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Friday, June 28, 2024

Trader Joe's Chicken Karaage

Sonia and I are both fascinated with Japanese culture. We often watch travel videos from the Land of the Rising Sun and we just finished Tokyo Vice season 2. Good show. Needless to say, Japan is on our bucket list for travel destinations. We both even took a stab at learning a bit of Japanese via the Duolingo app. I've since given up. I can barely learn Spanish.

For the most part, we really enjoy Japanese cuisine, too. We're both fond of good sushi. Sonia is big into authentic ramen dishes, and I love tempura anything. So I figured breaded chicken with some alluring Japanese dipping sauce would be absolutely scrumptious.

And I'm sure this dish has its fan base, but I wound up kinda wishing I just had a box full of Chick-fil-A nuggets and some honey mustard instead of this karaage. It's not terrible, it's just a bit oily and not super flavorful. The sauce, made of canola oil, egg yolk, vinegar, and garlic powder, along with a few other things, isn't too far a cry from plain mayonnaise if you ask me.

The chicken is all leg. I'm more of a white meat guy, to be honest. While most were soft and good quality dark meat, a few of the pieces were unpleasantly gristly and chewy. The breading was nice and crispy, but it didn't add a whole lot as far as taste is concerned.

Sonia was busy with work when I asked for her thoughts on this chicken dish.

"S'good," she blurted flatly.

I'll interpret that as something like 7 out of 10 stars.

$6.49 for the four serving bag, found in the frozen aisle. Looks like it's simply "Japanese inspired" rather than a true Japanese import. I'd love to hear your thoughts if you're familiar with authentic karaage. All I can tell you is that this wasn't my favorite, but you can't say I didn't have a go at it. I'd try the dish again but probably wouldn't purchase this TJ's offering a second time. Six out of ten stars for me for Trader Joe's Chicken Karaage.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Trader Joe's Lemon Ginger Cheesecake

While slicing my first piece of this cheesecake, I accidentally cut a bit too shallow in the middle of the dessert, leaving a bite-sized triangle of graham crackery crust all by itself with no lemony cream cheese on top still sitting there near the center of the confection. I made another incision to free the little section of grahamy goodness and popped it into my mouth. There was the expected graham cracker flavor, typical of traditional cheesecake, but there was also an unexpected blast of raw ginger.

Dang, I thought. This has too much ginger flavor. There's no way the lemon can shine through all this ginger. It was like a gingersnap cookie with, if anything, a bit too much raw ginger in the mix. Then I dug my fork into the slice, getting plenty of the creamy lemon layers, and tasted it...

Not only did the sweet-tart lemon outshine the ginger, it nearly eclipsed it completely. Each bite got more and more lemony, with real bits of lemon peel and rich, creamy cheese flavors. By the end of that slice, I'd nearly forgotten the gingery zing of that first bite of crust. I actually found myself wishing for a little more ginger flavor. It was nice to have it in the crust, but I feel like the body of the cheesecake could have used some ginger in order to balance out the lemon...and I'm a big fan of lemon flavored desserts.

The texture was just a tad spongier than I would have preferred, but you tend to get that with frozen cheesecakes. It's difficult to replicate that perfect dense creaminess you get with something fresh from a bakery. And the day-old slices tasted and felt tangibly less fresh than those that we tried immediately after thawing. Still, the cheesecake was thick and smooth and had a pleasant mouthfeel even if it wasn't a flawless representation of true fresh cheesecake.

The real draw here is the sweet and sour lemon zing. It's a nice summer dessert, and even just a small slice is quite satisfying. There are supposedly six servings in the box, but I think you could easily stretch it to eight or more.

$7.99 for the whole cheesecake. I don't think Sonia and I will buy this again just for ourselves, but I'd consider taking this to a group picnic or large gathering in the future. I give Trader Joe's Lemon Ginger Cheesecake 7/10 stars. Sonia will go with 8/10.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Trader Joe's Organic Uncured Grass Fed Beef Hot Dogs

Ah, nothing's more 'Murican than throwing a package of hot dogs on the grill in the middle of the summer, sun high overhead, beads of sweat on your forehead from the heat and humidity, Old Glory waving above the front stoops of each house on the block, birds singing, dogs barking, children laughing, and the smell of salty, smoky meat wafting through the air. Almost heaven.

On this occasion, however, we opted to cook these weenies indoors. I think the George Foreman approximates a grill somewhat better than an air fryer does, plus we haven't fired it up in quite a while, so we dug deep in the kitchen cupboard and dusted off the old relic. Still worked like a charm. In minutes, we had some nice brown hotdogs ready for buns and toppings.

And the ingredients here don't get much cleaner or simpler. We've got organic beef, water, and a dozen or so organic spices and seasonings. Nice.

They tasted pretty standard for all-beef hotdogs. Not bad by any means. But honestly, I think I prefer the taste of Hebrew National for reasons I can't quite put my finger on.

Texture-wise, the casings on these dogs really hindered my enjoyment of them. With most bites, there was a moment of hesitation where the chunk of meat refused to separate fully from the rest of the hotdog and a bit of skin had me yanking the product away from my face while I clutched the beef with my teeth and pulled in the opposite direction. Once again, Hebrew National for the win in terms of texture. I'm only using Hebrew National because they're the gold standard for all-beef hotdogs in my experience, and I do believe most Trader Joe's carry them, too.

About six bucks for six hotdogs. While the ingredients are impeccable, I just can't go too high with my score since there's a better product on the shelf right next to these puppies. Once again, we're always interested in hearing your opinion of the product, so fire away in the comments section. Nathan and Sonia will go with the same score here for Trader Joe's Organic Uncured Grass Fed Beef Hot Dogs.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, June 21, 2024

Meikakuna Japanese Blended Whisky

Having lived in five different US states and having at least set foot in 40 of them, I can tell you this country's attitude toward alcoholic beverages is anything but uniform. Liquor laws not only vary state to state, but also county to county and town to town.

Some places you can buy any type of alcohol in just about every type of establishment—convenience stores, grocery stores, you name it. In other locales, the only way to get booze is through government-operated "state stores" or "bottle shops." In Utah, they recently raised the alcohol-by-volume limit from 4% to 5% for beer available in grocery stores. And there are still dozens of "dry counties" and "dry communities" throughout America where no alcohol is available at all.

Trader Joe's stores have to abide by the local laws, so naturally there are plenty of TJ's stores that can't sell any alcoholic beverages. Others can only sell beer and wine. Still more can sell whatever booze products they want. Currently, our closest Joe's does indeed carry beer, wine, and hard liquor, so every once in a while, we'll sample something relatively Japanese whisky.

In case you're new here, Sonia tends to gravitate towards Irish whiskey while I consider myself a gin man. I was not particularly enamored with this product, in stark contrast to the delightful Japanese gin reviewed last year, while Sonia liked it nearly as much as her current favorite, Jameson.

We tried this beverage a few different ways. I liked it on the rocks best and Sonia preferred it neat. The whisky poured a yellowish color. On the nose and up front, we detected something lightly fruity and sweet. To me, the body tasted oddly spicy, almost like a muted cinnamon flavor at times. I thought the spices here were somewhat intense and interrupted the otherwise smooth essences of the beverage, but the beautiful wifey didn't seem to mind it.

I've heard this is a Trader Joe's exclusive. Not sure why they don't slap their name on it, but I'm sure they have their reasons. $29.99 for the 750 mL bottle. Probably would not buy again but it was interesting to try, although there's a good chance Sonia will pick up another bottle for herself at some point. Something like 6 out of 10 stars from me for Meikakuna Japanese Blended Whisky. Sonia will go with 8 out of 10.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Trader Joe's Savory Squares

Ah, nice. New crackers. Might as well try 'em. Kosher. Vegan. Gluten free, too, eh? Must be rice-based or something like that. Wait. Nut and seed flour? Tapioca, almond, sunflower seed, flaxseed, and potato-based?? Now this I gotta taste. To be honest, I'm a bit skeptical, but there's no way we're not trying these immediately.

From the moment you open the bag, there's an interesting smell. It's nutty, I'd say...not very cheesy to be honest...and definitely not like your ordinary wheat-based cracker. And the taste? I'm glad I went in with zero expectations, because I think I would have been disappointed if I had been craving a traditional Cheez-It type cracker. I mean, sure, it's an obvious comparison, but I don't find these fascinating alternative crackers to be a substitution for the classic wheat and cheese-based snack. 

I wouldn't say they're better than Cheez-Its. I wouldn't really say they're worse, either. They're just...different. I'm quite puzzled by these other reactions online that say these are "100% a dupe for a Cheez-It." I strongly disagree with that assertion.

These are like wannabe Cheez-Its from a health food store. I grew up with a wheat allergy when I was young. This tastes like the weird, expensive stuff my parents would give me to make me think I wasn't missing out on anything. When my friends would sneak me a taste of the real deal, I knew I was missing out on something.

As I got older, however, items with that health food store kinda vibe really grew on me. As a young adult without access to a Trader Joe's, I found myself craving that alternative stuff but actually buying the name brand wheat-based products simply because they were cheaper and easier to find in regular grocery stores. Now I'm middle-aged and I can buy original Cheez-Its or their alternative flour counterparts whenever I want to.

I'm not usually in the mood for cheesy crackers, but if I got a craving, I'd probably just get traditional Cheez-Its three quarters of the time and something like Trader Joe's Savory Squares the other quarter. Sonia doesn't like the aftertaste of these crackers. She thinks they're a little too bitter. She also thinks the texture is too hard and dense as compared to Cheez-Its and other wheat-based crackers.

$3.99 for the five serving box. I appreciate these crackers for their unique ingredients and pleasant crunchy texture but I don't think they're really my thing in the end. Six out of ten stars from me. Sonia will go with six out of ten as well for Trader Joe's Savory Squares. Let us know what you think of this product down in the comments, particularly if you're on a vegan or gluten-free diet.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Monday, June 17, 2024

Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Chocolate Granola

When I was a kid, I had to have sugary cereal first thing in the morning. Nothing else would get me out of bed. Bacon and eggs? Nah. Not my thing, certainly not minutes after waking up. Sugar was like my caffeine up until the age of 22 or so. After that first dose of candy coated morsels in a bowl and an episode of Inspector Gadget, I was ready to face my day.

Now I'm the opposite. Lately, cereal has been like a mid-afternoon sweet tooth craving type snack for me rather than breakfast. I do like some sugar in the form of a beverage in the morning, but the food I crave first thing when I'm up is more like lunch or dinner fare. Peanut butter and chocolate on rolled oats with milk sounds like a nice pick-me-up later in the day.

Some granola can be unpleasantly hard. I feel like this product has a nice granola crunch, but the mouthfeel is tempered by copious amounts of peanut butter and chocolate, both of which are much softer than plain granola. Mix some milk into the equation and we've got some bite-sized nuggets that are downright soft on the outside but still firm and crunchy underneath.

Flavor-wise, there's a pretty nice balance of chocolate and peanut butter. I'll almost always err in the direction of peanut butter when mixing the two—not that I have anything against good chocolate. It is "dark chocolate," which is generally not my preferred variety, but I feel it works quite well in this case when played against peanut butter, sweetened crisp rice, and vanilla in the background. This product tastes vastly better than Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Protein Granola in my humble opinion, but then again, this one doesn't have pea protein, so it was always going to do better in the flavor department.

It's great for turning plain yogurt into a Reese's-esque treat, or it's fine in milk or even just straight out of the package. It could serve as breakfast, dessert, or a mid-day snack with equal proficiency in each case. It's one of the better granola products I've had recently and I really can't think of any major complaints.

$3.99 for the resealable bag. Kosher. Would buy again. Nathan's score: 8/10. Sonia's score: 9/10 for Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Chocolate Granola.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Trader Joe's Fair Trade Organic Colombian Coffee K-Cups

As our attempt to maintain a minimalistic lifestyle grows ever more futile by the day, I'm slowly realizing ownership of certain items is nearly unavoidable despite not wanting to own a bunch of stuff—things like: furniture, a microwave, an air fryer, and yes, a Keurig.

And as many of you know, Sonia is a big coffee person. Once upon a time in the 90s, she owned her own mini espresso machine, back when she worked for Starsucks. At our old house, she had a traditional coffee maker. While we were on the road, she used a French press for a while and then switched to instant coffee. But hey, we're in sticks and bricks still for the time being and we've got all this space. Might as well fill it up with appliances and stuff <sigh> hence the Keurig.

I drink coffee once in a blue moon, but I'm more of an energy drink guy for the most part so I'll let the beautiful wifey do most of the analysis on this product. She says Trader Joe's Fair Trade Organic Colombian Coffee is well-balanced. It's not bitter or over-roasted. She likes that the coffee is organic, too. I'll add that this coffee definitely didn't make me gag or anything, not even when I tried it plain without sugar or creamer.

I've purchased some K-Cups for Sonia so I'm well aware of how pricey they can be. At $5.29 for 12 single serve cups, this Trader Joe's product is quite a bargain. It says "fair trade" so we'll just go ahead and assume the coffee farmers didn't get ripped off too badly...

Would buy again. Product of Colombia. Kosher. I'll defer to the beautiful coffee connoisseur for final scoring on this one. She gives Trader Joe's Fair Trade Organic Colombian Coffee 9/10 stars.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Trader Joe's Chocolate Chip Mini Croissant Swirls

We bought this product relatively recently, but since then it has been brought to my attention that this item is "on a production hold" or something to that effect. Pretty sure that translates to "it's discontinued and you'll never see it again," but just in case there are some bags left in your local TJ's freezer or they resume production at some point in the future, we'll go ahead and review it because why not? There are yummy-looking croissants in my freezer so I'm going to eat them and tell you my thoughts...

The French consistently do pastries quite well. And this is, indeed, a product of France. The bread part of this dessert is scrumptious—flaky, buttery, simultaneously crispy and soft. It's a top-shelf baked good all the way. Sonia loved dunking her croissants in coffee and slurping the java off the bottom of the miniature pastries.

The chocolate chips are tiny, but there's a surprisingly generous amount of them in the swirls. They come out of the oven semi-melted from the heat, and then they finish melting in your mouth. Quite good. Truth be told, I'd probably gravitate toward a fruit filling or maybe even some kind of custard or cream, but I can't complain about milk chocolate in the end. The swirls aren't nearly as delicious after they've cooled fully, but we can't fault them for not being know, when they're not fresh.

$3.99 for eight small but bakery-quality croissants. Would buy again (if it ever returns). Another eight out of 10 star affair for Nathan. Seven out of 10 for Sonia on Trader Joe's Chocolate Chip Mini Croissant Swirls. Not bad.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Trader Joe's Organic Italian Dressing with Romano Cheese

This is a really nice creamy Italian dressing with a surprising amount of Romano cheese flavor and good, quality organic ingredients. It's moderately robust and tangy, flavor-wise. As far as texture is concerned, it's medium thick—thicker than most oil and vinegar type salad dressings but not quite as thick as other cream-based condiments.

We've had it with spring mix, spinach, arugula, and cabbage slaw, and it works well in each case. We've tried it in sub sandwiches in lieu of typical mustard and mayo and it's great in that context, too. I'm sure it'd be fine if you used a thin glaze of this dressing on a pasta salad or maybe even something like the feta, pepper drop, and olive antipasto.

The cheese tends to settle on the bottom of the bottle so some agitation is required before pouring. The cheese bits are very fine—not chunky at all. For the most part, they don't separate from the liquid part of the dressing when poured as larger pieces of cheese might have.

$2.99 for the 12 serving bottle. Would buy again. Nathan and Sonia both give the same score for Trader Joe's Organic Italian Dressing with Romano Cheese

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Trader Joe's Vanilla Cookie Thins

Let's see, serving size is 9 cookies, with about 9 servings per container. I'm no math whiz but by my calculations, that should be 81 cookies in the box. But wait. There are two sleeves that are the same height, so that would imply an even number.

Well, I guess that's where that word "about" comes into play. I'm not actually going to count the cookies and I think to some degree, they're predicting very few people will actually do that, so let's just say there are 80 cookies here.

To be honest, I like the lemon thins quite a bit better than these. I mean, vanilla is fine as a flavor. And there's a decent amount of vanilla taste considering just how thin these thins really are.

The carb count isn't super hefty, you know, considering they're cookies. They pair up with ice cream and other desserts pretty well, so I can't hate on them too bad.

$4.49 for the pack. Kosher. Sonia would buy again. I'd happily consume these again if they appeared in the cupboard, but I would not go out of my way to purchase a second time. Sonia's score: 8/10 stars. Nathan's score: 7/10 for Trader Joe's Vanilla Cookie Thins.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Trader Joe's Dutch Griddle Cakes

Those Dutch are apparently pretty savvy when it comes to breakfasty, carby, cakey stuff. Stroopwafels, anyone? These aren't quite as desserty as stroopwafels, but they're thick and hearty and bread-o-riffic, and they go great with butter and syrup and anything you might put on a good ol' 'Murican pancake.

And that's probably what they're most obviously comparable to: pancakes. But there is an element of something...denser than a pancake. I wanted to say, like, an English muffin or a Welsh cake, but no. Neither of those are quite right. When all else fails, I check to see what says, and they nailed it when they compared these puppies to crumpets. Those TJ's crumpets might have been the only honest-to-goodness crumpets I've ever had, but I remember the texture and it was just delightfully deep and dense, and wasn't too far a cry from these doughy Dutch discs.

They're a little buttery even before you put butter on them. Maybe it's the canola oil? Are we even supposed to be eating canola oil? I've given up on figuring out what's good for me these days. That young muscular guy who never wears a shirt says donuts are good for me and that crazy old man with the suit and bowtie says I shouldn't be eating garbanzo beans. Me am confusion. I digress.

A reader mentioned that these go great with the recently-reviewed chicken breakfast sausage patties. Dang, I wish we had saved one because I bet that would be an excellent combo. But these are very tasty on their own, too—pancake style.

$3.49 for eight griddle cakes. Product of the Netherlands. Would buy again. 8 out of 10 stars from both Sonia and Nathan for Trader Joe's Dutch Griddle Cakes.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Trader Joe's Shrimp Boom Bah

The name "Shrimp Boom Bah" made complete sense to me until I started thinking about it. I couldn't even think of the phrase that it was mimicking at first. Then it dawned on me: "sis boom bah." And then I couldn't even recall what that phrase meant or in what context I'd heard it. Wiktionary says it's a phrase of encouragement synonymous with "hooray" commonly used in US cheerleading. Oh. Duh. "Rah, rah, sis boom bah." That's clever...I guess.

The spice level of Trader Joe's Shrimp Boom Bah is right in that sweet spot where there's plenty of kick but it doesn't interfere with the other flavors or your enjoyment of the meal. It has quite a bit of heat, but not to the point of pain. Both the breading on the shrimp and the bright orange boom boom sauce contain some spice but I think most of it is coming from the condiment.

There's a nice thick, high-quality breading that contains rice, corn, and wheat elements. It's like a cross between traditional American fried shrimp batter and an Asian tempura type coating. The shrimp are big enough that you can taste and feel them quite readily even despite the heavy batter. 

Both the mouthfeel and flavor of the shrimp are on point, and I'm a tough grader when it comes to shrimp. Sonia loves that the sauce is simultaneously creamy, sweet, and spicy...and that they actually give you a generous amount of it.

$8.99 for the box, which is honestly pretty inexpensive for any type of shrimp these days, let alone this restaurant-quality product that actually comes with its own delicious dipping sauce. We would absolutely buy Trader Joe's Shrimp Boom Bah again. What could possibly make it better? Make it with jumbo shrimp next time. Both Sonia and Nathan give the same score once again.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10 stars.

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