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Friday, May 28, 2021

Trader Joe's Vegan Bolognese Style Pasta Sauce

Funfact: when Sonia was young, her elementary school classmates emotionally scarred her by calling her "Sonia Bologna" on the playground. 

Another funfact: her husband would resurrect the nickname many years later, you know, just because. 

Yet another funfact: Sonia and her husband would enjoy a pasta sauce from her namesake city of Bologna even further into the future—in late May of 2021, just yesterday, in fact.

This is actually the second Bolognese sauce we've reviewed from Trader Joe's over the years. The first one was made with turkey. This one is made with "meatless plant-based crumbles." From what I've read, it's a sauce that's traditionally made with beef...but enough cows and octopuses have given their lives for the advancement of Trader Joe's brand online criticism this week. Time for a vegan option.

Although it's not really apparent in the picture, the sauce contains a fair amount of the meatless chunks mentioned above, along with plenty of veggie pieces, too. The pea protein-based crumbles flaunt a mouthfeel somewhere between an actual bite of ground beef and a very small cube of tofu. 

The sauce coats the pasta fairly evenly. While not super thick, it's chunky enough to remain hearty.

There's a rich, tomatoey flavor. The blend of spices is somewhat milder than I expected for an Italian-inspired pasta sauce. I remember tasting lots of fennel in the turkey Bolognese—almost as if it contained bits of black licorice. That's not the case here. The overall flavor is more oniony and garlicky, with notes of less pungent elements like basil and celery.

$3.99 for 18 oz of sauce, easily enough for dinner for two to four people. We ate ours atop some large spiral pasta and were pleasantly surprised. Might buy again.

Three and a half stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Trader Joe's Wild Caught Cooked Atlantic Octopus

Okay, sorry, story time. It's cute, don't worry. For many nights over the past few weeks, at bedtime, i've had to spend ample time convincing one of my young kids that no, a giant octopus was not going to eat her overnight. I have no idea where she got that idea. I've "locked" the door and put her other stuffed animals on guard. I've made magic protective spells. I've even reminded here that here in Pittsburgh we live nowhere near an ocean. Doesn't matter. She had legit fear that a giant octopus was gonna come eat her. Even if Daddy was bigger and tastier looking, as I also reminded her. Nothing worked...

...until Trader Joe's Wild Caught Cooked Atlantic Octopus debuted in freezers a couple weeks back. "Look, sweetie!" I exclaimed. "Trader Joe's caught the giant octopus! We're safe!"

She totally bought that, then in toddler logic deduced that if the giant octopus can no longer eat us, we should eat the giant octopus. I thought she was joking but she insisted for weeks that we buy it to eat it. Finally, we relented.

And know what? We'd do it again. 

Granted, it can be somewhat of a visually challenging buy. I mean: tentacles, right? Gulp. 

But thaw it out and warm it up. As it says, fully cooked, which saves a few hours of prep from raw. We decided to make a simple "salad" of sorts with red onion, cucumber, and grilled octopus, prepped with just a little EVOO and salt and pepper. The octopus itself is firmer than we thought - sort of like a cross between calamari and a chicken sausage - while being extremely mild. No fishiness or anything. Likely if marinated, it'd soak up whatever flavor it was swimming in. Okay, not sure I like that visual bad. 

And there's no rubberiness or anything, and as my lovely bride stated, even when chewing on a tentacle, it's the same feel in your mouth. Your teeth don't know the difference. If it's just a bit much, though, the tentacles can be removed easily enough which we did for our kids to get them to eat a bite before rewarding them with a hot dog. More octopus for us and happy kids. Win win. 

And our kid who begged for the octopus? We let her have first bite. She popped it in, amde a face, spat it promptly out, then said she loved it but had to twist her arm to eat it the rest of the meal, only for her to state afterwards it was her favorite. Yeah, I don't know either. 

Anyways, the eight ounce package is enough for two servings and costs $8.99. Seems reasonable compared to most seafood, and a buy we'd make again. Would love to hear ideas of how you all may have enjoyed the TJ's octopus, so share away. Double fours. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Wild Caught Cooked Atlantic Octopus: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, May 24, 2021

Trader Joe's Carne Asada Burritos

A lot of my gringo friends think I must be eating things like tacos, nachos, and carne asada burritos on the regular since I'm married to a Latina of Mexican descent. While I am treated to an authentic dish from time to time, courtesy of the beautiful wifey or possibly her mom, it's usually a dish native to southern Mexico, specifically the state of Oaxaca. We're talking stuff like salsa de queso and tlayuda topped with quesillo cheese. Yum.

While similar to the cuisine of northern Mexico, the food my wife's family makes only occasionally contains red meat and is virtually never presented in a burrito-type format. All that to say, we're not really carne asada burrito experts or connoisseurs, although living in Los Angeles for seven years and thirty-one years, respectively, might mean we've had more decent Mexican food than the average American. If I have only one good thing to say about SoCal, it's that there's plenty of well-above-par Mexican at surprisingly affordable prices, if you know where to look.

After resisting the urge to heat the burritos in the air fryer, I opted for the oven. 20 minutes at 450 degrees as per the heating instructions yielded a warm outer shell and a nearly-still-frozen center. So I continued heating.

Another ten minutes at 450 seemed to do the trick. I tried the burrito plain at first. The meat was a little gristly. If I'm going to eat beef, I prefer it ground. If it's steak or carne asada, I'm not a big fan of wads of fat and sinewy textures. There was definitely a bit of that here. If you don't mind your meat a tad chewy, at least I can tell you there's plenty of it—at least one or two chunks of carne in every bite. 

Taste-wise, the blend of onions, chiles, and cilantro was underwhelming. There's a very mild heat and just a moderate amount of extra savory flavors. The product needed cheese, salsa, and sour cream to be truly palatable for either of us.

In the end, we each finished our burrito in one sitting, but we wound up giving any beef chunks that floated out of the crispy shell to the dogs, who didn't mind the bit of gristle at all.

$4.99 for two burritos. Two stars a piece on this one. Not a repeat purchase.

Bottom line: 4 out of 10.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Trader Joe's Southern Peach Crisp Ice Cream

 It's May in Pittsburgh. Know why they call it that? It *may* freeze. It *may* rain. Heck it *may* hail or flood. With a little luck it *may* be springlike for a few days...before it *may* get hot and burny and kinda gross. At least it's not awfully humid yet. And I just *may* live in an old brick house that two weeks ago I was pumping the heat in to keep it above freezing and now wish my our stackpipe didn't burst a few weeks ago, kinda depleting our extra funds for some HVAC stuff...including emphasis on the AC. 

Ugh. it just *may* be another long, hot summer we're just starting. Get the ice cream. 

Specifically...get the new Trader Joe's Southern Peach Crisp Ice Cream. 

Ho. Lee. Sheet. It's been a hot minute since TJ's debuted an ice cream that truly impressed us - we're kinda snobby when it comes to our frozen scoops. the wait is over. Soft and creamy right out of the freezer, and a palty $2.99 a pint, this is gonna be my lovely bride's and my ticket to chill this summer. 

The sweet cream base is 100% on point, and the right call. Vanilla would have been a bit too plain, and while something like a bourbon base would be a bold strategy (and welcomed here!), there's perhaps a bit too much risk for the masses. Sweet cream? Don't mind if ya do! Soft, sweet, creamy, and perfectly delish in its own right. Nom.

Add in some peach puree, though? Great touch! We didn't hit much of a vein our carton, but we had was a great touch. Peachy keen. At certain points, the classic combo of peaches and cream approached the point of perhaps a little too cloyingly sweet, but it never strayed over the line. Even more delish. Nomnom. 

But wait...there's more. 'Crunchy buttery oat crisp"? Shut the front door. YES. Though somehow amiss in my photo, there's ample little pebbles and dust and itty bitty clumps of this around. A little salty, earthy, oaty, buttery, crispy, brown sugar and cinnamony - all classic, and amazing, and really puts the final touch on the whole scoop. It's irresistibly good, and adds the impression of peach pie a la mode...except a lot more ice cream.  Nomnomnomnomnom...I could go on...

Love it. Maybe have bourbon on the side. Awesome ice cream. If this were an option at a local ice cream stand, we'd go often for it. Still gonna support local this summer, absolutely, but there's nothing wrong with having a sure thing at home. No real complaints except maybe a touch more peach, but the mileage may vary in your own respective carton. Go get it, you won't regret it. No ifs, ands, buts, or *may*s about it. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Southern Peach Crisp Ice Cream: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Trader Joe's Unsalted Organic White Corn Tortilla Chips

Ever since Sonia's mom had a rather serious stroke a couple years ago, we've been a little more cognizant of the dangers of high blood pressure and too much sodium in our diets. Fortunately, she's mostly recovered and pretty much back to normal now, but it was a long, challenging road to get there.

Shortly after her incident, I realized that my own blood pressure was way too high, as well. I wouldn't say I'm on a "low sodium diet" now per se, but I often intentionally select less salty options when possible.

At the recommendation of a couple of friends, we tried these chips for the first time a while back. At first, I was like, "Who in their right mind would eat tortilla chips with no salt?" But then if you really think about it, most of the time you're eating tortilla chips, you're eating them with something else: salsa, queso, guac, and all of those have their own salt in them. Do you really need to double up on salt? In my opinion, the answer is no. These chips are the proof.

Even though I didn't think I'd like them, I'm totally fine snacking on them plain. Somehow the lack of salt lets the natural flavor of corn shine a little more. And just as you'd assume, all of the above-mentioned fixins provide plenty of sodium content by themselves.

This has become one of our most frequent Trader Joe's purchases of all time and a staple in our household. It's very difficult to find completely salt-free chips in your average mainstream grocery store. We highly recommend you give them a try, even if you're a salt-o-phile like me. It might not be new or super exciting, but it's a classic TJ's product very much worthy of Pantheon status, in our humble opinions.

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

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Trader Joe's Shrimp Seafood Burgers

This is one of those non-beef products that's definitely not even trying to be a hamburger, so why call it a shrimp "burger" at all? I mean, really, it's shrimp and pollock fish and there's no way to make that combo taste like a beef hamburger. It's much more like a chicken patty in terms of texture, and maybe even a little bit in terms of flavor, too. Well, I can't say for sure why Trader Joe's went this route with the moniker, but I, for one, like the word "burger" better than the word "patty" for reasons I can't quite put my finger on, semantically accurate or not.

Taste-wise, it's about equal parts shrimp and pollock, and both flavors are balanced out by garlic powder and other "spices." I can't tell you what the other spices are, because Trader Joe's didn't tell me, but I can say that they're definitely detectable and also delectable by my reckoning.

The burgers are not hot nor spicy by any means, just flavorful and savory—not fishy at all, either. Another plus: they actually stay together when being consumed and don't disintegrate and crumble like some other patties we've seen from Trader Joe's. Must be the rice flour.

The four little discs come individually packaged. So far we've tried heating them on the skillet and also in the air fryer. Both methods yielded pleasant results and took comparable heating times, although the air fryer method was preferred just ever so slightly by both Sonia and me. The air fryer heating method wasn't listed on the packaging this time. We just winged it. I think it was about 375 degrees for 8 or 9 minutes.

The patties go well with condiments like sweet chili sauce, or you can burger them up and use a mild cheese and toppings like lettuce, mayo, and mustard. I can't see ketchup working too well with something like this, but I could be wrong. In general, ketchup is probably my favorite condiment for beef hamburgers, so it's not like I'm biased against it. I just don't do ketchup with fish, unless we're talking fish sticks, and even then I'd lean toward tartar sauce. Hmm. Tartar sauce might work as a topping for these things, too.

If you like the taste of shrimp, and you wouldn't mind trying it in a chicken patty-esque, puck-like format, then snag a box on your next TJ's run. 

Four burgers for $6.99. Four stars a piece on this one.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Trader Joe's Crispy Jalapeño Pieces

 Another day, another quick hit. That's just how it rolls right now with my ever growing family as the world continues to reawaken. 

But no time for the details on all that. You want a real quick hit? Grab a shortie of Trader Joe's Crispy Jalapeño Pieces next time you see them. They're either $1.99 or $2.99...don't remember...doesn't matter. 

Crispy. Crunchy, A touch greasy. Fleshy. Spicy. A wee salty, And perfection. It was love at first sight. There's no way this go wrong, unless you're one of the odd types who wouldn't enjoy something like this. Grab a handful and place on whatever you're eating. Burger? Taco? Pizza? Salad? Eggs? Soup? Sandwich? Mashed potatoes? Mac n cheese? Heck, probably even ice cream? Yes, to all of those, and more. 

There's nothing magical or mystical here. It's just thin slices of jalapeño battered lightly and fried (presumably) into an irresistably crunchy topping. Or, let's be honest...snack. I ate nearly 2/3rds of a cannister all by myself, and stopped only because I didn't want my wife's ire to consume me while enjoying chili later on that night. These are amazing. 

My only critique? There were too few "big pieces" of pepper. Those pieces are the best, when your teeth cut thru the crispy shell and sink into that mildly spicy, fleshy jalapeñ, I'm making myself hungry again. Love 'em, need more of 'em. There were quite a few middle sized guys and naturally a handful of empty fried crumbs. Those are all tasty as well...but we're here for the big tasty jalapeños. 

Get 'em, you won't regret 'em. Pair nicely with a hoppy IPA.  Delish, and darn near perfect. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crispy Jalapeño Pieces: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, May 10, 2021

Trader Joe's Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake

We've seen a lot of great sweet treats and after-dinner desserts from Trader Joe's over the years, and reviews of them generally do pretty well here on the blog. For example, our most popular post of all time by far, based on total page views, is my review of the original speculoos cookie butter. Or if you go by Farcebook likes, it's my review of cookie butter ice cream. Neither product is completely unique to Trader Joe's, but in both cases, they offered something that, at the time of release, wasn't widely available in the United States at your average, everyday grocery store. Those types of imported flavors tend to be the most popular, most successful, and in my opinion, most interesting offerings from Trader Joe's. For one thing, even if their speculoos cookie butter weren't the very best example of such a product, the average American shopper wouldn't even know the difference, because a good portion of us hadn't ever tried cookie butter at the point when TJ's made it popular.

However, most of us have had strawberry cheesecake...and I'd even venture to say most of us have tried very, very delectable, mouthwatering strawberry cheesecake that nears culinary perfection. So...if you're gonna tackle something with a high standard already established, you better bring your A game, you feel me?

Let's just say we're in a parallel reality where cheesecake hasn't come to America for whatever reason. It's popular in Europe and a few Yanks have tried it and they tell tales of this rich, sweet, creamy dessert when they come back stateside and get all their friends excited to either travel abroad or have some imported. Then Trader Joe's, out of the blue, begins offering Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake. Okay. Then I'd probably be pretty enthused. Everyone would be.

But I must say, not only is this not the best strawberry cheesecake I've ever had, but it's not even the best frozen cheesecake I've ever had. Archer Farms and Cheesecake Factory both make (or made) pretty decent offerings in that department.

This product might have been a contender if they'd simply swirled that strawberry gel all throughout the middle of the product. As it is, it's only on top. And it's by far the best part of the cheesecake, at least as far as Sonia and I are concerned. The cheesecake itself seems a little dull and boring, as cheesecakes go. The graham crust is pretty decent, I must admit.

It's a sweet dessert that's adequate for a small group for an after-dinner treat or what have you, and most people would be perfectly fine downing a slice or two, just so long as they don't overthink or overanalyze like I'm doing right now. But this isn't even the best cheesecake we've seen from Trader Joe's. It's not like they messed it up, but they didn't make it particularly memorable, either.

Three stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Trader Joe's Pulled Jackfruit in Smoky BBQ Sauce

Though mainly carnivorous in nature, in all honesty, a little vegan meat substitution here and there doesn't bother me. Need proof? All the things TJ's sells, it was none other than the original TJ's soy chorizo that got me interested in helping jumpstart this here fine blog over ten years ago. Think I'm long, wordy, pointless, and all that now? Ha! You have no idea how lucky you kids are these days. 

That being said, I've been meaning to and wanting to try out Trader Joe's Pulled Jackfruit in Smoky BBQ Sauce for quite some time. Love pulled pork, but it doesn't always love me the same way back. I've heard rumors that jackfruit easily emulates all that pulled pork can offer, and well, here's an easy chance to draw my own conclusion at the expense of $1.99 and a minute in the microwave. 

Surprisingly, to a newbie like me, decent. Take a look at my product pic. It definitely looks the part, right? Saucy, stringly, a little chunky. At first glance I thought maybe onions were involved, but the ingredients make no mention of them, so i presume it's all jackfruit and sauce. 

The bite is definitely softer than even slow-and-low smoked pulled prok, and not as stringy either. I miss that little bite, but not the little bits that inevitably get stuck in my teeth, so there's that. There was a small plastic-y square in mine - not sure if actual part of package made it's way in, a foreign intruder at the packing plant, or just a pretty not-so-great part of jackfruit. Cast aside without much drama and worries.  Everything else was great - small strands, bigger chunks with more "meat" to them - but no bark though. Oh well. 

The fruit itself is mild, without much flavor by itself. That works because that really helps take on the flavor of the sauce...and man. this BBQ Sauce is pretty legit. Thick, a touch sweet, tangy, with a upper medium kick - it's definitely Kansas City, the American classic, style. I wouldn't say "smoky" quite as much but the little touch that's there iss okay - if liquid smoke were added for the kill shotit'd be an absolutely no go for me. Hate that junk. As it was, that BBQ sauce was finger-lickin' good.

In all it was definitely a decent lunch. I ate mine plain in a bowl, but I think it'd go well over rice. In a sandwich, with a sturdy roll, I feel the texture of the carbs would heavily outweigh the bite of the fruit, so all would be tasted and sensed would be sauce. For the cost and convenience I'll absolutely buy again without a dount. My lovely bride opted for something else for lunch, but I was happy to nosh down the entire package myself as not much of a stomach stretcher. Without going into detail, I'm having some mild digestive issues which I can only really attribute to the jackfruit, but it's nothing too troublesome. Tasty, tasty, tasty, and pretty darn good. Here's another fake meat win for you, TJ's!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Pulled Jackfruit in Smoky BBQ Sauce: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Trader Joe's Crispy Onion Chips

I never really got Funyuns.

Considering how much I love the taste of onions, I'm just never in the mood to have oily corn meal rings that vaguely taste like the popular root vegetable. I mean, they're not terrible. I just always wondered why they couldn't have some actual onion bits in them. 

Sure, they're optimized for sitting in unrefrigerated vending machines for weeks or months at a time, which wouldn't work with real onion pieces. But what if the onion pieces were dehydrated? Hmm. Then we might have a real winner.

And what if, furthermore, there was no cornmeal at all and the only ingredients were "onions, rice bran oil, and salt"? Well, then, my friends, you would have these: Trader Joe's Crispy Onion Chips.

I'm not saying everybody will enjoy these unique chips as much as I do. In fact, I'd be shocked if many people are with me on this one. The chips flaunt a texture not unlike that of styrofoam. Crispy? Yes, but they melt in your mouth in the most delightful and unexpected way.

The natural flavor of onions is on full display here. They almost taste like a rice-based snack, dusted with some complex array of garlicky additives and exotic seasonings. There's even something buttery about them. But all that's there is onion, salt, and oil. Amazing, really. 

If you don't have a weird affinity for onions like Sonia and I do, you might not be as enthused. But for all onion-lovers, I'd say these are worth at least one purchase. $2.69 for the 1.4 oz bag. It says it's one serving, but even Sonia and I managed to stretch it to multiple sittings. If you eat this whole bag all at once, then dang, I guess you must really, really like onions.

Four and a half stars from me. Four and a half from the wifey.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Trader Joe's Cajun Style Alfredo Sauce


Ah, the old familiar refrain, sung daily from the shorter, stinkier faction of my evergrowing family. 

To which I always respond: Hamsters.

Heck, I'd go all Bubba Blue on them, too.  Hamsters are like fruit of the earth. Barbecue, boil, broil, bake, saute. hamster kebobs, creole and gumbo...I could go on and on. Usually it quiets them down. 

Please note: We don't actually eat hamsters here. It's all lighthearted diversion, as well as a subtle shoutout to one of the finest cartoons series to ever grace this earth

All that being said, if not some hamster, man, something else is really needed to make Trader Joe's Cajun Style Alfredo Sauce work.

As perhaps the fatal flaw for our dinner and this pertinent review, my lovely bride and I splashed a ladelfull over this new Cajun-inspired pasta sauce on just some plain rigatoni the other night. Kids had marinara so we didn't have to hear complaints of "too spicy." The result was pretty meh. 

With giving the chance to shine all by itself atop just some plain noodles, the sauce doesn't hold up well. There's a bit of cool creaminess, a bit of bite from the cheese...and paprika. Lots and lots of paprika. Paprika is all there is for spice. Paprika is good and all, but the whole spicy sensation defaults to solely that so it all feels a little one note. Sure, the grana padano slips in there too, with its parmesanesque twinge, but in the end, it's not unpleasant but seems a bit incomplete. 

Atop some roasted veggies, though? It's a better experience. Perhaps some of the taste and texture of our broccoli and Brussel sprouts took away just enough of the creaminess so other aspects of the sauce began to emerge, like pepper and  garlic and chili and fennel. Granted, paprika was still the dominant spice force, but at least it wasn't by itself. 

I'd give this another try, but would be sure to grab some chicken or sausage or hamster-stuffed alligator (for the true Cajun experience) or something to mix in with some hearty pasta and veggies. That'd seem more like it. Some sauces are meant to shine, and others meant to throw assists to the meal components, and the TJ's Cajun alfredo seems to be the latter. By its lonesome, though? Pretty meh. We'll both toss it a 3. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cajun Style Alfredo Sauce: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons. 


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