies are, but here's a chance for anyone to say what they did or did not like about these cookies!"

The Good

"They're really good. They taste like they have cinnamon in them."

"I like everything about them, especially the cinnamon."

"It was delicious because of the cinnamon."

"I liked the chewy texture. I liked that it was a chewy cookie."

"I liked that they were soft and squishy. I don't like hard cookies."

"I can taste the pumpkin in it."

Apparently we hit a home run with the cinnamon fans! And no, there's no pumpkins in the cookies, but there is kinda a mild pumpin pie spice vibe to them, so I get where that student was coming from.

The Mixed 

"There's a little bit too much cinnamon" said one student, to which his friend immediately replied "You can never have too much cinnamon!"

"I would say it's a little bit good and a little bad because the only thing I can taste is cinnamon."

"It's a little bit bad because there's too much sweetness."

"I liked it but it tasted kinda sandy."

Fixated on the cinnamon still, apparently. Sweet and sandy? Sounds like my lovely bride!

The Bad

"I don't like them at all. Too much sugar!"

"The cookie made my throat hurt."

The "too much sugar" comment came from a student dressed up as a baker. I'll assume that she knows her stuff. There was no elaboration on the throat comment, but perhaps that was to say they were a bit dry. Agreed, some milk would pair nicely.

Special Bonus Quote from the School Nurse while Reviewing Ingredients for Any Possible Allergens

"Well, if they don't have any of that stuff in there, what is in here? Hmm, dates, flaxseed, sorghum...yeah, these will make ya have to go. Ooh, rosemary too? In a cookie? That's...unusual. But nice. Yeah, these will be fine."

There we have it. Most comments and insights aligned pretty closely to all the good comments, and when asked for Golden Spoon grading, nearly everyone wanted to give them a perfect ten. That's pretty overwhelming. A few wanted to go lower, with the lowest from the future baker who said she'd only give them a four. A four?!?! She must make really good cookies then.

All around winner and a fun day back in second grade.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Soft Baked Snickerdoodles: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Special thanks to Debi, Marlin and the entire crew at the McCandless Crossing/North Hills Pittsburgh TJ's location for their kind donation of the cookies. Once again, the best thing at Trader Joe's is absolutely the crew! You all are the reason why we come back. 

Also special thanks to the teachers and administration of my daughter's school for allowing me to come in and have in a great time in the classroom!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Trader Giotto's Gnocchi al Gorgonzola

Unfortunately, I've never had the pleasure of trying gnocchi from an Italian restaurant. Maggiano's, Buca di Beppo, Olive Garden—been to them all numerous times and I'm not even sure if they sell gnocchi, honestly. Probably better off trying it from a mom and pop's place rather than any of those chains, anyway. I would have sampled it long ago if someone would have drawn my attention to it. 

But as far as I can recollect, the only gnocchi I've ever had has been from Trader Joe's. Frozen grocery store fare is the extent of my experiential knowledge of the subject. To wit, I'm no expert. Sonia's got a slightly better reference point since she's had a gnocchi dish or two in some elegant Los Angeles eatery, the name of which escapes her, before we ever met.

At this fine, nameless Italian establishment, she recalls the gnocchi being "puffy," "fluffy," and nearly "airy." She thinks it tasted and felt primarily potato-based, possibly with some egg. The pasta here, while it does contain potato, is doughy, dense, and slightly chewy. The primary ingredient is durum wheat semolina. It's not unappetizing by any means. It's certainly not "rubbery"—nor would we use the word "gummy." Chewy? Yes. A little.

In my relative ignorance, I happily chomped away on the dish, thinking the texture was just fine. It wasn't hard to overlook its imperfections, because the cheese sauce stole the show. It wasn't an intense flavor, but it was complex, creamy, and savory. If you like fancy Italian cheeses, this easy-to-prepare pasta dish is worth a looksee just to sample a bit of this gourmet gorgonzola.

If only because of my subliminal repulsion to fungi, I probably would have enjoyed the cheese significantly less had I been cognizant of the fact that gorgonzola is a type of "blue cheese," i.e., it's made with veins of blue-green mold growing through it. There's no indication of its mold-factor when looking at the odd, angular chunks of frozen cheese that come in this bag. They're just a solid, creamy off-white. 

Since the cover art on the packaging does approximate the actual look of the final product—minus those weird dark flecks of god-knows-what on top, I opted to show you what it looks like straight out of the freezer. Those big bricks melt and seamlessly coat each piece of gnocchi by the end of the preparation process.

Tasty cheese. Pasta that doesn't exactly melt in the mouth. Super easy prep. $2.99. We're looking at about four stars from me on Trader Giotto's Gnocchi al Gorgonzola. Put Sonia down for three and a half.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Trader Joe's Limone Alfredo Sauce

Ay yi yi.

A couple weeks ago, my lovely bride was mildly displeased with me. There could be any multitude of reasons why, but this one stuck out to me: on a busy night, she quickly roasted some veggies (Brussel spouts or green beans or something, doesn't matter) and sprinkled some garlic salt atop. She then mentioned how good they tasted. I, before tasting them, wished to put some Asian crushed chilis on my portion for a treat. This notion was somewhat offputting to her as I "didn't even taste" her "creation" before dumping whatever I felt like on it. Mmmkay. Disney version of what happened next: I deferred, as perhaps there's not some battles really worth waging...right dear? I love you.

Fastforward to late last week, when on another busy night, I made some quick chicken alfredo using the newish Trader Joe's Limone Alfredo Sauce. Just the sauce, some penne, and chicken. Sure, it was nothing fancy, but a creation of some sort nonetheless, plus as a targeted review item I wanted to have an honest opinion of the unaltered product....

What does my lovely bride do? Before tasting, she sprinkles some black pepper atop hers. I noticed and said nothing, but brought it up before writing this review. "It's because I know I like pepper on my alfredo," she said. Well...okay.

I'd give her a harder time about it, but man, that was a good idea. The Limone Alredo sauce (can I just call it "lemon alfredo" from here on out?) was a pretty great little sauce. Good stuff. Creamy and cheesy, rich with parmesan reggiano, with a little twist of lemon just to brighten everything up without going too tart or sour, well balanced...but it just needed a little extra something. And lo and behold, a little sprinkle of black pepper would be just about right. My wife is pretty smart and intuitive.

Alfredo sauce, in general, isn't a big deal with me. I can be either way, but this TJ's lemon-tinged one definitely strikes me as a good one, and is much preferable over a plain one. For my noods I'd rather go with a good marinara or a lighter melt some butter/sprinkle some cheese approach, but I can swayed to this again. I'd imagine it'd work well in any variety of alfredo-inspired dishes, with various proteins and veggies and whatnot. I'd love to slather some on some zucchini, in fact, but that'll be a next time kinda deal.

With her expert insight and addition, Sandy gives this sauce a solid 4.5, and only that because she, in her own words, "rarely gives anything a 5." Good deal. I can't say I'm as huge a fan, but maybe if I put some of those Asian crushed chilis on it...I kid, I kid. I'll do a 3.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Limone Alfredo Sauce: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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