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Friday, March 29, 2024

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Battered Halibut


Got some GF battered halibut here. That could stand for gluten free battered halibut. Could mean Good Friday halibut. Both are accurate in this case.

I know a bunch of you do the whole Lent thing where you eat fish on Fridays in the weeks leading up to Easter. That's cool. I mean, I'll eat fish any day of the week, any month of the year, but we have been hitting up the local Catholic church lately for their Fish Fry-days. It's not just the Alaskan pollock that's the attraction. They've got coleslaw, mac and cheese, scalloped potatoes, and homemade desserts, too. Quite enjoyable.


So I figured we'd look at these crispy critters today because why the heck not? Let's heat them up in the air fryer...just for the halibut. Get it? <sigh>

Anyway, this is one of those gluten free items that I might actually prefer over its wheat-based cousins. The thin coating here is so delectably crispy, it feels even better than regular batter. It's just a tad more rigid than the traditional stuff, but in a good way.


The halibut here is beautiful, flakey white fish. Absolutely no complaints there either. It goes great with tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, malt vinegar, or whatever you eat with your normal fried fish. My only grievance: the value. Twelve bucks for six or seven modestly-sized pieces of breaded fish is a little steep in my book.

But hey, you get what you pay for. I think we're still looking at about four stars from Sonia and three and a half from me for Trader Joe's Gluten Free Battered Halibut.



Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Trader Joe's Corn & Cheese Arepas


Sometimes I just have to rant about Trader Joe's preparation instructions. I recently saw a tweet, or an X post—or whatever the heck we're calling those now—from a similarly frustrated dude, and it read: Man, Trader Joe's really is just guessing at the cook times huh? Truer words were never spoken. How that tweet only got one like, I'm not sure. We can't be the only ones.

Throughout the years, I've had plenty of folks indicate that indeed TJ's heating directions are often way off the mark—usually on the short end of the spectrum. And still others have taken it upon themselves to tell me that Trader Joe's is right and that I'm a blithering idiot. That's fine. I'm no culinary wizard. That's no secret. It could be user error to some degree, for sure.


But in this case, following the stovetop instructions to a T, I wound up with a product that was still frozen solid in the middle. I mean the outer portions of the corn cakes were browning and wanting to stick to the pan and the middle portions were like a cornbread and cheese flavored popsicle. I mean, I didn't eat it that way, of course. I threw it into the oven and tried heating it through on a cookie sheet.

Fortunately, it worked. After a spell in the oven, the griddle cakes were nice and brown and just lightly crispy in a few places, and the cheese in the middle melted beautifully to the point where the cakes wanted to slide off the top a little.

The taste? It's a grilled cheese sandwich made with cornbread instead of wheat or white. We've got a large slab of soft, creamy mozzarella cheese in between two griddle cakes made of corn—not a far cry from American cornbread. It's slightly sweet, dense, and filling. The overall vibe falls somewhere in between home-cooked comfort food and something you'd get from a street vendor.


Why is this not a thing here in the states? It's not even really a thing in Mexico. ¿Por que? This treat comes all the way from South America, Colombia in particular. I love it. I want more.

$3.49 for two big arepas. Gluten free. Would definitely buy again. I recommend either thawing completely before heating on the skillet or using the conventional oven heating method. Apparently there are makeshift air fryer heating instructions floating around in cyberspace. I would have gone that route had I realized it beforehand. Anyhoo, four and a half stars from me. Four stars from Sonia for Trader Joe's Corn & Cheese Arepas.



Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Trader Joe's Fruits & Greens Smoothie Blend


Sonia and I make our own smoothies from time to time. Although the ingredients are subject to change and substitutions, we generally use blueberries, strawberries, bananas, and some kind of juice. If it involves milk or ice cream, in my mind anyway, it's a milkshake even if it does contain some fruit. So if we're talking smoothies at our house, it's generally understood that they're 100% fruit and fruit juices.


This mix has some spinach and kale included, which of course, are also fairly common smoothie ingredients. I've had pre-mixed smoothies that sneak in traces of nutrient-dense vegetables like kale successfully, but my palate is generally sensitive enough that I can taste the veggies and to some degree or another, they detract from my enjoyment of all the sweet fruit flavors. I don't want a salad smoothie. I want a fruit smoothie. If I want greens, I'll eat them on the side, heated with a little butter and salt.

The greens didn't bother Sonia one bit, but they did bug me a little. Every third sip or so, I'd taste the relatively bitter essences of spinach and kale. And it wasn't because the beverage wasn't blended enough. Our little wannabe bullet blender got the ingredients pretty darn liquefied. There was just a tad too much in the way of greens. If there had been half as much, I think it might have slid under my taste bud radar undetected.

Still, it's not a bad mix. It's bursting with berry flavor and some banana underneath. Dragon fruit is such a relatively mild taste in comparison, I don't think it affected the flavor profile in any significant way.

We've used apple, orange, and/or pineapple juices to make smoothies in the past. With these ingredients, Sonia and I both agreed apple was the way to go here, as the extra sweetness helped cover over most of the earthiness of the kale and spinach. It worked pretty well.

$3.99 for the bag, which will easily produce four or more smoothies for us, despite the three serving specification on the nutrition info. In the end, I'd rather just buy my own smoothie ingredients. This is pretty close to what I'd want, but with fewer veggies. Sonia would buy again for the convenience factor. Four stars from her. Three stars from me for Trader Joe's Fruits & Greens Smoothie Blend.



Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Trader Joe's Kanom Krok Thai Coconut Pancakes


Dang, I need to start being more adventurous when I go to Thai restaurants. If it's a place I've never been to before, nine times out of ten I'll get the pad thai on my first go around. On subsequent occasions, I might try some sort of curry or soup, but I rarely grab appetizers or desserts that I've never heard of. I've apparently been missing out.


So...people seem to be calling these "Thai pancakes." I guess I can see where that comes from. But to me, a pancake is a breakfast food—something carboriffic that you'd eat first thing in the morning alongside juice, toast, and milk. These do have a thin, crispy, doughy exterior layer, but that's just the outer shell.

It would be more accurate to call these "Thai coconut cream pies" in my opinion, because the main attraction here is the sweet, smooth pudding-like filling in the middle of the little dome-shaped treats. It's ├╝ber-coconutty and utterly superb.

The packaging says they're a good "balance of salty and sweet." Yeah, no. I'm not saying there's no salt in them, but you wouldn't reach for these if you wanted something salty. You'd reach for these when you want a blast of dessert-o-riffic silky coconut perfection—like a coconut cream pie, but better.

There's not much in the way of actual coconut texture. If you're one of those folks that doesn't like the feel of coconut shavings, you're in luck. The custard filling is fairly thick but extremely smooth. The beautiful wifey likened the creamy filling to the coconut version of sweetened condensed milk.

$3.29 for nine kanom krok, which are about two bites a piece. I really wish they sold a larger pack because it took Sonia and I about 90 seconds to demolish this entire box. If you enjoy the taste of coconut, these things are amazing. Incidentally, this was the item my Trader Joe's cashier chose for her obligatory "compliment one of the customer's choices" on my last TJ's run. No wonder. Four and a half stars a piece from the two of us for Trader Joe's Kanom Krok Thai Coconut Pancakes.



Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Trader Joe's Chicken Burrito Bowl


Well, this product looks a bit like the recently-reviewed Chicken Shawarma Bowl. It's still a microwavable serving of poultry straight outta the Great White North, but now we've got Mexican-style burrito ingredients instead of Middle Eastern cuisine. Hey, at least we're on the right continent this time around.


And while this isn't the most flavorful burrito con pollo I've ever tried, I'll give it an "A" for effort and a passing grade if you're hungry, on a budget, and/or pressed for time. At $3.49, this product is significantly less expensive than any comparable offering from Chipotle, Qdoba, or Moe's Southwest Grill. It's also not quite as tasty and obviously not fresh, but sometimes those are necessary sacrifices for those of us living life in the fast lane.

Just 4-5 minutes in the microwave yields a piping hot single-serving meal with plenty of chicken, rice, quinoa, and bits of tomato, corn, and pepper. It's not a terrible dish by any means, but it lacks that piquant kick that an authentic burrito provides. We've got some chili powder and chipotle pepper paste in the ingredients, but those flavors are way too faint in the final mixture.

Even if you're not looking for something spicy, you'll want to dress this bowl up if you can with more sour cream and cheese. If you're consuming this product at home like me, it might be prudent to break out some tortillas, lettuce, and salsa and make little tacos with this as the base. You could probably stretch the single bowl to at least two servings that way while greatly improving the taste at the same time.

If I still worked in cubicle-land, I'd consider buying this product once in a while for a work lunch, provided I could slather it with Tapatio, Cholula, or Texas Pete. Let's be nice and say three and a half stars a piece on Trader Joe's Chicken Burrito Bowl.



Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Trader Joe's Figo! Bars


Never heard of "figo" before, pronounced like "fee-go." Apparently it's an Italian word that means "cool" or, according to Google Translate, "sounds cool." I guess the idea is kinda cool: two desserts in one. One half of the treat is like a Dove bar or what have you with vanilla ice cream and a thin chocolate coating and the other half is an ice cream sandwich.


I'll tell you right now I like the chocolate coated half better. It's definitely chocolate-forward. That coating is rich and full of cocoa flavor. The ice cream is decent, but it could be more vanillatastic...you know with vanilla beans and a heavy marshmallow vibe. It tastes sweet but any actual vanilla taste is overshadowed by that chocolate. That's fine. It still works.

The vanilla ice cream is the same in the sandwich half, but there's something off-putting about the texture of the "chocolate wafers" to me. It's like oddly starchy—almost chalky. Like it makes me want to cough. Even the flavor is slightly bland in the wafers.

If you space out your bites strategically, you can have a couple mouthfuls that contain both chocolate wafer and chocolate coating. The chocolate coating continues to steal the show in these instances. However, you'll still be left with a few bites of nothing but chocolate wafer and ice cream at the end. And I don't know why, but it just feels a bit like fancy Italian sawdust to me.

Sonia entered the room just as she was getting to the second half of her bar. "I really like these cookies!" she exclaimed, in reference to the items I just likened to the byproduct of a high school wood shop class.

"Well, now that we agree on that..." I said.

Despite their shortcomings, the wafers didn't completely ruin my enjoyment of these imported desserts. But would I buy them again? I dunno. I'm on the fence, but the beautiful wifey sure would.

$4.49 for six bars, found in the frozen section. Three and a half stars from me, four and a half from Sonia for Trader Joe's Figo! Half Dipped Chocolate & Vanilla Flavored Sandwich Bars.



Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Trader Joe's Tennessee Bourbon Whiskey


I've only been to Tennessee once, and I didn't get to spend much time there. I saw a bit of Memphis and the surrounding area, but everything from Nashville to Smoky Mountains NP is pretty high on our list of places to visit when we hit the road again. I've known some folks from the state, and every single one of them seemed like good salt-of-the-earth types.

Other than that, I don't know much about Tennessee, and I certainly don't know much about whiskey. So all I can offer you is an honest opinion, not an expert one. If you want a connoisseur's take on this product, they're out there for sure. Hint: they HATE this stuff.

I will say this: Trader Joe's Tennessee Bourbon Whiskey is a little sweeter than most other whiskeys I've tried, which isn't really a big deal either way in my book. It looks, smells, and tastes a bit like caramel to me. It has a thin consistency, and it's a bit oaky.

Sonia says it reminds her of Old Forester, which is a Kentucky bourbon. Kentucky and Tennessee share a lengthy border on the map, so their whiskeys are probably similar, right? She enjoyed this beverage neat as well as with ginger beer and lime juice.

Me? I'll stick to gin. I like this stuff as much as any other cheap whiskey, but in the end, it's just not my thing. $14.99 for the fifth. Three out of five stars from me. Four out of five from the beautiful wifey for Trader Joe's Tennessee Bourbon Whiskey.



Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Trader Joe's Mini Mochi Rice Nuggets


So many Japanese food products can be called "mochi," things can get a bit confusing. The first mochi I learned about were spherical ice cream treats with a soft, stretchy rice shell. Then I discovered sweet, chewy little rice bits called mochi served as toppings at all those frozen yogurt places. Then I became aware of appetizers with mushrooms inside also known as mochi. And we've seen at least two iterations of these crunchy mochi from Trader Joe's, one with a rock band theme and another with a spicy fire motif on the packaging. What do they all have in common? Well, rice, I suppose. Other than that, there's quite a gamut of Asian snacks, desserts, and appetizers all bestowed with the moniker "mochi."


But what's in a name, right? Are these little guys any good? Well, they're very much like, though not identical to, the above-mentioned rock band-themed mochi rice nuggets. The most obvious difference: these ones are smaller. You might have guessed that from the word "mini" in the product title. They are miniature indeed. They are essentially dime-sized, as seen in the photo.

The only other differences are alternate types of oils and lecithins used in the ingredients. Both contain rice and sea salt. They're crispy, crunchy, and very mild in terms of flavor.

I don't particularly care for them as stand-alone snacks, but Sonia likes them that way. They turned out to be great additives for soups and salads. You don't even necessarily need an Asian salad for them to work, either. Their taste is neutral enough that I loved them thrown into my typical spring mix with spinach, chickpeas, mozzarella, and Italian dressing.

Soup-wise, they work with everything from tomato to ramen to vegetable. If you're craving a crunch in your soup, these are basically just rice-based croutons. Other suggestions I've read about but not yet tried include: adding them to eggs, casseroles, or noodles, or even smashing them up and using them as gluten-free breading or crust. All of those sound tasty.

At $2 for the resealable bag, it's hard to complain about the value either. While I can't really feature myself ever craving these crispy crunchy croutons by themselves, I would totally purchase them again for their versatility as an additive to other foods. Sonia likes them both ways. Four stars from her. Three and a half stars from me for Trader Joe's Mini Mochi Rice Nuggets.



Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Trader Joe's Italian Tomato & Red Onion Focaccia


"Focaccia" sounds so much fancier than "pizza," right? Pizza is what kids eat at Chuck E. Cheese. Even "flatbread" sounds kinda lame and boring if you think about it. All bread is pretty much flat. Why would I want to eat bread thats most noteworthy feature is its flatness?


Fortunately, the bread in this product is quite delicious. It's puffy, rich, and doughy with both wheat and rice flours. It's gourmet quality all the way...and it's by far the best part of the product.

The toppings? Well, the quality is there in my humble opinion...but the quantity? That's a problem. We need more of everything. We need a sauce. We need some cheese. We need about ten times the onions and at least double the tomatoes. Sonia agrees. The few toppings that were there were all crammed in the middle, too. The outer portions were completely bare.

We need big slabs of buffalo mozzarella or some pecorino romano here. We need calabrian chili sauce or some top-shelf marinara. I dunno. It just needs...more. I know, I know, I can dress it up myself, but the packaging makes it look like a standalone appetizer if not a standalone meal.

Three bucks for a decent slab of focaccia bread isn't a terrible deal, but we both just expected better from the fixins. Probably wouldn't buy again. Three and a half stars from the beautiful wifey. Three out of five stars from me for Trader Joe's Italian Tomato & Red Onion Focaccia.



Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Trader Joe's Organic Chocolate Chip Granola Bites


Well, this is pretty much your average chocolate chip granola bar rolled into tiny balls. There are five little bags of balls with about eight balls in each bag. Appropriately, each ball is a single bite...hence the name, "bites." It's not one of those products where they call them "bites" but they wind up being two or three bites each. These balls are indeed "bite-sized."

Okay, I've said the word "balls" enough to last me a while. I'll try to refrain from using it for the rest of this review.


The bites are sweet, oaty, and filling. Since the product is dairy-free, the chocolate bits have cocoa and sugar, but no milk. They balance out the grainy flavors pretty well. There's agave syrup and dried apple in there, too, but somehow the bites aren't overly sugary.

We like the artwork on the packaging both for being unique and clever, but also for being appropriate. These snacks are perfect for road trips and on-the-go snacking. Just one bag can curb the munchies pretty effectively and keep your blood sugar up for quite a while.


$2.99 for the box. Organic. Vegan. Gluten free. Would buy again. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me for Trader Joe's Organic Chocolate Chip Granola Bites.



Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Trader Joe's Korean Gochujang Sauce

Let me explain something about myself. I love condiments. I love sauces. When I eat French fries, I'm an absolute ketchup fiend. I like mustard, mayo, relish, onions, chili, and cheese sauces on my 'Murican stuff. On my foreign foods, I like
sriracha, sweet Thai chili, garlic spread, tzatziki, zhoug, chutney...you name it.

I think places like Chick-fil-a are outstanding not because they have the best chicken, although theirs is definitely up there, but because they have the best dipping sauces. Freaking Polynesian sauce? Come on, man. You can't beat that. The only reason I ever patronize Subway anymore is to get my chicken teriyaki sandwich absolutely drowned in that sweet onion sauce. Why they took away the red wine vinaigrette, I'll never know.

I'm on record stating ketchup is my favorite condiment of all time, followed closely by sriracha. I'll stand by that. Like sriracha, this sauce is made with fermented red chilis, but it hails from Korea rather than Thailand. A purchase was inevitable.

We've seen Gochujang Paste from Trader Joe's before. That's more like the unadulterated source material while this product is truly a sauce ready for application and implementation. It's not quite as potent, spice-wise, since it's mixed with rice vinegar and soy sauce. While that previous product was a thick paste, this condiment is thin and smooth like ketchup or sriracha.


Heat-wise, it's right in the middle of the spectrum. It provides a kick, for sure, but you don't have to worry about wasabi-like sinus-clearing pain, even if you use a bit too much. As far as flavor goes, it tastes more fermented than sriracha to me. It's almost like a kimchi made with red peppers. Also, the vinegar flavor is much stronger in this particular sauce and it's not nearly as sweet. For those reasons, sriracha will easily maintain its position as the second best condiment in existence for me.


Sonia? She likes this stuff better. She's a bigger fan of kimchi than I am and of fermented flavors in general. She also enjoys vinegary stuff more than I do. She thinks of it like an Asian version of Tapatio or Cholula. I'll admit it does go well with tacos and sour cream. Mexican-Korean fusion for the win. We also mixed it with mayo and tried it on a cheeseburger. Not bad, not bad. Sonia also LOVES this product with eggs.

$3.49 for the 9.17 oz bottle. Would buy again. I'll throw out three and a half stars. Put the beautiful wifey down for four and a half on Trader Joe's Korean Gochujang Sauce.



Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Trader Joe's Raspberry Mousse Cakes


There's a whole series of these little mousse cakes that TJ's does. Usually, they're chocolate. You know, they have Chocolate Mousse Eggs for Easter season, pumpkins for Halloween, and presents for Christmas. Also there's a larger single cake for Valentine's, which might still be around. They'll all run you about four bucks and have pretty much the same flavor.

Finally, they tried something a little different, and I'm glad they didn't try cramming chocolate of any kind into this product. They're tiny white cakes with raspberry buttercream on top and a candy coating all around. They're soft, sweet, and satisfying.


The cake portion has a nice vanilla flavor. It's not too heavy or rich at all. I like it just fine, but the raspberry buttercream steals the show. They used actual raspberries and real butter. It's thick, smooth, and very tasty. The outer coating just kinda holds the whole thing together. It's very similar to the coating on those other mousse cakes mentioned above.

We were tempted to eat the whole package in one sitting, but we managed to space it out to two. No real complaints other than we wish there were more in the pack, and I think they could cram some more of that delectable raspberry buttercream into each cake, but hey, they're pretty darn good as they are.


$3.99 for six small but scrumptious raspberry cakes, found with the baked goods. Four and a half stars from Sonia, who states "This is the kind of stuff Marie Antoinette would eat at parties." Four stars from me for Trader Joe's Raspberry Mousse Cakes.



Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Trader Joe's Organic Super Bread


Look! Up on the shelf in the baked goods section! It's a bagel! It's a pastry! It's Superbread!

I don't know if I'd call this bread "super" myself, but it is very earthy and seedy and unique, not to mention certified organic. For the third review in a row, Sonia is way more positive about the product than I am, although in the end, this product will get a thumbs up from me, too.

My in-laws have been sending us this delicious bread from Le Pain Quotidien that has nuts and seeds and dried fruit all through it. It's not dessert bread, but there is a bit of sweetness to it and it's amazing. I thought this bread might be Trader Joe's version of the same bread. And while it is similar in some ways, it's not quite as scrumptious as that LPQ selection.


Despite the "organic dried apple" mentioned in the ingredients, this bread really isn't very sweet at all. Aside from the wheat flour, seeds are far and away the dominant flavor and they add a lot to the texture, too. We've got pumpkin, flax, and sunflower here.

The most unexpected element? Carrots. I mean I guess it wouldn't be "unexpected" if I had actually bothered to read the front of the bag, but I tend to just impulsively yoink stuff off the shelves these days and ask questions later. But yeah, there are thin carrot slivers all through the bread. I wouldn't have expected that to work, but it does. Sonia is absolutely mad about the carrot bits. It'll be hard to go back to dollar store bread after this gourmet stuff.

Organic super bread isn't bad raw, but both Sonia and I prefer it toasted. It's nice with either butter or cream cheese. It's versatile enough to make sandwiches of all kinds. I don't know if I'd reach for this for, like, peanut butter and jelly. But for cold cuts and cheese it works well.

Organic. Kosher. $3.99 for the loaf. Sonia says a re-purchase is inevitable. That's fine, dear. That's fine. Four and a half stars from her. Like I said, I like it and will eat some here and there, but I can't muster quite the same enthusiasm as the beautiful wifey. Three and a half stars from me for Trader Joe's Organic Super Bread.



Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

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