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Showing posts with label condiments and sauces. Show all posts
Showing posts with label condiments and sauces. Show all posts

Monday, April 22, 2024

Trader Joe's Organic Vanilla Bean Paste


For some crazy reason I was thinking this would be, you know, a paste. It's not. It's a syrup. In case you were wondering, yes, this is my first vanilla bean "paste" purchase. I realize Trader Joe's didn't invent this stuff. But a paste is somewhere in between solid and liquid. This is just a sticky fluid with bean bits in it. I dunno, man. That's my story and I'm sticking to it: vanilla bean paste is a syrup, not a paste. I'll die on that hill.

Not that it matters. It's still thick. It's still yummy. It's like vanilla extract but sweeter, thicker, tastier, and beanier—with way less alcohol flavor. Yes, it's much thicker than vanilla extract but not so thick that you'd call it a paste. But whatevs.


Apparently all vanilla bean "paste" is like this. It's very much on par with chocolate syrup in terms of thickness and sweetness, but with a distinctly vanilla aroma and essence. I guess it's kinda odd to review chocolate syrup and vanilla syrup in such a short span of time, but hey, what's done is done.

The best part about this product: the little vanilla bean specks. You can change regular boring vanilla ice cream to vanilla bean ice cream with just a teaspoon or two of this stuff. Or add it to smoothies, coffee, whipped cream, overnight oats, French toast, or cake mix. We did all of the above. Well, not the cake mix. Not yet. If there's any of this bottle still left in two months, I'll request a birthday cake with vanilla bean paste in the batter.


Five bucks for a tiny bottle of potent vanilla, complete with beanage. Comparable bottles from other brands apparently go for $20-$25. I like it. Sonia likes it. We would buy Trader Joe's Organic Vanilla Bean Paste again...even though it's clearly a thick syrup, not a paste.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Trader Joe's Organic Midnight Moo


The first five years of my life or so were spent in Hershey, just blocks from Hersheypark, Chocolate World, and the old chocolate factory. My family kept in touch with a few folks in the town for many years after, so we'd find ourselves there quite often even after having moved away. You'd frequently smell cocoa wafting through the air of the affluent Pennsylvania neighborhood, and of course much of the local economy revolved around the chocolate industry.

Even in a town about an hour away, it was hard to escape the influence of Hershey and their world-famous chocolate brand. Thanks to some food sensitivities, I wasn't allowed much, if any, chocolate in my early years. Nevertheless, as I was treated for and grew out of said intolerances, I was heavily exposed to Hershey's chocolate and Hershey's syrup as I grew up and they naturally became my reference points for all things chocolatey.


We've frequently been criticized for comparing Trader Joe's chocolate products to Hershey's since, in the opinion of many chocolate snobs, Hershey's isn't that great compared to, say, European chocolate. In fact, foreign chocolate connoisseurs are often inclined to say that Hershey's tastes like literal vomit. But I digress. All that to say I'll be comparing this syrup primarily to Hershey's because I'm not all that familiar with any other brands.

Let's start with the ingredients. Hershey's kicks things off with high fructose corn syrup. It could still be those childhood food allergies lingering around, but my body hates HFCS. Trader Joe's syrup uses organic cane sugar. Good stuff. From there, the ingredients in Hershey's get even more unpronounceable and artificial, while Trader Joe's sticks with organics and basics.

Still, I think I like the taste of Hershey's a little better than this Trader Joe's chocolate syrup. It's sad, but I think my palate is just used to consuming chemicals, dyes, and fake stuff. Hershey's is a bit sweeter and thinner, both of which make it just a tad more chuggable. Trader Joe's syrup is a "darker" cocoa and it has a heavier consistency, which makes it harder to dissolve in milk. It's much more optimized for topping vanilla ice cream or other desserts in my humble opinion.

TL;DR—Trader Joe's Midnight Moo uses much higher quality ingredients than Hershey's but there's still something familiar about the old standby that makes it taste slightly better to me.

$3.99 for the squeeze bottle. Apparently this product was around years ago, got discontinued, and then came back again somewhat recently. Would I buy again? Maybe. I think it's growing on me. Four stars from Sonia, three and a half from me for Trader Joe's Organic Midnight Moo.



Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Trader Joe's Traditional Tunisian Harissa Paste


Everything I ever knew about harissa I learned from Trader Joe, which admittedly isn't all that much. We saw a decent harissa-based salsa some years back. And I vaguely remember trying some sardines packed in harissa during one of our short-lived podcast episodes. What is harissa? It's a spicy chili pepper paste that comes from the Maghreb region of North Africa. This item isn't shy about its origins. It's a proud product of Tunisia.

I remember liking the flavor and intensity of harissa, but I think this paste is a more concentrated format than either of my previous encounters with the spicy sauce. I like a good bit of heat with certain foods, but I definitely have my limits. Hopefully I'll be able to apply this paste so it's strong enough to enhance my meals but not to the point of pain. Let's dive in...


The harissa hits you up front with a rich, pungent fragrance. It's peppery, smoky, and faintly vinegary. There's a layer of oil around the edges of the jar, and a moderate amount of seeds can be seen throughout the mixture.

Flavor-wise, it's similar. There's a bit of garlic and coriander in the paste, but they're mostly overshadowed by the intense hot pepper flavor. I mean, this isn't the spiciest sauce I've ever had, but it's not for the faint of heart, either. I'd put it at the same intensity level as a jalapeño pepper—and definitely a good bit hotter than the gochujang sauce we looked at recently. You feel it in your mouth and tongue immediately, and over time it slowly warms your tummy internally.


So far, we've had it on chicken and fish, both of which worked really well. We've added it to plain hummus to give it a kick. And we've also put dollops in things like Asian-style stir fry. I've heard some people like to mix it with a bit of mayo to temper the spice level and add it to burgers and other typical American fare. Sounds good, but we haven't tried it that way yet.

$2.99 for the jar. Not a bad value considering it came from halfway around the world and it'll most likely last us a long time due to its potency. We're eager to experiment with it some more. Four stars from Sonia, four from me on Trader Joe's Traditional Tunisian Harissa Paste.



Bottom line: 8 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.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Trader Joe's Sri Lankan Organic Mango Chutney


So this totally wasn't what I was expecting. But I'm not going to let my preconceived notions ruin my experience with this product, because it's a unique and delicious condiment in its own right. Was I expecting Indian-style chutney while this specimen is uniquely Sri Lankan? Possibly.

I fell in love with chutney many years ago. There was a place close to my apartment that had the best chicken tikka, and I'd always get naan and samosas on the side and they came with two little dishes of red and green chutney. Before I'd even start on the entree, I'd finish both types of chutney completely. I'd later find out the green one was mint chutney and the red one was tamarind chutney, neither of which would have appealed to me if I'd only heard the names of the sauces. Both were heavy on sweet coconut flavor and were very watery and thin—no bits of fruit or chunks of anything.


This product is more like a marmalade in terms of look and texture. It's quite thick. And there are indeed mango bits floating throughout the little jar. It's sweet like the aforementioned chutneys, but this one is more fruit forward and has a lot less coconut taste, despite the fact that it does contain "organic coconut sap vinegar."

There's an unexpected though not entirely unwelcome spice blend here, as well. In addition to chili powder, which gives the product a modest kick, we're also looking at cinnamon, cardamom, clove, and nutmeg. They're oddly strong, too. If it were me, I would have dialed the spices back just a tad and let the fruit flavors do the talking, but it makes for a very exotic taste combo.


This chutney went well with pan-fried chicken and rice. It complements naan bread, samosas, and charcuterie type foods. I'm sure you could use it with sandwiches, wraps, or as a glaze for meat or white fish.

Sonia says she's had chutney very similar to this one at other Indian restaurants. She's a fan. $2.99 for the 8.5 oz jar. Product of Sri Lanka. Organic. Kosher. Would buy again. Four stars a piece from Sonia and me for Trader Joe's Sri Lankan Mango Chutney.



Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Trader Joe's Almond Chipotle Dip


I thought there was about a zero percent chance this stuff would even be edible. I've tried enough vegan dips, cheeses, condiments, and sauces in my day to know it's rare if those types of products are worth a single provisional purchase, let alone the times when they're actually good and could potentially become a household staple or replace something made with dairy. Here's the one exception I can think of off the top of my head: Trader Joe's Vegan Tzatziki Dip.

I'm equally impressed with this product. I thought it would taste like rancid almond butter with a few spices tossed into the mix. Nope. In fact, the almond butter base doesn't really interfere with the chipotle flavor at all somehow. It's only faintly nutty. The main essence of the dip is a spicy, tangy, zippy chipotle. It's slightly garlicky and smoky, but not over the top on either count. There's a hint of onions and black pepper, but it's mostly just chipotle flavor—in this case coming from a chipotle pepper powder.


Oddly, it's a bit thinner than almond butter. I'd say it's even thinner than most dairy-based chipotle dips I've had, but it still coats quite well. It also works fine that way because it packs quite a punch even if you use very little—it's only moderately spicy yet very flavorful.

We used it in place of cheese with nachos, as a taco sauce, a dip for chips, and a glaze for chicken. It even worked with veggies like carrots and broccoli. I'm surprised how versatile it proved to be.

$3.49 for the tub. Vegan. Would buy again. Four stars from me. Three and a half from Sonia for Trader Joe's Almond Chipotle Dip.



Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, January 5, 2024

Trader Joe's Roasted Hatch Chile & Jalapeño Cheese Dip and Trader Joe's Garlic & Asiago Cheese Dip


Here are a couple of cheesy dips that appeared at Trader Joe's around the holidays. As of the time this review is being composed, the hatch and jalapeño version shows still available on traderjoes.com while the asiago one does not. They both have a sour cream base, flaunt extremely similar packaging, and can be zapped in the microwave for quick and easy prepping or heated in a conventional oven. Unfortunately, I don't think there's any practical way to heat these in the air fryer. Boo.

But they're both quite tasty and are great for that New Year's diet you started. No? You don't consider these diet foods? They're only 60 and 70 calories per serving, respectively. And chile peppers raise your metabolism. I think it's time to declare 2024 the year of the hatch chile diet. Just remember, it's not a lie...if you believe it. Thanks to reader halcyon for reminding me of that great George Costanza quote. That's my new mantra.


Let's talk about dip now, shall we? Although Sonia and I enjoyed both of these condiments quite a bit, I liked the hatch and jalapeño version slightly more than the asiago version while Sonia felt the opposite. I must admit the chile pepper dip was a tad oilier than its cheesy cousin, but I really liked the way the peppers spiced up the sharp cheddar and sour cream base. Sonia liked the fluffiness of the asiago dip and loved the asiago and mozzarella cheese flavors.

Both dips went great with chips, pretzels, bread, and even veggies. We would have tried them with other items, but honestly, they didn't last that long. Ten ounces each. I think 10 servings per package is a little generous, but I guess that's an FDA thing..?


Found in the refrigerated section. $4.99 for each microwavable dip tray. Would consider a repeat purchase. These will wind up with 7.5 star scores each, with me going a half star higher on Trader Joe's Roasted Hatch Chile & Jalapeño Cheese Dip and Sonia going half a star higher on Trader Joe's Garlic & Asiago Cheese Dip.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Trader Joe's Crunchy Chili Cranberry Orange & Onion


So here's an odd little condiment we've been experimenting with over the past few weeks. I wrote a song about it. Wanna hear it? Here it goes.

To the melody of the Tiny Toon Adventures theme:

"It's oily, it's crunchy,
it's just a tad bit munchy.
Will this little bunchy
enhance charcuterie?
It's a citrus dispenser
that cracks up taste bud sensors.
Let cranny orange onion
spruce up your lame turkey!"

And that's all I've got so far. I know you were all hoping for a full length song, so sorry to disappoint. Anyhoo, it's pretty obviously the classic Chili Onion Crunch but with a festive, fruity blend of citrus and berry flavors added in.


I liked the original product okay, but I thought it really shined when applied to other condiments such as hummus. See: Crunchy Chili Onion Hummus. And like the original, it's not super apparent to dummies like me what this sauce is wanting to be paired with.

We experimented with chicken and turkey mostly. The picture you see is actually Oscar Mayer Natural Plate AKA "Healthy Lunchables" or "Lunchables for Adults" with a bit of Trader Joe's Crunchy Chili Cranberry Orange & Onion sauce applied. It worked pretty well. I always said those natural cracker, meat, and cheese snacks needed to come with a condiment, but I never thought to add something as exotic as this. I usually reach for dijon mustard with that stuff.

I must admit it worked much better, however, on actual turkey sandwiches. We just added turkey, swiss, and arugula to sourdough bread, grilled them panini style, and also added this sauce. That worked even better than pan-fried chicken if you ask us.


There's a fair amount of heat here from the ancho chili. In fact, I'd say that's the dominant flavor. It overshadows the cranberry orange elements by a good bit. I wish the fruit flavors were a little stronger. It's also too heavy on oil. I'm sure there's a reason for that, but I found myself applying it with a fork all the time so I could let the olive oil drain out before distributing the condiment.

$4.49 for the jar. Not sure if we'd buy again. We still have a good bit left and I wouldn't be surprised if there's some still at the back of the fridge come the 2024 holiday season. It should still be good then, right? As long as it smells fine, we'll still eat it. Three and a half stars from the beautiful wifey. Three out of five stars from me for Trader Joe's Crunchy Chili Cranberry Orange & Onion.



Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Trader Joe's Hot Cocoa Cream Cheese Spread


Trader Joe's has gone and made hot cocoa flavored cream cheese. It's everything you'd expect it to be...I mean, unless you were expecting it to actually be hot. Of course it's not hot when you pull it out of the fridge. That would be silly to think that. I mean, I suppose you could heat it up and melt it and find some uses for it that way, but now we're getting off track...


This cream cheese looks, smells, and tastes like actual hot cocoa. It's a milky light brown color, and it spreads like any other cream cheese. It's super smooth. No flecks of powder or chunks of marshmallow or anything like that—although Trader Joe's Hot Cocoa Cream Cheese with Marshmallows doesn't sound bad to me at all.


As soon as you open the tub, the smell of hot cocoa hits your nose. And it tastes like hot cocoa, too—like a medium-sweet milk chocolate made with real cow's milk, cocoa, and sugar. It goes great on bagels and anywhere else you'd use regular cream cheese. Sonia is fond of sprinkling Trader Joe's Cocoa Cinnamon Sugar Blend on top of this stuff for an extra blast of sweetness and maybe a bit of Mexican Hot Chocolate flair from the cinnamon.

$2.79 for the tub. Would buy again. Four stars a piece from the beautiful wifey and me for Trader Joe's Hot Cocoa Cream Cheese Spread.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Trader Joe's Holiday Cheer Unexpected Cheddar Cheese Spread


Not all that long ago, Sonia and I purchased our very first tub of Trader Joe's Unexpected Cheddar Cheese Spread. It became our most recent addition to The Pantheon. In other words, we freaking love it. It came to our attention around that same time that TJ's also offers a hatch chile version and a holiday version of unexpected cheddar.

In true Trader Joe's fashion, they yanked the hatch chile iteration from the shelves before we could get our hands on it. (Please bring it back next year!) But we did manage to acquire some of this Holiday Cheer cheese spread, so here we go!


They've added dried, sweetened cranberries, riesling wine, and cinnamon into the mix. How is that gonna work?? Pretty well, honestly. Surprisingly well. But in the end, as tasty as it is, I feel like one of the strengths of the original flavor is its versatility and I think those additives make this holiday version slightly less so.

Of the three added ingredients, cranberries influence the look, taste, and texture of the product the most. On average, there's a couple shreds of cranberry in every bite. It lends a bit more sweet and tart to the spread. The riesling is also sweet, but it's very subtle. If you pay close attention, you can taste a whisper of sweet white wine. Likewise, the cinnamon flavor is barely there. If it were any more intrusive, it might not have worked, but as is, I say it's fine.


The spread still pairs deliciously with plain water crackers. It would go great alongside dessert wines, fruit, and maybe certain sweet meats. I don't know if I'd use it all willy nilly on cold cut sandwiches like I did the original flavor, though. Sonia added a couple spoonfuls to some spicy veggie chili, and I was certain it wouldn't work at all. But I was wrong. It was unique and quite tasty.

In the end, it's another great product and it definitely tastes very similar to the traditional unexpected cheddar. The cranberries, in particular, make it taste, look, and feel just a bit more Christmassy than its predecessor and I think we'd buy another tub next year. $4.99 for the tub. Four stars from yours truly. Four and a half stars from the beautiful wifey for Trader Joe's Holiday Cheer Unexpected Cheddar Cheese Spread.



Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Trader Joe's Double Fold Bourbon Vanilla Extract

Like most people, I love the smell of vanilla extract. I love it as an ingredient in all manner of desserts and cakes and I enjoy the flavor it provides. However, unlike most people, I even like the taste of it straight out of the container, plain. I mean, I wouldn't drink a whole bottle of it like that, but I probably could on a dare or some similar situation.

After taking in a few whiffs of this Double Fold Bourbon Vanilla Extract, I was absolutely enchanted. I informed Sonia that I was going to try it straight. She cautioned me against it in the same manner that my parents used to, but being the wild man that I am, I proceeded to pour a teaspoon full and lap it up like so much fragrant water.

It's harsh and full of alcohol, for sure, but I mean, some bourbon can be pretty harsh and astringent, flavor-wise. It's got a distinct bourbon flavor and plenty of pure vanilla, too. It's like a shot of regular vanilla extract mixed with a dash of straight bourbon, slightly stronger than a spoonful of normal vanilla extract.

As an ingredient in food, it lends a nice earthy sweetness. Sonia made some pancakes using this elixir, and they came out just a little more vanillatastic than pancakes made with normal vanilla extract. I made a London fog beverage with some Earl Grey, half and half, honey, and this stuff, and it was lovely.

At first $7.99 seems a little steep for just 3.55 fluid ounces, but considering the quality and the fact that it's imported all the way from Mauritius, it could be a lot worse. Hard to score something like this. I think I'll throw out three and a half stars. Put the beautiful wifey down for four on Trader Joe's Double Fold Bourbon Vanilla Extract with Vanilla Bean Seeds.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Trader Joe's Chunky Garlic & Jalapeño Hot Sauce

First thoughts: looks like one of those Cholula or Tapatio or Texas Pete hot sauce bottles with a teensy little hole where you have to shake the bottle fairly vigorously to get the sauce to come out, so how could it possibly be "chunky"? There might be some pureed peppers in there or something like that, but this sauce being truly chunky seems unlikely.

Oh well, if it tastes like garlic and jalapeño I don't even care if it's chunky or not.

The verdict? Okay...it's...sorta chunky. The entire circumference of the mouth of the bottle is open. It's not like that super tiny narrow hole on other hot sauce bottles, which allows bits of jalapeño to flow from the container onto your food.

The taste? Briny! The jalapeño peppers are brined and they make the whole thing taste super salty. It's like garlic-flavored sea water with a little heat to it. Not my favorite hot sauce for sure. Not even close. This definitely won't replace Tapatio or Cholula in our household, and it definitely won't take the place of good tomato-based actually-chunky salsa for chip dipping or topping Mexican dishes.


I make this meal I call "tuna surprise" because the ingredients change every time we have it based on what condiments are available in our fridge at the time of creation... 

I have a feeling it will do pretty well as an element in tuna surprise. A little saltiness and heat never hurts that dish.

Maybe I just have to get used to it. It's not at all like what I was expecting. Supposedly this type of salsa is quite popular all throughout California's Central Coast. I only made it up that way once or twice during my Cali days.

$3.99 for the 10 oz. bottle. Sonia is similarly unimpressed. Three stars from her. Two and a half from me for Trader Joe's Chunky Garlic & Jalapeño Hot Sauce.



Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Trader Joe's Organic Apricot Preserves


For my obligatory, self-indulgent, lead-in segue today, I have to mention my childhood pet, Apricot. I've brought her up before on this blog, though not recently. I really loved that dog. I still have dreams about her decades after her passing. I love the little monsters we have now, but that dog was very special. She had apricot-colored fur, hence the moniker. Hey, I was only six when I named her. Can't talk about apricots without thinking of that pup. Don't worry. Food review begins...NOW.


I thought preserves were supposed to have big chunks of fruit in them. This stuff does not. I mean there's teensy tiny little particles of fruit to let you know it did, in fact, come from real apricots, but all in all, it's pretty darn smooth. Does that make it jelly? Or jam? I dunno. All I know is it's pretty good.

It's sweet and tart like apricots. Who'd have guessed? Honestly the cane sugar pushes it decidedly over onto the "sweet" side of the equation. Works for me. Goes great with butter and toast—or in this case, an English muffin. It's also scrumptious with that recently-reviewed toscano cheese and crackers.


It's made with organic apricots and organic cane sugar. Good stuff. $4.29 for the jar. Would buy again. I don't know if it could ever take the place of good old grape or strawberry jelly, but it shall be added to the rotation for sure. Four stars a piece from Sonia and me for Trader Joe's Organic Apricot Preserves.



Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Trader Joe's Unexpected Cheddar Cheese Spread


So...consuming this product has been one of those experiences that has me questioning numerous decisions I've made in the past. Namely: why didn't I buy Trader Joe's Unexpected Cheddar Cheese earlier? It has been available in block format for years, I'm pretty sure. Why didn't Sonia and I purchase that Shaved Cheese Blend, reviewed on this very blog, which also contains unexpected cheddar? Why did I not expect the cheddar to be as unexpected as Trader Joe's would have me expect? Why would I doubt TJ's like that?

I don't know. I don't even know if any of that last paragraph made any darn sense at all. All I know is that this is a really freaking amazing cheese spread. It's unexpectedly good.


So, my whole life, I've loved Cheez Whiz. As far as Philly cheesesteaks are concerned, I'm a wiz wit guy all the way. Sonia's with me on the "with onions" part of the equation, but she thinks the whiz is gross. She just thinks it tastes fake, and it does. Because it is fake. It's "processed cheese food." It's franken-cheese. And I mean, at this point, I eat it about once every 5 years, so it's not like it's a health concern or anything like that. I'm already getting side-tracked...

Here's our take on this product in a nutshell: Unexpected Cheddar Cheese Spread tastes like Cheez Whiz but not at all fake, and we both love it. It's sweet, smooth, salty, savory, creamy, tangy, and super spreadable. It's so thick and flavorful, just the thinnest layer of it adds such an amazing burst of luscious cheddar goodness that the tiny tub lasts longer than you might expect.


I'll be honest: most of the container was consumed by me just dunking water crackers right into the tub and eating them without anything else. But we did make tacos and sandwiches using this cheese and they were stellar, as well. I'm sure you could use it on pretty much anything.

It's not like an item you'd pair with wine to impress cheese snobs or anything like that. And I'm pretty sure most kids would love it. Low-brow or not, my mouth doesn't lie, and it LOVES Trader Joe's Unexpected Cheddar Cheese Spread. Now I definitely have to try the hatch chile version.

$4.99 for 9 oz. Best five bucks you'll spend all year. Perfect five stars from me. Four and a half stars from the beautiful wifey. That makes this our first entry into the Pantheon in over two months.



Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Trader Joe's Crunchy Chili Onion Hummus


Well this stuff is clearly just Trader Joe's Chili Onion Crunch plopped on top of a traditional tub of hummus. That's not quite as weird as pickle flavored hummus or chocolate flavored hummus if you ask this guy, but it could still be considered "experimental" in nature, I suppose.

By a quick count, this is at least the ninth variety of hummus we've reviewed on this blog throughout the years, not counting the hummus we made ourselves using Trader Joe's Organic Tahini and some handy dandy cans of chickpeas we had floating around in the pantry. In short, I love hummus and most other garbanzo bean derivatives.


And I guess I'll just cut to the chase and say I'm a fan of this new-ish product. Initially, I was gonna say there's not nearly enough of the chili onion crunch, but after inhaling about half the tub within a few minutes of having opened it, mi boca es en fuego and I don't know how much more of that stuff I could have handled.

So the heat level is acceptable. Spice-o-phobes beware. It's not super hot either. My tolerance just isn't what it used to be. It's got a nice chili onion chickpea flavor with a bit of a kick. Big thumbs up from both of us.


Complaints? There's not much crunchiness to be found. The crispity-crunchity factor is severely dampened by the soft mush of the whirled garbanzos and tahini, but the coolness of the hummus also helps temper the spice level, too.

$3.99 for the tub. Would definitely buy again. Four stars from Sonia. Four and a half from me for Trader Joe's Crunchy Chili Onion Hummus.



Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Trader Joe's Lemon Pesto Sauce


If you've been following this blog for any significant amount of time, you'll know I'm a big fan of lemon flavored stuff. And if you've been following this blog even longer than that, you might recall that I'm not a fan of traditional pesto made with pine nuts. Fortunately for me and for the score I'll give to this product, this pesto—as well as one or two other pestos from Trader Joe's that we've reviewed—are not made with pine nuts. Those previous two iterations were made with cashews, and this one's made with almonds. Did you know that lemon and almond blends together fairly well? I didn't either until recently.


By itself, this sauce is thick and oily with little chunks floating around. It's almost like super finely chopped almonds with lemon zest and sunflower seed oil. Well, I mean, it is all those things...and a few other things, too. But it not only looks primarily like those three ingredients, but it basically tastes that way as well. It's citrusy, sweet, salty, oily, and nutty. I wouldn't recommend eating it straight from the jar, although it's interesting enough you might want to at least try it that way.

Sonia cooked up a shrimp and pasta dish using this stuff. It involved fettuccine, cream, butter, shredded parmesan cheese, and garlic. Ohmygosh. I finished eating it an hour ago and I can still barely keep my head up from the comfort food coma. It was lemony, creamy, spicy, and garlicky. So delicious.


My only complaint was that Sonia didn't use enough of Trader Joe's Lemon Pesto Sauce, so I dumped a bunch more onto my portion. I've never had lemon garlic butter shrimp quite so tasty. I'll easily finish all the leftovers tonight. Actually, here's the recipe she used: Pat Cooks. Highly recommend.

$3.49 for the jar. Would buy again. Four stars from the beautiful wifey. Four and a half stars from me for Trader Joe's Lemon Pesto.



Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Trader Joe's Strawberry Basil Vinaigrette


Vinaigrette. Is it like the female version of "vinegar"? I mean, we have Smurfette, who's the original female Smurf. Then we might have a kitchenette or a launderette, which are basically like petite versions of the originals. And of course the suffragettes were all females looking for the right to vote and stuff.

Should a self-respecting man be eating vinaigrette at all? If he wants a little something on his greens, wouldn't it be a lot more manly to just dump a bunch of household cleaning vinegar on his salad? The answers to these questions and more...are definitely not is this review. But they are worth pondering.


So I asked Google's new AI chatbot named Bard what it had to say about the matter. He gave me four paragraphs as a response, the last and most pertinent of which read: "If you are looking for a manly way to dress a salad, I recommend using a vinaigrette made with good quality olive oil, vinegar, and herbs. This will give your salad a delicious and healthy flavor without any of the risks associated with using cleaning vinegar."

Thanks, Bard. You always know what's up. Although, in this particular product, we have canola oil instead of good quality olive oil. Some folks think that's a bad thing. Apparently, canola oil causes inflammation, and that's something I'm trying to avoid.

Also, there are a total of 4g of sugar, all of which are "added sugar." You'd think there'd be some natural fructose from the strawberry puree, but I guess the amount is negligible. Must all come from the cane sugar.


And this dressing is definitely sweet. It's at least teetering on the verge of too sweet. It's quite strawberry forward, and there's definitely a spicy, earthy basil essence underneath. The vinegar flavor doesn't come through very much at all. The dressing isn't particularly tangy or tart to my taste buds.

$3.99 for the 8 serving bottle. I wouldn't buy this one again. I just don't do sweet summer berry salads enough to make it worth it, and I feel like I've had better berry balsamics and berry vinaigrettes than this one. As usual, Sonia will be a little more positive and lenient. She likes the sweetness level and strawberry flavor.

Two and a half out of five stars from me. Three and a half stars from Sonia for Trader Joe's Strawberry Basil Vinaigrette.



Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Monday, July 3, 2023

Trader Joe's Calabrian Chili Spicy Pasta Sauce


Some of you might remember a Calabrian chili soup reviewed on this blog a couple years ago. Russ apparently liked it quite a bit, but Sonia and I were unable to procure a jar at the time. And it was just brought to my attention that Trader Joe's Bomba Sauce is made with Calabrian chilis too. We love that stuff and have it all the time, but I never realized I was eating Calabrian chilis until now! Guess I should read labels once in a while.

Anyway, we were able to snag this fancy pasta sauce on our last TJ's run so we can see what all the fuss is about. First impressions? Holy cow! How is this not MORE popular?

Trader Joe's Calabrian Chili Spicy Pasta Sauce flaunts a bright, tangy, smoky, sweet flavor profile with a moderate amount of zesty Calabrian chili heat. There's something fruity, almost citrusy to the taste. It's got some faint onion and garlic vibes and some typical Italian herbs like oregano and basil, but all in all, this is just head and shoulders above your average Italian pasta sauce.


I'd put the heat level somewhere around a 5 or 6, on a scale of 1 - 10. It's enough to clear your sinuses and warm your chest, but not enough to make you want to slow down shoveling forkful after forkful into your mouth.

My only complaint is that I'd like a chunkier version. There are little slivers of onion throughout the sauce, but they're quite small and far and few between. I'm really tempted to throw a bunch of beans and veggies into the remainder of this sauce and make an actual vegetarian chili or even get some ground beef and turn it into chili con carne.

I'd try this on any kind of pasta, pizza, or as a glaze for red meat, poultry, you name it. I really like this sauce a lot and could see it becoming a mainstay in our house. I can't imagine me craving boring old Ragu or Prego over Calabrian chili sauce ever again.


$4.99 for the jar. Absolutely will buy again. I'm sure there are other brands and varieties of Calabrian chili pasta sauce out there, but please don't discontinue this one, Trader Joe. Or offer a chunky version before you do. Four and a half stars from Sonia for Trader Joe's Calabrian Chili Spicy Pasta Sauce. Perfect five from me. 

Happy Fourth of July!

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.


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