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Showing posts with label appetizer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label appetizer. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Trader Joe's Cornbread Bites

Cornbread bites feel Thanksgivingy enough. I mean, we had some with our Turkey Day meal, and they were hearty enough, heavy enough to pair up with Turkey-Less Turkey and stuffing—indulgent enough to be one of my favorite elements of the entire meal.

Sonia's parents, my in-laws or "mi suegros" en español, generally don't celebrate major holidays like Christmas and Easter since their roots are considered pagan. It's a pentecostal thing. They make an exception for Thanksgiving, though, since it's about giving thanks. How appropriate that these appetizers bring traditional American delights like cornbread together with serrano chiles, native to Mexico. It's a great match, in my opinion.

Trader Joe's Cornbread Bites are super cheesy, full of delicious pepper jack. There's a moderate amount of heat, as well as a moderate amount of sweetness.

Southern cornbread purists might be a little disappointed. I've known Southerners to go on rants about how tea has to always be sweet and cornbread must never be so. Fortunately, I'm a Yankee boy and we had our Thanksgiving in the northern midwest this year, so we didn't hear much in the way of dissenting opinions about this particular sweetened cornbread.

Truth be told, the cornbread isn't really the main attraction here. The shells are a little thinner than I would have assumed. Many bites have more cheese and pepper than cornbread by my estimation, although that does vary from piece to piece, as some of the bites had more cheese leak out than others.

That might be my biggest complaint. The appetizers were all frumpy looking when they came out of the oven, cheese piled outside the apps. They looked nothing like the pic on the box, and they weren't particularly crispy when baked for exactly 15 minutes at 400°.

It's a minor complaint, though. They still tasted great. Cornbread + cheese + peppers = scrumptious. Twelve bites for $3.99. Almost everyone at our Thanksgiving feast agreed, these are a thumbs up—probably in the ballpark of four stars a piece out of five for Trader Joe's Cornbread Bites with Pepper Jack Cheese and Serrano Chile Peppers from this guy. 

Sonia was slightly less enthused, stating "I don't really like cornbread that much." I think it's because she waited too long to try her bites, and she had to nuke them to make them warm again. I tried a bit of her microwave-reheated ones, and they weren't even close to as good as the ones straight from the oven. She wanted to give them only three stars, but the rest of us think that's a bit too low—so three and a half, I guess.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Trader Joe's Grainless Cassava & Coconut Tortilla Chips and Trader Joe's Romesco Dip

Probably like a lot of you, a lot went by the wayside this year for us. Vacation? Nah. Day trips to Idlewild, our designated family happy space? Season pass went unused. Schools are still not back to "normal," whatever that means any more, and I spend at least half the week in pajamas because when you start work no later than 5am in your own basement, that's a perfectly acceptable dress code. As opposed to the one time on the weekend at the office, where wearing PJs with a couple work buddies raised some eyebrows but no HR complaints, thank goodness. 

It's been a weird year, to put it mildly. 

One traditional holdover, though, that has not quit nor will it ever is the idea of having a family "snacky dinner" as we call it. it's up there with our Friday night jammie/movie/pizza nights in terms of favorites. Simple enough - get some cold cuts, cheeses, olives, pickles, chips, dips, hummus, veggies, fruits, whatever and we all pick at whatever we want to do for dinner. Nobody has to eat anything they don't want to, as long as they hit the major food groups. It's terrific, and we're always on the look out for new/new-to-us components. 

So, while on a trip for snacky supplies and I saw Trader Joe's Grainless Cassava & Coconut Tortilla Chips and also Trader Joe's Romesco Dip, it was a no-brainer for something new to chew. 

Let's start with the chips. If anything, I'm impressed by how normal they are, as there seems like a lot going on from the bag's description. No grains. Cassava, which is kinda like a potato but not quite, and coconut, fried in avocado oil, with some white pepper and garlic. No flour. No corn. None of the "normal" comforts of a typical tortilla chip. But yet, in an eyes-closed test, they might almost pass as near-variant of a usual tortilla instead of a complete reinvention. The biggest difference, naturally, is the texture - a tad crunchier, a wee less crispier, and more of a dry to "sandy" feel to them. Without knowing too much different and if unaware of ingredients, I'd guess they might be baked, because there's much more that feel. The flavor by themselves isn't awful but not terrific either - there's just something about white pepper that makes things taste off to me. Maybe that's my lack of sophistication more than anything else. Regardless, the flavor quickly disappears when dipped into most anything if that's what you wanna do...

...and you just might wanna do it with the TJ's Romesco Dip. Granted, cassava chips likely aren't a traditional use of romesco - there's likely a Catalonian fisherman somewhere rolling his eyes - but that doesn't mean they can't be snacky buddies. This is some pretty dang good stuff. The base is mainly roasted red bell pepper and tomatoes which add a little sweetness but are tamed in by the olive oil/almond butter base, with some ground almonds in there to boot. The mouthfeel isn't offputting in the least - it's a bit soupier and softly grittier than hummus, but along those lines - but works exceptionally well. With some crushed chili pepper mixed in, there's the smidgiest smidge of heat, but the whole feel is warm, hearty, zesty and glowing, not spicy. Just...flavor. Lots of it. Lots and lots of yummy flavor, and it was an instant hit. I'm glad I got more than bite or two. 

Of course, there's plenty of ways to enjoy these chips and/or the dip. For the chippies, eat 'em plain if thats your thing, nab some nachos, grab some guac, swim 'em in salsa, whatever. It's a tortilla chip, it'll work. The romesco strikes me as very versatile - though I haven't tried it this way, I'd imagine with grilled fish or chicken, or with a little pasta, it'd be great! Always open to ideas you can leave in the comments as well.  

So yeah. Big thanks to TJ's for another snacky dinner success and a couple new usual snack time rotation members. The purchase price wasn't bad  on either but regretfully I once again misplaced the receipt. One of these times I'll actually remember to stick it to the fridge. Both will be repeat buys but as a fam we're all more ecstatic about the romesco dip as you'll see in our scores below. 

Bottom lines: Trader Joe's Grainless Cassava & Coconut Tortilla Chips: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons. Trader Joe's Romesco Dip: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Friday, October 9, 2020

Trader Joe's Mini Spicy Pumpkin Samosas

It's an important distinction to make: these are spicy pumpkin samosas, not pumpkin spice samosas. Pumpkin spice samosas would be weird and maybe even a little gross. Hopefully even you pumpkin haters can set aside your disdain for the fall gourd and consider giving these a try...that is, if you like Indian food.

Because the spice blend here isn't ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and clove. It's cilantro, garlic, ginger, and turmeric. Yes, I'm aware ginger is on both lists, but the order in which it falls within the list is significant. It's a background flavor here, not the main attraction. These samosas are a little sweet, too, but they're not "pumpkin pie" sweet, if you know what I mean.

In addition to real pumpkin, Trader Joe's Mini Spicy Pumpkin Samosas have paneer cheese and sweet potato within them, too. To tell you the truth, I wasn't sure if that combo was going to work, but it definitely did. Both Sonia and I were fans from our first bites.

We've always loved Indian food. After Mexican, Indian is probably our favorite type of international cuisine. There's a sweet, spicy, savory curry essence to these appetizers that works oh-so-well and is oh-so-unique. It's a harvesty kinda flavor, but it's also unmistakably East Indian-inspired. The heat level is mild to medium—enough to enhance the flavor but not enough to cause any discomfort to someone who enjoys spicy foods.

Like other Trader Joe's samosas we've tried, the breading here is crispy, flaky, buttery, and delectable. It might be a little on the oily side, but it adds to the richness of the flavor. The only complaint I can think of is that I wouldn't have minded some kind of chutney in a little packet on the side for dipping. I know, I know, I always make that same complaint, but a bit of chutney as uncommon as these little apps might have made them even more delicious.

$3.99 for 12 mini samosas. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Four from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Empanadas

I always thought of empanadas as a uniquely South American food. There was a great Argentinian restaurant within walking distance of my Hollyweird apartment, and I'd always get the empanadas there. I've seen them on the menu at Brazilian places, too. But apparently Spain, Portugal, Indonesia, the Philippines, and pretty much every Latin American country does empanadas.

Mexico does empanadas for sure, but Sonia isn't particularly familiar with them. She grew up eating more sauce and cheese-based foods typical of southern Mexico, where her family is from. She thinks empanadas are probably more popular with the Norteños.

And now Trader Joe's is getting in on the empanada action, and since it's almost fall, they went with pumpkin. Who could have seen that coming?

Thank goodness it's a pumpkin empanada and not a pumpkin spice empanada. Or is it? In my opinion, it's walking a fine line between the two. 

They could have gone in the dessert direction and made something akin to the legendary caramel apple empanada from Taco Bell. They could have made it super sweet, glazed it with sugar, and packed it with loads of pumpkin pie spice. Or they could have gone the savory route and filled the empanada with butternut squash and veggies.

But what we have here is a pastry shell filled with super smooth, semi-sweet pumpkin filling, and most of the requisite pumpkin spices like cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and ginger. I don't think it's quite sweet enough to be considered a dessert item, although some may disagree. Since pumpkin puree is the number one ingredient, there's enough actual pumpkin flavor to offset the brown sugar sweetness.

The outer shell is excellent. The crust is just firm and flaky enough, yet supple and soft. It's crispy, but slightly doughy, and it has a nice bready taste. Also, it isn't oily or greasy—another plus.

These would function pretty well as appetizers, or as a side dish with a fall-themed meal. $3.99 for four empanadas. 1 empanada = 1 serving. They were fun to try, but we probably won't be picking them up again on our next TJ's run. Something like three and a quarter stars a piece...

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Trader Joe's Brazilian Style Cheese Bread

Over these past few crazy months, I've come to realize that a quality metric I use to judge how my day is going is how much I play Candy Crush on my phone. That's kinda my default "bored, don't feel motivated, nothing else going on" thing to do, so needless to say, the more Candy Crush I play on a given day, the usually more kinda blah day it is. And i won't say what level I'm on, but there's four digits and the first one is kinda curvy. So yeah, not so great these past few months. 

My lovely bride also plays a fair amount of Candy Crush, but apparently also likes some other game called Kitchen Craze or something along those lines. I'm not sure of the point of the game - seems even more arbitrary than matching three same colored candies to make stuff go boom - but when playing she'll tap to cook stuff, serve customers, do dishes, deal with crappy tips. I guess you try not to burn stuff and run some sort of functional restaurant and serve all sorts of food, including some Brazilian-inspired cheese rolls which I had no other frame of reference for until picking up Trader Joe's Brazilian Style Cheese Bread.

There's more involved to prepping them than just tapping your smartphone screen. Of course, we'll see how that comment ages over the next decade or so... but anyways. A frozen dozen comes boxed up and ready to plop on a baking sheet, just heat at 350 degrees for a few minutes, and done. You can even crush some candies while doing so if you want. 

Oddly, I'm in the minority of my family for the TJ's Brazilian cheese bread. Everyone else loves them, Both Sandy and our verifiable troop of kiddos gobbled them down for lunch the other day, yumming and oohing and aahing. Our five year old also made her own PB&J's with them, which strikes me as fairly weird but she was happy. But me? Ehhhhhhh....

There's just this odd taste to them that develops about midway thru your third bite. I'm not sure how to explain it. But it's kinda funky and bitter and dour and not exactly gag inducing, but is kinda unwelcome. Sandy posits it has something to do with how the tapioca flour and Parmesan interplay. Maybe, but I side with it being more towards eggs and white pepper that seem off. Maybe it's all four of them, maybe just three, maybe she's just right (as usual)...but still. It's just when I would expect the flavor to start going towards warmy carby cheesy comfort, I instead get a mouthful of questions. 

It's kinda a shame. Otherwise these are some pretty tasty treats. The first few bites, before that funk comes into play, are on point with its doughy Parmesan taste. If every bite tasted like the first few, I could probably nosh on these all day. Each piece is roughly golf ball sized, and when baked have a slightly crispy, not greasy exterior that quickly gives way to a soft, chewy inside. There's so much Parmesan around too that's impossible to get a bite without any, even if you tried. These are some excellent bites in that regard, I just wish they stayed that way. Maybe if I had some sauce to dip them in, I'd like 'em better. 

Since everyone else loved them and they're at a reasonable price ($3 to $4) I'm thinking it'll be a likely repurchase despite my misgivings. I mean, whatever works these days, right? Even if I won't be the one crushing them. Meh. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Brazilian Style Cheese Bread: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Trader Joe's Tabbouleh Style Hummus

Although I've long been a champion of hummus, at least when served with warm pita bread or as a condiment alongside other delicious Mediterranean food, I'm not nearly as familiar with tabbouleh. I've only ever had it from a proper Lebanese restaurant once that I can recall, and then there was this cauliflower-based stuff from TJ's we had a while back. It's a tasty Middle Eastern salad with a bunch of vegetarian ingredients and some interesting stuff like mint and lemon juice.

This hummus seems to be missing a few key ingredients that are apparently integral to typical tabbouleh, most notably bulgur wheat. So it's not like Trader Joe's—or their supplier, as the case may be—just took some tabbouleh and stirred it into a tub of hummus. They formulated a special type of hummus that would flaunt a few of the flavors customarily associated with tabbouleh. In my opinion it's still much more hummus than it is tabbouleh, hence the name "Tabbouleh Style Hummus" as opposed to "Hummus Style Tabbouleh."

So it works just fine in just about any application you'd want to use regular hummus. It just has some tomato bits, parsley, and tahini stirred into the mix. The lemon and mint aspects are fairly subtle. All in all, it's just garbanzo bean-based hummus with a bit more tang and a few bits of vegetable matter floating around here and there. It's not a far cry from what we saw Trader Joe's do with the recently-reviewed Dill Pickle Hummus.

I wouldn't have minded a bit more of the tabbouleh effect in this product. I don't know if bulgur would have thrown off the texture, but it might be a little more authentically tabboulleh-y. Some chopped up bits of cucumber wouldn't have been unwelcome, either.

Closing thoughts? I wish they would have chosen the alternate spelling "tabouli" because it's shorter to type and also the "i" at the end better approximates the way an American is going to pronounce the word. When we try to say "eh" at the end of the word, it sounds like we're coughing.

$1.99 for the tub. Three and a half stars from this guy. Four from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Trader Joe's Balela

A certain "source for authentic Latino cuisine" has been in the news lately, and without mentioning its name or getting into divisive politics, I'll just say that Sonia and I have been talking about beans a lot as of late. We discussed our mutual love of beans in general, and in particular, we got into garbanzo beans and black beans, since they're both staples of our ever-deepening pantry.

I made the assertion that garbanzos will be much more convenient when the power grid goes down, since they're generally meant to be served cold or at room temperature, while black beans are only palatable when heated. Sonia disagreed and stated that she'd happily consume black beans cold as well, also pointing out that a particular stereotype about her ethnicity is not only true, but that if anything, her people's reverence for frijoles is understated and only partially understood by los gringos.

All of this discussion took place before picking up this new (?) refrigerated bean salad from Trader Joe's. Apparently Middle-Easterners are nearly as enthusiastic about beans as our south-of-the-border amigos. Also, my assumption that black beans had no place in any cold dishes was dashed to pieces. This balela is chock full of garbanzos as well as black beans, and they both work beautifully in this mixture.

To me, this salad tasted like the two aforementioned bean types, mixed with something akin to pico de gallo, with some oil and vinegar dressing on top. Ingredients-wise, it's really not a far cry from that. There's a hint of citrus flavor and a barely-detectable amount of spice from the chili pepper and garlic. The faint "dried mint" element is perhaps the most uniquely Middle-Eastern or Mediterranean aspect of the salad.

It's crisp, refreshing, filling, and not too shabby in the calories and fat departments. It's perfect for summer. I found it a nice break from typical lettuce-cabbage-spinach-based salads. And obviously, there are far fewer carbs in here than in any kind of pasta salad.

$3.29 for the 8 oz tub. Might be a repeat purchase, or we might try to make our own. Four stars a piece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Trader Joe's Buffalo Style Chicken Poppers

Don't know about you, but I've been putting on the lockdown pounds, which I'm trying to be better about...but then something like Trader Joe's Buffalo Style Chicken Poppers comes along and somehow falls into my cart and, well, what do you expect?

Look at that picture of the front. Just looook. It's a little wedge of snacky time perfection, from what it appears, right? Oozy filling, deep fried wrapper, the words "buffalo chicken" promising that classic spicy taste...who can resist? Not me.

But wait, there's more! Silly me, calling it just a wrapper. No, friends. No, It's not just any wrapper, it's phyllo dough! I mean, mathematics and philosophy and Yanni are fine and all, but phyllo just may be the greatest Greek contribution to society. All those irresistably thin 'n crispy layers, making these poppers more of a pastry than just another Chotchki's-type deep fried dish...oh yeah, for sure.

Naturally there's only one proper way to prep these: air fryer. No question. If you don't have one, you should, and you'll never look back. That's what we did, and the result was piping hot, not-too-greasy, light and crispy buffalo chicken poppers ready to, well, pop right in our mouths.

And all that phyllo...delicious. I think I'll have another bite of it, and maybe another nibble. Good, but where's the chicken? Where's the buffalo? Where's the whatever else in there?

Oooh...there it is. Sorta.

As always, it's possible we just got a particularly stingy batch of product, but that'd be one helluva unlucky streak. So I'd rather assume that the little perhaps half spoonful of chicken and cheese per popper is pretty representative, and in my opinion it's just not quite enough filling for all the dough.

That being said, the chicken-cheese-hot sauce filling is pretty decent. Personally, I woulda opted for more a classic bleu cheese or ranch to match with buffalo chicken instead of some sort of cream cheese/Cheddar hybrid. But for what it is, it's fairly tasty and proportionate to its components. I'd also add a little more buffalo to ramp up the spice, but that's not everyone's thing, I know.

In all, it's a great appetizer or snack. Pair with a cold 'n frosty IPA for a respectable bar-at-home type experience, or just nosh on for a little classic comfort vibe, and share with a friend. I was pretty happy with just two of them, which is surprising as a serving says it's three of them...maybe I'm beginning to learn restraint once more? Watch it, lockdown pounds. Matching 3.5s.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Buffalo Style Chicken  Poppers: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Trader Joe's Feta, Pepper Drop and Olive Antipasto

This was a very educational purchase for me. Neither Sonia nor I had ever heard of pepper drops before. Apparently, they're native to Peru, they're sweet and sour, and they're teardrop-shaped. Not sure how I've made it this far in life without hearing about these fun and colorful little globs of flavor, but better late than never I always say. Sonia and I both thoroughly enjoyed the pepper drop element of this product. We wish there were a lot more of them.

Secondly, I don't think I've ever come across the word "toothsome" before today. It's right there on the front of the package. It's possible I've seen it before and it simply didn't register, but today is the day I'll add that adjective to my vocabulary and hopefully manage to work it into regular rotation. Although, I may alternate between that and "toothtacular," because why not?

Thirdly, I learned that when something has feta cheese as the number one ingredient, it's going to be absolutely bursting with lipids. Everything's betta with feta! Indeed. And feta cheese is the number one ingredient here. However, there's more than half a day's worth of fat in this single-serving container of antipasto. I mean, I never assumed feta was diet food or anything, so I should have seen it coming. But 54% of your RDA for fat is a little more than I was hoping for. Sonia's the one that pointed this out to me. She's actually far more horrified than I am.

It might not be a bad idea to pick up some bruschetta alongside this product so you don't waste all that good olive oil. The instructions on the container say to drain all the oil out before eating. That makes sense...because there's about a gallon of olive oil in that little 8oz package. If you're not into the whole hyperbole thing, there's apparently like an ounce and a half of olive oil, you know, if you do the math. But in actual practice, just count on a gallon or so. 

There's just lots of olive oil.

Also, there are many, many olives. I didn't mind them at first, but the wife and I were so enamored with the pepper drops that we found ourselves wishing there were fewer and fewer kalamata olives to make room for more of the tiny red and orange drops. Sonia's actually allergic to kalamatas, so I was tasked with eating them all. They are all pitted, which is a big plus. If I had to slow down and remove pits from each bite of this antipasto, it would have been a bummer. The way this year is going so far, I probably would have choked on one of them and Sonia and the dogs would have been left to weather the apocalypse without me. It would have been pitiful. Get it? PITiful? It's a joke.


$4.99 for the container. Three and a half stars a piece on this product.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Trader Joe's Sea Salted Saddle Potato Crisps

Well, it's pretty plain to see where the inspiration came from here, isn't it?

For all the island vibe that TJ's has and is based on, there's still a little cowboy in there, for sure. Off the top of my head, I can recall Cowboy Caviar, Cowboy (and Cowgirl) Bark, Cowboy Quinoa Burgers, and a southwesty nut mix that I can't quite recall the name of that I likened to Sam Elliot shaking the dust out of his mustache.

So to have a product named Trader Joe's Sea Salted Saddle Potato Crisps isn't completely anew. Sure, the Beetlejuice-y looking guy riding the chip on the canister looks pretty odd and amused with himself, so maybe it's not quite classic inspiration. Plus, I usually associate  the use of the words "crisps" with British people and/or  Smeagol ("crispspspspspsps") , so perhaps that part is a menagerie of non-associated imagery that doesn't quite follow.

Except it does, because, obviously, it's a Pringles knock off. Can't call 'em that, though. So saddle crisps, because they're kinda shaped like a saddle and you can put some goofy imagery on the tubular canister? Good enough.

It's been a hot minute since I've had real actual Pringles - I've learned I have no control with them, ever - so my comparison is based on a lot of memory. It's hard to draw many differences. Same size, shape, appearance, texture, oily feel, and's almost all there. The *crunch* seems maybe a little different, a little lighter, a little airier. at first I attributed that to rice flour in the mix, but then doublechecked Pringles ingredients - you, Pringles has that, too. All the same ingredients, in fact, as far as I can tell. So there's not much different here - they could infact be one and the same, aside from maybe a different cooking process? This could just be me trying too hard to draw a line that doesn't exist.

All that being said, man, these TJ's saddle chips need some flavor to them, a little something something. I mean Pringles got some nice about elote, or EBTB, or something along those lines? Please? Sea salt is pretty boring, pretty tame, pretty neutral. Do something to set yourself apart, TJ's?

Nothing too much more to say here. Saddle up for nondescript chips if you buy these for the $2ish asking price.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sea Salted Saddle Potato Crisps: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Friday, June 5, 2020

Trader Joe's Some Enchanted Cracker

Whenever I hear the word "enchanted," no, I don't think of the 2007 Disney musical starring Amy Adams—I think of The Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. You know, the one from Back to the Future, where Michael J. Fox has to get his parents to hook up so he'll eventually be born in the future so then later he can go back to the past and, you know, get his parents to hook up? And that, in turn, makes me think of one of the funniest stand-up bits I've seen in a long time. There are some swears, so I guess it's NSFW, although now that everybody works from home, we don't have our bosses standing over our shoulder judging us for whatever we're watching online, right? If you're working on company equipment, however, you can better bet they're monitoring every keystroke, every time-wasting YouTube video, and every unsolicited Zoom call or Hangouts convo or whatever nonsense you do to waste time when you're supposed to be working. If you're reading this blog, for example, you can be darn sure they know about it. Big Brother and all that—which is where society at large is heading anyway these days.

Wow. That's some aimless rabbit-trailing right there. Where was I? Ah yes, The Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. That makes me think of tuna fish. Tuna's something enchanting from under the sea, right? And tuna salad goes excellent with these enchanting crackers. There. I think that's the connection I was trying to make.

Know what else goes with these crackers? Lotsa stuff. Just about any cheese you might have on hand, cream cheese spreads, smoked salmon, chicken salad, cold cuts, veggies, name it.

The crackers are super versatile and highly snackable. They're flavorful enough to eat on their own, but the flavors are fairly neutral, so they don't clash with any particular type of flavor you might want to add to them. The dominant taste of the crackers is nutty and wheaty. There are three types of seeds present: flax, sesame, and also poppy—so, you know, don't eat them right before a drug test. They're lightly sweet and moderately salty.

Trader Joe's Some Enchanted Cracker multigrain crackers are larger than, say, your typical Ritz type butter cracker, and they're even more crumbly. The larger size is nice for stacking multiple toppings and creating top-shelf, gourmet-looking appetizers. Or you can easily create the cracker equivalent of a Dagwood sandwich.

I'd never ever use the word "enchanted" to describe something as mundane as a cracker. But as hors d'oeuvres go, I guess this is about as enchanting as it gets. Apparently, these crackers were available at Trader Joe's at least six years ago, and they may have been discontinued and reinstated once or twice. They were available on our last TJ's run, and honestly, this is the very first time we've had them. Might be a repeat purchase. Four stars a piece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Trader Joe's Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings


What brings you comfort?

There's a lot of ways to answer this, of course, and there's even a few ways I can answer this right at the time of writing. I'm sipping on a cold beer, which almost always seems right, and listening to a Facebook Live concert from the lead singer of my favorite local band, called Good Brother Earl. I think I first saw them back in about 2003 or 2004 and, no lie, a few hundred times. Helps they used to play at the Pittsburgh Rock Bottom on Wednesday nights, no cover, with $2 beers and half price appetizers. Since corporate pulled the plug on their shows about 7 years ago, after at least a five year run, I haven't been back.

But anyways, through the many stages and changes in my life over the past 15-plus years, their music has been a constant. Jeff, the singer, has been a good friend as well. And in these times, I'm thankful that he and his band's music is continuing to be that constant that they have been.

Long, not entirely connected lead up to a review about the new Trader Joe's Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings, eh? Sorry, couldn't think of much better. It's that beer I'm telling you.

But food brings comfort, right? And what's more comfort-in-edible form than a warm soup dumpling? I can't think of much.  So there ya go.

Find 'em in the freezer section, bring 'em home, steam 'em up, chow 'em down. These dumplings are pretty darn good. There's the soft, typical noodle shell holding the whole thing together. Inside, of course, is a light broth and the pork/ginger/whatever else filling. The meat itself is mild, soft and a bit crumbly, like a meatball bent on falling apart. That's not a bad thing. There's not more than a mildly aggressive hit of ginger - there's nothing near the searing bite ginger is capable of. It's more a soft warmth feel, and is complemented nicely by a little soy and garlic.

It'd be great if it ended there. But nah.

Instead, right at the end, this sweetness kicks in. At first I thought maybe it was some soy sauce trickery, but no. It's too cloying. It's got to be added sugar. Why would you add sugar to this? Makes no sense to me, not with flavor profile. We're going for savory here. Why sugar? Can't be sugar. Nah. Let's just go check the ingredients, I'm making this up...

Nope. Added sugar. As confirmed by the ingredient list and nutrition label. WHY???

Fortunately all the good flavor business in the front makes up pretty well for the lame wannabe sweet party in the back, but still, it's a knock. Would be much better without IMHO.

Otherwise, great dumplings, bordering on being down right umamilicious. That's not a word but it shoukd be. Umami + delicious = umamilicious. Say it aloud. It's fun. There's absolutely a comfort element at work, and in these times that's not a bad thing at all. My lovely bride, our squad of shorties and I all enjoyed them pretty well, and will likely pick up again soon, even with my faint quibbles.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Trader Joe's Garlic Hummus Snack Pack with Pretzel Slims and Trader Joe's Organic Pitted Kalamata Olives

Obviously these aren't so normal times right now.

I think I've left my property once in the past five days. That means for over 90% of the time, I've been wearing pajama pants. Being cooped up in the basement to work at home has been interesting - always fun when you have to put a call on hold so you can holler at the kids to QUIET THE HECK DOWN - and my back actually misses the crappy, somehow compartively ergonomic office chairs. At the time I'm writing this I'm strangely excited by and apprehensive about going out later today for some groceries and beer.

And kids? Parents of young kids out there, you know what I'm talking about. Things aren't normal or all that fun at all...but we gotta do the best we can, despite all that, for the kids, right? Gotta take care of them, shield them, protect them, yada yada yada. I'm not talking about being a Pintrest-perfect parent - I'm talking about navigating them through these difficult waters to be relatively happy, reasonably healthy (physically and emotionally), and in tact without exhausting your last nerve. Thank God for Disney+.

I think I've written before that one of my family's favorite meals is what we call "snacky dinner" - basically what it sounds like. Cold cuts, cheese, pita, chips, hummus, veggies, fruit - everybody gets to eat what they want. It's a summertime favorite, usually washed down with a watermelon. It's great.

Well, it'd been a while, so we pulled out a snacky dinner the other night, and had two new-to-us contributors -  Trader Joe's Garlic Hummus Snack Pack with Pretzel Slims and Trader Joe's Organic Pitted Kalamata Olives.

I'll do the TJ's snack pack first. It's....nothing amazing, and not worthy of its own review in my opinion. I mean, do you know what small, crispy pretzel chip tastes like? Great. Now what about basic garlic hummus? Delicious, right? Now mentally dip the chip into the hummus and imagine what that tastes like - that's pretty much precisely what we got here. Darn good, right? Yup. Earth shattering and amazing and unique and...whatever else? Nah. I will give kudos that the snack cups seems to hold more than I thought, and I got fuller than I thought on mine. And even though I'm a generous dipper, I ran out of pretzel slims before I ran out of hummus. When times return for an easy, portable snack, this could be a go-to for sure. Delish.

And now a jar of olives? What do you want me to say? Usually for snacky dinners we'd hit up an olive bar and bring home a small sampling of olives and garlic and stuff like that. Not an option right now. So I've had kalamatas before, and this TJ jar full of them pretty much fits the bill. Nothing overly right or overly wrong, but kinda Goldilocksed at "just right." Strangely, our youngest, who previously has hated olives, gave one a try and wanted more. So maybe there's something to these particular olives, but if there is, I haven't determined what that is.

So, there ya go. Are either the garlic hummus snack pack or kalamata olive jars really all that special? Nah. But as a part of our snacky dinner, for a fun meal with the family, we enjoyed them immensely. Things don't have to be perfect or special or anything right now - they just have to get us through, and if they can bring a little happiness along the way, I'm all for it. There's goodness to be found in the mundane.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Garlic Hummus Snack Pack with Pretzel Slims and Trader Joe's Organic Pitted Kalamata Olives: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons each

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Trader Joe's Pappa al Pomodoro

Well, we know that in the last days a loaf of bread will cost a day's wage. When that day comes, it's time to go Mad Max on your neighbors to obtain some at any cost, because this stuff turns ordinary slices of white or wheat into scrumptious tangy tomatoey sourdoughy delights.

Just kidding about going Mad Max on your neighbors. We need to stick together now more than ever. But you should totally get down on your knees and beg them for a slice of bread if you don't have any, because it pairs really, really well with this stuff.

At first, I thought the box might contain a few pieces of bread or breadsticks, because look, right there adjacent to the a delicious-looking breadstick. But then I looked closer, and sure enough it says "serving suggestion" in the upper left-hand corner. But then I read the ingredients. Look! "Sourdough bread" is right there on the list right after "vegetable broth." I was overjoyed...until I opened the box several seconds later only to be crestfallen by the lack of sourdough breadsticks.

Maybe Italian folks already know this, but apparently pappa al pomodoro is a soup that's made with bread. I had no idea. What a weird concept.

But it's a darn good one.

After heating the product on the stovetop and pouring it into a bowl, Sonia and I sampled the soup by itself. It was very thick, tangy, tomatoey, and had just enough basil to balance the other flavors. I dipped a slice of semi-stale wheat bread into it.

Man, I don't know if I was just really hungry or what, but that was the best piece of bread I've eaten in a long time. The sourdough in the pappa al pomodoro seemed to magically transform my cheap, old bread into a scrumptious sourdough breadstick with an amazing Italian pasta sauce. We finished the bowl in short order, alternating bites of bread with spoonfuls of soup. Sonia was even more impressed than I was.

This fantastic pappa al pomodoro would work well as a pasta sauce, a pizza sauce, or as a stand-alone soup. $3.69 for two 9oz pouches. We like that it comes frozen and you can save it as long as you need to. We think this will be a repeat purchase. 

Perfect five from Sonia. I just wish it came with a couple little breadsticks. Four and a half from me.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken Mochi Balls

I've said before I'm an eater, not a foodie. This means I'm not necessarily all that well educated in different food terms. Longtime readers of this blog probably know that already.


As far as I knew, mochi was only a term for ice cream treats! You know what I mean - those little rice dough covered balls of frozen deliciousness. A little chewy and odd on the outside, creamy and delicious in the middle, and once accustomed to them they make an awesome snack. That's all what I ever knew mochi to be without ever having much reason to look into it further. I knew I liked mochi already.

So imagine my initial reaction when I heard of the new Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken Mochi Balls.

Intriguing? Yes! are they gonna incorporate ice cream into that?

Obviously, there's no ice cream here. Mochi is just a general term, more or less, for the rice dough balls which can be served in a variety of ways. TIL.

But anyways on to the mochi - oh goodness.

I can say that in relation to a lot of different factors here. That rice dough? It's a marvel, especially when cooked in an air fryer! Dry, dusty, crusty on the the outer shell, but that's just so, so shallow a layer that somehow hold plenty of crisp with a little crunch. The flip side (the innards) is completely different - wet, doughy, moist. Yes, I hate that word too. But it all suggest a slight bit of almost sauciness - that's the wrong word, but I don't know what else to use - when interacting with the rest of the set up. More on that coming up next paragraph. But really, for so thin a shell, the mochi is AMAZING with two very different, very enjoyable experiences. I'd suggest to maximize it use an air fryer instead of oven if you have it - about 10 minutes at 400 made 'em just right.

And the filling? Wow. It's HOT.

As in spicy? Yes. Kung pao usually has a couple heat notches. All the spices and peppers and whatnot combine into a pretty potent punch. It won't be the spiciest thing you'll ever eat, but I don't feel as though they're for the faint of tongue, either.  Despite that, I can still taste the chicken and garlic too. I love when spice enhances and doesn't overpower other foods, and that seems the case here.

But it's also HOT in the physical sense. As in, not cold. Those mochi shells hold some heat! I cracked one open and tried to let it cool for a few minutes before eating - still burned my tongue a little. Have a glass of water nearby, or prepare to let us sit and cool for quite some time.

I love 'em. My only complaint is I wish there was a bit more filling as the package picture implies - however I'm glad it's also not that magenta glow either. So there's that. The kung pao mochi has a fair price point too I'd say - it's $3.49 for a pack of eight golf ball sized dumplin's. My lovely bride enjoys them too, and they ought to be in the regular Asian-inspired dinner rotation. 4.5 from me and a solid 4 from her.

Save the ice cream for after!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken Mochi Balls: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, January 17, 2020

Trader Joe's Antipasto Mediterranean Vegetables

Every once in a while, I get creative in the kitchen. Products like this one that aren't really meant to be consumed straight out of the packaging sometimes inspire me to throw a few items together and see what happens. Those spur-of-the-moment impromptu projects often end up a disaster. Just ask Sonia.

So it's fortunate that there was a recipe on TJ's site that included this product as one of the main ingredients. I modified it just a tad, as we did not have every ingredient listed, but I didn't go out on a limb this time—and in half an hour, we had some pretty delectable dip on our dinette table. In the pic below, you can see a before photo of the antipasto veggies by themselves and also the diptastic conglomeration that resulted from my little culinary endeavor. We ate it with tortilla chips, but it would also go great with baguette slices like the recipe suggests. It's much richer and tangier than traditional artichoke dip. The Superbowl's not too far away, and this recipe would be a total crowd-pleaser, in my estimation.

Trader Joe's Antipasto Mediterranean Vegetables are "semi-dried" and absolutely drowned in olive oil. I guess that's part of the preservation process that keeps them shelf stable pretty much indefinitely, but there's just a TON of olive oil in the little tray. Even after mixing them with four different kinds of cheese and lemon juice and baking them for 25 minutes, you can still tell that they're completely drenched in olive oil. Fortunately, I don't mind olive oil.

Glancing at the veggies, it appears there are mushrooms of some kind in the mix, but I think those are just zucchini slices with their edges turned down a bit. The flavors aren't super intense, but they're pleasant and vegetabley. The artichoke hearts are my favorite, followed by the zucchini, then the eggplant, and finally the tomato. I've never been a huge tomato guy. If they're cooked in some way, I'll eat them. In this case, the saturation of olive oil makes them palatable. They're nothing like fresh tomatoes in terms of taste or texture.

I did try each of the four vegetables straight out of the packaging, but they're much better as ingredients in some larger appetizer or meal. They'd be great on salads, pasta, sandwiches, or even burgers, though in most cases, they'd probably work better in smaller chunks. The dip recipe had me quartering them. I can't imagine an instance where they'd work better as the large chunks they come as, so it begs the question why they weren't cut in smaller pieces to begin with. I know, it's a silly complaint. The chewier elements, namely the eggplant, work much better as bite-sized pieces for almost any application.

Sonia and I both enjoyed this product overall, with our biggest complaints being too much olive oil and too large vegetable pieces. We're both thinking somewhere between three and a half and four stars for Trader Joe's Antipasto Mediterranean Vegetables, so we'll just go with one of each.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Trader Joe's French Onion Soup Bites

Baby Yoda. I just have to start off this post with a lead-in about Baby Yoda. I'm warning you right now, I don't have a decent segue into the food review part of this blog post, but I still have to find a way to work him in here. 

You see, Sonia and I just binge-watched The Mandalorian. It's darn good—all the production value of a Star Wars film in a one hour television show format. And for those of you who aren't aware, there's a character called "The Child" that looks just like, you guessed it: a baby version of Yoda. Of course, it can't be the actual Yoda, because he's dead by this point in the Star Wars timeline, so it must be another member of Yoda's unnamed race. Yes, we're geeks. 

But that's not the point. The point is that he's absurdly cute. Just Google him if you don't know what I'm talking about. I'm already on high alert trying to curb my lovely bride's inclination to accumulate all things Baby Yoda. I found a Trader Joe's-themed Baby Yoda tweet last week. It doesn't even make sense. He never drinks wine on the show. In fact, all he consumes are frogs. I feel like that might be my cue to tie in the French part of this product somehow, but nah. We won't go there today.

I will point out, however, that like fresh swamp frogs, these appetizers are slimy. I guess "greasy" would be a more accurate word—but they're so liquidy in the middle that it almost feels like a dollop of actual soup surrounded by some crusty bread. The onions and cheese are slick, silky, and slippery. The bread part ranges from soft and crumbly to crispy and crusty. The overall mouthfeel is a little too gelatinous for my taste.

The flavor, on the other hand, is very nice. You can taste lightly sweet caramelized onions, swiss cheese, and rich buttery bread. Trader Joe's French Onion Soup Bites are salty, savory, and oh-so-onionny—and we're both big fans of onions. There's a "vegetable base" listed on the ingredients, and I want to say you can taste that, too. There's a vegetable soup essence to the flavor that works seamlessly with the taste of the onions and cheese.

I found it difficult to remove the apps from the oven-safe tray without mangling them beyond recognition. The photo included here represents my three least-disfigured specimens.

$4.49 for 12 appetizers. In the end we'll both give a thumbs up to the taste and a meh to the texture of these French-inspired hors d'oeuvres. Three and a half stars a piece.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Trader Joe's Crispy Rice Salmon Bites


If you're a guardian of some miniature trolls AKA have some young kids in the house, no doubt that's a familiar refrain. Undoubtedly it is for my lovely bride, with whom I just celebrated ten years of mostly married bliss, and I.

To combat, I troll right back. With hamsters.

Think Bubba Shrimp...except hamsters. Hamster stew. Hamster steak. Fried hamsters. Hamster meatballs. Hamster omelettes. Mashed hamsters. Grilled hamsters. Hamster flambe.  At least what's I tell them, making it up, over and over again until they stop nagging me.

Of course, they never really believe me, until I told them that Trader Joe's Crispy Rice Salmon Bites were hamster nuggets with a side of hamster sauce. The juvenile gulps were barely audible at the sound of the news.

Yeah, I can assure you these bites are definitely not hamster. TJ's does have a somewhat spotty history with salmon products but has mostly been on the upswing as of late. I think these continue the trend.

For $6.99, you get twelve respectively sized chunks battered somewhat tempura style with rice flour and spices. The breading does seem to crisp up pretty well while baking and maintain its texture without getting soggy over the fish. That's good news - nobody sane likes soggy nuggets. It does add a little bit of flavor, too, for sure, but pretty mildly so, leaving most of the flavor to the salmon.

So here's the thing. We do enjoy salmon in our family - well, 75% of our voters, at least - but mostly we do cold smoked on bagels, so actual fleshy chunks are a somewhat unfamiliar form to us. Perhaps that's why the strike me as a little bland - it may be the unfamiliarity of the protein more than anything else. There's part of me that feels I'd really enjoy chicken a lot more in this form than salmon. There's nothing wrong with the fish - it's perfectly fine - but just a bit fleshy and subtly flavored.

So that's why TJ's put in dynamite sauce! Kaboom!

What's dynamite sauce? Apparently it's like a sriracha/mayo remoulade with some soy sauce mixed in as well. I don't think it stands well on it's own - the soy adds a cloying sweetness that strips the sauce of much of its spiciness. I don't want to have a bottle of this separately. But when drizzled over or dunked with the salmon bites, it works, adding flavor that works well with the natural fish flavor without overpowering it. There's also plenty to go around. Our kids hated it - "too spicy!" they claimed, which is code for having flavor other than straight up salt - while I was indifferent. Sandy thinks it'd taste great on a burger.

Well, there you go. Serve as a hot appetizer or a side dish like we did to go along with some veggie soup. The TJ's salmon bites are a little different, and an interesting take. We'll probably buy once or twice again. Mostly thumbs up, with added points for not actually being hamsters.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crispy Rice Salmon Bites: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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