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Friday, April 28, 2023

House of Suntory Roku Gin

Like many fine foods and beverages, gin is an acquired taste. The first time I tried it, I winced and said, "It tastes like drinking a forest." Then eventually I tried Tanqueray with tonic water and decided it wasn't that bad. Now I'm at a point where I can very much appreciate good gin and would generally choose it over whisky, vodka, or tequila hands down.

Sonia's more of a bourbon girl. She hasn't cultivated any love for gin as of the time of this writing, so I'll be scoring this one solo. In short, this Japanese gin is probably the best I've ever tried. It tastes the way I wanted Hendrick's to taste: exotic. It's complex and floral, peppery and smooth at the same time.

There are six botanical ingredients unique to Japan used in the crafting of House of Suntory Roku Gin: sakura flower, sansho pepper, yuzu peel, sakura leaf, sencha tea, and gyokuro tea. I'm only vaguely familiar with two of those ingredients: I've tried Japanese candy featuring the citrus fruit yuzu and its peel before. And I've tried sencha tea, a type of loose leaf green tea similar to matcha. When all six ingredients combine, they yield the most unique flavor of gin I've ever had the pleasure of sampling.

The bottle was $24.99 at Trader Joe's, but you'll find this gin at other mainstream grocery stores like Hy-Vee, as well. It's not Trader Joe's brand, but I think House of Suntory Roku Gin belongs in this blog's Pantheon.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Trader Joe's Blueberry & Lemon Hand Pies

Blueberries and lemons are two of my favorite fruits. They're maybe my two most favoritest fruits of all time. That's right: most favoritest.

But you don't see them together all the time, do you? I don't know if the combo would work in every context, but it worked well in Trader Joe's Blueberry & Lemon Hand Pies. The sweetness of the blueberries and the tartness of the lemon went quite well with that buttery, bready crust. The blueberry flavor hit right up front while the sour lemon crept up on us slowly after a number of bites.

For the most part, the crust was flavorful and supple. It was a little soggier than I was expecting, particularly in the middle. It was firmer and flakier towards the edges of the pastry—similar to the Apple and Pumpkin Hand Pies. It was almost as if the middle soaked up a bunch of that plentiful filling, which oozed out the sides as I dug into the dessert with my fork.

I wouldn't have minded more whole blueberries in the filing. It was pretty smooth, which is fine, but I was expecting big plump berries that added some texture and burst with flavor when you bit them. All things considered, it was a very tasty baked good, absolutely worth the calorie/fat splurge for a special occasion or cheat day or if you're just not into the whole "fitness thing."

$4.49 for the two pies. It's a little pricy for grocery store fare, but the quality is just about on par with a specialized pastry shop, where you'd probably pay a lot more. Kosher. Would buy again. Shout out to reader April for the rec, who said "they taste like happiness and sunshine." Spot on!

Four stars a piece from Sonia and me on Trader Joe's Blueberry & Lemon Hand Pies.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Trader Joe's Hot Pico de Gallo Salsa

Hot take: Trader Joe's Hot Pico de Gallo Salsa isn't hot, but it's still really good.

Jalapeño peppers are right there—the third ingredient on the list. I'm not sure if our jalapeños were just extra tame or if there simply weren't enough of them, but this salsa that so boldly proclaims itself "hot" was not particularly spicy to either my palate or that of my lovely wife.

And Sonia knows pico de gallo. She's been eating it her whole life. I've been eating it since the 2000's, when I discovered Baja Fresh. Man, they had the best pico de gallo. I mean, theirs wasn't hot either, but you could mix it with spicy salsa and make your own hot pico if you wanted to. Up until now, Baja Fresh had the best pico de gallo either of us had ever eaten.

I think Trader Joe's Hot Pico de Gallo Salsa may now have stolen that title. It's quite flavorful. I guess maybe the tomato, lemon, and cilantro have a cooling effect on what little heat the jalapeños provide. We can always add our own hot sauce or spicy salsa.

It just tastes fresh. The tomatoes, onions, and peppers are pristine and healthy-looking, and they taste like they were just sliced yesterday, rather than sitting in a plastic tub for weeks, being carted all over America in a hot box truck.

Anyway, we'll probably buy it again despite its lack of heat. $2.99 for the 12 oz tub. Four and a half stars a piece for Trader Joe's Hot Pico de Gallo Salsa from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Trader Joe's Double Chocolate Wafer Cookies

Freakin' cookies, man. Cookies, cookies, cookies. How many types of cookies does Trader Joe's need to offer, really? Butter cookies, sandwich cookies, sugar cookies, oatmeal cookies, tea cookies, crispy cookies...and of course, wafer cookies. I mean, I'm a fan of the texture of wafer cookies, but I'll bet we're pushing a hundred different types of Trader Joe's brand cookies reviewed on this blog over the years, so it's gonna take something really special to wow this guy.

Trader Joe's Double Chocolate Wafer Cookies taste like dark chocolate to me. I want them to be sweeter. Sonia loves them, but she wishes they were "less chocolatey." She wants double chocolate cookies that are somehow less chocolatey. I'm sure Trader Joe's will offer a 1x chocolate wafer cookie in the future if they haven't already, but for now she'll have to settle for the 2x variety. Don't worry, I'm sure the triple chocolate version is in development for those of you who don't think these little guys are chocolatey enough.

Okay, okay, I might be coming off a little snarky here today. These are perfectly decent cookies with an above-average crispy, wafery texture. They're creamy and crispy and they're honestly pretty close to being perfectly "bite-sized." The chocolate taste is surprisingly rich and errs in the direction of dark chocolate. I can't imagine eating these without milk or coffee.

The bag is pseudo-resealable, since it comes not with a ziplock style seal, but with a sticker that hangs down so you can tape the bag shut over and over again. It feels a little bit junky, honestly.

$3.49 for the eight serving bag. Sonia will give them four and a half stars, stating that she wishes they made other flavors, namely vanilla and strawberry, and that they should offer all three flavors together in a Neapolitan style pack. I'll give Trader Joe's Double Chocolate Wafer Cookies three out of five stars. I'll admit they have a really nice texture, but there's nothing about the taste that makes these stand out to me over your average store-bought cookie.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Trader Joe's Garlic & Cheese Bread Sticks

Not sure what happened here. Did we get a bad batch? Did our local Trader Joe's manager go around changing freshness dates like Apu at the Kwik-E-Mart?

Sonia and I both thought these were bland, dry, and way too hard. We followed the heating instructions exactly. We consumed them before their "sell by" date. We tried them plain, with soup, and with various other dips.

There was no discernible garlic flavor in Trader Joe's Garlic & Cheese Bread Sticks. The cheese was wanting both in quantity and taste. Even the bread itself fell utterly short of the delightfully soft and fluffy Cheddar Jalapeño Pull Apart Bread we looked at last week. The breadsticks were slightly more palatable when we first pulled them from the oven, but now that they need reheated a second time, there's simply no redeeming them.

There was no greasy residue on these sticks. Maybe that's what they needed. To both Sonia and me, they seemed like nothing more than unsalted cylindrical crackers. We're struggling to finish them. If you want breadsticks without jalapeños, we recommend buying the pull apart bread and simply removing the jalapeños, because Trader Joe's Garlic & Cheese Bread Sticks simply aren't worth the $3.49 we paid for them.

Two stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 4 out of 10.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Trader Joe's Glazed Sweet Lemon Scones

I was just daydreaming about lemon-flavored foods and remembered that silly urban legend that some lady named her twin boys Lemonjello and Orangejello after what she was eating in the maternity ward of her hospital, shortly after giving birth. Then I was thinking, "Would I ever name my kid after food? After something lemon-flavored? After Trader Joe's Glazed Sweet Lemon Scones?"

Probably not. But if I did, I'd make it a little discreet. Like I'd name my kid Joseph Lemon Scone Rodgers. There's "Joseph" in there for Trader Joe. And then "Lemon Scone" would be his middle name(s). People would call him Joe L.S. and wonder what the "L.S." stood for.

But even cooler than naming your kid after lemon-flavored food would be to have a band called The Lemon Scones. "We are The Lemon Scones, and we're here to make you think about food and get hungry and stuff! One, two, three, four..." And all their tunes would be about breakfast. I think you could forge an entire career around songs about the most important meal of the day. Maybe they'd have a B-side or two about dessert...but I'm hearing mostly just breakfast ballads. Their first album would be called Breaking the Fast.

Trader Joe's Glazed Sweet Lemon Scones are indeed glazed, sweet, and lemon-flavored. Like nearly all lemon-flavored products from Trader Joe's or anywhere else, my biggest complaint is that it could still use more lemon flavor. These are pleasantly lemony, but the tartness of the lemon is easily overshadowed by the sugary sweetness of the glaze.

Still, they're a carborrific blast of sweet-tart lemon. I like them. I generally like anything that's lemontastic. I love them for breakfast, while a Brit might say they go best with a spot of afternoon tea. I can't go lower than four and a half stars. $4.49 for six kosher scones.

Sonia likes them, too, but maybe not as much as I do. She'll give Trader Joe's Glazed Sweet Lemon Scones three and a half out of five stars.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Trader Joe's Cheddar Jalapeño Pull Apart Bread

Ahhh, the delicious jalapeño. It's like the gateway drug to the world of spicy foods. I remember thoroughly enjoying a plate of nachos during my college years. It was heaping with jalapeño pepper slices, and one of my instructors happened to walk by my work-study job as I had my lunch. "You don't strike me as a jalapeño kind of guy, Nate," he mused.

"Well there's more to me than meets the eye, Professor," I responded.

And I've been eating jalapeños ever since. The beautiful wifey introduced me to pickled jalapeño slices from brands like La Morena and La Costeña. They often come canned with carrot slices, too. The carrots soak up the jalapeño juice and become spicy just like the peppers. I love it. Perfect for tacos, nachos, or even burgers and other fusion meals.

But what about cheesy bread? I don't see why it wouldn't work. The only thing stacked against Trader Joe's Cheddar Jalapeño Pull Apart Bread is that it's not exactly fresh-baked. Heating instructions specify preparation in the oven only. Lazy bums like me that want to reheat everything in the microwave will have to put on our big boy pants. What about the air fryer? Why wouldn't that work? Meh. I'll just be good and follow the instructions for now.

Before even baking the pull-apart loaf, a visible layer of grease can be seen on the cardboard and paper part of the packaging. When you're talking breadsticks or pizza or pull-apart bread, grease almost always equals deliciousness.

And yes, the bread itself is extremely soft and nearly melt-in-your-mouth delicious after heating 12 minutes in the oven. The cheese coating is somewhat firmer than that. The jalapeños aren't exactly pristine, but then again I guess they've already been baked once.

The flavor could use both more cheddar cheese and jalapeño pepper. The bread itself is very tasty, but I think most of us came here for the cheddar jalapeño. I think if you ate this bread by itself, you'd be slightly underwhelmed, but served with tomato soup or some other kind of dip, it's pretty palatable. Sonia tried it with some queso blanco to boost the cheesiness, and she reported back with positive sentiments.

Five bucks for supposedly 6 servings. It's more like 2 servings in reality. And for the folks who like to remind me it's not Trader Joe's determining how many servings there are in these products, but rather the FDA or some other agency, I'd like to point out that I'm not aiming this criticism at any particular entity. I'm simply pointing out the fact that two people will demolish this thing in a single sitting, easily. That's just my take on the matter. Some may disagree, including those with the authority to declare that there are 6 servings when clearly there are not.

Four and a half stars from the beautiful wifey. Four out of five stars from me for Trader Joe's Cheddar Jalapeño Pull Apart Bread.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Trader Joe's Mee Krob Snackers

I did exactly zero research before purchasing and trying Trader Joe's Mee Krob Snackers. They've been trending on social media, so I thought I'd just jump in head first. far as first impressions go, I'll start with the texture. It's not unlike eating uncooked ramen noodles, though slightly more pleasant than that. The noodles here are very thin, like vermicelli style. There's a thin glaze of a reddish sauce that's similar to the coating on flavored potato chips or rice cakes. The whole thing is extremely crispy and crunchy, with some cashews thrown into the mix that add a bit of softer texture. All in all, I'm a fan of the mouthfeel, though I wish the crackers were about half as thick as they are. It'd be easier to take small bites that way.

Flavor-wise, I'll just say this: Sonia and both of her parents are huge fans. I'm not hating on Trader Joe's Mee Krob by any means, but I can't say I'm as enthused as the rest of the family. I think it boils down to the fact that I'm not super fond of tamarind in most contexts, although there are some notable exceptions to that rule. Tamarind is a quintessential flavor for a lot of Hispanic beverages and treats, and it's also one of the key ingredients here, although this has an unmistakably Asian vibe in most respects.

"Sweet, tart, and savory" sums up the flavor pretty well. I actually wish there were more cashews and cashew flavor, but the bit that's there is mostly drowned out by the tangy sauces and starches. There's a tad too much vinegar flavor in the mix for my taste, as well, though I wouldn't call it a deal-breaker.

We all agree these would make decent croutons for an Oriental or Asian salad or wrap. They'd have to be broken into smaller pieces, but they'd work well. I guess you could add them to soup, too. Sonia and mi suegros are happy to munch away straight out of the bag, but I probably won't reach for them as a stand-alone snack.

But as always, I'm very glad I had the chance to try them. About three bucks for the 3 oz bag. Vegan. Gluten free. Product of Thailand. Four and a half stars from the beautiful wifey. Three out of five stars from me for Trader Joe's Mee Krob Snackers.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Trader Joe's Chai Tea Mints

Kind of a random little last-minute checkout stand kind of purchase here. I like mints. I like the flavor of chai tea. But I've never really craved a mint that tasted like chai.

But if Trader Joe's says I need chai tea mints, then maybe I need chai tea mints. Why not?

They're about the size of your average Altoid or other brand name mint. They are leaf-shaped and have leaf veins on one side and "TJ" on the other.

The taste? Hmmm. Kinda odd. I see where they get "chai" from, for sure. I guess it's the cardamom and black tea. You can taste it immediately. Later, you can taste the hint of peppermint oil mentioned on the ingredients list. There's something chalky both in taste and texture throughout the whole experience, though. I find it rather unpalatable. Is it the calcium stearate?

Do they even freshen your breath? Well, kinda. I guess it's better to smell like a chai tea latte than garlic, onions, and tuna fish...I mean, if that's, in fact, what you had for lunch...

About two bucks for a tiny tin of chai flavored mints. There are supposedly 57 pieces in there. Vegan. Would not buy again. Two and a half stars from me.

Sonia likes them enough. In regards to the discrepancy, she states, "Well, I like chai." I do too, wifey. However, I don't like chalk. She claims she doesn't detect the chalkiness. Four stars from her.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, April 7, 2023

Trader Joe's Chromatic Celebration Cake & Baking Mix

I've often referred to myself as a "foodie-hack" on this blog and drawn attention to the fact that I'm not particularly skilled in the culinary arts. I managed to pull off some relatively photogenic cupcakes a few weeks ago but that, friends, was the exception to the rule.

Although I didn't completely butcher this batch of baked goods, I came close to it. The bag of frosting mix and the bag of cake mix weren't labeled individually, and I nearly poured the frosting base in with the eggs, milk, and oil and put it in the oven. I mean, the cake mix was yellowish and the frosting mix was white, but hey, the frosting in the Spring Cupcakes changed colors after mixing it with looks can be deceiving.

In the end I guessed correctly that the yellow mix was the cake. And fortunately, the cake part came out halfway decent yet again. It was yellow and fluffy and had lots of colored speckles all through it.

The frosting in Trader Joe's Chromatic Celebration Mix was even runnier this time. And it was oily somehow. If anything, I erred on the side of less butter than was called for, but the mix tasted and looked like there was excess butter. Maybe I didn't mix it long enough.

Also, the box made it clear to use "room temperature" butter. We only had frozen sticks of butter. I thought, "Ha. Room temperature? That's not gonna happen!" and I nuked my stick and 3/4 of butter and started mixing away. I also added the sprinkles to the frosting mixture itself before plopping it on the cupcakes, and um, well, they mostly dissolved. So that's why I opted to show you the interior of one of our cupcakes, complete with lovely colored speckles, with a few dollops of buttery off-white frosting dispersed around the base of the delicacy on the plate instead of the finished iced cupcake with colorful frosting.

Most of our readers could probably bake something like this with their eyes closed. But it seems the Spring Cupcake Mix was slightly more idiot-proof than this colorful concoction. And yes, that's me. I'm the idiot.

But they taste pretty good if I do say so myself. Pretty much your typical yellow vanilla cake mix. $4.99 for the box. Needs 2 eggs, 3/4 cup milk, 1/2 cup oil, and 14 Tbsp butter. Fun. Colorful. Would make a nice Easter treat. Four stars from the beautiful wifey. Three and a half from me on Trader Joe's Chromatic Celebration Cake & Baking Mix.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Trader Joe's Coffee & Dark Chocolate Joe-Joe's

At a quick glance, this is at least the 15th iteration of Joe-Joe's sandwich cookies that we've reviewed on this blog. And that's not including the Joe-Joe's derivative products like ice cream, cereal, and beverages that flaunt the Joe-Joe's moniker and/or contain chunks of real Joe-Joe's cookies.

That's a lot of dang cookies.

So if we're tough graders on a perfectly delicious product, it's only because Trader Joe's needs to keep setting the bar higher and higher with each Joe-Joe's product. Because what's the point of introducing new Joe-Joe's and discontinuing old ones if not to offer a better and better cookie?

I mean, honestly, Trader Joe's Joe-Joe's Chocolate Sandwich Cookies with Coffee Creme are really decent treats. They're heavy. Dense. Rich. Sonia likes the word "decadent," but I think it's overused. I mean, it's certainly applicable here, but I feel like the word "indulgent" is more appropriate somehow. I guess they mean about the same thing in the end.

Maybe we're just getting older and more boring but we each had a single cookie from the sleeve and said, "Wow. I'm done." I washed mine down with cold milk. Sonia chased hers with hot coffee. There's just so much sugar and chocolate and cookie and coffee crammed in there, just a few bites are enough to satisfy our sweet tooths. Er, sweet teeth?

There's definitely a mocha vibe. Dark chocolate and real ground coffee beans will do that. I feel like the chocolate is slightly dominant. There's "white confectionary coating" and vanilla flavors in the mix, too, so it's not a bitter dark chocolate flavor at all. It's about as candy-esque as dark chocolate gets. And then there are whispers of coffee here and there, mostly in the creamy core of the cookie.

I'm sure the interzones are ablaze with the praises of Trader Joe's Coffee and Dark Chocolate Joe-Joe's. If it's your first time at the Joe-Joe's rodeo or you just really like mocha stuff, it's a safe bet you're gonna love these. Sonia and I will easily finish the box over the next few days, but we agree it's not a re-purchase for us.

$3.49 for eight cookies. Three and a half stars a piece for <breathes in> Trader Joe's Coffee & Dark Chocolate Joe-Joe's Chocolate Sandwich Cookies with Coffee Creme in a Dark Chocolate and Coffee Coating <breathes out> from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Trader Joe's Egg Shaped Soaps

I thought about putting this review up for April Fools' Day and acting like I tried to make an omelette out of these soap eggs. But meh, the first day of April fell on a Saturday this year and we generally don't post on Saturdays and it would so obviously be a joke, it wouldn't really fool anybody. So I decided to make this an early Easter post instead.

We've only done a couple other non-food, non-beverage reviews throughout this blog's 12 and a half year history. We looked at one other type of soap, some mouthwash, and of course, the Grump Tree. So why look at Trader Joe's Egg Shaped Soaps? Because they're Easter-ish, and because I felt like it.

Just like real eggs, these come in a carton. There are only two eggs here, though, instead of a dozen. The fragrances are really nice. The pinkish-purplish egg is lavender & honey while the blue-green one is blueberry. They just smell like really expensive decorative soaps.

Like if I were a suburbanite trophy wife soccer mom, I'd totally get a basket, fill it with that fake plastic green Easter grass and buy like a dozen of these eggs. I think I'd unwrap them before placing them in the basket just so the smell would bowl you over as you walked into the bathroom. I'd never let anyone actually use them as soap and would break them out each spring, year after year, and everybody in town would talk about how great my bathroom smells around Easter.

But I'm a dude, so I just unwrapped them and started scrubbing away in the shower. And what do you know? They're good for cleaning your body and face and stuff, too. And after your shower, you smell like lavender & honey and/or blueberries. I guess the scents are a little feminine, but after throwing on deodorant and body spray, the residual smell isn't really detectable.

Sonia likes 'em. She's the one that bought them. I don't know what it is with women and decorative soaps. At least she lets me use them as actual soap. Props to you, wifey.

$2.69 for two egg-shaped soaps. Four out of five stars a piece for Trader Joe's Egg Soaps.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

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