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Friday, July 30, 2021

Trader Joe's Hatch Chile Chicken Wraps

Can we count our chickens now?

I've heard all my life: "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched." Well, this chicken has clearly been hatched. That is, it's been given the Hatch treatment with chile peppers from Hatch, New Mexico.

During our travels, Sonia and I spent about a week in Las Cruces, NM. It was one of our favorite places in the country—like probably in the top 5. Definitely top 10. I'm not sure if Las Cruces is technically part of the Hatch Valley, but at any rate, it's less than an hour from the town of Hatch. While there, we bought a jar of mom and pop's Hatch chile salsa that we greatly enjoyed, the brand name of which escapes me now. We did find it a bit watery, but the flavor and spice level were just about perfect for us, though. It might have been just a notch above the Trader José Hatch Chile Salsa.

The flavor and spice level here are pretty spot on, too. There's not an overwhelming level of heat, and what heat there is brings a flavorful wave of chile pepper. It's not just heat for heat's sake.

The crust is flaky, crispy, and medium-thick. Before biting into the product, the folded shape of it greatly resembles that of a Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme® but instead of beef and lettuce, it's filled with chicken and chiles.

The poultry in the dish is so shredded and minced that there are virtually no discernible "pieces" of meat, per se. It's like a chicken salad kinda vibe, texture-wise. Likewise, the peppers and black beans aren't whole, they're sort of smooshed and whirled into the filling mixture.

There are a few types of cheese in the filling mixture, too, namely mozzarella and Monterey Jack. They're tasty, but they don't provide quite the level of comfort food satisfaction I was hoping for. Sonia and I both wanted more chunks of...anything. Kernels of corn, whole beans, or even larger pieces of peppers would have been a bit more appetizing than the mushy filling as it is.

Still, it's a tasty mush. $3.29 for two wraps, enough to feed two people for dinner. All in all, not a bad purchase, but not sure if it will find its way onto our TJ's shopping list on the regular. Three and a half stars a piece.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Trader Joe's Crispy Thai Chilies & Sesame Seeds

 In October 2006, Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green, after a particularly frustrating loss, unleashed one legendary postgame tirade with a phrase that I still think of often: "They ARE who we THOUGHT they WERE!" 

Sometimes, yup, it's just really that simple. 

But there's also the old, always applicable adage that appearances can be deceiving. If you're paying any sort of attention to the world around you, you likely know this is unassailable truth. 

And with Trader Joe's Crispy Thai Chilies & Sesame Seeds, we get a little bit of both at the same time.

Let's get coach to cool off by going his way first. Thai chili peppers and spices. Vibrant, flaming red. Overly aromatic. It's got that crispy, slightly greasy yet dry feel. Even the seeds help the whole spicy vibe, even though it's important to note they're sesame and not pepper seeds. Nonetheless, there's the undeniable impression before even one taste: this peppery snack is gonna be flamelickingly hot. And yup, it is as we thought it is: hot hot hot. lots of heat, towards the upper limit of my tolerance for easy consumption. I'm not sure of the Scovilles but it's up there. Even with that, there is a little flavor nuance with some garlic and whatnot, but oh yeah: hot. 

So there's that. But there's also the word "snack" as a descriptor, and truth be told, it doesn't look like much of a "snack." The peppers are really no more than little papery wisps without much of anything behind them, leaving the girth of the snack to the little clumps of sesame seeds. Kinda like bird food (not a recommended usage btw). Yet, after a few bites, that's how the chilies and seeds kinda come together, with a little sense of fullness behind them. Maybe it's a little of the heat, or the peppers getting some rehydrated while consumed, or some other sorcery, but it's a legit snack, albeit perhaps a lighter one.

There's other applications I could see. I'd love to mix some peppers and seeds up with some tempura chicken or sdauteed shrimp and serve with rice, or even just over some fried rice. Maybe a salad or some eggs too. I think it could work. Snack and condiment - why not?

Good stuff, and not a bad buy from the impulse islands near the checkout. I think a sack was only like $2 so if this sounds like your kinda thing, I'd give it a go and not just let it off the hook. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crispy Thai Chilies & Sesame Seeds: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, July 26, 2021

Trader Joe's Vegan Tzatziki Dip

I was highly skeptical about this condiment.

I've never been a fan of vegan cheeses. I honestly think I've had more consistently edible vegan fake meat than vegan cheese or vegan dairy in general. Sonia and I both love our dairy products.

Likewise, I love me some tzatziki sauce, so I was curious how this would turn out, curious what they'd use in place of yogurt, curious if they'd be able to mimic both the taste and texture of that unique, tangy Middle Eastern sauce.

Just as I suspected, the flavor is nearly identical to traditional tzatziki, but the texture is somewhat different. The taste is full of dill and tangy citrus flavors, with notes of garlic and pepper in the background. There is a creaminess there, too. But it's not quite like dairy cream. It appears they used an alternative that's made of coconut oil and potato starch. Yikes! That's a weird combo to replace Greek yogurt, right?

But you know what? It works. It works in terms of flavor—somehow it doesn't taste like coconut or potatoes. It really tastes pretty darn close to actual tzatziki.

Now the texture is another story. To me, it's significantly thicker than the traditional stuff. It's a bit starchy, too, but still there's this quality that nearly imitates actual thick yogurt. And in the end, unusually thick tzatziki isn't really bad at all. It's easier to get a bunch of it on your falafel or veggies or pita or whatever you're eating it with. It comes out of the tub in little globs. It's much less runny than traditional dairy tzatziki. It's honestly weirdly good that way. I don't know what the dairy equivalent might be. Like maybe...what if they made tzatziki with cottage cheese instead of Greek yogurt?

Sonia's a big fan. She likes it better than traditional tzatziki and promises she'll buy it again. Four and a half stars from her.

$3.99 for the tub. Although I'm a fan, I can't say it'll replace dairy tzatziki for me completely. If I were vegan or lactose-intolerant, I'd be all over this stuff every time I stepped into a Trader Joe's. Three and a half stars from me and an overall thumbs up.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Coffee Buzz Bars

 A normal ounce of dark chocolate contains roughly 12mg of caffeine according to the allknowing Googlemachine. That's...not a lot. 

A regular cup of coffee contains about 90mg of caffeine. Sometimes that's not nearly enough, other times, well, could be a bad idea if you need a little shuteye soon enough, or if you've already had a couple cups. 

So, Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Coffee Buzz Bars, with 70mg of caffeine per serving, seems a happy medium between the two, with a little bit of both all mixed up.

Really, the easiest way to describe the taste of these bars is as a chocolate-covered coffee bean, in bar form without the crunchy bean. That's really pretty much it. Pretty heavy on the bitterness, and decidedly more towards coffee as the caffeine content alludes to, there's still enough chocolate to be had to help balance out this fairly bittersweet little treat.

 It's one of those kinda deals where a little could go a long way, and thankfully the packaging allows for it. I believe my lovely bride referred to it as a portfolio. The outer package has four smaller bars nestled inside, individually wrapped for an easy purse/manbag grab. As decadent as these choo-coffee bars are, just a dab will do you most likely, so I'm thankful for not one huge solid bar to try and manage. Good call here, TJ's. 

Good stuff, and it's a treat that's absolutely for the grownups. Sandy loves them as they combine two of her top five favorite things in one tidy little package. If only there was a way to also incorporate puppies, bacon, and Lin-Manuel Miranda she'd be set...but she'll go ahead give it a perfect five anyways. Loves it. Me? I'm not as huge but am not opposed either, but it's not nearly as much my thing. I'll go with a 3.5. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Coffee Buzz Bars: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Trader Joe's Pineapple Fruit Spread

Jam, jelly, preserves, spread, compote, marmalade. I won't pretend to know the differences among them. A thirty second internet research session on the subject illuminated a few key points: first, jelly is smooth with no fruit chunks. So this is most definitely not jelly.

Second, fruit spreads contain nothing but fruit...unless they're from Trader Joe's, in which case they contain cane sugar and coconut milk, among other natural additives. Depending on which set of criteria you go with, this product might actually qualify as marmalade more than any of the other categories since it has fruit chunks along with sugar, but I guess pineapple isn't technically citrus, so that disqualifies it. But I digress. My point is that there isn't a whole lot of consistency among definitions on the internet as far as jarred fruitstuffs are concerned.

Speaking of consistency, this stuff is chunky. It's thicc with two c's. There are big wads of pineapple chunks here and there. There are also generous quantities of those stringy, pulpy sections of pineapple scattered throughout. I wasn't a huge fan of those. The base of this spread is nice and smooth, so the stringiness kinda gets in the way if you ask me. It wasn't a dealbreaker, though. It's still a great product, versatile and unique.

It's very sweet, tart, and pineappley. If you're so inclined, you could spoon it straight from the jar. I put it on a piece of toast with a little butter, and it's pretty freaking tasty that way. As is the case with many different fruits and fruit spreads, it goes great with cottage cheese. Another idea we haven't tried yet but are fairly confident will work: throw it in a blender with vanilla ice cream and make a pineapple milkshake.

Sonia was grossed out by this, but I'll share it anyway for those of you with strong stomachs: I made a peanut butter and pineapple fruit spread sandwich. It totally worked, IMHO. Not saying you need to try it that way, but maybe if you're feeling adventurous, you know... I'll still take grape jelly over pineapple spread for my daily PBJ, but hey, variety is the spice of life as they say.

We're going to baste some salmon in this stuff tonight with a bit of teriyaki sauce glaze, too. We'll report back if anybody's interested.

It would also make a great dip/topping for coconut shrimp. I also thought of putting pieces of turkey bacon on a pizza and then adding a few dollops of this spread for a makeshift kosher Hawaiian pizza, but nah, this stuff's too sweet methinks—too much sugar for an application like that.

Pineapple fans, have at it. I just wish it were a little less stringy. Sonia gives it four out of five stars. I'll go with three and a half.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Trader Joe's Everything and the Elote Greek Style Yogurt Dip

 Ever bite into anything unsuspectingly and kinda hope for the best? 

For the unobservant, which surprisingly included my lovely bride in this instance, it can absolutely happen with the new Trader Joe's Everything and the Elote Greek Style Yogurt Dip. 

The name gives a small clue - the "and." Not a "but" like we've seen for elote seasoning, and is common in the "everything but the..." product lines, most notably with bagels. It's an "and," and in what I'm pretty sure is a somewhat inaccurate expansion of the definition of the word "elote," there's actual corn in the elote dip. Like, elote is a type of seasoned Mexican street corn, and not just corn itself, right?

Anyways, yes, there's corn in the yogurt dip, And to be honest, it's an odd feel. It's not off putting, just...odd. Personally, I would have done without and it's kinda weird in the occasional bite when chomping on a chip with a dab of creamy yogurt dip to bite into a smushy corn kernel. Might have worked better during development stages, who knows. If it were up to me, I'd say no corn and keep everything else as is, or if you insisted on corn, making more of a corn salsa-style product and skip the Greek yogurt altogether. There's too much of it to ignore, not enough to really make a central feature of the product...between all or none they went for the middle and missed IMHO.  Knowing when it was coming made it a better bite, but the best were the ones without any corn.

No other real complaints, though. I love anything elote and there's plenty of that here. A little heat, a little smoke, lots of spicy depth balanced out nicely with the cool creaminess - it's delicious and kinda addictive. The heat isn't overwhelming, so it may be somewhat of a toned down experience, which has its plusses and minuses. Tons of flavor, though, so I'm not gonna complain much. And the nutritional info isn't as awful  as one may expect for something of  the sort, unless you eat half the tub....

Still, the corn...

The tub of elote dip was about $3 and worth a buy for sure. Just know what's coming. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Everything and the Elote Greek Style Yogurt Dip: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, July 16, 2021

Trader Joe's Jerk Chicken Burrito

Lately, I've been waking up super early. Not sure if it's just part of being an old man or a type of insomnia or a shift in circadian rhythms. Growing up, I always wanted to stay up as late as I possibly could. I found it exciting. All the best TV shows were on late at night, for one thing. Now, I have little to no interest in television, and in the summer time, I often nod off shortly after the sun sets.

Likewise, I tend to be up an hour or so before sunrise. I find I get a lot done very early in the morning. I can make my own schedule for my work, so I often have more than half the day's tasks completed before the beautiful wifey even wakes up.

I don't know if this goes along with just suddenly becoming a morning person after a lifetime of leaning towards being a night owl, but I find myself craving more substantial food for breakfast, i.e. lunch or dinner type fare for my morning meal. And yes, that's exactly what I did with this jerk chicken burrito. I fired up the oven around 5 a.m. and was chowing down by 5:30 or so.

I'm always super hungry at that hour, and that may have influenced my enjoyment of the product, but I'll try to be objective as I can. First impression: cutting into the burrito, there's a sweet, fruity smell. That must be the fruit salsa mentioned on the wrapper. I'd rather smell spices on jerk chicken, but it can also pair well with sweet stuff, too.

Taste-wise, the sweetness isn't overwhelming. Along with coconut rice, the fruit salsa is enough to give the burrito a distinctly Caribbean flavor. The jerk spices are there, but could be stronger. They linger on the back burner while you chomp away and creep up on you after a number of bites. They're still not as intense as jerk spices should be, but they're flavorful and pleasant.

The texture of the chicken was excellent—cooked to perfection. Trader Joe's chicken products have been hit or miss in that department throughout the years. The chicken chunks here were not chewy or stringy or rubbery, at least in our batch.

I cut the burrito in two and saved half for Sonia, who reheated it in the air fryer and consumed it many hours later around lunch time, like a normal person. She liked it, too, noting the large, whole beans and coconut rice rounded out both taste and texture nicely.

For $3.99, it's a pretty decent meal for one person, or it could be split in two and supplemented with a few snacks or sides. Could use more heat for authentic jerk status, but it'll get a thumbs up from both Sonia and me. Four stars a piece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Trader Joe's Strawberry & Jalapeño Crisps

Good ol' Jim Gaffigan once had a small bit about eating an entire package of something, only to discover not liking how it tasted, so needing to eat a bunch of something else to get the taste out of your mouth. 

It's a little slice of life I can identify with, and while not 100% applicable to the new Trader Joe's Strawberry & Jalapeño Crisps, it kinda came to mind anyways. 

Let's get this out of the way first: these are kinda weird. The dried strawberry bits are very strawberry like, as the dried jalapeños are very jalapeño-like with a little extra jalapeño powder in the mix. The result? A little typical snacky toasty crisp that starts off  sweet and pleasant, before getting pretty hot and spicy on the relative scale for being what it is. Would admit, could use a drink after a few. I think one of my kids licked one and then noped her way right out of it. 

It's a good enough of a bite between the crispy crisp and the dried fruit and pepper. Don't let them get stale or in our case, leave the bag too open for too long in a humid, non-AC'd house, because then they take on somewhat of a sponge feel. 

But, and this is where the Gaffigan gag comes in, there's a bit of a disconnect between the sweet and spicy that the crisp can't bridge by itself, and so as a result I think they're a bit disappointing when consumed solo. The taste and experience is enough to warrant more bites to try and get a handle on it, but not enough to truly enjoy by its lonesome. You need something else to make it work, and in this case I'd say something creamy - goat cheese, some brie, heck maybe even just some regular cream cheese. It's a crisp made for something else after all, so get on it. We happened to somehow have none around the house to really test this theory for ourselves, but I don't see how it could possibly ever fail. 

Good crackers, need a snacking buddy. Something creamy to bridge the gap between sweet and spicy, and something to maybe cool the heat a touch. Otherwise, not bad. For the $4 for a box, I'd give 'em another try as would my lovely bride. Double threes. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Strawberry & Jalapeño Crisps: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, July 12, 2021

Trader Joe's Wildberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

Hot take: this ice cream is very good, bordering on excellent.

While I've heard reports to the contrary, there were very few berries and cheesecake pieces in our pint. Other than that, this ice cream was stellar. It's super creamy, rich, indulgent, and somewhat berry-esque.

I can't imagine if we'd gotten a pint with lots of cheesecake and wild berries. I'd guess we'd have pantheonized this product for sure. Is "pantheonized" a word? Well, it should be...

A quick glance at the ingredients list would suggest that the plump, whole berries in the mix are, in fact, blueberries, however the "swirl" is made of pureed raspberries. It's a pretty tasty combo. I just wish there had been more of it. The white vanilla ice cream base is nothing to complain about, but it needs to increase that very berry area.

The cheesecake pieces were tasty. I'd say we got one tiny cheesecake bite for every five spoonfuls of ice cream. Boo. I want more.

Would have been five stars a piece from Sonia and me. As it stands, we'll give four and a half a piece.

Curious if your pint was chock-full of berries and cheesecake. Let us know in the comments!

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Trader Joe's Tangerine Cream Bars

Orange cream. What a great flavor combo. Most of us grew up with orange creamsicles, orange dreamsicles, or 50/50 bars—all basically the same idea.

But what if they swapped out the orange part for something milder and slightly less tart? Something guessed it: tangerine. Brilliant.

The difference is subtle, but it's there. It's definitely tangerine I taste in this popsicle. Here's a funfact that I just learned while typing the previous sentence: "Popsicle" is actually a copyrighted brand name, a la Hoover, Frigidaire, or Kleenex. The preferred nomenclature for this type of frozen treat is "ice pop." Please don't sue us, ©Popsicle brand ice pops.

Moving along... The tangerine flavor allows the vanilla ice cream taste to shine through just a tad more than orange does, in my opinion. There's still a nice citrusy sweetness with just a hint of tang. It's "tangerine sorbet," but it does include actual tangerine juice. Further down the ingredients list, you'll find orange juice, as well, but I'm sticking to my story that this product flaunts a distinctly tangerine flavor profile.

Sonia loved these ice pops even more than I did. With highs in the 90s and significant humidity, she'll open the freezer almost every time she wants a snack. I enjoyed them, too, but after the novelty wears off, I'll probably reach for an old stand-by like unsalted chips and salsa or peanut butter and jelly, and if I want something cold and sweet I'll just grab good old fashioned ice cream.

But still, it's a tasty product and a nice twist on a classic summer treat. $2.99 for 6 bars is a pretty good value, too. Sonia will definitely purchase again. Four and a half stars from the wifey. Three and a half stars from this guy.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Trader Joe's Garlic Bread Cheese

 There's some basic things that take me entirely too long to grasp. Just ask my lovely bride. 

Latest example: What the label of the new Trader Joe's Garlic Bread Cheese was trying to convey pre-prepping. 

Bread cheese? What's that? Like...cheese with bread in it? Cool! Right? I'd give that a try. But ooh let's read the description: 'Seasoned with garlic powder & baked golden brown." Golden brown what? Bread crumbs? Something else? C'mon TJ',s tell me. What else we got here?

But upon opening, further inspection and reading of the ingredients, and the sudden realization that the word "baked" was a verb and not an adjective (it wasn't entirely clear at first, phrase parallelism be darned), it was pretty apparent: this is just some cheese with a little bit of garlic in it. Nothing much more, nothing less. 

I mean, there's nothing wrong with that. Garlic and cheese are tasty! But to expect something groundbreaking here is the wrong thought train. It's a pretty mild cheese, kinda like a cross between mozzarella for its taste and halloumi for its heat resistant properties (though not so much it's crumbly curd-y texture). There's a subtle, not-so-in-yo-face garlic flavor somewhat permeating, and is made more apparent by the glistening effect of heating the cheese for several minutes. It doesn't get all melty, just a little sweaty, and remains softly firm, if that makes sense. 

Really, though, that's it. Not everything has to be full flavor onslaught, but this TJ's garlic cheese does tilt more towards bland than bold. It's not awful, and I can what they're going for - like the cheese from cheesy garlic bread - but most of those I've had have more garlic and zest. Serving with some sauce would really help out, and I can see cutting up tiny bits for like a pasta or veggie salad, and how that'd be a welcome addition, but by itself? Meh. 

Would buy again, especially at its reasonable price point (something like $4 for the 6 oz chunk) but I'm not gonna be stocking up and probably won't notice when it's gone. Middlin' scores all around. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Garlic Bread Cheese: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, July 2, 2021

Trader Joe's Tangy Turtles

Back in the day, before the current heliocentric model of the solar system was widely accepted, philosophers used to ask one another—and I'm paraphrasing here: "If the earth is a big flat plane in the middle of nothing/everything, then what is it resting upon?" One of the philosophers suggested that the plane of the earth was resting upon the back of a turtle.

So then, the obvious follow-up question arose: well then what's the turtle resting upon? And the obvious answer came up: an even larger turtle. And what's that turtle resting upon? And so on and so on. I think you see where this is going.

Eventually they decided that "it's turtles all the way down." There's a Sturgill Simpson song by the same name. So...that was my inspiration for the product photo. The turtles aren't mating or anything like that, just in case you were wondering.

These particular turtles wouldn't do a very good job of supporting the earth because they are indeed soft and squishy, and they have holes in their middles. Their texture is fine, with just a hint of crunchy sugar granules, particularly on the turtles' colorful backs.

They're a little bit tart and a little bit sweet. There are three different colors: green/yellow, red/orange, and blue/purple, though I couldn't tell if they were supposed to be different flavors. The ingredients don't really mention any particular fruit flavors or anything like that, though they do use "vegetable juice," "fruit juice," and "spirulina extract" for color.

These are on par with junky dollar store gummy candies, flavor-wise, though they might use slightly better ingredients. The first words out of Sonia's mouth after trying one were "Ewww! Gross!" She wishes they were either super sour or simply sweet. She's not into the whole sweet-tart thing. She describes the white part of the turtles as "disgusting," though she's okay with the colorful part. I suppose two stars from her is pretty generous, considering her initial reaction. I'll go a star higher and note that I've had worse gummy candy in my day. We'd both recommend the recently-reviewed Fruity Gummy Candies over these any day of the week.

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

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