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Friday, May 29, 2020

Trader Joe's Tomato Ketchup with Black Summer Truffle

Like most of Everclear's song catalog, there's some things in life I used to love but now can hardly tolerate any more.

Like sauerkraut, there's other things in life I used to deplore but now enjoy.

And like the phrase "social distancing," I'm pretty sure there's some stuff that I'll just never get around to really cherishing, pretty much no matter what.

It's said that taste buds change every few years. I can see that happening - I used to do spicier than I can now, I like me vanilla more than chocolate most times these days. I change my mind on Yuengling about every five years as well.

But still, if there were one constant in my life, one thing that I always offered scorn and no adoration whatsoever, it'd be this: ketchup.

Never liked it, not even as a kid. Can't figure out why, it's just always been gross to me. Right now I live within literal walking distance of where Heinz squeezed their first tomato into an American staple, it matters not. Ketchup = nope.

I'm not alone in this, I know, but there's been some like-minded people who said that Trader Joe's Tomato Ketchup with Black Summer Truffle was a game changer for them. I've seen it on the Interwebs so it must be true.  So here goes.

First off: as an immediate plus, it's in a glass jar and not a squeeze bottle. I HATE squeeze bottles, especially when it gives a constipated sounding squelchy toot and watery discharge. Just...ugh. Glass jar for this highbrowed-sounding condiment, so a plus.

Everything else....ehhhhh. I don't hate it. but I don't like it either. I don't consume ketchup often, if ever, but the base strikes me as more or less a basic ketchup-y kinda sauce. It's maybe a tad sweeter, with a different consistency somehow, but whether ot nor that's accurate in a describable way is not really my wheelhouse. The truffles offer a decent backended twinge of umami-ish flavor that's pretty welcome. It's a nice kinda savory take, and I can see some people swooning over it. For me, it doesn't make up for the fact that it's all still ketchup. At least it's not catsup.

I was able to place a small portion on my plate, dab a couple fries into it, and take on down without too much struggle. So I don't mind that this new TJ's trufflicious ketchup exists, but it hasn't changeed my mind. My normally ketchup-loving kiddos werren't so fond on it either. it'll probably be up to Sandy, my lovely bride, to finsih up the remaining 7/8ths of the jar, which is gonna take a while. But at least it's hers. Happy Belated Mother's Day, love.

In her usually correct way, Sandy's asserting that the only reason why i'd dare give something like this a low score is only because I'm simply convinced I don't like ketchup. So take my score with a grain of salt - it's a two. I recognize it's quality but I'm not a fan, and that's ok. She'll go with a little higher.

Bottom line: trader Joe's Tomato Ketchup with Black Summer Truffle: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Trader Joe's Thai Green Curry Simmer Sauce

Some Trader Joe's products seem to get more than their fair share of marketing attention. They get ridiculous, lengthy, lavish titles. They're presented with artsy, colorful packages and placed front and center in the store, maybe on an end cap or at the checkout counter. I'd say more than half the time, these items are gone just months after they drop, and they're forgotten about by the vast majority of patrons that purchased them. 

And then there's a completely understated line of Trader Joe's brand items. They're products that have been around for quite a while, and they need no clever marketing to sell. They get by on the merits of their quality and flavor. No cutesy packaging. No goofy nicknames. It might be just an unassuming jar of sauce with a modest amount of copy on the front—items like this product.

The sauce is super flavorful, medium-thick, and coats whatever foods you mix with it. It's not a sweet curry. I've had some curry sauces so sweet they were almost dessert-like. Not this one.

It's full of lemon grass, garlic, and shallot flavor. It's obviously coconutty, too, but the taste isn't particularly coconut-forward despite the coconut milk base. It's spicy, savory, and it makes your kitchen smell like an authentic sit-down Thai restaurant.

Sonia and I had it with mahi mahi fish for lunch yesterday, and it was scrumptious. Served with veggies and rice, it was one of the most satisfying meals we've prepared ourselves in a long time. All you do is put the sauce on your food in the skillet and let it simmer. So good and so easy.

The sauce darkened a little bit from the time we poured it out of the jar to the end of the cooking process. I'm not good with specific shades of individual colors, but I'd say it went from something like a pea green to more of an olive green tan light brown by the end...? Anyway, it's not much to look at, but it tastes good enough you probably won't care.

You have my word we'll continue to review those brand new nonsense-laden gimmicky products as they're released, but we'd be remiss in our Trader Joe's brand food reviewing duties if we didn't tell you all about products like this one from time to time. Delicious. Apparently, this version has only been around for about a year and a half, but I'm hoping it'll stick around and stand the test of time. 

At $1.99 for the jar, it's a steal. Four and a half stars from me. Five from Sonia.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Trader Joe's Pickled Fermented Jalapeño Slices

So, what's your quarantine hobby been?

For me, to help keep myself from going mad, I've gotten a little bit into pickling and fermenting. So for it's been a blast, figuratively speaking and thankfully not literally, yet. I've seen enough explosion videos from home fermenters to know it's a thing. Like Robert Plant once sang, my time is gonna come.

But yeah, I've done a couple things. Sauerkraut, green beans and other assorted veggies, honey garlic, a ginger bug, even some mangoes for my very own amba sauce as well as my own hot sauce. It's been pretty fun, and it gives me something to look forward to, whether it's looking for little bubbles or feasting down.

So, I'm not an expert yet (watch out, Brad Leone) but I know enough to know that pickling and fermenting, while both are delicious processes and have a little overlap, are not the same thing. Here's some more info on all that.

So, naturally, a product like Trader Joe's Pickled Fermented Jalapeño Slices will catch our eye right now.

Can I ferment and/or pickle my own jalapeños? Easily! takes a while, and these are ready to go, and within easy reach. Sometimes you just gotta go with the here and now.

Opening the jar is a pleasant, spicy aroma - it's not overly funky or smelly. Good so far. Don't think of the standard mushy green circle you get with your stadium nachos, these peppers are fresher with a lot more snap to them. That's an even better step in the right direction.

And as far as taste - yep, it seems on point. A little initial sweetness is followed quickly by a little dive towards sour before finishing up with the heat. There's an overall saltiness at play, in a nod towards fermenting, while the total effect seems accentuated with vinegar, which of course would be the pickling. The heat does linger for a bit after but isn't unpleasant, unless you don't really like jalapeños and therefore wouldn't be in the target audience here. Visially, it looks like maybe about half the seeds were removed from the peppers, which might be the right way to balance out heat without too much bitterness.

M lovely bride and I got to enjoying a good bottle of honey mead (another blessing from fermentation, gonna try that soon) while grilling some hot dogs and corn on the cob last night, and got the great idea to put some of these peppers on the hot dogs with some melty knockoff Velveeta...hey, don't judge, you know it was awesome. Simply yes. We're both already looking forward to our upcoming burger night to bust these peppers out again, and hey, I'll get another little glass jar for next basement experimental ferment.

Nothing wrong with these peppers, and of course I'm gonna do my own soon now, but for a commercial batch, Sandy and i would sign off on them with a 4 each.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Pickled Fermented Jalapeño Slices: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, May 22, 2020

Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Greek Style Yogurt Dip

PumpkinMangoCookie ButterCoffee

Trader Joe's latches on to certain themes and just goes downright crazy from time to time. I think we're on our fourth or fifth EBTB product at this point.

The thing about EBTB is that it comes in a shaker. It's designed to be put on/in anything and everything you want to try it with. It'd be pert near impossible to get pumpkin, mango, cookie butter, or coffee in the right ratios in the products that Trader Joe's has offered, but Everything But the Bagel Seasoning? I might be overestimating the average TJ's shopper, but I think we can handle mixing it into stuff ourselves.

If you do internet searches for "Everything But the Bagel Dip" you'll inevitably run across more than one result that mentions "Copycat Everything But the Bagel Dip."

The process for creating this copycat dip goes something like: 1) Take Greek yogurt 2) Add Trader Joe's Everything But the Bagel Seasoning.

As culinarily dim as I can be sometimes, I think even I might have been able to figure that one out.

So...most of our complaints about this product aren't that it tastes bad or has a poor texture, but rather that it couldn't possibly hurt to simply make your own. Sonia wanted lots more EBTB flavor. I thought the amount was just about right, but just for kicks, I tried adding my own, and I felt that the seasoning was somehow a little more crisp and potent when freshly added. 

I felt like something was lost by having the EBTB seasoning submerged in the yogurt indefinitely. The seeds just crackled in my mouth a bit more when they were fresh. I guess seeds don't really get "soggy" but perhaps they were a bit too soft...? Also, by adding your own EBTB to a yogurt dip, you can purposefully keep the dip dry and on top of the mixture, whereas all the elements are thoroughly stirred together in this mixture. An even better idea would be to have two separate little dishes side by side: one with Greek yogurt, and the other with Everything but the Bagel. Then you could roll your yogurt-covered carrot or what have you in the EBTB, getting just as much of it to stick as you'd like. You'd maintain the crunch and dryness of the EBTB while still adding Greek yogurt flavor to the mix.

Taste-wise, there's plenty of Greek yogurt tang in this dip. You can taste most of the constituent seasoning ingredients, as well, although your mileage may vary when it comes to whether you think there's enough of it or not. 

$3.50 for the tub. The nutrition info is innocent enough at 60 calories per serving. It's a tasty condiment, and it goes with just about anything you'd want to eat with yogurt dip. Even though it's traditionally cream cheese you put on a bagel, this works in place of it passably despite its relative thinness, in case you're looking for a lower calorie alternative. 

I just can't see us buying this product again, as we'd almost universally prefer to create our own concoctions with EBTB. Three and a half stars from the missus. Three from me.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Trader Joe's Dill Pickle Hummus

Probably like most of you, I've spent a lot more time with my kids the past two months or so. And like most anything, it's somewhat of a mixed bag. Don't get me wrong, I love e'm a whole heckuva bunch, as I remind them to the point of eyerolls almost every day. They're incredibly smart, creative, funny, and remarkably full of grace. Somehow they took all the best parts of my lovely bride and I and made them even better. 

But man...they're also gross.

Like...please flush. And don't get cat food in the sink and just leave it. Also, I didn't think I'd have to tell them to not put random sticks from the neighborhood creek into their mouths, but here we are...and if given the chance they were double, triple, quadriple, and possibly even quintuple dip a chip into any dip they like.

Like the new Trader Joe's Dill Pickle Hummus, for instance.

We are a hummus and pickle loving fam, for the most part. But never did we think of combining pickles and hummus...although I don't see why not, I guess. There's enough natural overlap and complementary flavors that it could totally be a thing.

And make no mistake: this isn't merely dill pickle flavored hummus...there's dill pickles in the hummus. Just look at the ingredients. It's between the chickpeas and the tahini. Full out dill pickles, blended or mashed or whatevered in.

There's no textural disruption to this. Nah, it's just the classic smooth, creamy, cool hummus mouthfeel. There's some green flakes here and there, but nothing else to really tip off the presence of pickles either by sight or feel.

But taste and smell? Yup. Definitely dill pickles. The dill comes out a bit strong, and the vinegar and whatnot give a little extra tangy sour kick, but it's nothing unwelcome provided you like pickles. It all meshes well with the garlic and other other spices as well as the otherwise traditional earthy hummus taste. It's as smooth and scoopable as the day is long...and these are indeed long days, my friends.

No wonder my kiddos loved digging in their pita chips none stop. Heck, I wanted to, too, as I really didn't want more pita chips...I wanted more pickle hummus. Maybe those kids got my instincts with a little less manners cultivated as of right now...we're working on it. For now, we had to settle for separate bowls for everyone, so everyone could do as they wished. Hooray for more anyone else's dishwasher running nonstop? Ours absolutely is, except when we're doing laundry or we're showering. No wonder the water bill I got yesterday was twice as high as normal. Yeesh. Gonna be one of those summers, but fortunately we got a new tasty TJ hummus to help us get through. It's a tour de fours all around.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dill Pickle Hummus: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, May 18, 2020

Trader Joe's These Sprinkles Walk Into a Sandwich Cookie

I'm cookie-jaded. 

I've just seen way too many cookies from Trader Joe's. They just keep churning them out year after year, and we, foolishly-enough, just keep reviewing them. 

Since Sonia and I don't have any human children of our own, to get a more accurate score, it occurred to me I should hop in the car, drive into a nearby suburban neighborhood, and offer the local kids some of these Sprinkles Walk Into a Sandwich Cookie treats. And it immediately occurred to me thereafter that it might turn into an episode of Nathan Walks Into a Prison Cell if I did that. I mean, I'd have the best intentions, of course. But creepy old bald dudes waving colorful sweets around probably wouldn't be welcome around unfamiliar neighborhoods during these trying and paranoid times. Obviously we do have some friends and acquaintances with kids, but none of them are close-by at the moment. Anyway, I'm getting off the subject.

Cookies. Gosh-darn, freaking, bloody heck. Why'd it have to be cookies? Why did we even buy these cookies, you ask? Because once in a while they impress us. And when you're shopping with low blood sugar, almost anything seems like it'll be appetizing and delicious once you get back home.

So...considering how sick of cookies I am, these are another noble effort on the part of TJ's, I guess. Couldn't they make them organic or throw fair-trade quinoa into them somehow? Guess not. Sprinkles this time. Colorful, festive sprinkles—to celebrate the partial re-opening of our nation or something like that.

We've got above-average quality butter cookies here. They're not soft or anything. They're crispy, which is fine. But I always prefer soft. The sprinkles are super bright and happy, you know, if you're into that sort of thing.

But that buttercream frosting...that's the highlight for me. It's a little sweeter than I would have preferred, but there's a very rich authentic dairy cream flavor that's scrumptious. It's a fresh milky taste that I've never experienced in pre-packaged shelf-stable cookies before. That's what sets these jovial sandwich cookies just a notch above most other big name sandwich cookies I've had.

I can only eat one of these at a time. They're very rich, buttery, super sweet, and dense. They go great with a glass of cold milk. Just one cookie, and I'm ready to down the whole glass, you know, just chugging away.

Repeat purchase? Heck no. Trader Joe's will have some newfangled cookie nonsense we'll have to review before we could ever purchase these again, even if we did have a specific hankerin' for them, which, as good as they are, I don't think would ever really happen. 

To score, I'll suppress the cookie cynic and put myself in the shoes of someone that might be in the mood to eat cookies regularly. Um...three and a half? Yeah that sounds fair. Sonia? Three and a half as well. She's not as jaded about cookies as I am, and she really loved the packaging here, but she was appalled by the fat content at 8g per cookie. Her grown-up cookie-consumer insight of the day: have sugary cookies with coffee to mitigate the sweetness. Brilliant.

Seven stars total seems objective enough to me. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Trader Joe's Many Things Snack Mix

Many things. So...many...things.

Your things might be different than my things, but we all got so many things.

Well, so does our favorite grocer with the new Trader Joe's Many Things Snack Mix. Trader Joe's does many things well, so how do they do Many Things?

Might as well hit this head on: there's really no great reinterpretation of the wheel here. Just a cursory glance in the little product window on the front confirms exactly what the inspiration for this snack bag: the ubiquitous all time American classic chowtime grub Chex Mix. Hats off to Chex, really, for turning a rather mundane breakfast cereal into a snacktime staple that's as famous as it is munchable.

Cereal squares? Pretzels? Peanuts? Little bread chips? Goofy corn stick kinda dealies? Checks (and Chex) all around.

There's a couple small differences. If these were a General Mills product, they'd likely label this as "spicy honey" or some sort of alternate take on the tried and true Worcestershire original. A closer look reveals there's actually two types of cereal squares - "spicy" with a much more reddish appearance, and "honey butter" with a more subdued look. That's not to say the flavors are mutually exclusive, or even all that different, but the spicy ones are slightly spicier while the honey ones slightly more accentuate, well, honey. I don't really taste any butter, though.

The peanuts also are honey roasted, and are kinda interesting. By their lonesome selves, they're not too terribly noteworthy, but occasionally, perhaps in the right random proportion of other snacky tidbits, the flavor "takes off" a littlke bit and "grows." I don't how else to say it, and I can't easily replicate it or state what the exact mix should be to optimize this feature, but there it is.

Everything else is as expected, more or less. The pretzels taste like pretzels, the "savory bread chips" are tasty with a nice little touch of chives. As far as the corn sticks, they taste like corn and salt, no lime detected like the ingredients state. I think some "everything but the elote" style sticks would have been a better choice, but maybe that's just me.

The end result? Tatses like a Chex Mix variation, and a decent, not spectacular, one at that. A couple handfuls pair well with an IPA tall boy, so not gonna argue with that at all. The TJ's snack mix is definitely tasty enough for repeat munching, but unsure for repeat buys unless for a road trip or for a quick snack on the go.

That's about as many things as I can say about Many Things right now, except it's final score.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Many Things Snack Mix: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Trader Joe's Synergistically Seasoned Popcorn

synergy [ sin-er-jee ]
1. the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc.; synergism.
plural synergies
adj synergistic
adv synergistically

You don't see the word "synergistically" used on many food products these days. I've only ever heard "synergy" used in the context of humans working together, but I guess I see how it could be applied to culinary elements instead.

I'm down with various flavor combinations that might initially seem like they'd clash or conflict with one another such as salty and sweetspicy and sweet, and tangy and salty, but throw them all in the same mix together with "smoky," and there's just a little too much going on for this guy's tongue to handle. I think the straw that broke the camel's back for me was the presence of vinegar in the mix. It's right there next to sugar on the ingredients list. Sweet white vinegar? I want it to work, but it just doesn't in my humble opinion.

Also, I'm not in love with the smoky element here. I've tasted "smoky" done very well, and I've tasted it done poorly in more instances than one. I question the authenticity of "natural smoke flavor." What exactly got smoked? I'm going to bet they didn't put the popcorn itself in a smoke house. It might have worked had they done that, but I'm sure it's not practical or cost-effective to smoke each individual piece of popcorn. I'm guessing it's some kind of liquid smoke or additive.

The spiciness by itself works pretty well. It's not too hot, and it gives the popcorn a pleasant pungency. I think I'd really enjoy the flavor if they'd lose the sugar and smoke elements.

Texture-wise, the Trader Joe's Synergistically Seasoned Popcorn is pleasantly crunchy. Most pieces are large and spherical, flaunting a mouthfeel not unlike the Popcorn in a Pickle, for example. As far as color is concerned, they appear a shade of amber-esque light orange—a color you might assume indicated cheddar cheese flavor under normal circumstances. As far as look and feel, this snack is nothing to complain about.

The bag seems oddly oversized. There's an enormous amount of vacant space—even more than other popcorn products from TJ's. I feel like there's the same amount of popcorn in the bag, but the bag is 50% larger than typical popcorn products. It's always disappointing to open a snack bag and find it only half full.

I'm sure there are some adventurous snack enthusiasts that are mad about the flavor of this product. I'd like to say I'm one of them, but I'm afraid this won't be a repeat purchase if I have anything to say about it. I'm not telling you not to try it. The bag pretty much lays it all out for you: tangy, salty, smoky, spicy, and slightly sweet flavors...together at last. If that sounds good to you, knock yourselves out. The wifey liked it better than I did. She kept repeating, "It's weird, it's weird" while eating her first couple handfuls. Apparently, her opinion of the product improved as she got used to the flavor, and she settled on three and a half stars. 

Two and a half from me.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Trader Joe's Ube Mochi Pancake & Waffle Mix

When I was about 10 years old or so, my mother made our family waffles for breakfast one morning. They were delicious, but there were, by some miracle, a few left over. As a parent of a seven year old and a five year old who decided between them to eat an entire pound of blackberries before my wife or I even woke up the other day, I'm soon realizing that anything delicious and left over is a rare feat in a multi-child household.

Back to my story. The leftover were likely placed in a baggie, and a day or two later, I decided I wanted to have a snack while sorting through all my Ken Griffey Jr and Cal Ripken baseball cards or something like that, so I went down to the fridge to obtain said baggie, went upstairs to my room, ate maybe one or two, then instead of placing back in the fridge or throwing out, proceded to shove them underneath my bad where they stayed for the next three to six months and they turned all sorts of interesting colors, which I thought looked kinda mother was not so impressed.

Somehow this story has turned into family lore - "Rusty eats moldy waffles!" - so much to the point that anytime I see a not beige/tan/whatever color a "normal" waffle is, I'm reminded of it yet again by the resident voices in my head.

So here's Trader Joe's Ube Mochi Pancake & Waffle Mix! The only mold related to this new mix is the one they break.

They're purple! That much should be expected because of the ube, or "purple yam" as TJ's refers to it on the box. Gotta love ube, and if you haven't tried it yet, what are ya waiting for? It's got this magical property of being light and a little sweet but so grounded and earthy. They're even more mild than a sweet potato. Ube makes really such a natural choice for a pancake or waffle that I'm surprised this is the first time I've become aware of a commercial mix for it. It's almost too obvious for me to have come up with myself.

And...they're a bit chewy! Not overly, but still, thanks to mochi being in the mix. The little rice granules or whatever the mochi would be technically classified as do make the batter a bit grainy looking, which caused a little initial hesitation during waffle prep. When cooked, they're still visible if you choose to dissect your breakfast, but other than your waffle or pancake being a little bit more springy than usual, they're not that noticeable. Really, it's a nice little bite that's a bit different but I'd doubt that would cause much textural issues, unless you insist on crispy on the outside, fluffy in the middle breakfast grains.

Add a little maple syrup, and boom. That's a heckuva good waffle. The ube mochi waffles might be able to go more of the savory route as well - I could see chicken and waffles working with these being an interesting take. Or however you enjoy waffles would likely work, because these are pretty dang good.

Really, everyone in our little family loved the ube mochi waffles Sandy mixed up while I busied myself with bacon as I do almost every Saturday. It's little traditions like bacon and waffles that I hope will stick with the kids for most of their lives....and hopefully not stories like moldy waffles. We all loved these waffles and while they're not gonna be our new replacement every week waffles, they will absolutely be in the permanent family rotation as a new classic. That's right...the score was unanimous.

Trader  Joe's Ube Mochi Pancake & Waffle Mix: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, May 8, 2020

Trader Joe's Springle Jangle

Ah, at long last the vernal equivalent of the longstanding Yuletide favorite Jingle Jangle is here. Wait. Was there really anybody asking for this? Is this really something Trader Joe's needed to add to their lengthy lineup of fancifully-packaged chocolatey snacks?

Let's be honest. If you happened to purchase a tin of Trader Joe's Jingle Jangle at Christmas time, I'd bet dollars to donuts you still have some left in the container now that spring has rolled around some four months later. Granted, we have a small family, but we sure had a good bit left over many months hence after we bought it near Christmas 2014, and we used it as a photo double for gourmet elephant poop the following April.

First of all, chocolate isn't something I'm craving a lot right when the weather gets warm in the springtime. It makes my skin oily and it melts in my hand before it ever gets to my mouth.

There's only one element in this mix that's not prone to melting, and that's the "butter toffee peanuts," and there just aren't anywhere close to enough of them in the package. They're the only novel element in the jar—the only item I feel like I haven't consumed a million times before. Apparently, Trader Joe's does/did offer a butter toffee peanut product all by itself, and it's now available 

At any rate, they did throw me a bone and add one white chocolate element in this spring version of the snack mix. Oh wait. Sorry, that's "yogurt," not white chocolate. Is there any difference? Yogurt-covered pretzels are just fine in my book, especially when they're slathered in pretty pink and yellow nonsense. How festive. I'm sure TJ's wanted this product out by Easter, but life and lockdowns happened, and they couldn't get the item on shelves in time. No worries. It's still spring.

The nonpareils, dark chocolate Joe-Joe's bark, and pastel-colored fake M&M's AKA spring candy gems are all pieces I'd happily do without at all in this mix. The peanut butter cups are tasty, because, you know... peanut butter and chocolate. I prefer the milk chocolate version and would happily lose the dark chocolate ones, though. I must admit, there are fewer M&M dealies in this mix than in the original, so that's a plus.

At $4.99, it's much smaller and cheaper than the massive Jingle Jangle tin, but it's still overpriced by my estimation. It's basically a cylinder of chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, yogurt pretzels, and candy peanuts. Since it's aesthetically-pleasing and there are fewer candy gems and a little something white chocolate-esque, we won't shaft it too badly and will bestow it with the same scores we gave the original.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Trader Joe's Honey Mustard & Onion Seasoned Pretzel Pieces

This is not meant as any undue attack or unforward critique of one of the all time classics...but there is a serious need of innovation here.

Yes, we are talking about Trader Joe's Honey Mustard & Onion Seasoned Pretzel Pieces. If anyone could have magically pulled this off, I would have counted on TJ's to Wonka-fy it into existence. They didn't. I can't really be disappointed, because it just might be impossible, but still...I had hopes, only to be in vain.

You see, there is a fundamental issue with many snack food items, and honey mustard onion pretzel pieces are probably the best, clearest example. It's such a strong flavor, right? You know it when you taste it. The sweetness and bite of vinegar, the saltiness of the onion, the goodness of whatever other odd spices are sprinkled know what I speak of. If you've ever had a honey mustard onion pretzel, you'll know exactly what this taste like.

That's not precisely the issue, of course.

Instead, it's this question: how many bites of a perfectly balanced flavored snack do you actually get, per bag? It can be frustratingly few.

Alas, there's no exception here.

The first few portions out of the top of the bag are surprisingly bland. Like, they look like they should taste like something, and they kinda do...but not really. All that flavor dust went south for the winter and never came back.

Work towards the equator and there's a couple great bites in there, that taste like a little bit of everything and not too much of anything. Snack time bliss, that's what that is. Yum.

But then there's the bottom third or more. It's where everything settled. A little bit is good, but then for such a strong flavor like honey mustard and onion, it gets way too powerful way too quick. It's hard to have too much, unless you're really hungry.

I was really hopeful for some sort of innovative solution that TJ's would bring forth to the masses here. Maybe it'd be a scientific break though, in that some sort of edible, tasty glue or adhesive would hold on more tightly to the flavor crystals, so all would arrive in factory perfected form. Or that the delivery driver would bring them in a rented out concrete truck, tumbling the packages all the way from distribution center to retail. How about a paint-shaker type contraption in the stockroom? Or, like, maybe like the stockperson would give them an expertly vigorous shake before putting on the shelf, with the cashier giving an instructional DVD to purchasers to ensure even flavor distribution and snack food satisfaction all the way to the point of the consumption, so that if a consumer didn't fully love a balanced, even, delicious morsel of honey mustard onion pretzel that'd be squarely on them as some sort of societal outcast worthy of weeping and gnashing of teeth? It's not like TJ's employees are doing anything else these days.

I kid, of course, but alas, it was not to be. Here we go instead from predictable palatal progression from mediocre to delicious to "a bit much." Sigh.

But apparently I like them, enough to have devoured more or less the whole package myself with a few bites spared for the kiddos. It took a few days to be sure. My lovely bride didn't even try them - she's not opposed, she technically had opportunity, but in her opinion the window of time afforded her was too short -  so I'm flying solo here, which is dangerous. So, spoons? Sure. Need a breakthrough to get to that next level.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Honey Mustard & Onion Seasoned Pretzel Pieces: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, May 4, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Watermelon Fruit Spread

Nothing says summer—or at least warmer weather—like watermelon: the fruit, the flavor, the culture. It brings to mind memories of more carefree days. It's a reminder that no matter how long the winter, spring and summer are sure to follow. 

2020 has been quite a ride so far, and I'm sure the fun's not over yet. But even in unprecedented and uncertain times like these, there will be unique moments of discovery and joy. Sitting out in the green grass and opening up this jar for the first time was one such moment for me.

I'm not saying this product is so good that it will universally provide transcendent moments of bliss for all who partake of its goodness, but it might do that for some. I'm sure a few of you have tried another version of watermelon jam, jelly, or fruit spread before, be it homemade or some exotic brand I've never heard of. But this was a first for me. Leave it to Trader Joe's.

It's exactly as sweet as I want it to be. It might be a little too sweet for some and not sweet enough for others, but to me, it is juuust sweet enough to be a dessert-like treat, but not so syrupy that I feel a sudden urge to compulsively brush my teeth immediately after consuming.

It truly tastes like watermelon, by virtue of "organic watermelon puree" being the main ingredient. "Cherry juice" is pretty high up on the list, too, and it provides a subtle kick of sweet-tart sass, but you'd never mistake the dominant flavor of this fruit spread. It's absolutely delectably watermelony.

There are no seeds or grit here. Fruit pectin and watermelon puree yield a very smooth consistency. As far as thickness goes, I think it's on par with a strawberry jelly type vibe, but again, with no seeds, fruit bits, or chunks of any kind. A version with little pieces of real watermelon might be interesting, but I'm not complaining about the texture here at all. The smoothness works perfectly.

I've tried it straight from the jar as well as on toast with a little cream cheese. I'm thinking there has to be a way to incorporate this product into a watermelon-flavored smoothie, but I'm not sure what else I'd throw in there. If we had any vanilla wafer cookies on hand, I'd try dunking them straight into this fruit spread. A topping for vanilla ice cream? Plain yogurt? Possibilities abound.

If you like the flavor of watermelon with just a hint of extra tartness and sweetness, I don't see how you'd hate this product. I think it was $2.99 for the jar...? It's unique and very tasty. I give Trader Joe's Organic Watermelon Fruit Spread four stars. Sonia will go with four and a half.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

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