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Thursday, December 29, 2022

Trader Joe's Sparkling Apple Cider

I've always been a fan of Martinelli's sparkling cider. That stuff just feels like a special occasion. Everything from the elegant bottle and packaging to the carbonation to the taste of the apple cider is absolutely top-notch. Plus, it's not a lot of money. I think I paid in the ballpark of three or four bucks for the last bottle I purchased. Before age 21 and when celebrating with my non-alcoholic friends, Martinelli's was always the gold standard and my personal go-to for dry New Year's type events.

So how does Trader Joe's Sparkling Apple Cider compare? Well, the price is right at $2.99. The presentation isn't quite as opulent as its name brand counterpart, but it's not an unattractive bottle, either.

Martinelli's certifies that all its cider is made from 100% USA-grown apples while Trader Joe's does not make such a claim. It's surprising how many of TJ's products are sourced abroad, but I guess that's just part of Mr. Joe's international mystique and allure. In both cases, the product is 100% juice with nothing added except vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and carbonation.

The taste? It's appley sweet with just a whisper of sour. The carbonation level is comparable to Martinelli's and other sparkling juices and ciders we've seen from Trader Joe's. It's an excellent replacement for champagne for the big ball drop or to pair alongside salty and savory appetizers.

If Martinelli's received a perfect score from Sonia and me, this Trader Joe's Sparkling Apple Cider would get just a shade less than that. I can't quite put my finger on why I like Martinelli's a bit more. We'll go with four stars from the beautiful wifey and three and a half from me. There's nothing wrong with this beverage, but in the end, I'd prefer a sparkling white grape juice from Trader Joe's instead.

This will probably be our last post for 2022, so happy New Year, friends! Buckle up for 2023. It's gonna be a wild ride.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Ratified & Repealed California Red Wine

There was a big handmade sign reading "Trader Joe's Exclusive!" right next to this Ratified & Repealed wine. Why they can't just slap that TJ's brand logo on the label and make it their own officially, I don't have the foggiest clue. I'm sure there's legal and logistical stuff I don't understand. I think we've averaged one non-Trader Joe's brand product review per year or so anyway. And since this is definitely a Trader Joe's exclusive, it's fair game.

At this point, I think I can safely declare cabernet sauvignon my favorite type of red wine. After cab, I generally gravitate toward "red blends." I mean, as far as I know, red blends are just random types of red grapes all thrown together, so it could be 80% cab in there, or it could be 0% cab. 

Apparently, cabernet and red blends are the two best-selling types of red wines on the market today, so my tastes are somewhat in line with the average American consumer, for whatever that's worth.
This Ratified & Repealed California Red Wine? There might be some cabernet sauvignon in there, but it's oh so much better than your average cab. It's moderately fruity and sweet, lightly acidic, and very smooth. There are subtle hints of earthiness and a nice clean finish with little to no aftertaste.

I'm not even a steak guy, but there's something about this stuff that makes me want to have it with a well-done slab of steak and maybe some roasted veggies on the side. It's such a flavorful wine it needs to be paired with something bold.

Sonia was at least as big a fan as I was, and she's usually a white wine type of gal. $9.99 for the bottle. Would definitely buy again. Four and a half stars from the beautiful wifey. Four stars from me for Ratified & Repealed California Red Wine.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Grump Tree

Nate's Notes: This review was originally posted Christmas Day 2020. I mentioned that the tree could be planted outside but never followed up to let people know the fate of our Grump Tree. See below for additional info.

We usually don't post on Christmas Day here. I guess the assumption has been that people are doing, you know, Christmas stuff. And I still assume that this year. But just in case you're lonely, locked down, or down and out, here's a special post just for you.

The Grump Tree. Heard about 'em for the past couple years. Saw them at Trader Joe's last year. To my surprise, the wife showed up at home with one this season. This would have been perfect for RV living. I mean, we had a little Charlie Brown tree for when we traveled full time. But this would have been just as good. 

The other day Sonia offhandedly remarked that she'd have to water the Grump Tree. I was like, "Wait, why would you water that little decorative tree? Unless..." 

Probably most of you are well aware of this already...but this is a real tree. Mind = blown. You can plant it in your yard in the spring time and it will grow "up to 30 feet tall." It's a Lemon Cypress from California's Monterey Peninsula. Sonia and I stopped there on our honeymoon on our way up to Napa Valley, so it's even more special to us. 

Apparently, it can thrive in temperatures ranging from 0°F to 105°F. It comes with a Grinch-inspired red and green sack, a red ribbon, and a red Christmas ball decoration that you can use on your big Christmas tree once you've planted your Grump Tree outside. It retails for either $7.99 or $8.99, probably depending upon your proximity to its origin in California. It just screams, "This is a great Christmas gift!"

The font they chose for the info card, the color scheme, and the skinny, frumpy appearance of the tree all seem so perfectly Dr. Seuss-ish. When Sonia and I hit the road again and live as nomads, we'll probably pick up another one of these for our RV or camper van. I doubt it will be as soon as this time next year, but someday it'll be time again to wander and explore, and a Grump Tree will be perfect for our home on wheels. 

Hopefully this one we already have will thrive in our yard and won't fall victim to our "black thumbs." Can't really think of a reason not to purchase this product, unless you lack the space to plant it after the holidays are over. You could always just transfer it to a bigger pot or give it to someone who does have the space. 

Anyway, even if you're Mr. Potter, Ebenezer Scrooge, Hans Gruber, the Krampus, the Grinch, or a Grump, we wish you a very merry Christmas!

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Hey, at least we got to keep the ornament.
Hey, at least we got to keep the ornament.

The Exciting Conclusion: Through the first few months of 2021, we kept the Grump Tree in our living room. After the Christmas season, we removed the ornament and ribbons from the tree to let it breathe and stretch as it pleased.

Neither Sonia nor I was keeping track of whether the other was watering the tree or not. Turns out we were both watering it. Though the soil was just damp on the surface, not saturated or muddy, I think we still over-watered it.

Throughout those winter months, about once a week or so, tiny black worms or millipedes would crawl out of the Grump Tree pot and wind up on our hardwood floors. Yuck! Apparently this is common with many houseplants..?

As March rolled around, the tree wasn't looking particularly vibrant. It was getting brown and drooping over even more than when it had the ornament attached to it. We tried talking to it and putting it in areas with more sun, but to no avail. I told Sonia hopefully, "As soon as April rolls around, it'll be warm enough to plant it outside. I'm sure it will recover once it's out in nature."

Well, April rolled around and I planted Mr. Grump Tree with soil right up to its base in an area with nearly full sun. I made sure it was secure and steady in well-drained earth and we crossed our fingers.

Our male dog, Alfred, decided that the struggling little tree was his new favorite place to do his business, so I'm not sure if that played a role in its demise or not. The tree steadily declined and eventually keeled over and gave up its last breath by the end of April 2021. I won't change our score or anything like that since any problems with the poor plant were most likely due to our aforementioned "black thumbs." Hey, at least we got to keep the ornament.

The moral of the story is: don't over-water your Grump Tree.

And on that cheerful note, I bid you all yet another very merry Christmas! Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Trader Joe's Holiday Bow-Wow Brunch

So this stuff is basically rawhide-less rawhide. Our little monsters have only had real rawhide a couple times in their lives. Alfred was always a tad more partial to it than Sadie, but neither dog went crazy for rawhide like they do certain other treats.

Seems like they tried to simulate the appearance and texture of actual rawhide with an unusual amalgam of flours, starches, beef gelatin, and vegetable glycerin. While the product looks and feels vaguely like rawhide while dry, once your dog starts eating it, bits of Trader Joe's Holiday Bow-Wow Brunch break off fairly easily for the dog to chew and then swallow, unlike rawhide which tends to stretch out like a piece of slobbery chewed gum. Also it doesn't smell nasty like the real thing, which is nice.

The package says it's "egg, cheese & bacon flavored." Nothing screams "Christmas" like bacon, egg, and cheese, right? Well, our dogs go nuts for any and all of those ingredients, so not surprisingly, they were quite interested when I opened the pack of treats. There's a smell somewhat reminiscent of bacon, egg, and cheese that wafts from the non-resealable bag once it's opened. It's not a smell that would make a human start to salivate—that is, there's still something dog treat-esque about the scent. But hey, our dogs went nuts, and that's what counts, right?

Alfred immediately began devouring his Holiday Bow-Wow Brunch upon snatching it out of my hand. Sadie ran into another corner of the room and just kind of stared at hers for a while, not sure what to do with the unusual texture. Eventually she began licking hers like a candy cane before nibbling little pieces off. Once she got used to the texture, she wound up loving it and finished her treat just seconds after her brother.

I've decided that since Alfred and Sadie have four paws each that they should score treats on a scale of zero to four paw prints each, for a total of 0-8 possible paw prints, based solely on each of their reactions to the treat. Since everything else on this blog has been scored on a scale of 0-10, Sonia and I will give out one or two extra paw prints based on the presentation, practicality, and overall value of the product.

In the end, this is definitely a four paw print affair from each of our mutts for Trader Joe's Holiday Bow-Wow Brunch. We'll throw out one extra paw print for the festive Christmas theme and clever marketing. About $4 for five candy cane-shaped dog treats.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Trader Joe's Sparkling Cranberry Flavored Juice Blend

I think Trader Joe's rolls out this beverage around Thanksgiving time each year, but it feels Christmassy enough to me. I mean, there are snowflakes on the label for goodness' sake. Even if you missed your chance to pick up a bottle this season, Trader Joe's Sparkling Cranberry Juice Blend is one of those products that's been around year after year for quite a while.

At this point, I want to start linking to all the other cranberry flavored beverages we've reviewed on this blog. Why? I don't even know. It's at least partly because I don't have a lot to say about this particular drink. And it might be partly to show off just how thoroughly we have combed through Trader Joe's line of (mostly) delicious fruit-flavored beverages.

But I'll let you use the "Search This Blog" feature if you're feeling like surfing the wave of crantastic holiday bevvies into the new year, and I'll cut to the chase and give you our thoughts.

Sonia thought that, if anything, the drink was too sweet. I was thinking I wouldn't have minded it a little sweeter. There's a strong tartness that doesn't exactly represent the flavor of cranberry here. No wonder. There's lemon juice in the mix. 

The sweetness Sonia detected was undoubtedly due to the white grape juice; the number one ingredient. Actual cranberry juice falls in between grape and lemon on the list.

I can't imagine why they wouldn't use cranberry as the number one juice in the mix and then add in bits of white grape as needed for sweetness. That said, it's still vaguely cranberry-esque, refreshing, and perfectly carbonated. It is tart, tangy, and sweet—just how sweet apparently depends on who you ask. It feels "special" and festive enough, if only because we don't buy this type of drink on the regular.

I'd have it with our Christmas Day feast and be happy enough. Would I buy it again? Maybe. $2.49 for the 750 mL bottle. Double three and a half star scores here for Trader Joe's Sparkling Cranberry Flavored Juice Blend.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Trader Joe's Fig & Olive Crisps

The box claims that figs and olives have been served together for millennia. Welp, golly. Don't I feel behind the times by a few thousand years. This is the first I've heard of it.

I guess it makes sense. You've got the sweet with the figs and the salty with the olives. Throw in some grains and seeds and you've got the beginnings of a top-shelf hors d'oeuvre right here.

We've seen Trader Joe's do this before. They combine two fascinating ingredients that seem like they'd be at odds with one another and throw them into a crunchy "crisp" format. I'm thinking summer's Strawberry & Jalapeño Crisps as well as the very autumnal Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps. The general verdict: they're good, but they need to be served with a dip, spread, or cheese.

Trader Joe's Fig & Olive Crisps are no different. Both flavor-wise and texture-wise, these crisps can only be fully redeemed with creamy cheeses. The sweet Christmassy figginess does clash with the briny olive flavor in a way when the crisps are consumed sans condiments. But there's just something about a good chevre or even low-brow cream cheese that balances out the flavors just right and tempers the über-crunchiness to a tolerable level. The box also recommends brie, cheddar, or manchego cheese, as well as sliced olives and figs.

I know there are folks out there that love these just the way they are. Sonia and I don't fall into that category 100% but we can see where those folks are coming from. Also, figs are super apropos during Yuletide, so we'll try to be fair and balanced. 

$3.99 for the box. The beautiful wifey gives Trader Joe's Fig & Olive Crisps three and a half stars. I'll throw out three.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Trader Joe's Peppermint Hot Chocolate

This was an enthusiastic recommendation from the Trader Joe's clerk. After seeing my bottle of peppermint liqueur, he asked, "Have you tried the peppermint hot chocolate!? It's my favorite this time of year!" Before I could answer, he jumped away from the register and started walking towards the tea and coffee aisle and bid me follow. So I did.

He inserted himself in between the product shelves and some older ladies who looked at him rather indignantly for interrupting their beverage hunt. Having obtained a tin of this peppermint hot chocolate mix, he held it aloft and shouted, "This! Right here! You have to try it!"

Neither Sonia nor I are "must have everything peppermint" people, but I felt like this guy might burst into tears if I said I wasn't interested, and well, you know, trying new-to-us Trader Joe's stuff is kind of a thing we do, so I told him to throw it in with my groceries.

I know this product has been around for years, and you know what? It's pretty darn good. I don't know if I can muster quite the level of enthusiasm that TJ's clerk did, but I definitely see where he's coming from, especially if you're a big fan of peppermint.

The dominant flavor here is peppermint, even more than chocolate I'd say, but somehow it's balanced and tempered. There's no peppermint overload, despite it being peppermint-forward. The chocolate aspects are basically what you'd expect. It's a "bittersweet chocolate" they used. It's a tad richer than your basic sweet milk chocolate and it helps keep the mintiness in check.

We made ours with cow's milk and added whipped cream, so it was nice and creamy and dessert-like. I really can't get into hot chocolate made with water. I suppose if you're in it for the peppermint rather than the chocolate, hot water would do in a pinch.

$4.99 for eight servings, according to the info on the package. I would have guessed closer to 12 servings, but I suppose that depends on how much powder you use and the size of your mug, etc, etc. Four and a half times two from Sonia and me for Trader Joe's Peppermint Hot Chocolate.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Trader Joe's Middle Eastern Style Kebabs

I don't know what made me pick these up on our last Trader Joe's run. They're not Christmassy or festive at all. I mean, I guess you could argue that the bag is red with green trim. That's sorta holiday-ish, no?

I probably picked up these Middle Eastern Style Kebabs because I love me some Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods. Also, maybe subconsciously, I knew I'd be watching the World Cup in Qatar and imagining I was there. Apparently, kebabs wrapped in pita are a popular type of Qatari street food. Yum.

And if they're half as good as this offering from Trader Joe's, then they'd be worth a purchase or two. Sonia's definitely a bigger fan of these ground beef kebabs than I am, but I'm not hating on them, either. Let's dig in.

Trader Joe's Middle Eastern Style Kebabs are made with seasoned ground beef, rather than lamb or a combination of both beef and lamb. That's a plus in my book. There are six long, skinny slabs of beef, almost like elongated hamburgers. We used the air fryer to heat them and needed an extra two minutes above what the heating instructions asked for.

Sonia repeatedly remarked that she couldn't believe that the meat had been frozen just a few minutes earlier. It had a texture very similar to that of an American burger, with some bread crumbs mixed into the ground beef. She also adored the peppery, garlicky spice blend. I was thinking they needed just a tad bit of help to put the flavor on par with something close to restaurant quality.

We plated them up with salad and hummus, along with authentic Middle Eastern pita bread. Okay. You got me. It's not even pita. It's a low carb Mission flour tortilla there in the picture. But it served the same purpose and worked remarkably well. I added a piece of havarti cheese to my kebab pita tortilla sandwich thing and made a tasty Latin-Scandinavian-Middle Eastern fusion dish.

I was more than pleased with the overall taste after the cheese and hummus came to the rescue. The kebabs would have been even more delicious with tzatziki sauce. Or maybe some garlic spread. Perhaps zhoug sauce? Any or all of those would have been very welcome in my international meat wrap creation.

Sonia likes the kebabs just the way they are. She has promised to buy more on her very next visit to Trader Joe's. I don't blame her. They're good. I just can't quite muster the same level of enthusiasm for some reason.

$6.99 for six kebabs. Two patties each was more than enough to fill both Sonia and me up for dinner. Four and a half stars from the beautiful wifey. Three and a half from me for Trader Joe's Middle Eastern Style Seasoned Ground Beef Kebabs.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Trader Joe's Cocoa Cream Liqueur

I suppose if you added vodka to a glass of chocolate milk until you had something with roughly 15% alcohol content, it wouldn't be a far cry from what we have here. This beverage is much smoother than that might sound, however, and possibly even a bit more tasty.

Trader Joe's Cocoa Cream Liqueur isn't quite as chocolatey as I might have guessed. But that's okay by me, because it's significantly more creamy than I might have guessed, too. There's a nice balance of flavors. It's not cloyingly sweet like candy, nor is it harsh or astringent in any way.

It even feels like chocolate milk as it slides easily down your throat. It's medium-thick, with about as much body as other products in Trader Joe's holiday cream liqueur line. It's got a very similar texture to the drink we looked at last week: Trader Joe's Peppermint Joe-Joe's Cream Liqueur.

It'd be great with java as a sort of mocha Irish coffee drink. Or you could mix it with hot chocolate, chocolate milk, eggnog, or even another cream liqueur. I'd whip up some chocolate peppermint cocktails if we still had any of the peppermint liqueur on hand.

It was $7.99 just a year or two ago, but it went up to $8.99 in 2022. Even Trader Joe's is susceptible to inflation. All in all, it's another big thumbs up from Sonia and me. Four stars from Sonia. Four and a half from me for Trader Joe's Cocoa Cream Liqueur.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Trader Joe's Decorate Your Own Holiday Ornaments Cookie Kit

It might be an unpopular opinion, but in general, I think food should just be food and decorations should just be decorations. I've never discovered a product that excelled at both simultaneously. And that's to be expected, isn't it? Most edible decorations have been handled excessively before anyone gets the chance to eat them. And if they do, in fact, serve the purpose of ornamentation, well, then...they've likely been sitting out in the open collecting dust, being touched by children and licked by pets for goodness knows how long.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. And that's one of the reasons we'll be looking at this classic Trader Joe's Decorate Your Own Holiday Ornaments Cookie Kit. We'll be sure to score based on value and fun-factor, not just on taste and texture of the "baked cookies."

First observation: this is a big box. It's heavy. It's one pound and 4.7 ounces! I think that's the second heaviest food product we've ever purchased from Trader Joe's after the big round tin of Jingle Jangle.

There are three tubes of icing: red, white, and green. The colors aren't particularly vibrant. They're rather drab for holiday red and green. I suppose we can chalk that up to Trader Joe's using natural stuff for colors like vegetable juice, paprika, beet powder, turmeric, and spirulina extract instead of typical man-made dyes. That's fine. It's a trade-off.

There are two of each cookie shape: gift box, Christmas tree, snowman, and snowflake. And there are two little packets of candy decorations, one with tiny snowflakes, candy canes, gingerbread men, trees, and balls of various colors. They also give you shiny golden twist ties to hang the ornaments from your Christmas tree.

They taste like the most boring sugar cookies ever. They're only moderately sweet, and they taste and feel like they were meant to be decorative. The candy sprinkles and icings aren't much better. I honestly wouldn't buy this as a food item. I guess kids might like 'em, but I can't imagine many adults being enamored by the taste and texture of these things. A full cookie contains 300 calories, and that's not even close to worth it by my estimation—especially around the holidays when there are so many super tasty foods available.

But I gotta admit, they're cute. Feel free to critique our handiwork in the comments below. I'm sure your kids made much nicer cookies than we did. We're a little out of practice at decorating edible Christmas ornaments.

$7.99 for eight cookies. We'll offer two separate scores here, one as a food item, and another as a decorative one. Four Christmas stars a piece from Sonia and me as far as a fun family activity and ornamental value are concerned for Trader Joe's Decorate Your Own Holiday Ornaments Cookie Kit. Two grinchy Christmas stars a piece from Sonia and me for the edible aspects of this box of cookies.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 stars for the fun-factor.

Bottom line: 4 out of 10 stars for the food-factor.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Trader Joe's Green Goddess Seasoning Blend

Most people you ask will tell you green goddess dressing is characterized by sour cream and mayo content. Trader Joe's seems to have taken the stance that green goddess is defined by its spice blend rather than its creamy base products. I'll back that claim up with exhibit A: Trader Joe's Green Goddess Salad Dressing, a vegan take on the classic condiment. Sonia and I both have an affinity for avocado and avocado-based products, so the lack of dairy and eggs didn't hurt when we scored that product.

Conversely, TJ's isn't hating on the traditional sour cream and mayo combo. As long as it has that lemon, basil, garlic, pepper, and chives blend, it's still worthy of the moniker "green goddess." Exhibit B: Trader Joe's Green Goddess Dip.

And finally, I bring before you exhibit C, a non-vegan green goddess flavored food, void of sour cream and mayo, but still worthy of the name. They didn't call it Gouda with Basil, Garlic, and Chives. They called it Trader Joe's Green Goddess Gouda.

Predictably, Trader Joe's now offers the spice blend in a shaker all by itself so you can make ANYTHING green goddess-style. Green goddess eggs. Green goddess fries. Green goddess popcorn. Green goddess turkey and swiss sandwiches. Green goddess ice cream? Insert something even more ridiculous than green goddess ice cream here. There's even a recipe for Green Goddess Dressing on the side of the shaker, although that's not particularly ridiculous.

It tastes like classic green goddess spices, and it's super convenient. It goes well with just about any salty or savory food you can think of. It's fairly allium-forward, and they didn't overdo it with the salt. The lemon elements are surprisingly potent, as well. It's a very nice flavorful blend.

I'd call it a decent value at $2.49 for 2 oz. I think we're looking at four stars a piece from Sonia and me on Trader Joe's Green Goddess Seasoning Blend.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Trader Joe's Peppermint Joe-Joe's Cream Liqueur

The way the title of this product is written on the label, you might think it should be called Trader Joe's Joe-Joe's Pepper Mint Cream Liqueur. First off, we all know "peppermint" is one word. Furthermore, there's no such thing as a Joe-Joe's Pepper Mint. There are, however, Trader Joe's Peppermint Joe-Joe's, and several spinoff varieties thereof. Also, I don't like saying the name "Joe" three times in such succinct succession.

It is therefore more appropriate to call this beverage Trader Joe's Peppermint Joe-Joe's Cream Liqueur. No nutrition information is given anywhere on the bottle because nobody would ever be curious about the ingredients of an alcoholic beverage—never in a million years. High fructose corn syrup? Arsenic? Rat poison? Meh. It's all good. I trust that Trader Joe's and their mysterious third party suppliers have my best interest at heart...

But all sarcasm aside, this is a tasty beverage. There's very little harsh vodka flavor despite the only hint about the libation's composition being a note reading "made with vodka" on the festive, tastefully-designed packaging.

This product sat for a few days before we consumed it. There were a few whispers of sediment at the bottom of the bottle. To my surprise, the sediment wasn't white or pink, but a dark chocolate brown. I think that's the "Joe-Joe's" part of the equation. Like, they put in something chocolatey to approximate the cookie part of the above-mentioned Peppermint Joe-Joe's.

It's mostly a sweet vanilla and peppermint flavor, but there's also something faintly chocolatey. It's quite delicious and surprisingly smooth and velvety. I've heard rumors on the interzones that people make Peppermint White Russians with this stuff. Yikes. That sounds dangerously delicious. Don't let Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski know about that recipe.

If we had Kahlua on hand, I'd give you the lowdown. So far, I've just had this stuff on the rocks, and IT. IS. YUMMY. You could easily add more cream if it's too much alcohol for you.

Conversely, you could add more vodka if it's not stiff enough for you. Not that I recommend that. Just sayin'.

We've had pretty good luck with these holiday liqueurs throughout the years. See Trader Joe's Egg Nog and Ginger Bread varieties. Eggnog? Gingerbread? Maybe it is "Pepper Mint" after all.

I digress. $8.99 for the 750 ml bottle. 14.75% ABV. A mere three and a half stars from Sonia, who wants there to be a little more of that chocolatey flavor. Perfect five from me for Trader Joe's Peppermint Joe-Joe's Cream Liqueur.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Trader Joe's Nuts About Rosemary Mix

I grew up calling hazelnuts "filberts." After a quick internet search, I found people claiming that they're the exact same thing and the two monikers are interchangeable. I also found people stating that although somewhat similar, they are, in fact, two different types of nuts. I found claims that Americans say "hazelnut" while Brits and Europeans say "filbert" for reasons they failed to adequately explain. Further, some said that they were called "filberts" after St. Philbert's Feast, which is held in France near the time of hazelnut harvest.

At any rate, Trader Joe's calls the ones in this mix "hazelnuts." I'm fine with that. I like them. I like this mix okay. But wouldn't you know it: this mix tastes like A LOT of rosemary. Who'd have guessed?

As is typical, I was racing through the aisles at Trader Joe's shortly after opening, trying to score some as-yet-unreviewed items before the store got even more crowded. I guess I was thinking this was more of a snack mix, following in the tradition of Trader Joe's Step Up to the Snack Bar Mix from four years back, or Trader Joe's Stepping It Up Spicy Snack Bar Mix from just a couple years ago, both reviewed during the month of December on this blog. But it's all nuts. It's all nuts and rosemary.

And if you're nuts about rosemary, that's a good thing. There are visible flecks of the stuff on nearly every nut. And it's a great lot of nuts for just about seven bucks. The vast majority of the nuts in our tub were completely whole, with a minority of the cashews being halves. They're all seriously high quality.

I think I might have enjoyed this more if there had been crackers or crisps or pretzels of some sort to soothe the raging carbivore within me. There's a fair amount of sea salt here, and just a hint of sunflower oil and sugar, so the nuts aren't entirely undressed. Fortunately, Sonia and I like cashews, pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts quite a bit.

Rosemary? I'm good with rosemary when it plays second fiddle to other flavors. The nuts are fairly rosemary-forward here. I'm totally down for a handful or two at a time, and then I have to back off. Sonia's the same way, but in general, she's a tad more wary of too much rosemary.

Wary of rosemary. Heh. That rhymes.

But she actually threw me a curveball here. She thinks the rosemary balance with the nut flavor is just about right. She's significantly more into these than I am, and she's on record not liking products because of "too much rosemary" in the past. I'm thinking specifically of Trader Joe's Turkey-Less Stuffed Roast we reviewed many years ago.

I'll go with three stars here for the good quality and decent value. Sonia will throw out four stars. I'll just say if you LOVE the taste of rosemary, I think a projected score for this one might be closer to 8 or 9. But for us, we'll give Trader Joe's Nuts About Rosemary about seven total stars.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Trader Joe's Mini Peppermint Meringues

I've admitted before on this blog that I'm not big into the texture of meringues. I think it was in a review of the
Vienna Coffee Meringues that I likened the texture of Trader Joe's meringue cookies to chalk. These are really no different. So why try them at all you ask?

Because sometimes Trader Joe's surprises me. And even more frequently than that, I surprise myself. Somehow, peppermint lends itself to crunchy, sugary stuff more than most flavors. I guess I'm thinking of candy canes. I'd always be too impatient to suck the thing slowly, and I'd just snap a big piece off and start crunching away, much to the chagrin of my parents and childhood dentist.

Anyway, if I could chew hard candy peppermint as a kid, I guess I can give these airy, crunchy peppermint dealies a try. At least these are meant to be crunched rather than sucked, so there's that. However, I can't imagine they're much better for your teeth than a candy cane.

The flavor is fine. It's candy cane-esque, with sugar and egg white mixed in there. I still can't fully get past the texture, though. I'm fine chomping on one or two at a time, but I could never really see myself craving these sweets over any other type of cookies or candy.

I guess one reason people like them is the zero fat content and low calorie count. If not for the sugar content, these might be considered keto-friendly. In fact, the serving suggestion says 11 "cookies" are only 80 calories. I had to see what other folks were saying about these meringues around the web and stumbled across a review that summed up my feelings on the subject nearly exactly: "I'm convinced that eating 11 of these would put you in the hospital, needing an IV insulin drip."

He's right. Eating 11 of these in one sitting should be called the Trader Joe's Mini Peppermint Meringues Challenge and should be regarded with the same contempt that sane folks have for things like swallowing an entire Carolina reaper pepper or a whole shaker of cinnamon while filming oneself on TikTok.

$2.99 for the tub of ~38 mini meringues isn't a bad value. I definitely wouldn't buy them again. Predictably, Sonia tolerated them a bit better than I did, but she's not down for a repeat buy either. I think we're looking at about three stars each on Trader Joe's Mini Peppermint Meringues.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Trader Joe's O' Nog

History repeats itself. After trying Trader Joe's O' Nog for the first time, I think Sonia said verbatim the same thing she said after tasting Trader Joe's Almond Nog.

"I like this better than regular egg nog."

Blasphemy. Culinary heresy, pure and simple. Vegans and lactose intolerants, you guys get a free pass. But the beautiful wifey is neither of those.

I'm just kidding. She's free to think silly things like that. And I'm free to think that traditional egg nog will never be surpassed by anything non-dairy.

But comparing this to full calorie, milk-based, egg-laden nog is unfair in some ways. So let's look at it for what it is: it's an oat-based beverage that very nearly approximates the flavor of traditional egg nog. It got the sweetness level right. It got the spice blend right. And it came very close to getting the creaminess right.

The texture, like the almond nog, is noticeably more watery than the real stuff. And while the almond nog was predictably nutty, this oat beverage is predictably grainy in a similar sense, flavor-wise.

This drink reminds Sonia of atole, or atole blanco, a traditional corn-based Mexican beverage usually served hot. So, logically, Sonia tried Trader Joe's O' Nog warmed up and she absolutely loved it. I must agree it works as a hot beverage, possibly even better than it does when served cold.

I can verify it works well when mixed with bourbon. I'd assume, like egg nog or almond nog, that it would go great with rum, brandy, Jägermeister, or any number of alcoholic additives, too.

It's not just dairy-free, but also vegan, soy free, gluten free, and lactose free. The only ingredients not in the "2% or less" category are water, hydrolyzed oats, and cane sugar.

$2.99 for the quart. Sonia will go with four stars again. I'll go with a solid three for the noble effort on Trader Joe's O' Nog Non-Dairy Oat Beverage.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

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