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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Nut Duo

Pearl Jam has long been a favorite band of mine. Classic grunge and rock - it's hard not to like. Have never seen them live unfortunately, but that'll change...sometime...I hope. I've had my chances and have whiffed on them thus far.

That being said...they got some real crappy stuff they put their name on. No, I'm not just talking "Spin the Black Circle" that somehow won a Grammy, just for having the Pearl Jam name on it when they were one of the hottest things around. Have you heard their new song, "Dance of the Clairvoyants"? What in the heck is that?

It's kinda the same deal with Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Nut Duo.

EBTB! So hot right now! It's a seasoning! It's a salmon! It's...probably at least five other TJ's products I can't recall right now. Thanks, beer. And now it's on a pair of nuts.

Could be hot. Could be great. But more likely than not, like those Pearl Jam tunes, it'll skate by on the premise of its name instead of its merits.

It's that aforementioned Everything but the Bagel Seasoning, which is great on everything, including, ironically, bagels,  but on almonds and cashews. That's it. That's all. Must be have been a slow week for the product developers to come up with this.

First, almonds. As far as base nuts, almonds are definitely a step above peanuts, but man, they're still kinda dull. And it's disappointing that by looks our bag is roughly two parts almonds to one part cashews. Need me more quality nuts in this bag!

And for whatever reason, the seasoning blend doesn't translate well onto nuts. It just doesn't. Whatever makes it resonate well on meat and veggies and eggs and, ironically, bagels, just doesn't work here. Yeah, it's there, but not exactly delicious. It's more of a "meh" than an "oooh."

In short, nuts make a great snack. Flavored nut mixes make an even greater snack. But there's so much better out right now - looking at you, Olive & Herb Mix - that makes this mix not too inspiring, with a twinge of feeling like it was kinda mailed in. For $3.99, it's an okay deal but one we are likely to repeat. Feeling charitable, so my lovely bride will hit it with a three each.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Nut Duo: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Trader Joe's Onion + Chive Cream Cheese Spread

"How about that sour cream spread?" I suggested, fishing for other blog post ideas from my better half.

"Sour cream? It's cream cheese," snapped Sonia. 

I often take it upon myself to correct the wifey when she misspeaks, so it's only fair when she returns the favor. 

And I mean, she's right. It's a tub of cream cheese, like for spreading on bagels. It's not technically sour cream, nor is there any sour cream in it. And it's great for toast, bagels, English muffins, etc. But I've also used it as a chip dip. It's a little too thick for most chips just straight out of the tub, but if you nuke it for a bit, it gets nice and soft. Neither of us have topped a baked potato with it, but I bet it would work for that, too.

If such as thing as sour cream cream cheese ever existed, I'm certain it would taste a lot like this stuff. I don't know if you'd need to keep that redundant "cream" right there in the middle of the product title, but I think it would work either way. "Sour cream and onion" and "sour cream and chives" have long been favorite flavors of mine for chips, dips, biscuits, and loaded baked potato toppers. It makes a great breakfast bread spread as well, in case you were wondering.

There are visible green bits of chives throughout the cream cheese, although the overall texture is nice and smooth. I wouldn't have minded a "chunky style" with even larger and more ubiquitous onion and chive chunks, but then I'm weird like that, and I looove me some onions and chives. There is a scrumptious tangy, oniony flavor, and it's plenty creamy, too.

It's not going to go with most fruit-flavored bagels or jellies. It pairs best with plain or everything style bagels and breads, or maybe even something with a bit of asiago cheese. We can definitively report that it does indeed go well with EBTB seasoning also. 

Sonia's gonna try glazing some fish with it this week, and then covering with panko crumbs. Four stars from her.

Repeat purchase? Perhaps. $1.99 for the tub. Four stars from me too.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Marbled Halvah

When all this is finally behind us, and if you're then planning to go to Philadelphia for whatever reason, be sure to make a stop at Reading Terminal Market, especially if you've never been. You won't be disappointed.

It's amazing. There's all the Amish vendors selling baked goods, the best pork sandwich you will ever eat, some rather interesting food oddities, and food from across the world, all in a tight, crammed little space. As a bonus, it's only a short and safe walk away from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, which are naturally pretty darn historic and a bit awe-inspiring as well.

It's also pretty much the only place I knew where to buy halvah.

What's halvah? I had no idea either until Sandy picked some up there on our last trip around Christmas time. It's delicious, is what it is.

And now, of course, perhaps Columbusing halvah to the masses, is good ol' TJ's with Trader Joe's Organic Marbled Halvah. Find it stashed right next to the cash registers for an interesting litle pick up.

So, halvah...okay. Imagine like almond or sunflower seed butter, all dried up into a kinda crispy mass. Now, instead of those, it's tahini, or sesame seed butter. Yup, the same kinda stuff that gets put into hummus, except I guess that might be more oil? Anyways, yeah.

Halvah in general, and TJ's in particular, has an interesting texture. It's firm yet soft, dry yet not arid, chalky yet not crumbly. You can tear yourself a chunk at ease, yet it falls apart nearly instantly when bitten. It's kinda like magic, and that's how a good halvah tastes.

The TJ's type, in comparison, does seem a bit more firm than the couple bites we have left of the "real deal" from Philly. There's more similarity than not, so I'd say it veers towards authentic in terms of texture, but it's not all the way there. Sandy says it more closely tastes like a halvah candy bar which she's had somewhere - seriously, where that girl gets her treats sometimes, I just don't know.

Naturally, there's a zillion varieties. What Sandy got at Reading Terminal was pistachio halvah - tastes like heaven. In comparison, a cocoa vanilla swirl flavor from TJ's is bit not too exotic-y. But I get it. Playing safe with a familiar flavor might be more enticing for the otherwise ignorant shopper (which I fit the mold of more times than not). It's pretty basic chocolate and vanilla too, even a little plain to be honest. I would have loved another flavor, like more pistachio or honey or other traditional flavors.

It's also kinda odd to me the way the TJ's halvah is packaged. There's ten little individually fun size wrapped pieces inside the bag. Seems kinda wasteful, unless you want to be the neighborhood oddball to hoard these to distribute to all the lil Tiger Kings and Carol Baskinses that'll be trick-or-treating this fall (God willing).

Anyways, the halvah's worth the try for the $3 or so. Like other TJ's selections, it just might help you discover something new to enjoy. It's good enough and approximates the real deal close enough, and dangit, I'm a man of many things, and a halvah snob isn't one of them. I'm just hoping for some more flavor variety. Our kiddos didn't seem to enjoy it much so it may be more of a grown up treat, for what it's worth. Between the two of us purported grown ups we'll hit with a seven.

Trader Joe's Organic Marbled Halvah: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Trader Giotto's Glaze and Trader Joe's True Belgian Brussels Sprouts

Here's a fun, exciting review to leave you with over the weekend: Brussels sprouts. Hooray. Joy. Elation.

Honestly, I don't think I ever had Brussels sprouts as a kid. My parents loved to make me eat weird stuff that I didn't like, so I'm not sure how I avoided these salubrious spheroids of sustenance. I truly don't think I ever ate a Brussels sprout until just a few years ago. In that first instance, I had them with a balsamic glaze that absolutely blew me away. Also, they were cooked to perfection—slightly charred and crispy on the outside; warm, dense, and planty on the inside.

Sonia grew up with a French family as neighbors. When she'd visit their daughter Natalie to play, her mother would often provide snacks or meals, occasionally in the form of steamed, salted Brussels sprouts. While Natalie would happily pop the sprouts into her mouth like candy, Sonia, secretly disgusted by the greens, would choke down one or two and then slip away from the table under the guise of not being hungry.

Her view on sprouts has changed dramatically in adulthood. She now loves them when prepared correctly and served with the right condiments.

Since these True Belgian Brussels Sprouts came frozen, we might not have left them in the oven quite long enough. They weren't raw or cold on the inside, but they might have benefited from another 10 minutes or so in the heat. I like my veggies well-done.

Still, the glaze made them pretty tasty, at least on the outside. Trader Giotto's Glaze is moderately sweet and has a fermented essence from the "grape must." It's not unlike a port wine, but a bit thicker in texture. It's less vinegary than a typical balsamic dressing, but there's still a hint of vinegar underneath the grapey goodness.

We found that the glaze wanted to slide off the sprouts and wind up on the baking tray, so we reapplied it a couple times during the heating process. The finished product was definitely more flavorful that plain Brussels spouts, but we both wished we had found a way to get more glaze to stick. We applied some post-baking, and it helped a little, but the portion that had baked on to the sprouts was more flavorful and beneficial to the vegetable within. All in all, the glaze paired well with the earthy, nutty bitterness of the sprouts. We'll probably try it with oil and bruschetta in the future, and maybe some tilapia, too.

We both liked the glaze and think the price is fair at $2.99 for the bottle. Sonia may have been even more enamored with it than me, as I feel like any old balsamic dressing would serve as a flavorful condiment in instances such as this. At 99 cents, the large bag of Brussels sprouts is an even better bargain. That's a lot of nutrition for less than a buck. Your personal score for a bag of sprouts will largely depend upon your feelings about Brussels sprouts in the first place. I'm well aware many people are disgusted by them, no matter their age. In our case, Sonia will give it four stars, and I'll give it three. Sonia will throw out the same score for the glaze, and I'll go half a star higher.

Trader Giotto's Glaze: Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Trader Joe's True Belgian Brussels Sprouts: Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Trader Joe's Hand Twisted Cinnamon Sugar Bread

Remember Karen, one of our favorite Trader Joe's employee at our family's usual McCandless Crossing location located just a touch north of Pittsburgh, PA?

Obviously, there's little that's consistently the same these days. It's just an odd, confusing world out there right now. There's a few things that help me through, and one of them is finding the little, small things that were the same as before to give me something to hold on to.

Grocery shopping certainly isn't the same these days...but Karen is. Really, pretty much the entire crew there is. But Karen, with the way she continually greets either my lovely bride or I and asks how we're all doing, by name, and points out new products and "must trys" no matter how busy she is, will always stand out.

So when she tells me we have to try out the new Trader Joe's Hand Twisted Cinnamon Sugar Bread while she tosses it in the cart for me, I'll listen. Yes ma'am.

Judging by the complete lack of yeast and flour pretty much anywhere these days, most of you must be enjoying some homemade bread on the regular. We've had some on occasion. And I'll hold that homemade is almost always better than store bought if given the option.

That being said, this cinnamon bread is downright delish. It's an absolute treat.

The outside of the loaf is coated over with a sticky cinnamon sugar glaze like what you'd find inside a cinnamon bun. Unlike most of my home paint jobs, there's not a spot missed anywhere. 100% coverage. Off to a terrific start.

Inside as you can see there's a swirl of that same glaze permeating the entire bread. It's tucked in nice and sweetly under some heavy bready blankets - you can tell just by looking it's that thick, dense, crumbly type that exudes comfort with every bite. It does well to balance all of the sugar and spice and everything nice to keep it more on the side of viable bread than dessert, but man, that line gets straddled. Tastes awesome.

My one complaint: I wish it came presliced. Now, I recognize the arguments and advantages of slicing your own: portion control. Some like it thick, some like it thin, some like to Goldilocks it right in the middle. I get that. But the hand-twisted nature of this bread dictates that unless done with expert care it's pretty tough to make a precise slice that's 100% intact. I'm not a bread-slicing machine. We ended up enjoying too much of the bread more as narrow slice/chunk hybrids that would wouldn't preclude the load from being turned into scrumptious French toast, but kinda makes something like a sandwich hard.

Other than that, as always before, karen was right. This is some pretty fantastic bread. As someone who's taken up cooking and food prep these days as a stay-at-home hobby of sorts, I'd still opt for a homemade version of the cinnasugar loaf from TJ's, but this could fool me, almost. The perfect glaze job on the outside gives it away. Yummy stuff, my kids loved it and loved making a mess with it even more. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Hand Twisted Cinnamon Sugar Loaf: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, April 20, 2020

Trader Joe's Just the Clusters Chocolate Almond Granola Cereal

I used to get on really big cereal kicks where I'd eat the stuff every morning for breakfast. I mean, sometimes for years on end, I was just into cereal. Then for a while I'd move on to something else like donuts, or oatmeal, or yogurt. I've even been that guy that would eat Doritos and Mountain Dew at seven o'clock in the morning on occasion. And yes, if it was the weekend, or if I called in sick to work, I'd spend the morning playing video games. There's not much else you can legitimately do if you choose Mountain Dew and Doritos for breakfast. 

I can't handle the HFCS anymore, so I haven't done that in a while. But also, oddly, I haven't been on any major cereal kicks lately. I feel like ever since I've been married to Sonia, for some reason, every time I've felt like cereal, we either have none on hand, or we don't have any milk in the fridge. Once a month or so, all the stars will align and I'll actually feel like eating cereal and we'll have all the necessary elements to prepare a bowl. Such an alignment occurred just yesterday.

Opening the bag of Trader Joe's Chocolate Almond Granola Cereal, there's a pleasant whiff of chocolatey goodness. It's reminiscent of Cocoa Pebbles, but not quite as ricey or sweet, and perhaps a tad richer. 

The granola chunks are the perfect size for a cereal—not too big, not too small. There's a fair amount of almond slivers, too, although I don't think a significant boost in that department would have been outrageous. Even doubling the presence of the almonds couldn't have hurt in my humble opinion. Fortunately, the granola is pretty decent on its own.

Like the smell, the flavor is chocolatey and sweet. It's not over the top sugary, though. The chocolate is satisfying and errs on the side of rich cocoa rather than chocolate candy. It's just strong enough to taste like a flavorful treat without completely overshadowing the nuttiness of the almonds. The granola and nuts are both crunchy, even after a prolonged period of submersion. 

The granola dyes the milk nice and brown by the end of the bowl and yields wonderfully chuggable chocolate milk. In a way, I think I enjoy the residual liquid in the bowl more than the cereal itself, although I'm thinking I'll reach for this box again tomorrow. If by some chance we wind up having this stuff on hand regularly, as well as some cold milk, I just might wind back up on a lengthy cereal kick.

$3.49 for the box. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Trader Joe's Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings


What brings you comfort?

There's a lot of ways to answer this, of course, and there's even a few ways I can answer this right at the time of writing. I'm sipping on a cold beer, which almost always seems right, and listening to a Facebook Live concert from the lead singer of my favorite local band, called Good Brother Earl. I think I first saw them back in about 2003 or 2004 and, no lie, a few hundred times. Helps they used to play at the Pittsburgh Rock Bottom on Wednesday nights, no cover, with $2 beers and half price appetizers. Since corporate pulled the plug on their shows about 7 years ago, after at least a five year run, I haven't been back.

But anyways, through the many stages and changes in my life over the past 15-plus years, their music has been a constant. Jeff, the singer, has been a good friend as well. And in these times, I'm thankful that he and his band's music is continuing to be that constant that they have been.

Long, not entirely connected lead up to a review about the new Trader Joe's Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings, eh? Sorry, couldn't think of much better. It's that beer I'm telling you.

But food brings comfort, right? And what's more comfort-in-edible form than a warm soup dumpling? I can't think of much.  So there ya go.

Find 'em in the freezer section, bring 'em home, steam 'em up, chow 'em down. These dumplings are pretty darn good. There's the soft, typical noodle shell holding the whole thing together. Inside, of course, is a light broth and the pork/ginger/whatever else filling. The meat itself is mild, soft and a bit crumbly, like a meatball bent on falling apart. That's not a bad thing. There's not more than a mildly aggressive hit of ginger - there's nothing near the searing bite ginger is capable of. It's more a soft warmth feel, and is complemented nicely by a little soy and garlic.

It'd be great if it ended there. But nah.

Instead, right at the end, this sweetness kicks in. At first I thought maybe it was some soy sauce trickery, but no. It's too cloying. It's got to be added sugar. Why would you add sugar to this? Makes no sense to me, not with flavor profile. We're going for savory here. Why sugar? Can't be sugar. Nah. Let's just go check the ingredients, I'm making this up...

Nope. Added sugar. As confirmed by the ingredient list and nutrition label. WHY???

Fortunately all the good flavor business in the front makes up pretty well for the lame wannabe sweet party in the back, but still, it's a knock. Would be much better without IMHO.

Otherwise, great dumplings, bordering on being down right umamilicious. That's not a word but it shoukd be. Umami + delicious = umamilicious. Say it aloud. It's fun. There's absolutely a comfort element at work, and in these times that's not a bad thing at all. My lovely bride, our squad of shorties and I all enjoyed them pretty well, and will likely pick up again soon, even with my faint quibbles.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Trader Joe's Brioche French Toast

Sonia and I have been working remotely since before our full-time travel days, and long before the covid-19 craziness. In fact, we've both worked from home since late 2016, in my case significantly longer than that.

We learned quickly that the whole "stay in your pajamas all day because you can" philosophy has a few distinct weaknesses attached to it, number one being weight gain. It's just too easy to think, "Ah my sweatpants fit me the same as they did yesterday. I'm not putting on any pounds." Throw on some jeans or khakis, and they'll tell you a different story. "Hmm. I must have left these in the dryer too long. And my belt...has obviously shrunk due to an excessive amount of humidity in the air. Yeah, that's it."

So obviously when you're not getting out as much, it's much easier to become... "pleasantly plump" shall we say? What to do? Exercise as often as you can whatever way you can. And watch what you eat. I'm no poster child for fitness these days, but I'm not letting myself go, either. I'm standing my ground in the battle of the bulge. Maybe some food shortages will do us all a bit of good. Or maybe we'll all starve to death. Time will tell.

All that to say that Sonia and I each ate two of these brioche French toast pieces for breakfast yesterday. They're filling enough, so one each might have sufficed, but we were both unusually hungry. And to put it in perspective, two of these incredibly indulgent carb-o-riffic breakfast breads contain fewer calories than a single package of two Pop-Tarts. And which of us has never eaten two Pop-Tarts in one sitting? Let him cast the first stone.

At any rate, Trader Joe's Brioche French Toast is delicious. It's sweet even before you put any syrup on it. There's a distinct eggy flavor, and lots and lots of fluffy white bread.

We made our first two toasts in the oven. They didn't come out as crispy as I thought they might, but not in a bad way. There was a firmness and density to the outer crusty layers of French toast, while the inner layers were super soft and light. The microwave yielded just slightly less delectable textures, with everything winding up just a tad in the direction of "chewy," but still scrumptious. Also, the microwave is 15 minutes faster than the oven, and that's not counting pre-heating time. In each instance, we ate them with butter and maple syrup, and they were amazing.

$3.49 for four thick pieces of scrumptious toast. Four stars a piece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Trader Joe's 100% Ginger Drink Mix

You are what you eat...and apparently now I can officially be what I drink!

Yup, through and through, I'm 100% a ginger. Both my parents had red heair - my mom's kinda blonded out a bit, and my dad's kinda retreated and browned - but both had vibrant red hair not too too many years ago. All my siblings have red hair, too, and some of us have our own little red heads too. But red hair, pale freckled skin, propensity to sunburn after 10 minutes, even at midnight? Yup, that's me.

Ginger, as a flavor and ingedient, is definitely an acquired taste. I've come to embrace its warmth and spicy sharpness, especially in beverage form. The best kombuchas has ginger in them, for my palate.That being said, it's one of those things that can come to be "a bit much" fairly quickly and easily, so I knew that Trader Joe's 100% Ginger Drink Mix was going to be an interesting try.

The ingredient lsit here is pretty simple: it's just ginger. I'm unsure of the proper term, but it's a dried up, light, powdery mix inside the single serving packets. Really, the first thing that came to mind was a fine sawdust. There's no sugar or added anything to make big ol' granules of anything.

And you know what? The ginger powder doesn't smell like anything either. Not that I can tell, or nor can my lovely bride, who's olfacotry senses are much more keen than mine. This led to believe that somehow this might be a very mild mix - smell is such a large part of taste, after all.

Well, I was wrong.

Being that it's been a little chilly and dreary in the 'burgh, and I was heading back towards my chillier and drearier basement for work, i opted for the hot beverage option. The ginger drink mix dissolved nealry instantly will just a customary stir or two in the near-boiling recommended 12 ounces of water I poured into my mug.

First few sips were mild, warm, a bit spicy..and then it just got more and more and more, well super gingery. I had to cough once or twice in reaction. I mean, it was all pretty enjoyable...but I sure was glad to pour in a little more hot water to warm up my cup and dilute it down a little more.

Good flavor though, through and through. Served hot, the ginger drink probably could use a little twist of lemon just to make the flavor profile not as "one note" as straight up ginger. There's all sorts of potential here - could be served cold on a warmer day and still be pretty pleasant. I'm not sure if there's potential to use this in a DIY fermented beverage as a super easy way to add some ginger, but at the very least it could be an excellent mix in for other drinks. Sandy keeps mentioning how she wants to use this to mimic "that Starbucks drink" that I can only vaguely recall having one sip of nearly a month ago - something with pineapple and turmeric and ginger or something. Don't know, really, but sounds good.

Somehow I'm the only one who's tried it thus far here. Sandy's been more into tea for an afternoon warm beverage, which I'm not a huge fan of, but I'm sure we will get around to trying out the drink mix in a variety of ways. Got any good suggestions? Share away. I like it enough to give it a seven overall.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's 100% Ginger Drink Mix: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, April 10, 2020

Trader Joe's Almond Flour Chocolate Chip Cookie Baking Mix

"Let's see...something Eastery. Something...Good Friday-ish...? What do people eat on Easter? Rabbit. Oh, no wait. Ham. But we don't eat ham... about candy? No Trader Joe's candy. D'oh! Something else that's sweet...ah, here in the back of the pantry drawer: Trader Joe's Almond Flour Chocolate Chip Cookie Baking Mix.

I'll make up some nonsense about people giving up wheat flour for Lent and this will totally work."

That was my train of thought in selecting this particular product for today's review. Maybe you did give up wheat flour or gluten for Lent and you tried this product recently. Maybe you gave up animal products and made it the vegan way. I don't know. I think we'll try it with cow's milk because we actually have some on hand right now.

I'm not the most culinarily-inclined guy on the block, so wish me well. I'll see you back here after the cookies are done baking.

---45 minutes later---

Okay, we're back. Mission accomplished. I'd call it a success in my book, with only a few minor mishaps. 

First step: mix the powder, butter, and vanilla in a bowl, then stir in milk one cup at a time. So far, so good.

I've always loved cookie dough, so during this process I seized the opportunity to lick some of the batter out of the mixing bowl. It was super almondy, but oh-so-good. The biggest difference between the batter and the finished product is that the cookies themselves tasted way less like almond. They were extremely similar to traditional wheat flour cookies. The nuttiness that I found so prevalent in the batter is just faintly noticeable after heating.

Technically, the baking process is only 10 minutes long. I left ours in the oven for about 5 extra minutes. They wanted to be very mushy at the short end of the baking spectrum and verging on too crispy at the long end, but they were very tasty in every case. 

Sonia said they reminded her of some fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies she used to get in middle school. These cookies she referred to were wheat-flour cookies, so there again, the taste of the almond flour is very similar to regular glutentastic flour.

There's a respectable amount of chocolate chips in the mix. They're not large. Just tiny morsels. The only sugar in the flour is "coconut sugar" and the chips have some cane sugar. None of that seemed to affect the flavor much. They just tasted like very good, normal, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, with just a hint of extra nuttiness and perhaps a whisper of "grittiness" for lack of a better word. 

$4.99 for enough mix to make 12 cookies. Gluten-free. They can be vegan, too, if you use alternative milk and oil instead of butter. 

This is set to be one of the weirdest Easters ever. Hope you're all staying sane.  

Four and a half stars from Sonia on Trader Joe's Almond Flour Chocolate Chip Cookie Baking Mix. Four from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Trader Joe's Garlic Hummus Snack Pack with Pretzel Slims and Trader Joe's Organic Pitted Kalamata Olives

Obviously these aren't so normal times right now.

I think I've left my property once in the past five days. That means for over 90% of the time, I've been wearing pajama pants. Being cooped up in the basement to work at home has been interesting - always fun when you have to put a call on hold so you can holler at the kids to QUIET THE HECK DOWN - and my back actually misses the crappy, somehow compartively ergonomic office chairs. At the time I'm writing this I'm strangely excited by and apprehensive about going out later today for some groceries and beer.

And kids? Parents of young kids out there, you know what I'm talking about. Things aren't normal or all that fun at all...but we gotta do the best we can, despite all that, for the kids, right? Gotta take care of them, shield them, protect them, yada yada yada. I'm not talking about being a Pintrest-perfect parent - I'm talking about navigating them through these difficult waters to be relatively happy, reasonably healthy (physically and emotionally), and in tact without exhausting your last nerve. Thank God for Disney+.

I think I've written before that one of my family's favorite meals is what we call "snacky dinner" - basically what it sounds like. Cold cuts, cheese, pita, chips, hummus, veggies, fruit - everybody gets to eat what they want. It's a summertime favorite, usually washed down with a watermelon. It's great.

Well, it'd been a while, so we pulled out a snacky dinner the other night, and had two new-to-us contributors -  Trader Joe's Garlic Hummus Snack Pack with Pretzel Slims and Trader Joe's Organic Pitted Kalamata Olives.

I'll do the TJ's snack pack first. It's....nothing amazing, and not worthy of its own review in my opinion. I mean, do you know what small, crispy pretzel chip tastes like? Great. Now what about basic garlic hummus? Delicious, right? Now mentally dip the chip into the hummus and imagine what that tastes like - that's pretty much precisely what we got here. Darn good, right? Yup. Earth shattering and amazing and unique and...whatever else? Nah. I will give kudos that the snack cups seems to hold more than I thought, and I got fuller than I thought on mine. And even though I'm a generous dipper, I ran out of pretzel slims before I ran out of hummus. When times return for an easy, portable snack, this could be a go-to for sure. Delish.

And now a jar of olives? What do you want me to say? Usually for snacky dinners we'd hit up an olive bar and bring home a small sampling of olives and garlic and stuff like that. Not an option right now. So I've had kalamatas before, and this TJ jar full of them pretty much fits the bill. Nothing overly right or overly wrong, but kinda Goldilocksed at "just right." Strangely, our youngest, who previously has hated olives, gave one a try and wanted more. So maybe there's something to these particular olives, but if there is, I haven't determined what that is.

So, there ya go. Are either the garlic hummus snack pack or kalamata olive jars really all that special? Nah. But as a part of our snacky dinner, for a fun meal with the family, we enjoyed them immensely. Things don't have to be perfect or special or anything right now - they just have to get us through, and if they can bring a little happiness along the way, I'm all for it. There's goodness to be found in the mundane.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Garlic Hummus Snack Pack with Pretzel Slims and Trader Joe's Organic Pitted Kalamata Olives: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons each

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Trader Joe's Shrimp Tikka Masala

I don't know that I've ever had a tikka masala dish that I've disliked. Just from Trader Joe's alone, we've seen chickenpaneer, and vegan varieties, all of which were thumbs up. Shrimp is one of my favorite foods and always has been. As long as it's cooked properly, it's pretty hard to mess up shrimp, so the bar is set pretty high for this dish already. 

Like most of you, we haven't been eating out much lately. So I guess if anything, that lowers the bar a tad and makes us appreciate near-restaurant-quality microwave meals even more than usual. Hopefully we're giving this Shrimp Tikka Masala its fair shake. 

Anyway, Let's dive in.

I feel like they almost wanted to go with a flippable tray, a la those yogurts that come with mix-ins, but with the shrimp and sauce being flipped into the bed of cumin rice instead of cookie bits getting flipped into a bed of yogurt. The tray isn't quite that flexible, so you're left flicking the shrimps one by one into the other side. Fair enough.

There are about 8 or 10 small shrimp swimming around in a red sauce. For a frozen meal, their texture is about what you'd expect. Shrimp doesn't fare particularly well in the microwave, in my opinion, and these specimens were no better or worse than I expected—just a tad more chewy than steamed or fried shrimp would be. 

The sauce is a "mildly spicy tomato sauce" ...and that's what it tastes like. It's not particularly bursting with Indian spices or heat. It's a wee bit more complex and interesting than, say, tomato soup, but it struck me as being significantly less flavorful than any of the previous tikka masala dishes from Trader Joe's.

The rice here isn't the classic basmati rice we see in most of TJ's Indian food. This is "cumin rice." It's plain white rice...with some cumin seeds and coconut oil. So...pretty much just plain white rice.

I polished off the tray easily enough. Never gagged. Never grimaced at the flavor. But it didn't inspire any moments of bliss or euphoria, either. 

While I can't shaft it too badly, I'd put this near the bottom of the tikka masala pack and maybe even near the bottom of the list of Trader Joe's Indian food in general. That's not to say it's bad in any way. There's just a laundry list of other outstanding Indian foods at TJ's that I'll reach for before I pick up this particular selection again. Sonia sat this one out, citing an upset tummy as her reason for non-participation.

$3.49 for the single serving meal. Ready after 5-6 minutes in microwave.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Milk Chocolate Caramel Eggs

Not gonna lie. I've been sitting here for a while trying to figure out how to make this interesting and/or unique...can't.

So here goes: Trader Joe's Organic Milk Chocolate Caramel Eggs.

What all is there to know? Not much. Our TJ's trips are somewhat limited and "sustenance/mission-at-hand" focused these days. Can't blame us. Maybe there's new and exciting stuff. If there is, please tip us off!

Easter's coming up soon. Can't exactly cancel Easter. Eggs are somehow probably one the two biggest secularly acceptable symbols of Easter, second maybe only to the Easter Bunny that supposedly hides the eggs. Never really understood all that, but after a while, you just accept it.

I'll tell ya where the TJ candy eggs can hide, though. Right in my belly.

You probably get the whole concept here already. Typical milk chocolate shell surrounding a small resevoir of oozy goozy silky caramel. That's precisely what we have here. There's nothing all that special or unique or outstanding about them. Nothing horrible either - everything is of good quality, as one would expect.

Tasty? Absolutely. Delicious? Positively. A little bit too easy to eat a few more little guys than ya should? Guilty as charged.

Amazing and earth shattering and sure to change your whole world? Nah, fam.

As a small note, I will say I didn't even realize they were organic. There's still part of me that expects organic stuff to taste weird or odd or a little different or, like, happier or something. There's none of that. It just tatstes like regular ol' milk chocolate and caramel. I'd say that's a positive.

Well, there ya go. Hope to hit ya with something more exciting next time. I liked 'em, my kids loved 'em. My poor, lovely bride somehow managed to not even try one before they all disappeared. it wasn't all me, love, I swear! Not like ya missed all that much anyways. At a couple bucks for a bagful, it's not a bad little seasonal pick up for the ol' Easter basket, but should not be a focal that honor for the jelly beans. Think I'll just say the eggs aren't bad and rate them appropriately.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Milk Chocolate Caramel Eggs: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Trader Joe's Pappa al Pomodoro

Well, we know that in the last days a loaf of bread will cost a day's wage. When that day comes, it's time to go Mad Max on your neighbors to obtain some at any cost, because this stuff turns ordinary slices of white or wheat into scrumptious tangy tomatoey sourdoughy delights.

Just kidding about going Mad Max on your neighbors. We need to stick together now more than ever. But you should totally get down on your knees and beg them for a slice of bread if you don't have any, because it pairs really, really well with this stuff.

At first, I thought the box might contain a few pieces of bread or breadsticks, because look, right there adjacent to the a delicious-looking breadstick. But then I looked closer, and sure enough it says "serving suggestion" in the upper left-hand corner. But then I read the ingredients. Look! "Sourdough bread" is right there on the list right after "vegetable broth." I was overjoyed...until I opened the box several seconds later only to be crestfallen by the lack of sourdough breadsticks.

Maybe Italian folks already know this, but apparently pappa al pomodoro is a soup that's made with bread. I had no idea. What a weird concept.

But it's a darn good one.

After heating the product on the stovetop and pouring it into a bowl, Sonia and I sampled the soup by itself. It was very thick, tangy, tomatoey, and had just enough basil to balance the other flavors. I dipped a slice of semi-stale wheat bread into it.

Man, I don't know if I was just really hungry or what, but that was the best piece of bread I've eaten in a long time. The sourdough in the pappa al pomodoro seemed to magically transform my cheap, old bread into a scrumptious sourdough breadstick with an amazing Italian pasta sauce. We finished the bowl in short order, alternating bites of bread with spoonfuls of soup. Sonia was even more impressed than I was.

This fantastic pappa al pomodoro would work well as a pasta sauce, a pizza sauce, or as a stand-alone soup. $3.69 for two 9oz pouches. We like that it comes frozen and you can save it as long as you need to. We think this will be a repeat purchase. 

Perfect five from Sonia. I just wish it came with a couple little breadsticks. Four and a half from me.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

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