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Friday, February 26, 2021

Trader Joe's Chile Spiced Pineapple

Perhaps this is not a universal truth, but here in Pittsburgh it is: No matter how cold it is, you'll definitely see a guy wearing shorts. 

Sure, it's true now, at the end of February and us going through the interminable "false spring" where temps hit the 50s before plunging back to subzero the following week. heck, I was the dude in dungarees earlier today. But even in the midst of coldest, darkest, polar vortex-est winter, you'll see it: a guy wearing shorts. Guaranteed. 

What's this have to do with Trader Joe's Chile Spiced pineapple? Glad you asked. The answer is, obviously,, idea. Something something promise of warmth and perhaps summery but really not quite there and quit fooling yourself. Yeah...something like that. 

I picked up a small sack of eight slices on my latest TJ's run. No idea if they're newish or not, but I hadn't seen them before, and thought them to be a summery looking bite, with perhaps a little intrigue. For less than $3, it was an easy sell.

The actual product though? Ugh. It fails to deliver, with seemingly a two fold problem. 

First: the actual texture. I was expecting dried pineapple like the little chunks, you'd find ain a snack mix. You know, dry, kinda chalky, a wee bit stiff and fibrous. That's a great texture. these rings, though? They're soft and pliable and rubbery, as if they were halfbaked. Like a bad fruit jerky. It's not a pleasing or texture to have to try and rip off chunks with your teeth instead of a cleaner bite. No thanks. 

But then here's the rub...literally. That chile seasoning is not so great, and it's easy to see why. but first, a little background: if you're not familiar with pineapple, it's sweet with a lot of sugar. The pineapple here is a regular pineapple, just strangely chewier. So, innately speaking, there's already  plenty of WHY ADD MORE SUGAR TO A SPICE RUB FOR SOMETHING ALREADY SO SUGARY??? A rub like this might work on a pork butt but a sugary fruit? No! The result is an over cloyingly sweet taste trying to balance out some seasoned burn from chile peppers and friends let me tell you that this isn't happening here. It's all out of whack and just not very good. Barely any spice can be detected - a little, but not enough, especially for how red and potent each slice appears to be. 

Not a fan. I'll finish the bag...eventually....maybe...and be done with it for good. I just don't like being left out in the cold like that. My lovely bride isn't much of a fan either. I think we'll be nice and somehow give the psuedo-spicy sugary pineapple chew rings a 3 between us. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chile Spiced Pineapple: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Trader Joe's Kibbeh

Although I haven't been there myself yet, I've known numerous people who've either lived in or visited Israel throughout the years. At least one of them referred to falafel as "Israeli hamburger" with a smidge of disdain. I, personally, could replace hamburgers with falafel and be perfectly happy. But I've often wondered if the reverse were true: if any Levantine people, upon being presented with beef or hamburger, thought, "Oh, this is that American cow falafel I've heard so much about."

That's probably a silly notion, since Middle Eastern diets do include beef. It might not be as ubiquitous as it is here in middle America, but there are a number of Mediterranean dishes that involve red meat. Kibbeh is apparently made with lamb just as often as beef, if not more so. I'm not a huge fan of lamb, so I'm glad this Trader Joe's offering went with another option.

The kibbeh are roughly football-shaped. That's American football-shaped, just to be clear, not futbol case you don't speak 'Murican. They're so close to football-shaped, I'm actually wishing we'd broke these out a few weeks ago for the Superbowl. Ah well, there's always next year.

The "shell" is a firm, bread-like crust. I'm guessing that's the bulgur wheat mentioned on the box. It's not tough or chewy at all, but it has a much firmer texture than the ground beef within. The meat is tender and slightly juicy, but not oily or greasy. It's very lightly seasoned and flaunts a mild flavor profile.

It's so mild that it begs for some fixins, in my opinion. My instincts told me to throw a big slab of cheddar cheese on the kibbeh and slather it with ketchup and mustard, but then I came to my senses. 

I just had some beans and veggies on the side and added some extra seasoning. But what I really wish we'd have had on hand to pair with this dish is some baba ghanoush, garlic spread, tzatziki, or zhoug sauce. Even hummus might go well with these Middle Eastern meatballs.

It's another unique selection that I'm glad I got to try. Thanks for broadening my horizons again, Trader Joe's. I'd consider a repeat purchase, but next time, I'll be sure to pick up the appropriate condiments. They're nothing to complain about on their own. $4.79 for six beefy footballs. Three and a half stars from me. Four from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Trader Joe's Crispy Peanut Butter Filled Milk Chocolate Peanuts

"A stopped clock is right once a day."

Had a friend who used to go around saying that, and if you said "Uh, wouldn't that be twice?", he'd snap back with "It's on military time!" and think he was being really funny. Sigh. 

So anyways, a similar sentiment to a stopped clock being correct however many times you want it to be is: Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while. Don't know how you can get too smart with that one. 

So, what if this blind squirrel were to stumble across some Trader Joe's Crispy Peanut Butter Filled Milk Chocolate Peanuts?

Good question. Depending on how hungry that squirrel was - it may have been a while since it's last nutty snack, the poor little guy - or if he's dodging hawks or something, at first that squirrel may think it's just a normal nut. The size of these new filled chocolate treats are fairly peanut like - maybe a touch bigger, peanut shell textured and all - and for all intents and purposes each piece is definitely as peanutlike as a piece of chocolate can be on the exterior. It's a little bit of artistry, maybe not quite enough that a blind squirrel could fully appreciate it, but present nonetheless. Maybe that squirrel's sense of touch is a bit off as well.

But once that little bushytailed rodent sank its teeth in, there's an undeniable difference. As you can see, the exterior shell is completely made of fairly thick-to-scale milk chocolate. Speaking as someone who has incidentally ingested actual peanut shells once or twice, there's no mistaking that difference. The chocolate is soft and welcoming, sugary and sweet just like a good milk chocolate, and hits all the right dopamine centers. Nothing wrong with it - if it indeed tasted like a peanut shell that'd be very different. 

Further in, let's say that squirrel was in such a rush that s/he didn't notice the shell difference and was straight driving for that crunchy peanut in the middle. Would that squirrel be disappointed at the soft, creamy peanut butter in the hallowed out middle? I can't answer for anyone but myself, and I wasn't. Don't think a Reese's experience - while delicious, their pb tends to be somewhat dry and chalky, while this pb is more of Skippy or Jif experience. Delish, and great for candies. Love it, and could definitely tell the difference in a blind taste test. 

But what neither that squirrel nor anyone else could detect would be anything fulfilling the packaging's promise of a crispy undertaking. there's supposed to be some toasted rice type crispy crunchies in here. There's scarcely any - maybe two grains per candy. That's...not enough for anything that says it'd be crispy. Put more of that ricey goodness in the chocolate shell - that'd be awesome! Or make more of peanut butter rice crispy treat type center, and coat with plain chocolate - also a great idea. Or go for gold and do both - that might be a little overkill but i think it'd work. 

So yeah, let's shoo away that squirrel and wrap it up. These TJ treats are good and tasty, in a somewhat novel form, but aren't appreciably different from many other choc and pb based candies. Gotta step up that crisped rice game. No one in our house dislikes them, and the little baggie that sells for $3ish bucks goes way too fast with only like 15 of them in there. Pretty average in the end, I guess. Can't always find that golden nut. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crispy Peanut Butter Filled Milk Chocolate Peanuts: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 


Friday, February 19, 2021

Trader Joe's Cold Brew Coffee & Cream Liqueur

I guess the whole upper and downer all in a single beverage isn't a new concept. I love Red Bull and I'm fine with vodka when coupled with appropriate mixers, but blending the two together? Stimulants and depressants both at the same time make me spazzy.

Some might say I'm spazzy to begin with. That's fine. I won't argue the point. 

Stuff like Kahlua, coffee liqueur, or this cold brew beverage? Same thing. There's real coffee with real caffeine as well as alcohol. But you know, it tastes so gosh dang good, I have some every chance I get, which realistically isn't all that often.

I guess the real question is: when is the appropriate time to enjoy such a beverage? I, personally, can't have it before bed as a nightcap, because it'll keep me up into the next morning. I suppose some could get away with the whole Irish coffee thing and have it in the morning, especially if you work from home and don't need to drive anywhere, but I know I don't function very efficiently that way, depending, of course, on what I'm working on and how into it I am.

I suppose the best time for me to consume such a beverage would be right after dinner, still hours before bed, but after the day's tasks are completed. It's a narrow window, indeed. And it still might keep me up a little later than usual. Even more likely: I'll be in a spazztastic mood that'll annoy Sonia and anyone else around, making all involved wish I'd simply stuck to an upper or a downer and not both simultaneously.

Of course, I exaggerate the effects of such beverages. I don't think there's enough caffeine or alcohol in this drink to really do any harm to me or anyone else. I just needed a lead-in for the review, and stream-of-consciousness seemed as good an angle as any.

The product? It's sure tasty enough. The coffee element isn't overdone. It doesn't taste like a pot of black java. It's more like a premixed frappuccino or what-have-you. I guess cold brew coffees tend to be a little smoother and less bitter than other selections. It's super creamy, slightly thick, and almost velvety, texture-wise. It's only moderately sweet, well-balanced flavor-wise. It's perfect in a cocktail glass with a few ice cubes to keep it cold and thin it out as they melt.

Sonia was quite smitten with this liqueur. She's generally way more into coffee products than I am. She almost always sips her drinks super slowly, while I'm more of a chugger—and that goes for everything from water to juice to fine cream liqueurs—although I must say she downed this selection uncharacteristically quickly. She liked it significantly more than Kahlua, stating that it's much less harsh and more palatable.

For less than $10, it's worth a try for coffee connoisseurs and boozehounds alike. The quality is on par with any other cream liqueur, a la Bailey's or RumChata, with a distinct cold brew coffee taste. The wifey and I will both give it a thumbs up.

Four stars from me. Perfect five from Sonia.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Trader Joe's Calabrian Chili Tomato Dumpling Soup

Chances are, it's pretty cold where you are right now. It sure is here in the 'burgh. Cold enough that it killed our new battery in the family minivan out of nowhere, and naturally at a fairly inopportune time and place - as if there is such thing as a "good time" for that to happen. Cold enough to make being outside for more than two minutes worth questioning your sanity. And given the news stories and social media feeds we've seen from elsewhere, we're fairly lucky here in the 'burgh as other areas have been much more deeply impacted. 

Cold, cold, cold. Please, keep warm. If you can help others get warm too, please do. 

And maybe to help warm up yourself, get a big ol' jar of the new Trader Joe's Calabrian Chili Tomato Dumpling Soup. 

Listen: this ain't no ketchup water from a can. Warhol, when asked why he painted soup cans, said he wanted to paint nothing, and that soup cans were that - nothing. Given his choice of subject matter, in the famous red and white label, I can see why he said that. 

This ain't that. 

First: calabrian chili peppers. Even if you've only ever been to TJ's, you've seen them before, in probably my favorite product ever: the Italian bomba sauce. Mama mia! That's some hot stuff. The calabrese experience in the tomato soup isn't quite the same kick - it's not fermented or anything like the bomba, so a lot less kick - but still there's enough moderate spice and heat and warmth added. If you're staunchly spice adverse, it may be a bit much, but it's at a level that i think it'd be accessible to most folks. Then again I can eat an entire jar of the bomba with a spoon in minutes, so my scale may be off. 

And additionally: dumplings!

Man, who doesn't like dumplings? You can put some in my soup anytime! I love little bits of doughy dough floating around, in a form that's akin to but chewier and doughier than a noodle. Tasty. There's an extra heartiness imparted by the presence of the dumplings, that make the soup feel like less of a side and more of a meal. But there could definitely be more - I'm not asking for handful and handfuls, as the soup is actually pretty tasty and doesn't suffer without dumplings, but a few more would really fill it out more. 

All together, it's delicious, warm, hearty soup, with a little kick, with serious warm belly filling potential, in a convenient quick and easy glass jar, for like $3. Can't beat it. This might be my new favorite store brand soup. Gonna have to go get it a few more times, you know, if the car would start....

Wife and kids sat this out. My lovely bride doesn't like tomatoes, and my kids don't like spice. Oh shucks, more for me. Love it, with only the wish for more dumplings as a knock. So good, so warm on up with some yourself if I may suggest. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Calabrian Chili Tomato Dumpling Soup: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Friday, February 12, 2021

Trader Joe's Vegetable Samosa Burrito

I'm not into globalism as far as politics are concerned, but I must admit, when international cultures entwine, some pretty interesting and enticing culinary combinations result.

I'm thinking taco pizza, curried chicken salad, or Chicano hamburgers...or the fact that you can put sriracha on anything American and make it better. Fusion food. The only thing finer than one tasty tradition is two or more combined in the same dish. And now they're doing stuff like sushi corn dogs, kimchi quesadillas, and pierogi poutine...? What the what? I'll have to try those things some day...but until then, I'm glad there's Trader Joe's.

So it's a the form of a burrito. Sounds good. If you use the microwave, this happy little lunch item goes from refrigerated to piping hot in just two minutes.

Despite being a little stuffy from the excessive cold we're feeling here in the upper midwest, that familiar curry-esque samosa smell cut through the kitchen and piqued my appetite immediately. Sonia and I cut our burrito in half and ate it with some other leftover Indian food and rice. By itself, it would have been the perfect size for a stand-alone lunch or even dinner for one person.

There were big chunks of potato, cauliflower, and carrots, plus plenty of large whole peas throughout the dish. The texture of the veggies was just about perfect. The tortilla would have been a bit more crispy had we used the oven, no doubt, but we were fine with it being soft and supple. It's definitely a secondary element after the veggie chunks.

To me, "tomato chutney" doesn't sound particularly appetizing or exciting. But it tasted great. Just look at the ingredients list. There's onions, garlic, mustard, vinegar, white wine, ginger, paprika, turmeric and rosemary, just to name a few of the represented flavors. The taste was every bit as complex and bold as you might expect from those elements. It's a uniquely Indian flavor in the familiar format of a burrito. Would buy again.

$3.99 for the product. Four stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Trader Joe's Plantain Croutons

As a young kid if I were to be at a restaurant with a salad bar, here's precisely what my plate would look like if given the chance: piles of shredded cheese. A couple cucumber slices. Maybe some sliced bell peppers. Handfuls of bacon bits, even more so if those little generic red tinged Bacos or even worse, generic Bacos. A couple of those mini cookies or muffins that are always there. And a tiny piece of lettuce to let my mom know that I, indeed, had made a grown up salad. 

And croutons. Hills and mountain ranges of croutons. 

I mean, what kid doesn't like croutons? My kids love them and call them "crunchers" or "crunchies" or "munchies" or whatever else pops in their head. They eat them by the handful, happily. generally speaking, croutons are classic, and it's really hard to mess with classics. You gotta be fearless. 

Fearlessly indeed, here's Trader Joe's Plantain Croutons. 

What the what? Imagine the classic basic garlic crouton, and instead of the crunchy, bready bite, it's the starchy banana/potato crossover that's been popping up more and more at TJ's. Plantains are the next mango or cookie butter (and they pair well with both!). 

The croutons themselves are far tinier than most of their carby counterparts, and it's for good reason. Whereas regular croutons are still quite crunchy, there's still the softer toasty touch that make them manageably munchable for most. They can afford to be the size they are. It's not quite the case here. These plantain nibs are denser, cruncher, much harder to chew through. Use caution with small kids (between size and density, they're potential choking hazards) or expensive dental work. It's not enough to be offputting to me, but it's absolutely noticeable if you're craving the reliable comfort vibe of a regular ol' crouton. 

Aside from that, it's straight up crouton. There's plenty of garlic - more than expected, my grandma (rest her soul) would appreciate them - and perhaps they're a little heavy on the salt too. I'm not sure if that's just more noticeable since it's a plantain or if it's deliberate on behalf of the manufacturers because it's a plantain and so you have to counterbalance the natural sweetness and starches of a plantain. But it works. 

Gluten free and vegan. Always a plus. They're acceptable crouton-like crunchy cubes for the masses! YAYYYY! *Kermit arms*

I actually haven't had them on a salad, though they'd work well. Instead, I've had them more as a quick afternoon snack here and there. Salad, soups, etc for use, and just now typing this up I wonder if they'd work in something like a homemade Chex Mix. Gonna have to find out. Not quite double fours from my lovely bride and me. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Plantain Croutons: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Monday, February 8, 2021

Trader Joe's Heart Shaped Macarons

Each February, I'm hard-pressed to fulfill my husbandly duties of surprising Sonia with goodies on back-to-back special occasions. Today is her birthday, and less than a week from today is, of course, Valentine's Day. Fortunately, neither she nor I tend to put a lot of emphasis on V.D. so a casual edible novelty or two and a cozy movie night generally fits the bill.

Since today is Monday, any birthday festivities for the wifey took place over the weekend. She opened some gifts—most of which she ordered herself online and then I wrapped—and we had some Shari's Berries instead of a traditional cake, a few special appetizers and beverages during the Superbowl, and finally, we decided to break out these strawberry and raspberry flavored macarons.

I've ranted about silly heart-shaped things before on this blog, so I'll spare you my diatribe a second time. Seasonally appropriate? Check. There's the obligatory white, pink, and red colors that scream "Valentine's" all over the packaging. Easy enough for me to prepare? Check. All that's required is thawing in the fridge overnight or at room temperature for an hour.

Flavor-wise, they're pretty decent. They've got an almond meal base, with egg whites as the secondary ingredient, followed by white chocolate. They didn't overdo the sweetness at all. In fact, I almost want them to be a bit sweeter. The "vanilla creme with strawberry center" ones—the white ones—are slightly better than their pink counterparts in my opinion, although there's very little strawberry filling at all. They're mostly just vanilla.

Sonia likes the other flavor better—the pink ones. The outer shell of the raspberry flavor tastes almost freezer-burnt to me. Our box has a best buy date in January 2022, so freshness shouldn't be an issue. Maybe I'm just not used to the ingredients used here...? I must admit, however, the raspberry creme filling is pleasantly sweet and tart, and there's more than enough of it in each little heart-shaped bite.

These are a suitable alternative to the common V.D. box of chocolates. For $4.99, you're paying as much for presentation and pretty packaging as you are for the actual food. Product of Belgium. Again, why does Trader Joe's need to import them from another continent?

Three stars from me. Three and a half from the missus.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Trader Joe's Magnifisauce

In addition to chatter about GME, NOK, and AMC "stonks," the death of Dustin Diamond (RIP Screech) and Punxsutawney Phil seeing his shadow, the interwebs are ablaze with news and opinions about this ostentatiously-packaged new condiment from Trader Joe's. Some are saying it's just Thousand Island dressing. Some are saying it's the next big thing. Some are angry that "canola oil" is the number one ingredient. Some are saying they'd drink it straight from the bottle. Inquiring minds want to know: is it worth the hype?

Ever since 1980's McDonald's commercials sang about "special sauce" in their Big Mac burgers, Americans have had an obsession with special or "secret" sauces. Oooh. Everybody loves a secret, right? Soon places like Burger King would follow suit with the Big King, and although I wasn't exposed to them until many years later, In-N-Out on the west coast would slather their burgers and animal style fries with a mysterious pinkish dressing that astounded and allured the masses.

I'm not sure why, but myself, my family, and my circle of friends didn't figure out that these clandestine condiments were simply a mixture of other more common toppings like relish, ketchup, and mayonnaise, with a few spices thrown into the mix, until many years after we'd first partook of the secretive salsa in our fast food burgers. Are we a bit slow? Perhaps. But at least now the cat's out of the bag. All special sauces are basically conglomerations of other less exotic constituent parts. So is the $2.99 squeeze bottle of Magnifisauce really that magnificent?

Yes and no. The convenience factor is high. I don't think I've ever seen special sauce sold as special sauce before, and certainly not in such a handy package. It's shelf stable until it's opened, and it's best if used within 90 days. 

Sonia and I don't eat hamburgers all that often, but we'll be able to finish this sauce as a dip for appetizers like French fries and onion rings. Make no mistake, it's pretty tasty when eaten as the main condiment on a traditional burger. We got a couple of patty melts from the bar and grill restaurant down the street yesterday, took them home, broke out this sauce, and were pleasantly surprised with its taste. Flavor-wise, it really is basically just Thousand Island dressing with a good bit of pickle relish and some faint garlic and onion in the background. We both think it's a little thinner than mainstream fast food secret sauce, and by my estimation maybe just a tad sweeter.

I'm no food scientist, so you can tell me in the comments below why canola oil is good or bad. It's the base of this sauce. Most Trader Joe's products at least have the veneer of being healthy-esque. I'm not convinced either way, but even if canola oil is detrimental to my health, I won't be eating enough of this stuff for it to kill me. Like I said, we'll finish this bottle over the next few months. After that, not sure if I'd re-purchase except perhaps to take to a big party or neighborhood barbecue type gathering where lots of burgers will be eaten all at once. I wish I could join the ranks of either the Magnifisauce zealots or even the haters, but alas, I'm a moderate and a centrist at heart, even when it comes to condiments. Call me a milquetoast fencesitter if you must. You wouldn't be wrong. Three stars from me.

The wifey will be slightly more pro-Magnifisauce and throw out four stars.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Trader Joe's Almond Butter Almonds

There's so many phrases and words out there that, for whatever reason, really grind my gears. The following isn't a complete list of such phrases I've heard used so often and thrown around carelessly I think I'd rather be smacked by .a two by four than hear them again

"Now more than ever..."

"New normal."

"Social distancing."

Generally calling someone a Karen. Called for sometimes? Sure. All the time....nah. Does that make me a Terry or Kevin or whatever the male name equivalent is?

And most pertinently to this review of Trader Joe's Almond Butter Almonds..."double down/ed/ing."

Ugh to all of them. 

Except the Almond Butter Almonds! They're delicious!!!!1!

You see, I could say TJ's DOUBLED DOWNED on all things almondy and tasty here to make a rather tasty, somewhat redundantly flavored snack. I could...but no. Doesn't sound right.

There's a fairly straightforward concept here. Get an almond butter-flavored candy-esque coating and slather on some salted roasted almonds, and that's about it. And fabulous, because almonds by themselves are pretty mundane. But here, add that nut butter shell and they became magical. Think of something akin to a yogurt covered almond, except maybe a tad softer and mealier (it is almond butter, after all) and that's about what thee nuts crunch and munch like. The little bit of salt and toasted crunch of the almond core really help to hold up and support the outer layers, which remained remarkably intact all the way from factory to distributor to store to home to belly. The result is undeniably snacky, and something that feels like a little guilty pleasure. We love 'em. 

Good nuts, good stuff. And a good price too - I think these were maybe $4 for the bag? Wasn't anything major, Just a small handful or two was more than enough to put a major dent in any hangry tummy rumbles. Because of that, earlier today we finally finished off our one bag I bought...I guess maybe next time in the store, I'll have to say to myself "Self, now more than ever, we need to make it the new normal to double down on our purchases here, lest you lovely bride decides to become a Karen and socially distance you for your transgression." Or something to that general effect. Nothing down from the Mrs or I, the almond butter almonds are a double win in our books with double fours. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Almond Butter Almonds: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons 


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