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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Trader Joe's PB&C Snack Duo

When snacks like this come along, I kinda wish I was in junior high school again, brown bagging my food. I'd pop out a treat like this one and all the kids would be like, "Whoa. What's that? I wanna try it!" And then I'd use the leverage to work out totally unfair lunch table bargains involving entire sandwiches being traded for only a singular exotic cocoa stick dipped in peanut butter. Feel free to give your kids the idea if they aspire to be some kind of cafeteria warlord or something. Or feel free to try it at your place of employment if you work on site. Just be sure to give your boss one stick for free so he'll look the other way as you clean out your co-workers.

Following in the footsteps of Trader Joe's PB&J Snack Duo, this new chocolate and peanut butter creation is the same concept, but with cocoa creme sticks and real peanut butter dip replacing peanut butter wafer sticks and raspberry jelly.

Improvements: the jelly in the last iteration was messy and sticky. The peanut butter in this product is less so. I like my snacks to have a lot of peanut butter flavor, so actual peanut butter is nice. This product seems more filling to me somehow. There's protein in peanut butter, so that could be part of it. And if there's one flavor combo I generally prefer over peanut butter and jelly, it's peanut butter and chocolate.

What's worse: the cocoa creme wafer sticks are okay, but they're nothing to write home about. They remind me a bit of Trader Joe's Petite Cocoa Batons. I guess I prefer the peanut butter creme wafer sticks. But if we had those again here, we'd have to call this product Trader Joe's PB&PB Snack Duo instead of Trader Joe's PB&C Snack Duo.

What's about the same: the sticks still want to snap in half when dunked in the dip. You really have to be gentle and slow, or you have to know exactly where to brace the stick so it won't break. It's a silly complaint, I know. But half of you wouldn't come here if not for the silliness.

In the end, Sonia likes these about the same as the PB&J dealies. And I should mention at this point that the PB&J Snack Duo has become an extremely regular purchase at our house. Like, Sonia picks them up every single time she goes to TJ's. I have a feeling these might become a regular purchase as well.

$3.99 for 6 packs of 8 sticks a piece. Certified kosher. Four and a half stars from Sonia on Trader Joe's PB&C Snack Duo. I guess I'll throw out four like I did for the previous iteration.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Trader Joe's Bananas Bananas! Candy

It's been a hot minute since we reviewed the classic Trader Joe's Gone Bananas! on this blog, but Sonia and I have purchased them many times since. They're still one of my personal favorite Trader Joe's items of all time. So naturally, I had to try this similarly named, similarly packaged candy featuring chocolate and banana flavors.

This one's shelf stable instead of frozen. There's plenty of chocolate here, but no real bananas. The only fruit presence is in the form of "banana powder." Doesn't sound super appetizing, but let's dig in anyway, shall we?

First impression: yum! There's a definite surge of banana flavor in the center of these candies. It's not quite like real banana, but it's close enough that you wouldn't mistake it for any other fruit. It's enough to balance out the abundant milk chocolate taste but doesn't dampen its potency.

The outer chocolate shell is firm but not too hard. The filling is only slightly softer. It's called "creme" but it's more al dente than a typical cream filling. Can I use "al dente" in a context unrelated to pasta? It just means "firm when bitten," right? I'm going with it either way. Al dente candy is a thing now...just because I said so.

There are also little crunchy things in the center of the mini-bananas. I might have guessed it was crispy rice, but I'm thinking now it's the cocoa nibs. I like 'em, although I think crisp, toasted rice would have worked at least as well. The nibs just get lost in the sea of chocolate, cocoa, and more chocolate.

The verdict? Worth a purchase or two for sure. Not as good as the original Gone Bananas! but few things are, at Trader Joe's or anywhere for that matter. $3.29 for 5 oz of banana flavored candy. No need for refrigeration or freezing. Might be a nice treat for school lunches or a hike in cool weather. I wouldn't think of these as a summer snack as much since the chocolate would no doubt get messy. The bag is resealable and the artwork on the packaging is fun. Four stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Trader Joe's Spring Cupcake Mix

I have no idea if this product is back on Trader Joe's shelves again this year. They discontinue good stuff at the drop of a hat. Even if it's not back this spring, there's always a chance they'll bring it back in the future at some point, so just go ahead and read the review anyway and pretend it's relevant now. Mmkay? Thanks.

I procured my box by traveling back in time to Spring 2022. You didn't know I had a time machine? I've mentioned it before. I call it the magical DeLorean TARDIS time sled hot tub. Super original, right? I decided to pick up a box of this mix this year because I was unable to get my hands on one last spring.

And I'm glad I did. It's a tasty product. Some assembly required, of course. Also eggs, water, butter, and milk. Twenty-two minutes in the oven at 350° and we're in business.

Trader Joe's Spring Cupcakes came out super moist, sweet, and vanilla-y. The green frosting was a little runny at first, but after congealing in the fridge for a half hour or so, it got nice and spreadable. Oh—that's another thing: the frosting mix is white, but when you mix it with butter, it turns green. It's like a far-out science experiment. I can't even explain it...and I built a time machine.

There's nothing oily or cheap or sub-par about these cupcakes. Nothing that tastes off. Well, now that I say that, those little egg candies didn't blend so well with the other elements, texture or flavor-wise. They have a candy shell with dark chocolate and caramel within. There's nothing wrong with them, really. They just feel like an unnecessary gimmick that got thrown in at the last second to make the product feel more Eastery or springy or something.

$4.99 for the box of cake mix, frosting mix, and little dark chocolate caramel egg candies. Four stars a piece from Sonia and me for Trader Joe's Spring Cupcake Mix. And for those of you who wonder why I can't use my time machine to go forward to see whether TJ's brings this product back or not—well, of course I can. But there's no telling whether the timeline we wind up on as a collective is the same one I'll travel to in order to do product recon. I have seen at least one tangent universe where this product is back. But I've seen a bunch where it's not. In essence, the future isn't set in stone. Anyway, Sonia gives this product four out of five stars. I, John Titor, er...I mean Nathan, give this product four stars as well.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Bark

I like my chocolate like I like my women: dark and chunky

Ha, no. I can't even right now. I like my women petite, like my Sonia. And I actually prefer white chocolate. I just always wanted to say "I like my women like I like some food or beverage." I tried it once long ago, and it didn't work then either.

Seriously, though: a quick internet search will reveal that dark chocolate is the best kind of chocolate for raising serotonin levels in the body. Among other things, it's the chemical that regulates emotions, appetite, and sleep cycles. So despite a preference for the taste of white or milk chocolate, there are other reasons why I might reach for the dark variety once in a while.

And there's plenty of dark chocolate in this little bag of bark. There are big slabs of the stuff—mostly quadrilateral shapes. I'd say each chunk is at least four bites a piece, and I'd say the vast majority of the product is nothing but chocolate.

There are definitely almond and pretzel bits in every hunk, but the average bite only contains a teensy crumb of either almond or pretzel. It's rare if you get a detectable piece of nut and pretzel in the same bite.

That's my biggest complaint. I like the almond and pretzel presence here. I wish there were a bit more of it.

There's plenty of sea salt, though, in Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Bark. Just a slab or two will make you plenty thirsty. If anything, I think the salt could be toned down some.

I expected Sonia to enjoy this product a lot more than me since she's way more into dark chocolate, but she too wished there were more of the mix-ins throughout the bark and a lot less salt. She gives it three out of five stars.

I give Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Bark three out of five stars, as well. Dark chocolate lovers might like this product more than I did by virtue of the dark chocolate content, but this product could use a little more pizzazz if you ask us. We'll finish the bag easily enough, but it's probably not a repeat purchase. $3.99 for 10 oz of kosher dark chocolate in a resealable bag.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Trader Joe's Triple Ginger Pretzels

Truth be told, I'm seldom in the mood for gingery snacks. Gingerbread? Yeah, I'm down with seasonal gingerbread treats, for sure. A touch of ginger in my ice cream? Darn skippy. Ginger beer? Heck yes.

But there's always a risk of ginger overload. We've seen it before in a Trader Joe's cereal as well as a few other places. Raw ginger is quite potent and has the potential to overpower any other flavors in a given product.

So why try Trader Joe's Triple Ginger Pretzels at all you ask? Because maybe ginger goes with pretzels better than I think it will. Maybe the ginger content is super flavorful but somehow not overpowering. Despite my expectations, this could be the most delicious snack I've ever tried. It's all about the adventure.

The pretzels are those same "teeny tiny" ones we've seen a few times from Trader Joe's in recent memory. Again, we've got a resealable bag for convenience, freshness, and that satisfying sensation you get when you feel those two plastic strips lovingly embrace one another.

The pretzels are a nice balance of sweet, salty, and gingery. There's ginger candy, crystallized ginger, and ginger snaps up in the mix. I guess the "ginger candy" is that white confectionery coating that covers the pretzels. It's like ginger-flavored white chocolate. I like it. The ginger snaps add crunch on top of the already crunchy pretzels, and the crystallized ginger gives just a hint of that throat-warming, tingly sensation that raw ginger can sometimes produce. The taste is fairly ginger forward, but the pretzel essence and sweet elements are never totally eclipsed.

All in all, this is a satisfying snack that will surely curb most ginger cravings without going crazy over-the-top into ginger overload territory. This combo works a lot better than I thought it would. Would I buy again? Quite possibly.

About three bucks for 7 oz of miniature pretzels. This will get the same score as the last product we looked at, but this time I'll be a bit more positive than the beautiful wifey. Three and a half out of five stars from Sonia for Trader Joe's Triple Ginger Pretzels. I'll throw out four stars.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Rabitos Royale Ruby Cacao Figs

I just couldn't help myself. I know they're not Trader Joe's brand, but chocolate truffle figs sounded so interesting. The buzz about Rabitos Royale Ruby Cacao Figs around the web is pretty positive, as well. Just look at that fancy box. How could something so extravagant disappoint?

Provided you love the taste of figs and have five bucks to blow on four small pieces of candy, they most likely won't. They're super sweet, because it's not dark chocolate here. It's ruby cacao and milk chocolate. Figs are sweet to begin with and chocolate doesn't exactly temper that sweetness at all. There are essences of vanilla and brandy in the mix as well. All in all, chocolate, fig, vanilla, and brandy is a pretty tasty flavor combo. It might be a little too sweet for some folks, but lucky for me, I've got a sweet tooth.

Each fig is individually wrapped, which helps keep the unused specimens fresh. Although it's very much within the realm of possibility to eat the entire box in one sitting, particularly if you've got someone to share with. Again, lucky me.

Rabitos Royale Ruby Cacao Figs can be a little messy. The pink shell wants to break apart and fall on your lap as you bite into it. There's not a lot of juiciness, since the figs are dried, but there's enough of a crumble-factor that you might not want to eat these while you're driving or operating heavy machinery or wearing a light-colored Easter dress or something.

One of our candied figs had a very odd tough section. It wasn't like a fig seed. It was almost as if a small section of the fig skin was leathery and somewhat hard. It was a bit gross. I thought about spitting out that bite, but then I thought about the fact that each fig costs more than a dollar and decided to just chew through it. I made it without yacking or anything like that, but still you'd hope that for what you're paying, you'd get nothing but top notch quality fruit within the candy. Oh well. It was only one piece.

Trader Joe's is the only store where I've seen these, but I didn't see anything about them being a Trader Joe's exclusive or anything like that. Looks like you can order them online from a few places. Don't think I'd buy these regularly, but for a once in a great while treat, they're fine. Three and a half stars from me. The beautiful wifey gives Rabitos Royale Ruby Cacao Figs four out of five stars, remarking "This is the kind of stuff rich people eat!"

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Trader Joe's Slightly Coated Dark Chocolate Almonds

Seems like there must have been somebody out there grumbling and whining on the interzones about there being too thick a layer of dark chocolate on Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Almonds or something to that effect. I'm not sure why else Trader Joe's would offer this very specific product. Although I've protested and complained about various Trader Joe's discontinuations, lack of locations, and parking lot situations time and time again and they pretty well ignore me consistently.

"Pay no mind to that arrogant blogger boy and the eight US states that don't have a single Trader Joe's location...but let's be sure to give Karen her dark chocolate almonds that are somewhere in between totally coated and not coated at all." 

Never mind this is at least the fifth type of chocolate covered almond we've reviewed on this blog. I won't even link to the others directly. If you're curious you can type "chocolate almond" into the Search This Blog bar.

Anyhoo, we've got a resealable bag here, which I appreciate since I won't be eating the entire thing in one sitting. It's a 10 oz package for five bucks, which is honestly kinda cheap for nuts in 2023. And it's pretty much what you'd expect after reading the description on the bag: almonds with a bit of dark chocolate and faint saltiness.

I'd prefer more chocolate to be honest. Or milk chocolate. Or cookie butter. But hey, they're only going for "just a little sweet" here. Mission accomplished, I guess. I hope all those folks looking for not-plain-almonds but also not-super-duper-chocolate-coated-almonds are happy. Me? Meh. They're not bad, but I'm generally only in the mood for regular almonds or almonds coated with a normal amount of chocolate. Three stars from this guy for Trader Joe's Slightly Coated Dark Chocolate Almonds. Four from the beautiful wifey.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Trader Joe's Maple Pancake Snaps

Wait. Didn't we just look at these things like two weeks ago? It's like deja vu all over again. Ah, no. Those were Maple Pancake Puffs. These are Maple Pancake Snaps.

Same basic flavor in a different format. At first glance, the nutrition information looks comparable to the puffs, but if you look a little longer, you'll notice these cookies have more saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars. So I'd say they're definitely a tad more indulgent in case you're watching your figure or concerned about your health or something silly like that.

But are they worth it? Well...that's just going to come down to individual preference. I think I liked the puffs better, honestly. Conversely, I don't dislike these cookies. They have the same mapley, buttery flavor as their predecessor. There's also a touch of cinnamon this time around, which is nice.

The cookies are slightly oily to the touch, but they're mostly just crunchy and crumbly, not unlike a typical ginger snap, texture-wise. They don't come neatly in rows, wrapped in cellophane as some other Trader Joe's cookies do, but rather these come all jumbled up in a big, non-resealable plastic sack as shown in the picture above.

$3.99 for about 54 bite-sized cookies. These treats are unique and tasty enough that they'll find their fans and devotees. I just don't think that's us. The box says a serving size is about six cookies. Each time I've reached for them, I've tired of the taste and texture after only two or three—in stark contrast to the puffs version.

While not hating on them, Sonia is equally unimpressed with Trader Joe's Maple Pancake Snaps as she was with the puffs. Three out of five stars from her. I'll have to downgrade my score by a star or so, since I think the original snack was better, more unique, and more impressive overall. Three and a half out of five stars from me.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Trader Joe's Sriracha Sprinkle Seasoning Blend

Second only to ketchup, sriracha might be my favorite condiment of all time. Unlike ketchup, however, I didn't grow up with it. I think I discovered it in the mid-2000's, when I was a daring twenty-something roaming the streets of Los Angeles, discovering new foods and new adventures each and every week. It was undoubtedly Vegan Glory or some other top-notch Southland Thai-style restaurant where I first partook of sriracha's tangy, fermented flavor and spicy zing.

My sinuses had been lulled to sleep slowly over those first couple years in the arid air of Southern California, and sriracha helped snap my sense of smell and taste buds back to life. Since the late 2000's or so, Sonia and I have perpetually had a bottle of the stuff on hand in our kitchen.

That said, I was similarly disappointed with Trader Joe's Sriracha Sprinkle Seasoning Blend like I was with the ketchup sprinkle, although not to the same degree. I'll get the negative out of the way first: there's just no way this stuff is as good as real sriracha. Not even close.

But that said, most of my remaining thoughts are positive. It's spicy, though there's a different feeling to the heat here. The first ingredient in this seasoning blend is garlic, while the first ingredient in traditional sriracha is generally chiles.

Sriracha just tastes and feels like super flavorful, liquefied hot chiles, and of course, it's brilliant. Trader Joe's Sriracha Sprinkle Seasoning Blend tastes mostly like garlic powder mixed with cayenne pepper. There's a hint of vinegar in there, too, but it's fairly understated and undetectable.

I feel like I might have enjoyed this product a bit more if it weren't called "sriracha" since I get my hopes up every time I see "sriracha" plastered on a food product. If it had been called Trader Joe's Garlic and Cayenne Spicy Seasoning Blend, I might have been pleasantly surprised rather than slightly let down.

And once again, if the apocalypse finally arrives and the supply chain breaks down and real sriracha is nowhere to be found, I must say this seasoning will certainly be better than no sriracha at all...but that's not really saying that much. Sonia feels the same.

$2.99 for the 2.5 oz shaker. Three stars from me for Trader Joe's Sriracha Sprinkle Seasoning Blend. Sonia will throw out three and a half.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Trader Joe's All Butter Shortbread Sandwich Cookies

All butter? ALL butter? It seems to me there's some wheat flour, sugared eggs, and skim milk powder in there, too, Trader Joe. I'm not sure how you can claim it's all butter.

But hey, I'm not complaining. I'm just being silly, as I am wont to do. Long story short, Trader Joe's All Butter Shortbread Sandwich Cookies are some tasty morsels. Weirdly, I liked the raspberry filling at least as much as the shortbread element.

The shortbread is significantly buttery, which is good. But I wouldn't say it's like the best shortbread I've ever had or anything like that. I just really, really like the way it blends with the sweet, smooth, syrupy raspberry filling. I could eat that raz jam all by itself. You can see from the pic there's only a narrow gap of razzle dazzle in between the slabs of shortbread.

After consuming three cookies each in rapid succession, Sonia and I fought each other for the remaining specimens. Unfortunately, there are only ten total in the pack. So 60% of the box was gone within seconds of opening it. We managed to call a truce and wait until the next morning, when we were able to put our ravenous shortbread gluttony in check and evenly split the remainder of the box: two more cookies each.

I wish there were more raspberry filling in each cookie. I wish there were way more cookies in the pack. I wish the product were a wee bit cheaper than three bucks. Still, we'll bestow upon Trader Joe's All Butter Shortbread Sandwich Cookies with a Raspberry Filling an above average score with four out of five stars from yours truly and four and a half out of five from the beautiful wifey. Would buy again.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Trader Joe's Meatless Ground

I wasn't particularly excited to try this product. I felt like it had a higher-than-average potential to be weird or gross. I have mixed feelings about all these newfangled fake meat products like Beyond and Impossible, etc. My experiences have ranged from being delighted by Del Taco's Beyond Tacos to spewing from both ends for about 18 hours straight after consuming an undercooked Booger King Impossible Whopper. Trader Joe's even offered their own Protein Patties a few years back. Not sure if they're around anymore.

What do all those bogus burger brands have in common? They're all real meat. This stuff is dry and shelf stable at room temperature with a best by date about a year in the future. You reconstitute it yourself with hot water and oil. So...that just ups the potential nasty-factor exponentially if you ask me.

And yeah. It's weird. It's kinda gross. I suppose if you love the flavor of pea protein, you might like this. That's key for me: meatless meat can have pea protein in the ingredients all day long, but it can't actually taste like pea protein. 
In my humble opinion, this stuff tastes quite a bit like good, old fashioned pea protein and doesn't even come close to any meats I've ever had. They say it's like ground turkey or chicken. And while I'll admit it smelled and looked a bit like chicken while cooking, it definitely doesn't taste that way.

The texture is like wads of soggy paper. Not a fan. I tried cooking it and browning it a bit longer, but to no avail. Charred wads of soggy paper don't taste much better than undercooked wads of soggy paper.

There's a recipe for Meatless Macaroni on TJ's website. Lacking a few of the key ingredients, we whipped up a makeshift version of it, and it was...edible, thanks to the generous amounts of cheese and pasta we used.

$3.99 for the four serving resealable bag. I like the idea of having shelf stable "meat" ready in the back of the pantry for the day when real meat is unavailable for whatever reason, but this just isn't good enough for a repurchase. I've enjoyed fake meat and vegan burgers many, many times, but I can't say I'm an admirer of this product. Definitely wouldn't buy again. Two stars from me. Sonia will be even less lenient and throw out only one star for Trader Joe's Meatless Ground Plant-Based Crumbles.

Bottom line: 3 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Trader Joe's Chevre with Honey

I learned to appreciate goat cheese at a very young age, but for many, many years I saw it only as a savory, salty kind of food and couldn't see pairing it with anything dessert-esque or adding anything sweet to it.

Trader Joe's changed all that with their affordable line of exotic cheeses including Blueberry Chevre and Cranberry Chevre. I get it now. Chevre, in particular, does lend itself to sweet ingredients. Fruits, or in this case honey, can balance out the tartness of the rich, creamy cheese and add a satisfying lusciousness to it. Sweet chevre and crackers have become one of my favorite hors d'oeuvres in recent years.

Some of you might recall Trader Joe's JalapeƱo and Honey Chevre. I think that one's still my favorite, but if you're not into jalapeƱos or not craving anything spicy at the moment, this is a great sweet-tart cheese to reach for. It's best with water crackers or brioche toast so the flavors of the honey and cheese can shine without any competition from the bread.

I'm sure there's a bunch of other stuff you could do with this cheese: add it to a berry salad, have it with fruit, or maybe just pair it with a nice Sauvignon Blanc. For $2.99, it's a great way to jazz up any get together or party with high class appetizers that won't break the bank.

Sonia gives Trader Joe's Chevre with Honey Goat's Milk Cheese four and a half out of five stars. I give it four out of five.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

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