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Thursday, December 30, 2021

Trader Joe's Chicken & Chimichurri Empanadas

Despite her Latin-ness, Sonia isn't an expert when it comes to empanadas. That is, she didn't grow up eating them and I certainly didn't either. However, we've sampled a few tasty ones here and there throughout the years, so we're not entirely unfamiliar.

In the manner of tamales, mole, and flan, empanadas are eaten year round but are often associated with special occasions, including the Christmas and New Year's holidays. So I guess these are appropriate for this final week of the year when it's difficult to discern what day it is and 2022 resolutions still seem abstract and irrelevant.

Air fryer instructions are given on the back of the box. Hallelujah. And for the first time EVER I wound up heating the product for LESS time than was suggested on the packaging. The box said 375° for 15 minutes, but the chicken and chimichurri empanadas were fully cooked and crispy at about 13 and a half.

The crust was nice and flaky. It was crispy but not brittle. I wouldn't have minded a tad more filling inside each pocket, but what was there was impressive—finely shredded chicken and a delicious blend of veggies and spices. Very flavorful. Mildly spicy.

Sonia remarked that they were "very salty...but really good." At just shy of a quarter of your daily sodium in each empanada, I think that qualifies as "very salty."

$4.29 for two empanadas. It's not the most food for your buck at Trader Joe's. Each empanada feels more like an appetizer to me rather than a main dinner entree, but the quality is there in my opinion. Nearly restaurant quality for nearly restaurant prices. Four stars each from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Trader Joe's Mini Chocolate Chip Pancake & Waffle Mix


Monday nights are breakfast for dinner night in our house. Just is. Almost always has been, just maybe will be forever, we'll see. My lovely bride and the kiddos like to call it brinner, I will too on occasion, but that sounds weird. Absolutely better than brupper, I guess.

Anyways, if bacon and eggs aren't what we're doing, then it's gonna be bacon and pancakes or waffles. Bacon makes Mondays better, so it's nearly nonnegotiable. But when something new gets tossed our way, like the new Trader Joe's Mini Chocolate Chip Pancake & Waffle Mix, we'll give it a whirl for sure. The sidekicks can always be open to discussion. 

By now, I've had enough homemade pancakes and waffles to know my lovely bride is awesomely, perfectly capable of making a darn good pancake and/or waffle. Mixes never have that same from scratch vibe. That's kinda the same thing here with the TJ's mix - nothing wrong per se, but not anything overwhelmingly special. 

 What it's got is convenience. Homemade stuff takes time. Sometimes we got that...sometimes we don't. Getting stuck at work late then having one kid needing to go to Girl Scouts and another wanting to play Ticket to Ride means not as much time. Bam. Dump the mix in the bowl, stir in some water, heat up a griddle and go. Sandy pounded these out in no time flat. 

And the outcome was pretty acceptable. Firm, a bit fluffy, a little buttermilky, and plenty of milky chocolate chips. I swear they multiplied somehow because it didn't look like that many, but every bite had multiple chocolate chips. That'll make the kids, even the middle aged ones, happy. These went right down the hatch. Though we made them as pancakes, both the Mrs and i noted we thought the experience would easily transfer over as a waffle as well.

Only complaint is, there's no whole bag of mix instructions. There's about 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups of mix in the bag. The highest the mix-to-water chart goes is two cups mix to 1 1/3rd cup water. That means if you want to do the whole bag of mix at once (like we did) you either gotta eyeball it or do some fancy math and hope for the right end consistency. Mondays are hard enough, don't put multiplying fractions into it, please. 

Anyways, for only like $2 for the mix, it'll be a regular pick up. Not amazing, but good enough as is to not really elicit too many complaints.I'll take that any day but especially Mondays...

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mini Chocolate Chip Pancake & Waffle Mix: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Trader Joe's Hot Cocoa Ornaments

Well these look fun. Clearly each pack of hot cocoa mix comes in a plastic ornament you can put on your tree after you empty out the cocoa mix. Wait. What? You put the whole thing in your milk and let it dissolve like hot chocolate bombs? They're too big. They'll never fit.

Fortunately, Sonia has an oversized coffee mug that reads "I'm not a morning person." She's not. It's true. Ah, good. The ornament fits in there. And I'll let you know as an aside: these would have just barely fit into any of our normal size mugs too, however, I'm not sure if there would have been any room left for milk.

So first we nuked a bunch of milk and got it nice and piping hot. Second, we dropped in the ornament. Nearly immediately, the gold coloring from the ornament began to melt off and slide onto the surface of the milk like a metallic oil slick—reminiscent of the One Ring dissipating in the lava flows of Mount Doom, or if you prefer a different nerdtacular film reference: the T1000 destruction sequence at the end of T2 featured some nearly identical shots to what I saw going on in my mug of milk, but with Trader Joe's Hot Cocoa Ornaments maybe making fewer scary faces than the liquid metal terminator.

After about 30 seconds, there were a few puffs of air from the ornament, bubbles from its underside, and an audible "pfft" or two. At one point, the ornament let out a gasp so violent that a bit of scalding hot milk jumped out of the mug and landed on my hand. Ouch. Anybody else? Maybe we should organize a class action lawsuit against TJ's. Just kidding. It's the holidays. And as much as it burned for a second, I don't think I'd be able to prove damages in court.

After a few big bubbly emissions, the ornament capsized and succumbed to the milky recesses of the very large mug. I waited, eagerly anticipating the arrival of fluffy, buoyant mini marshmallows... waited... waited. But they never came. I grabbed a spoon and began stirring, dredging the bottom of the mug for any sign of my missing marshies. All I found were a couple wads of thick semi-melted, syrupy chocolate. What happened? I guess my milk was too hot and the marshmallows dissolved before even floating to the surface..?

The taste is like a very sweet milk chocolate hot chocolate. There's nothing dark about it. Practically no mint flavor at all. It leaves a funny aftertaste, too. Some of you might remember how I feel about pork gelatin. We've got that going on here too. Nothing like a bit of pork in your Christmas cocoa.

$6.99 for four ornaments. They really do look and feel like real plastic Christmas tree ornaments. Unfortunately, neither Sonia nor I were blown away by any other aspects of the product. Would not buy again. We'll be a little grinchy and throw out only two and a half stars a piece.

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Trader Joe's Ginger Bread Cream Liqueur

Of course I love my kids. And I love holiday cookies. Heck, I even kinda love baking holiday cookies, but...

You ever try to make batch after batch after batch of holiday cookies with small kids clamoring to being 'helpful" each step, with limited space and tools,, what, with turn taking and problem solving and different abilities (sure, the nine year old knows how to crack an egg or accurately measure flour, but the three year old? Lol), with diminishing interest, the mess multiplied, with the only assistance in cleaning up afterwards is when it comes to licking clean the spoons and beaters?

Ay. It's a fun combination.

Want to know another fun combo to toss into all this, to make it all a lot more tolerable?

Grab your coffee mug, pour in a little Trader Joe's Ginger Bread Cream Liqueur, skip any other cream or sugar, and pour your coffee over. You're welcome. 

At only 29 proof, it's not gonna knock you down. Heck, if I were to drink the whole bottle, I think I'd be more buzzed from the sugar than the booze. Not gonna even attempt that though. Way too much dairy...

But anyways, this ginger bread liqueur is remarkably tasty. It's ginger infused vodka mixed with decent quality dairy cream that results in a cool, smooth, milky beverage that actually offers a pretty respectable gingerbread-esque flavor. It's mild yet full-bodied and plenty well balanced in all aspects. No boozy burn at all. It just flows. 

It is a bit too sweet and rich for me to entirely enjoy as a stand-alone drink. That's just me and my usual drinkable dairy aversion more than anything else - the gingerbready booze would make a killer ice cream flavor. Aside from  mixing in coffee, a small glass over ice would likely be an enjoyable after dinner/cookie time treat as well. 

Thanks, Ohio, for having cool laws that made this available in your TJ's stores. Wish we stocked up more. Get on board, Pennsylvania. 

Really good. My lovely bride was in love at first sip. Not gonna lie, we half contemplated playing hooky from all responsibilities just to make another road trip to procure some more. At less than $15 a bottle (I'm thinking $12.99 but I may be wrong) I cannot recommend picking up the TJ's gingerbread liqueur as a little holiday treat any higher if you see it. Tis the season to maybe be a bit generous double fives. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Ginger Bread Cream Liqueur: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons. 

Friday, December 17, 2021

Trader Joe's Fried Olive Bites

Kalamata olives I'm familiar with. It's one of the few foods Sonia is allergic to that I'm not. And that's one of the reasons I chose this app for elevensies yesterday—so I wouldn't have to share with the beautiful wifey. Haha. You think that's mean? Wouldn't it have been much meaner to share them with her under the circumstances? She actually has a pretty severe reaction that involves swelling in her extremities and face.

But there were also Castlevania olives, er Castelvetrano rather, in the box. Neither of us recognized that ingredient. If there's some way to tell the Kalamata olives apart from the Castlevania ones, we didn't figure out how to do it. It all tasted pretty much the same to me: salty, earthy, slightly bitter.

The fried breadcrumb coating was nice and crispy but didn't add a ton of flavor. As far as the stuffing was concerned, cream cheese was fine, but I would have preferred mozzarella or possibly even something more exotic than that. There's blue cheese listed in the ingredients, but it's pretty low on the list. Both Sonia and I are sensitive to blue cheese, but I didn't feel it at all. It might have lent an extremely subtle moldy tang to the filling, but for the most part, it's just plain cream cheese in there.

Trader Joe's put out a similar product stuffed with chicken a few years back. Not sure if Sonia and I tried those at the time. If we did, they weren't very memorable, and apparently the Shelly family wasn't super enthused.

Before it was all said and done, Sonia did take her life into her own hands and tried a bite. She was much more positive about these olive bites than I was, but I think that's mainly because she can't have them. "People always want what they can't have" and all that.

These would go pretty fast at a fancy Christmas party if they were piping hot straight out of the oven and people were quickly grabbing just one or two. I don't recommend them as a mid-morning snack or a substitute for lunch—although I'm thinking most normies don't do weird stuff like that like I do—at least not with the same regularity.

Anyway, these aren't bad if you're into olives and cream cheese, but we probably won't purchase again.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Trader Joe's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Cream Liqueur


What makes existence possible is a good supply of beverages, right? I'm not talking about just hydration needs...I mean, who drinks a half gallon of high quality H2O daily, right? But for basic enjoyment in life...the what helps you get through or get over your day. Know what I mean?

My usual go-tos: Coffee. lots of coffee. Fizzy water. Regular water. Occasional kombucha. Then at night, a beer or two, or maybe some bourbon. mm, straight up bourbon the rocks. Hits the spot almost every time, and best not to mess around with that too much...

...except, yeah, sometimes a little change-up is needed. Something like Trader Joe's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Cream Liqueur. Saw it at an out-of-state TJ's and had to nab. Rock on, Cleveland.

A few years back I reviewed the regular TJ's KY bourbon, to pretty solid marks. To the best of my tastebud's memories, the bourbon flavor here is very evocative of that same bourbon - basic, not overly amazing or with deep character, but solid in its own right. Of course, in cream liqueur form, there's a cool milky smoothness flowing here as well, with more cream forward and bourbon on a backsided humble burn. Naturally, there's quite a bit of sweetness here - perhaps a touch cloying and almost syrupy sweet at times - but overall, it's a very smooth, balanced beverage that manages to highlight the oaky notes of the bourbon well enough. 

To note: it's only 30 proof, not anywhere close to normal bourbon levels. I'm guessing that's how it slid into an ohio store, as they sell beer and wine but not the real hard stuff. That ABV probably juuuust slides under the permissible in Ohio. Would never see this in a PA TJ's. Thanks Quaker heritage. 

It's tasty. Sipping some straight as is or over ice can make for a cool, rich after dessert drink, or for something not too hardhitting when just a dab will do ya. Probably putting some in a hot cup of coffee would work well, too. Is this gonna be my new favorite drink? Nah. At the end of the day I'd still prfer a regular straight up bourbon, but I can appreciate the bourbon cream for what it is. And yes we may or may not be plotting our next out of state run to TJ's soon enough to restock...

Good price at $13.99 for the 750mLs. Tasty, creamy, fresh, somewhat festive, and boozy. These are all good things. Huzzah! Now drink up.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Cream Liqueur: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, December 13, 2021

Trader Joe's Organic Taralli and Friends Crackers

Wikipedia describes a taralli cracker as a "toroidal Italian snack food." For those of you who neglected to snag your masters in geometry from a prestigious university, a toroid is basically a donut shape.

The toroidal taralli crackers in this bag are kinda like Italian wontons I guess, at least flavor-wise. There's a vague sourdough vibe, too. Some people say you can dip them in sweet stuff. So if you dunk wontons in duck sauce as an appetizer or snack, you could dip these in...I dunno...cream cheese and fancy Italian marmalade?

I guess there are many different kinds of taralli crackers? Some get dipped in wine, some get paired with cheese, and others get dunked in spicy stuff. I need some Italian folks to weigh in on these because I clearly have no background with this fare.

The straight sticks taste very much like classic garlic croutons, but maybe a little softer. They're tasty, with a complex spice blend. There's a melt-in-the-mouth quality that most croutons lack. But I would totally throw these into any savory soup and I'm sure they'd enhance the taste and texture significantly. Both Sonia's and my favorite.

The square crackers are like sesame sticks kinda. But they're crackers instead of sticks. If you like sesame sticks, you'll like these. There are actual sesame seeds listed in the ingredients, so my tastebuds must be working today.

The twisty sticks are probably my least favorite of the bunch. They're a bit like plain saltines but puffier. And twistier. Fun shape, boring flavor. Could make a decent vehicle for a cheese dip I suppose.

$3.29 for the bag, imported from Italy. A sack of crackers with no chocolate or toffee or dipping sauce packets doesn't seem super Christmassy or exciting to me, but then I'm about as Italian as a spot of tea and crumpets. How do you serve these? How does TJ's offering compare to what Nonna used to make? For now, I'll score with a very neutral 3 out of 5 stars. Sonia will go with three and a half.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Boatswain Hazy IPA

Have you seen this meme? Ugh...I mean, I can't argue, really...but that doesn't mean i like it. At all. 

Sometimes the truth is tough.

Love me a good IPA and I'm always eager to try a new one, especially of the unfiltered/"hazy"/New England style variety. That's my jam. So, I was pretty excited when I spotted a new-to-me can of Boatswain Hazy IPA at an out-of-state TJ's last weekend. Didn't see a full sixpack so i just slid one into a make-your-own sampler...

Thank God.

Ugh. Straight up not good. it's...I don't know...lacking too much. There's no real full body or anything. Instead, it's just like watered-down bitterness that funkifies itself into some sort of ghastly brew. First sip to last, it's straight up not all. I can't even explain how bad it is, it just is.

The can boasts it's supposed to be fragrant and offer notes from mosaic, ella and citra hops. That's uusally a good thing. But the hops used must be last year's or something. It's all...not vibrant and stagnant, and, for lack of a better word, bitter, but not in the good bitter way that an IPA is supposed to be. It's bad bitter. Really bad bitter. 

Managed to drink it all, though I was tempted to pour it all down the sink. 

For what it's worth, I think the can cost a nice price of 69 cents. So, well, there's that. But if you see this TJ's exclusive branded Boatswain Hazy IPA, spend the extra buck or two and get yourself a local or regional brew instead. You'll be much happier.

Bottom line: Boatswain Hazy IPA: 1 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Trader Joe's Cookie Mug Hangers

Apparently these have been a thing for a while. Makes sense. It's not the first time I've been oblivious to a product that has existed in the world at large for months or years, only to have Trader Joe's draw my attention to it when they offer their own iteration of said product.

If I'd had these as a kid, I'd have undoubtedly played with my food until yelled at by one or both of my parents. I would have lined the little cookie men up on the side of a mug of hot chocolate and pretended it was me and my friends by the poolside in the summer. I'd have imagined the marshmallows as little floaties and tried to get the gingerbread men to lay on top of them without sinking into the hot cocoa.

Or I'd have imagined the cookie men were villains about to be summarily executed by being thrown into a vat of boiling liquid or perhaps eaten by a hungry dinosaur—played by yours truly—limb by limb, all the while begging for mercy.

I might have imagined them as deep sea divers, about to plunge into the abyss to explore an unknown trench, only to be consumed by a giant sea monster, again played by me. At any rate, I'd have had fun. Lots of fun.

And I'm not saying they're not fun as an adult. They are. They're cute, seasonally-appropriate, and quite tasty for pre-packaged gingerbread. If they'd had guts made of cookie butter, they might be even more impressive.

And they actually hang on to the side of your mug. I was thinking maybe we needed mugs with wider rims or something, but each mug we tried was easily straddled by the little mug-hangin' buggers. The foot on the inside on the mug actually dangles into your hot beverage of choice and is fully saturated within seconds, ready to be slurped off the cookie. Of course, he doesn't hang quite so well with only one leg left so you've got to do some old-fashioned cookie dunking at that point, but I'm perfectly fine with that.

The recipe seems pretty much like classic gingerbread. It's got a sweet, cinnamony essence and wheaty base. There's not much in the way of real ginger or any other pungent spices, so it's more of a "kids' gingerbread" flavor by my estimation. I'm usually turned off by an overabundance of clove and allspice, so plain sweet cookies are fine with me, especially when paired with a beverage.

The cookies are plenty crunchy and crispy until they get wet, at which point they become nice and soft and even more delicious. Not sure if we'll pick these up again next year, but they'll get two thumbs up and about four Christmas stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Trader Joe's Salty Honey Toffee Milk Chocolate Covered Crackers

Really when it comes to it, whoever came up with the idea of chocolate covered saltines is a genius.

Saltines aren't sexy. No way. Versatile? Sure. But...boring. A little chocolate always spices things a bit, but the concept of chocolate covered pretzels or even potato chips is about ten times more exciting than the averagest of crackers out there. 

But if you're supposed to pile stuff on saltines to make them a tasty treat...why stop with just chocolate? Genius. 

Here we are with Trader Joe's Salty Honey Toffee Milk Chocolate Crackers. That's quite a mouthful to say right there. 

And to eat! Wow. It's almost hard to find the cracker in there, it's enrobed in so many layers of silky milky chocolate. TJ's really has it down on its chocolate game - across the board it's much higher quality and tastier than the usual Hershey's fare. There's no exception here. Usually I'm a dark chocolate guy, the darker the better, but I could nosh on this milk chocolate all day, it's so good. 

And then uptop of course is the salty honey toffee bits. There's not so much honey except maybe a small twinge of sweetness, as mostly it tastes of salt and toffee. That's not bad thing. Tastes rich and somewaht decadent, and gets amplified even more by a little choco-drizzle atop. It's quite good. 

And yeah, there's a saltine in there...somewhere...serving as a base and actually helping keep everything in check. If this were fall on chocolate and toffee, it'd probably stray towards too much, too rich, too whatever. That's the not the case as just little taste of plain ol' boring cracker  somehow helps rein it all in. 

The package says there's a little touch of coffee in there too. I couldn't detect it, but I'm also getting over a cold so my tasters aren't 100%. 

The package comes as a sleeve of eight of these treats that won't be the star of any holiday cookie plate, but would make a nice, somewhat fancy addition for only a few bucks. It's not bad deal, and not an all the time purchase, but I can appreciate them for what they all, a humble saltine all dressed to the nines for the holidays. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Salty Honey Toffee Milk Chocolate Covered Crackers: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, December 3, 2021

Trader Joe's Advent of the Cocktail Hour

Ever since I was a little kid, I've had a thing for advent calendars. There's just something about a countdown that's so suspenseful and fun. In elementary school, we'd make chains out of construction paper, with each of 25 links to be broken as the days crept closer to Christmas. We'd alternate red and green paper for the links, or maybe we'd throw in some white to represent the snow that we hoped for throughout December.

We even looked at Trader Joe's Advent Calendars on this blog a whole decade ago. Can you believe it's been that long? Since then, we checked out the Advent Calendar For Dogs. Some years we'll even purchase separate advent calendars for Sonia and me, as well as two individual ones for each of our mutts.

This year, we got two of these calendars with Boozy Little Chocolate Truffles. It's a different assortment of confections/liqueurs than its predecessor. The original boozy chocolate assortment featured gin, whisky, rum, and prosecco, while these candies contain liqueur de cafe, honey caramel, peach bellini, eggnog, coffee martini, and pink champagne. We're gonna jump ahead until at least December 6th so we can hopefully sample one of each flavor and give you the lowdown on all of them.

Wednesday, December 1: we got liqueur de cafe. It's a vaguely Kahlua-esque flavor, nice and chocolatey with a coffee booze edge. Probably Sonia's favorite.

Thursday, December 2: coffee martini time. Similar to the previous selection, but there's more of a harsh gin-like essence mixed with traditional coffee flavor.

Today, Friday, December 3: we found an eggnog chocolate. It actually tastes like eggnog with alcohol. I wanna say it's eggnog mixed with rum..? Not as tasty as it might have been if they had gone with Jagermeister, but hey, these chocolates are from the UK, not Deutschland.

Then we got in our magical time machine and jumped ahead to:

Saturday, December 4: and we got honey caramel. Tastes a bit like actual honey. And caramel. Imagine that. Pretty high quality. I'm not complaining.

Sunday, December 5: peach bellini. There's actual peach puree in there. It's barely tastable, but it's there. And peach Schnapps, too. This one might be my favorite, although the peach flavor struggles to shine even when paired with plain white chocolate.

The order of the chocolates appeared to repeat at that point, starting over again with liqueur de cafe. I warped ahead to Christmas Day in my magical DeLorean TARDIS time sled hot tub and found what we were missing: a pink champagne chocolate truffle. Awwww yeeeah.

The verdict: a bit anticlimactic. Meh. It's not bad. Sonia said, "This doesn't taste like anything." I wouldn't go that far. I tasted something champagne-esque. It still tasted more like white (pink) chocolate than anything else, with maybe a hint of being spiked with white wine. Acceptable. Don't get your hopes up too high and you won't be disappointed.

For $6.99, this imported set of 25 unique chocolates presented in 6 different flavors is fun, giftable, and pretty. It's in a whole 'nother ballpark quality-wise compared to those original Trader Joe's Advent Calendars with 24 bites of barely edible "chocolate." I mean, granted, we're paying 7 times as much, but it's worth it.

I should mention, too, that the fillings in each chocolate are smooth, semi-solid cream, rather than liquid. You can totally get away with biting them in half and not having random shots of liquid alcohol squirt out onto your clothing. 2.5% ABV.

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

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Trader Joe's Sweet & Salty Snack Mix

Ah, December. 

If you're a real TJ's fan, you know exactly what time of year it is officially now: time to run to your local shop and snatch up anything and everything covered in chocolate. 'Tis the season. 

Granted, there's nothing really definitively overtly holidayish about the new Trader Joe's Sweet & Salty Snack Mix.I mean, there's not even a reindeer or elf on the packaging, let alone little fun shapes or something. But c'mon now. Look at that little bowl on the front. Wouldn't that look great as part of your holiday spread?

There's four main components to the mix, two of which incorporate a good thick drizzle to coating of good ol' silky smooth rich milk chocolate. 

First and foremost would be the caramel popcorn - that seems to be the real base of the snack, as I'd say it's at least 70% popcorn. That's not a bad thing, as it's decent munch crunchy popcorn. With the substantive carmale overlay, the popcorn packs a good crunch even though it's kernel-free (or however you would describe the floofiest part of regular popcorn), and hits some rich notes with the chocolate on top of that. Lots and lots of caramel and chocolate, in a highly snackable form. Yum.

Let's keep on the choco-choo-choo by hitting the real winning tidbits here: Little shards of chocolate coated potato chips. Deeeeelish. Addictive. Too few of them so far, though I'm hoping there's a little pocket further down the bag of them. I'd feel like I hit gold. I kinda want to go mining for them, but thats against the rules with snack mixes in our house. You get what you get and you don't get upset...but man, hit me up with these choco-chips anytime. Thick, crunchy, salty, chocolatey. Yum. 

Those first two items have enough chocolate that none is really needed for the mini peanut butter filled pretzels. They're naked, regular, ol' pb pretzel nuggz in baby form. Tasty of course, with a surprising amount of peanut butter sensation despite its diminutive form. Regular sized nuggets would have taken over the feel and texture of the mix, so the smaller sized ones were the right call, despite me craving a touch more peanut butter...

...which perhaps is why there's roasted peanuts in there, too. Yup. Regular ol' roasted peanuts. Not bad at all but what can be said?

Altogether this $4ish grab bag of snacks would be a fine addition to pretty much any occasion. Or, if you're like me, for getting that early to mid afternoon sugar rush to finish out the work day. you really need justification to get it? No way! Treat yo'self. 

Double fours. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sweet & Salty Snack Mix: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Monday, November 29, 2021

Trader Joe's Sugar Plum Sparkling Beverage

Plum just isn't a part of daily life for most people. It does come up each year during the Christmas season once or twice. I guess they put it in Christmas pies..? There's that nursery rhyme everybody knows. I think it goes something like this:

Little Jack Horner
Sat in a corner
Drinking his sparkling beverage
It had real plum
So he thought he'd gift some
To his boss for maximum leverage.

Or maybe not. Some people might not even like this stuff. In which case, the rhyme might be more along the lines of:

Little Jack Horner
Sat in a corner
Sippin' on sparkly plum drink
It wasn't that sweet
He thought it tasted like feet
So he spat what was left down the sink.

Or for those who like to get festive with adult beverages:

Big Jack Flair
Sat in a chair
Chugging his Christmas bevvy
He poured in some rum
To mix with his plum
And said, "Man I can't drive my Chevy."

That's right folks. Drink responsibly if you do decide to add something stiff to this sparkling beverage. I'm not even sure what would go with it, honestly. I think it's pretty decent as it is. I immediately thought of cranberry while tasting it for the first time. Sonia thought of raspberry. Now that I think about it, raspberry might be a better comparison. It's not quite as intensely tart as either cranberry or raspberry. It's subtler than that. Just a hint of sour tang and it's also pleasantly sweet, bubbly, and refreshing.

It's festive and Christmassy because it's presented well, and since plum is such a rare ingredient in our food and beverages, it just makes this product seem even more distinguished. This year, it was sort of our toast to the kickoff of the Christmas season. We'd buy again next year and save for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Three and a half stars from me, four from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Trader Joe's Wine Infused Sea Salt Seasoning Grinder

For years, my grandmother's side of the family would gather all together for Thanksgiving. It was (and still is) a pretty big crew...enough great uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews, whatever else that we would have to rent an auditorium at a local campground to fit all 70+ plus of us. Huge. Overwhelming. And awesome. It was tradition for each family to bring things, with a whole system worked up by my great uncles and aunts, and it would be tradition for any newlyweds to bring only things like some butter, salt, or at most a veggie tray. You had to earn the right to bring dessert or a turkey. 

Anyways, though we no longer gather together like that any more, and my lovely bride and I aren't exactly newlyweds any more either after our recent double digit anniversary, I really wonder what would have happened if we were ever to be entrusted with bringing salt and pepper, and brought in something like Trader Joe's Wine Infused Sea Salt Seasoning Grinder. 

Probably some of my more conservatively minded aunts would be concerned if the wine in the salt would make them drunk. Probably a few of my uncles would hope it would. Of course, that wouldn't happen...and I'd like to think everyone there would realize it...but there'd be a stir regardless. Russ and Sandy, with their fancy salt. With booze in it. There'd be stories to tell from it, no doubt. 

Anyways, for a big fancy salt grinder, this ain't bad. It's real simple yet somewhat elegantly composed of sea salt infused with rosé, mixed with pink peppercorns and a touch of rosemary. those components all add a nice little savory touch that puts a little extra taste in other than just plain ol' salt. Subtle and nice. i like it. 

Could easily see some sprinkled atop some roasted turkey or stuffing or veggies or whatever else you may want to sprinkle some salt on. Given the rosemary, I'm not sure it'd be a good match for anything going for a salty/sweet combo, like some type of dessert....but as always, I could be wrong. It's only $4.99 for this banana-sized salt grinder too, so I have a feeling we'll have this a while. 

Here's to hoping you and yours have a Happy Thanksgiving. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Wine Infused Sea Salt Seasoning Grinder: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Maple Bacon Flavored Stuffies Dog Treats

If your dogs are like ours, they feel left out during fall while humans gorge themselves on pumpkin and maple flavored stuff, while they generally only have normal dog treats available. Well, thankfully now they're in luck. Trader Joe's has stuffed not just pumpkin, not just maple, but also bacon flavor into these unique autumnal snacks for man's best friend.

I tried a bite. Seriously. They're surprisingly flavorful for dog biscuits. You can actually taste maple flavor. I didn't notice pumpkin or pumpkin spice really. There may have been a subtle trace of cinnamon, but that's about it. There's no bacon flavor per se in my opinion, but there is an unusually smoky element. I'm guessing it's supposed to be like smoked bacon or something. "Iiiit's BACOOOON!" added our dog Alfred, or so I imagine he's thinking behind those big brown eyes now popped wide open, staring at the bag begging for just one more treat...

Years ago, we saw quite a few very large, extraordinarily hard dog cookies from Trader Joe's. We had to snap them in halves or even quarters just to make them manageable for our little monsters.

These treats are much smaller and softer, so they're a little more optimized for small dogs. We still generally break them in two, but it's very easy to do so, and I'm confident even a whole piece wouldn't kill them. If you have a big dog, just give him a couple at a time, and I'm sure Rover will be perfectly happy.

Also, some of our older pet treat reviews had quite a few comments stating that Trader Joe's treats made their pets sick—that they'd vomit or have bowel issues after consumption. Our doggies have fairly sensitive systems, but they've never had any issues with TJ's treats. Granted, we only give them one or two at a time, and I think that's key: moderation, even for canines. But if your pups have ever had issues, by all means, drop a comment down below for the benefit of future readers.

Our dogs both loved these. They'd push each other out of the way just to grab the next treat, with Alfred just a little more enthusiastic than Sadie. So four paw prints from Alfie and three and a half from Sadie.

Sonia and I will each add half a paw print because there's a resealable bag, fun artwork on the packaging, and $3.79 for 14 oz. is a decent value. I think this seasonal product might be done for the year. You might get lucky if your individual store has some overstock, but you'll probably have to wait until fall '22 to get your paws on more Trader Joe's Pumpkin Maple Bacon Flavored Stuffies Dog Treats.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Trader Joe's Green Bean Casserole Bites

It's understandable why, when tasked with the creation of the new Trader Joe's Green Bean Caserole Bites, a poofy phyllo pastry shell was chosen. First of all, it's delicious. Second of all, it adds a comforty vibe and a fun twist on a holiday meal classic. Third, it's certainly more than capable of fulfilling the role. 

But...that's not to say it was the best choice. 

I'm thinking BIG here. What's the absolute best thing about green bean casserole? The fried onion crunchies atop, of why not make a shell out of them!?!?!? 

That'd shoot this benign beany bites to legit legume legends in no time flat! Who WOULDN"T love that. There'd be no tenth dentist here...everyone would agree that was an AWESOME idea. 

Oh well. As is, the casserole bites make a decent, and kinda fun little snackbite. The issue seems to be that the phyllo does add a definite puff pastry feel, and seems more dominant than the green bean/mushroom soup filling or the few little onion crunchies sprinkled in. It's too bad because the flavor of the filling is spot on, but with a little touch of cheddar cheese it goes up a notch. There's a little innovation right there, and it's delish.

Will give extra credit for the air fryer instructions on the box. You know your fanbase, TJ's. Still watch them carefully as ours got a little burned even when we cut the time a minute or so short.  

I neglected to snap a picture of the nutritional info or ingredients, so I'll link the TJ's website here for that info. A serving size is one whole box!?!?! Lol TJ's, don't be so greedy and share. 

Not great, not bad. So much potential. As is? Meh. Double threes. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Green Bean Casserole Bites: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Trader Joe's Maple Espresso Black Tea Blend

It's getting to be that time of year when chugging ice cold beverages all the time simply isn't practical. I'll still pound those 8 oz of Red Bull first thing in the morning, but if I go outside for any significant amount of time during these colder months, I'll start to crave something hot.

I'm not really a coffee guy, so tea is the obvious alternative. Wait a minute. Isn't espresso a type of coffee? 30 seconds of research indicates it's actually a brewing method. Don't get me wrong, I have had espressos before, but I would have just described them as "coffees that are fancier than regular coffees with also maybe some froth." Shows how much I know.

As soon as you open up the box, you can smell something mapley. It's a nice rich fragrance. On its own, it doesn't really taste as good as it smells, however. The maple flavor is barely there and the tea packs far less punch than Earl Grey or English Breakfast or any of the other black tea blends I'm familiar with. Doubling up on the tea bags helped intensify the flavor.

The mellowness of the flavor does allow it to be mixed with milk and sweetener for a decent latte type beverage. It's much tastier that way, and the beautiful wifey agrees. I liked adding milk and maple syrup to my makeshift latte for a little extra mapliciousness, while Sonia experimented with numerous additives including half and half, almond milk as well as syrup, sugar, and stevia, but finally settled on honey as her sweetener of choice.

Despite containing the ingredient "espresso coffee" I don't think it tastes much like espresso or any other kind of coffee either, with or without fixins. Nevertheless, $2.69 for 20 cups of warm, mapley caffeination isn't a bad value. Sonia would definitely purchase again.

Four stars from Sonia. Three from me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Trader Joe's Vegan Gingerbread Loaf

 Ever wonder what you were thinking when making a purchasing decision?

I am with Trader Joe's Vegan Gingerbread Loaf. 

My best guess is I subconsciously wanted an opportunity to dunk repeatedly on any TJ's food product cuz it's been a hot minute since I've done that. 

This moment of self reflection has led me to not doing so, but not because I actually like the aforementioned gingerbread loaf.

You see, there's an issue with gingerbread in general, as well as this one specifically. Quite frankly, it's boring. Here, look, it's a monotonous loaf of gingered carbs. Yay. Would the lack of eggs and/or butter really make it any better? No offense, but I doubt it. Applesauce is usually a good sub for those, and it'd work, but instead TJ's opted for pureed pumpkin. Really, with the pumpkin, then cinnamon and cloves and nutmeg and not to mention the heavy dose of ginger, this could have just as easily been named as "Pumpkin Spice Loaf" which if that's your thing, fine, but it'd be a no from me, dawg. 

I'll give it this: there's some good ginger hits in there. It's nothing like a Triple Ginger Snap, mind you, and when it comes it has to fight thru a more bready-carby base to shine, which is a little tough. A few bites, though,  and you'll get used to it, and the flavor becomes increasingly one note. 

Really, a little something else is needed to help break it all up. Some nuts or raisins would be nice. A little cream cheese like frosting or glaze could really set the loaf off, and could be done in a vegan-friendly way with some almonds or cashews or, according to my lovely bride, tofu (gulp). I warmed a piece briefly and that seemed to make an improvement, and perhaps a little melted butter or vegan spread of choice would help as well. 

Just as is...not a fan. As much as I hate the thought, it's likely headed towards the trash as it'll go stale before we finish it. I don't like it enough to eat the whole remaining loaf any time soon, my wife will have a small slice a day max, and our kiddos are much more into their slowly dwindling stockpile of Halloweeen candy to really give this a notice. We'll give it the ol' college try though. Wasting food is bad. 

There it is. For a sneak at the nutritionals, here ya go. Really, for a gingerbread loaf, the TJ's vegan one isn't bad for being a gingerbread loaf....but unfortunately in my book it's still just a gingerbread loaf. Kinda a backhanded compliment there, so I'll add half a golden spoon to my score, which isn't enough to raise it much past middlin' at best. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Vegan Gingerbread Loaf: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, November 12, 2021

Trader Joe's Vegan Stuffed Roast

A couple weeks ago a weird article about a human meat flavored product was going viral around the interwebs. Yep. Vegan peopleburgers from Sweden. A quick read of the article certainly raises more questions than it answers, at least in my mind. Like: how do they know what peopleburgers taste like? Also: what market are we targeting here? Native cannibal tribes who are running out of victims? Luciferian elites that consume children but are becoming wary of being exposed? Even meatatarians and carnivores should be able to get behind a cause that encourages people to eat fewer people, right? 

Okay, okay. Sorry. That subject is macabre and kinda gross for Friday fare on a food blog. But it got me thinking: if I eat something like Turkey-Less Turkey and I like the taste on the whole, but I don't think it tastes anything like real turkey, it's kind of a flop, right? But on the other hand if they don't tell me it's supposed to taste like turkey and I still generally like the taste, then it's a thumbs up, no? Likewise if a vegannibal eats a peopleburger and his reaction is "Delicious! But it tastes nothing like REAL people meat," then wouldn't it have been smarter to just leave it up in the air as a "meatless plant-based sandwich" that may or may not taste just like real dead human?

Again, sorry for the dark subject matter. If you're anything like me, you find it mildly amusing. Also, I just made up the word "vegannibal."

This product isn't necessarily supposed to taste like turkey or people or any other particular animal. It's just a "meatless plant-based roast with savory vegetable stuffing." I like that. It is what it is. Nothing less. Nothing more.

Although, now having said that, the finished product looks a bit like a baked ham, complete with scoring lines. Perhaps this product is scored for the same purpose: so the baste will penetrate a little deeper into the "meat." I basted ours with avocado oil. Tasty.

The texture was just a tad more rubbery than any type of roasted meat I've had. Maybe rubbery isn't the right word...perhaps "chewy" would be more accurate and a little less insulting to the roast. I suppose a few more minutes in the oven might have remedied the chewiness to some degree, but I was concerned about having it dry out. I used the "heat from frozen" directions and had it in the oven for a total of 85 minutes, basting twice during the process.

There's a nice blend of seasoning in the roast, including onion, garlic, lemon, and paprika. It's not particularly potent, though, so you might want to throw on some extra spices from the rack to suit your taste. The overall flavor is savory and pleasant, and honestly it's not a far cry from that of ham.

Unlike the aforementioned Turkey-Less Roast, this product doesn't have any kind of gravy. I'm not really into gravy that much, but I found myself wanting some here. The roast isn't dry per se, but the uniformity of the dense texture just begs for some kind of liquid condiment. The vegetarian gravy included with the Turkey-Less product was surprisingly good and would have worked with this offering, too.

I liked the central stuffing part of the product more than the outer portions. The stuffing is a little more interesting, texture-wise, and there are some veggie elements you can see and taste like kale and cauliflower.

$5.99 for 5 servings. Pairing this roast up with other sides like mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce would work nearly as well as a traditional meat-based holiday meal. I'd happily eat this if I were giving thanks with vegans or vegetarians or just some other adventurous eaters. It's wheat-based, rather than soy, which is another plus in my book. I think we're looking at about 3.5 stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Trader Joe's Sparkling Pomegranate Punch Beverage


Let's all go back to middle school real quick for a dab of eight grade grammar.

Homonyms: words pronounced the same, with different meanings, whether spelled the same or not. Like "to bear arms" versus "two bear arms." Peace and piece. Band and banned. So on and so forth.

The concept is relevant here with Trader Joe's Sparkling Pomegranate Punch Beverage. See, there's the word "punch", and it's presence and prominence, along with he possibly redundant word "beverage" afterwards, led me to believe that this particular potable would pack a potent pomegranate punch. Pomegranates seeds are delicious! That sour/sweet, kinda tart taste, in a cool canned convenient form? Yes please!

Sadly, thats not really really the case. Sure, it kinda tastes like pomegranate, but just as much if not more like the other mixed in flavors - pineapple, apple, orange, even ginger. Really, the pomegranate doesn't pack a's instead part of a punch. 

Tasty? Sure. My lovely bride made the offhand comment that it tasted like Hawaiian Punch but quickly backtracked the statement - it's got a similarish vibe, sure, but not nearly as sickly sweet. It's a little classier, with a little fizz of course, but there's not the sour or tart notes I'd be hoping for to reel in the sweetness even further. So it's good but not pomegranate-y enough.

The four pack of mini cans set us back about $4. Not an mazing value but not a ripoff either. I'd file this as a possible rebuy, as we do enjoy variety in or beverage rotation here, but I'm squarely in the middle to a little disappointed here, as is my lovely bride. Let's call it double twos. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sparkling Pomegranate Punch Beverage: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, November 5, 2021

Trader Joe's Indian Style Garlic Achaar Sauce

Why is Indian food so delicious? I don't think I've ever had an Indian dish I didn't like. My hypothesis: it's the spices and sauces.

This tasty new Trader Joe's brand condiment lends credence to that theory. It's piquant, potent, and fabulously flavorsome. However, I have to share the following: while re-familiarizing myself with achaar sauce via internet search, I came across another popular jarred garlic achaar sauce: Brooklyn Delhi. First of all, that's a freaking brilliant play on words—not a Brooklyn deli like a delicatessen, but Delhi like the city in India. Ha! I love it.

Anyway, I mused for a moment about whether Brooklyn Delhi could possibly be Trader Joe's third party supplier of their own achaar. No sooner had the thought entered my mind when I stumbled across a tweet from the founder of Brooklyn Delhi calling Trader Joe's offering a "cheap, watered-down knock-off" of her version. 

All I have to say is DANG, girl, if this stuff is watered-down, then your roasted garlic achaar sauce must be absolutely life-changing and I must try it as soon as I can get my hands on some.

Because "watered-down" was the phrase farthest from my mind when I first tried this product. It's so rich and flavorful. It's super garlicky, but there are also hot chili spices and a deep, earthy bite that's so unique. We put it on naan bread with some eggs and garlic-flavored goat cheese. Fan-freaking-tastic. It's honestly quite noshable with nothing but bread—the eggs and cheese just made it a complete meal.

This would go great with chicken, fish, shrimp, fries, appetizers...honestly it's probably easier to list things it wouldn't go with than things it potentially could. I wouldn't try it with desserts, I guess. It would ruin ice cream or cake, I suppose.

I'm excited to experiment with it. $2.69 for the jar. It's not a huge jar, but a little goes a long way. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Four from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Trader Joe's Caramel Coffee Almonds

Something amazing happened this past Monday. Perhaps the first time in the history of the world. 

There I was, alone at home, working. Wife at work, kids at schoool. Had the house to just me and the cats. Day after Halloween, the candy bucket is near overflowing with trick-or-treat booty...all the peanut butter cups and KitKats ant whatever else I could possibly ever want to eat, with no one to stop me...

...and I didn't touch a piece. Collected absolutely no dad tax. None. Zip. Zero.

Probably helps I had a bag of Trader Joe's Caramel Coffee Almonds nearby for a sugary snacky, with a bonus buzzy benefit. 

By probably I mean absolutely. Those Reese Pieces wouldn't had a chance. 

Do the coffee nuts seem familiar? It's because they are just like the TJ's Caramel Coffee Cashews except, well, the nut type used. 

Same sticky sweet coating of caramel and coffee grounds. It's more coffee forward / caramel on the backend whick works well with the roasty earthy goodness of the almonds. The caramel isn't too sweet or coying, nor is the coffee too bitter and joyless. If an actual coffee drink were amde that'd taste just like this, I'd probably opt for it over black drip or Americano. 

A quick little handful will do and give a quick, short acting buzz, which is nice to help get throu the early afternoon lulls without overcaffeinating with yet another cup of coffee. Good nuts. I like 'em as does the wifey.

Does anyone actually prefer an almond over a cashew though? I kinda doubt it, and I can't grade higher than their predecessors based on that...but we'll come close.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Caramel Coffee Almonds: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Monday, November 1, 2021

Trader Joe's Mashed Sweet Potatoes

A very long time ago at a county fair in central Pennsylvania, I had some sweet potato fries from a random vendor. They served them dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar, and then poured some maple syrup over them. They were absolutely dessertastic.

Although I've recreated the recipe at home a few times since then, I've come across quite a few other restaurants and eateries that serve sweet potato fries, and in every instance they bring them out with ketchup or tartar sauce or some other condiment that I consider an abomination to pair with sweet potato fries. I never got that.

That would be like making sweet potato casserole with mayo and relish or tomato sauce or something like that. Nobody ever does that...because it would be disgusting. You put sweet stuff like marshmallows on your sweet potato casserole. And with this convenient, Thanksgivingy Trader Joe's offering, I decided to add cinnamon, maple syrup, and a dab of whipped cream to emulate a mushy version of those delicious fries.

And it was awesome. Sonia thought so, too. The product on its own is fine, as well. There's only one ingredient: sweet potatoes. So you know what it's gonna taste like, right? The bag contains approximately 35 pellets of frozen sweet potato. I guess about 10 pellets equals one serving. So you throw the desired amount plus a little water into a sauce pan. They melt right down into a smooth mush in about 6 minutes. There's not a lot of lumpiness in the equation. The product has a very nice even consistency, and it seems to be as flavorful as any non-frozen mashed sweet potatoes I've ever had.

If you want to get fancy and make a marshmallow glaze with chopped pecans and whatever else, this would work. Or if you want to take the lazy man's route and just dump a few tablespoons of maple syrup in the mix, top with a couple teaspoons of cinnamon and a dab of whipped cream, I can verify that tastes great that way, too—very much worthy of Thanksgiving Day dessert status in my opinion.

$2.49 for three and a half servings—could stretch it to four if you're serving with a big Turkey Day meal or anything like that. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

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