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Showing posts with label meh. Show all posts
Showing posts with label meh. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Trader Joe's Honey Mustard & Onion Seasoned Pretzel Pieces

This is not meant as any undue attack or unforward critique of one of the all time classics...but there is a serious need of innovation here.

Yes, we are talking about Trader Joe's Honey Mustard & Onion Seasoned Pretzel Pieces. If anyone could have magically pulled this off, I would have counted on TJ's to Wonka-fy it into existence. They didn't. I can't really be disappointed, because it just might be impossible, but still...I had hopes, only to be in vain.

You see, there is a fundamental issue with many snack food items, and honey mustard onion pretzel pieces are probably the best, clearest example. It's such a strong flavor, right? You know it when you taste it. The sweetness and bite of vinegar, the saltiness of the onion, the goodness of whatever other odd spices are sprinkled know what I speak of. If you've ever had a honey mustard onion pretzel, you'll know exactly what this taste like.

That's not precisely the issue, of course.

Instead, it's this question: how many bites of a perfectly balanced flavored snack do you actually get, per bag? It can be frustratingly few.

Alas, there's no exception here.

The first few portions out of the top of the bag are surprisingly bland. Like, they look like they should taste like something, and they kinda do...but not really. All that flavor dust went south for the winter and never came back.

Work towards the equator and there's a couple great bites in there, that taste like a little bit of everything and not too much of anything. Snack time bliss, that's what that is. Yum.

But then there's the bottom third or more. It's where everything settled. A little bit is good, but then for such a strong flavor like honey mustard and onion, it gets way too powerful way too quick. It's hard to have too much, unless you're really hungry.

I was really hopeful for some sort of innovative solution that TJ's would bring forth to the masses here. Maybe it'd be a scientific break though, in that some sort of edible, tasty glue or adhesive would hold on more tightly to the flavor crystals, so all would arrive in factory perfected form. Or that the delivery driver would bring them in a rented out concrete truck, tumbling the packages all the way from distribution center to retail. How about a paint-shaker type contraption in the stockroom? Or, like, maybe like the stockperson would give them an expertly vigorous shake before putting on the shelf, with the cashier giving an instructional DVD to purchasers to ensure even flavor distribution and snack food satisfaction all the way to the point of the consumption, so that if a consumer didn't fully love a balanced, even, delicious morsel of honey mustard onion pretzel that'd be squarely on them as some sort of societal outcast worthy of weeping and gnashing of teeth? It's not like TJ's employees are doing anything else these days.

I kid, of course, but alas, it was not to be. Here we go instead from predictable palatal progression from mediocre to delicious to "a bit much." Sigh.

But apparently I like them, enough to have devoured more or less the whole package myself with a few bites spared for the kiddos. It took a few days to be sure. My lovely bride didn't even try them - she's not opposed, she technically had opportunity, but in her opinion the window of time afforded her was too short -  so I'm flying solo here, which is dangerous. So, spoons? Sure. Need a breakthrough to get to that next level.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Honey Mustard & Onion Seasoned Pretzel Pieces: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Nut Duo

Pearl Jam has long been a favorite band of mine. Classic grunge and rock - it's hard not to like. Have never seen them live unfortunately, but that'll change...sometime...I hope. I've had my chances and have whiffed on them thus far.

That being said...they got some real crappy stuff they put their name on. No, I'm not just talking "Spin the Black Circle" that somehow won a Grammy, just for having the Pearl Jam name on it when they were one of the hottest things around. Have you heard their new song, "Dance of the Clairvoyants"? What in the heck is that?

It's kinda the same deal with Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Nut Duo.

EBTB! So hot right now! It's a seasoning! It's a salmon! It's...probably at least five other TJ's products I can't recall right now. Thanks, beer. And now it's on a pair of nuts.

Could be hot. Could be great. But more likely than not, like those Pearl Jam tunes, it'll skate by on the premise of its name instead of its merits.

It's that aforementioned Everything but the Bagel Seasoning, which is great on everything, including, ironically, bagels,  but on almonds and cashews. That's it. That's all. Must be have been a slow week for the product developers to come up with this.

First, almonds. As far as base nuts, almonds are definitely a step above peanuts, but man, they're still kinda dull. And it's disappointing that by looks our bag is roughly two parts almonds to one part cashews. Need me more quality nuts in this bag!

And for whatever reason, the seasoning blend doesn't translate well onto nuts. It just doesn't. Whatever makes it resonate well on meat and veggies and eggs and, ironically, bagels, just doesn't work here. Yeah, it's there, but not exactly delicious. It's more of a "meh" than an "oooh."

In short, nuts make a great snack. Flavored nut mixes make an even greater snack. But there's so much better out right now - looking at you, Olive & Herb Mix - that makes this mix not too inspiring, with a twinge of feeling like it was kinda mailed in. For $3.99, it's an okay deal but one we are likely to repeat. Feeling charitable, so my lovely bride will hit it with a three each.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Everything but the Bagel Nut Duo: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Trader Joe's Black Bean Dip

As a parent, one of the rules I have is "don't yuck someone else's yum." It's only polite, and encourages my kids to try new things. And naturally as a corollary, my kids aren't allowed to tell someone else they're not gonna like something, because, again, encouraging boldness and discovery. If you try, you're halfway to triump, and if you sigh, you're halfway to silence. So c'mon c'mon.

Obscure Rustic Overtones anyone? Anyone? One of the best concerts I've ever been to, like 20 years ago....I'm old.

Anyways, naturally, I'm guilty of breaking this rule on occasion, and most recently with my youngest who was making a beeline for Trader Joe's Black Bean Dip.

It was in best of intentions, even though I hadn't tried it yet. Look: jalapenos. Serranos. Even habaneros. This has got to be spicy, and I've seen my kids ingest anything with a hint of spice before...I didn't want to deal with it.

She tried it anyways, and come to find out, not only did she love it, there was nothing for me to worry about.

Listen: this black bean dip isn't spicy. At all. It's calm and surprisingly mild. Even the black beans at like Qdoba are way spicier. No heat, and no real flavor except cool black beans. Beans is all it is, it tastes. Sure, with a little work, there's a little sublety at play here - the smallest touch of heat, a smidge of garlic and whatnot - but no, not spicy. At all. None.

That's my major takeaway. My lovely bride thinks it has more flavor than I - it's possible, I've been scorching myself with the case of TJ's bomba sauce I procured recently - but she has another quibble. It's not really a "dip" per se. We broke so many chips trying to scoop out just a little. The dip is full of entire beans, with some smushed up as a paste-type deal to hold it all together.

More flavor, and perhaps a rebranding to "bean taco filler" or something hopefully more appetizing sounding than that would work. Really I could see this stuff working great as a base for tacos or filling up inside a quesadilla as a protein source. That would better use of its consistancy and allow for flavor optimization, so all problems solved.

In the end, I'm neither yucking nor yumming but more meh-ing. Same with my lovely bride. Double threes.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Black Bean Dip: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Trader Joe's Buffalo Style Chicken Dip

At no time, under any circumstance, is double dipping okay.

Don't. Just don't. Ugh.

I need to remind my kids of this constantly. I don't like to think I'm much of a germaphobe, but once something has been in somebody else's mouth I want nothing to do with it. It's gross. Listen - I don't even double dip when I know I'm gonna be the only one dipping. Don't do it!

Any serial double dippers out there? If so, shame on you, and I have a New Year's Resolution to propose to you.

All that being said, I'm double dipping this week when it comes to Trader Joe's Buffalo Style Chicken Dip.

Key difference: it's all just metaphorically speaking after my earlier review of the Green Goddess Dip, in which I admitted I'm not a huge dip fan. The big exception, of course, is buffalo chicken dip - who doesn't love it? Gotta go for it.

TJ's take is about average overall, in my opinion. There's some definite high points. For instance, these plenty of shredded-to-bits breast that literally make the dip chock full of chicken. Copious amounts of meat is always a plus. And there's a nice enough of a cayenne-inspired sting that slowly builds, enough to be noticed but not ever unpleasant. It's maybe a four on a 1 to 10 scale of spicy, which I think is accessible to most folks.

Issue's neither bird nor spice that make up most of the flavor. It's almost all sour cream. It's impact is somewhat dampened by cream and Monterey Jack, but also a little amped by the presence of vinegar in the cayenne pepper sauce. Because of this, when making my own buffalo chicken dip, I tend to stay away from sour cream. Buffalo chicken dip should be spicy, not sour, and here it is, mostly sour.

All that being said, yeah, I can eat my fair share of this dip, and probably more. As my lovely bride said, for being no work whatsover, it's pretty decent. But it could be better...much better. I've seen some online chatter about some other folks augmenting the dip with a little added spice of their own, which makes sense to me. Meh. Not great, not bad either, I'll take it for the $4ish bucks it cost for the tub. 

Both my wife and I want to give it a three, but since we ain't gonna double dip on scores, I'll sneak an extra half spoon on.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Buffalo Style Chicken Dip: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, November 18, 2019

Trader Joe's Rose Fingerling Potato Chips

Ooooh la la. Don't these sound fancy now? They're not just Trader Joe's Rose Fingerling Potato Chips, they have French Grey Guerande Sea Salt sprinkled on them! Never heard of that? Me neither! But sounds so fancy!

And look at them! They're called rose for a reason - they're pink! Well, they have pinkish swirls in them, at least. As the only male inhabitant of my household, I can attest to the fact that this only adds to the excitement of the purchase for most of my crowd, particularly the younger constituents.

Sound fancy, look they taste fancy?


In a blind taste test, I don't think I could tell these apart from any other crunchy kettle cooked chip. There's really nothing overly special here that I can detect. Crunchy, earthy, a little greasy, salty - yep, a good chip, for sure, but really not anything more than that.

Couple points though. First, either my local store's shipment had a particularly harrowing journey or these must be very fragile chips. I say this because the bag we bought was only about half-full, with lots of spud shards at the bottom. This seemed more than the norm. It's a good thing my girls and I like the little crumbies in our tummies because there were ample to go around.

Also: the price. It's not too horrible at $2.99, but that's more than the average bag at TJ's. It's also much smaller. Portion-wise, you're not getting as much bang for the buck as you could with other chips, which would be fine if the fingerlingers were a little more unique.

It's possible that maybe I'm just not sophisticated enough to fully appreciate the divine nature of these chippies, but neither would be my lovely bride, who is usually more attuned to those type of things. She took a bite or two and promptly labelled them as mediocre then let me and the kiddos squabble over the rest. 

We're unlikely to repurchase, as we don't buy chips too often anyways, and these were just meh at best.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Rose Fingerling Potato Chips: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Trader Joe's Cuban Style Citrus Garlic Bowl

For a dude who's been co-writing this blog for over eight years now, you think I'd have a better pulse check on the new products pipeline for Trader Joe's. Lol. Nope, not at all. It's not accurate to say "painfully oblivious" as TJ's tends to be quite secretive about things, but normally I don't hear or see anything new until my lovely bride tells me about an Instragram or Facebook post she saw. That makes me about 1,876,542nd in line to hear about anything.

I'd settle for just jumping her place and finding out about anything before she even has a chance to tell me about it.

And finally, I got my chance with the new Trader Joe's Cuban Style Citrus Garlic Bowl.

Ha! I told her about it! I'm the one who tagged her and got her to say "oooo" with that gotta-try-that inflection. I'm the one who went to the store and hunted it down while corraling our Halloween costume-wearing kiddos, not her. I won. O'Doyle rules! This has got to be a winner....right?


Only kinda sorta, unfortunately, if only for spousal bragging rights.

Let's look at the premise here. Plentiful chicken bites - I don't mind dark meat if it means a few more bites. Seasoned yellow rice - likely means turmeric. Black beans and plantains - two of my favorites. Zesty citrus and garlic sauce - sounds intriguing. Looks like some bell pepper and some other goodies in there too. Looks like a Cuban one way ticket to Flavortown, sans Guy Fieri. 

But for all of that, there's just not much flavor. "Bland" isn't the right word. It's more perhaps "understated" or "muted." Most of the mix doesn't taste like much except a faint hint of orange and some subtle, subtle heat. Really, the only bites that pop are the plantains, which there were far too few of. With their natural sweetness and earthy starchiness, the plantains made a perfect platform for the spices and flavors to really come out and play, especially the garlic which I detected nowhere else in this dish.

That doesn't make the TJ's Cuban bowl a bad dish, it just could have been better. My suggestion; more plantains! Heck, I'd even sacrifice the chicken if it meant room for more plantains. That's saying something here.

As usual, my lovely bride may have put it best. "For all the salt and calories and everything else in there, I just felt it wasn't worth it," Sandy said. I'm inclined to agree. At $3.49 for a one serving microwavable paper dishful, there's certainly far worse options out there, but there's better ones too. This TJ's Cuban bowl seems like one of those products teetering on the fine line of flash-in-the-pan and longterm staple product availability, so if you see it, give it a try, but don't expect to be wowed.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cuban Style Citrus Garlic Bowl: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Trader Joe's Vanilla Mochi

As long as I've been shopping there, there has always been mochi at Trader Joe's, but this here is a new iteration of the Japanese-American frozen treat. They've always carried Mikawaya brand, although to be honest, I'm not 100% sure if they still do. Also, from time to time they've released their own flavors—everything from mango to pumpkin to coffee.

But as far as I know, this is the first time Trader Joe's has offered "plain" flavors with their own branding. It should be pert near impossible to screw up vanilla after tackling all those other oddball breeds, right? answer to that question is a solid "maybe." And the maybe depends upon your feelings about the rice-based shell of this hand-held dairy dessert. I myself liked it just fine. I must admit it's a little thicker and chewier than almost any other mochi I've ever had, but it's not necessarily worse in my book, simply different. Sonia, on the other hand, hated it.

She felt like the outer mochi shell was too bulky and claimed it made the product taste and feel "stale." It moved independently of the ice cream within and kind of separated from it as you'd bite the mochi ball, whereas other mochi ice creams and shells blend seamlessly. I can totally see where she's coming from. I just didn't mind it as much.

As far as the ice cream, we were both okay with it, but not totally floored. In my opinion it tasted and felt like frozen whipped cream, rather than a rich, complex true vanilla. Fortunately, I really like whipped cream. Sonia, again, wasn't impressed at all, although she felt a little more positive about the dairy elements than the rice elements. She thought it was a bit like McDonald's-esque soft, you know, not exactly top-shelf, but still cold, creamy, and edible.

$4.49 for six mochi that come in a weird plastic egg carton-like container. Not exactly a stellar value, either. They'll do in a pinch, but we've seen better mochi from Trader Joe's, as well as from other brands. Two stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Trader Joe's Peruvian Potato Chips

Salt is bad, salt is bad, salt is bad. Yes, yes, yes. I know, I know, I know.

Still...does that really stop any of us?

You can limit all the sodium intake you want, it's still out there. It's inherent in almost anything. I mean, even Cheerios, which don't taste salty at all, still have a pretty hefty amount of sodium per serving for what it is.

One cannot avoid sodium. You can only try to get out of its way as much as possible. Like...not buying chips for instance.

Or if you do, consider getting the new Trader Joe's Peruvian Potato Chips.

Not. Salty. At. All.

Will admit, not realizing their low-Na ways, I was a little disappointed with the first bite. No matter how much I've love to reprogram my tastebuds, when I'm having chips, man, I want that salt. There's barely any here though. So my tongue automatically defaults to words like "bland" and "tasteless."

It's not really the case, though. I've been to Peru, and I don't really remember any big deal being made about their potatoes grown down there in the shade of the Andes. But these are good potatoes. Compared to perhaps the American standard of the Idahoan Russet, they taste perhaps a little earthier, a little nuttier. It's kinda fun that they're a little purpley, too. It's subtle flavor but it's good.

The texture and feel of these TJ's crispers strays a little more towards kettle cooked while not being as full out crunchy. I could do with a bit more crunch, to be honest, but they'll do as is.

Overall, I'm alright with these chips. They still are a little plain as they are, but would probably work well dipped in something. You know, for like more sodium and stuff. Eh well. I'm neither amazed nor dismayed, and neither is Sandy. We'll kinda shrug our way through this bag and see if we buy again, on the rare occasion we actually buy chips. Middlin' scores each.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Peruvian Potato Chips: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Monday, August 12, 2019

Trader Joe's Chocolate Hummus

There are certain things I don't ever really want Trader Joe's to come out with: banana flavored horseradish sauce, caramel baba ghanoush, hot dog ice cream, any kind of kale-based dessert, or elephant dung espresso beans, just for a few examples. I might have added chocolate hummus to that list if we had not, in fact, purchased it on our last TJ's run. 

But purchase it we did, despite both Sonia and I initially reacting with disgust. Could a combination that odd possibly be good? Sure, anything's possible. I was kinda hoping that it would be just one of those marketing snafus—you know something that doesn't necessarily sound good, but actually is good—not unlike purple yam ice cream, I guess. 

Somebody tweeted about this product last week. Of course, I can't find the tweet now, but it said something to the effect of "The chocolate hummus is great. It tastes like brownie dough." Sounded promising. I was thinking, "Well if that's the case, then why didn't they just call it 'vegan brownie dough dip' or something moderately enticing instead of chocolate hummus...?" Then they could just let us discover that it's made with garbanzo beans after we've had a strawberry or two dipped in it and we've already fallen in love with it. Everybody wins.

Dessert hummus just didn't sound appealing to me, but I absolutely love chick peas, hummus, and I don't have any major problems with chocolate, either. So we dove right in. Aaaand at first bite, I tasted chocolate...and hummus. Just in case the first bite was a fluke, I took a second. Again, chocolate....and hummus. They didn't call it "brownie dough dip" because it's chocolate hummus. It is hummus...that's chocolate flavored. And there's just not quite enough chocolate flavor to drown out the garbanzo-y hummus flavor, which, again, I love...just not when it's mixed with chocolate. It's truly very close to the unappetizing flavor I imagined in my mind when I first heard the phrase "chocolate hummus." It's a darker, cocoa-ish chocolate flavor that's not very sweet, but still characteristically very chocolatey, and in my opinion, doesn't blend very well with the earthy, legumey goodness of chick peas. 

Everybody knows strawberries and chocolate go great together. Would you ever add hummus to your chocolate strawberries? Did it ever occur to anyone to mix Gone Berry Crazy with hummus? If your answer to either of those questions is "yes," then go ahead and try this stuff. You might love it. I, however, did not.

Even the texture is identical to traditional hummus. There's a fair amount of grittiness to it. I wasn't a huge fan of the way it mixed with fruit. Strawberries, raspberries. Neither worked perfectly in my opinion. I tried it with pita bread, just because, you know...hummus and pita, right? Wrong. I almost wanted to try it with pita and peanut butter and see if that worked, but we didn't have pb on hand, and I had kinda noped out by that point anyway.

Could it ever replace Nutella or Cocoa Almond Spread? Not in our household. Not that we have Nutella much anyway, but I'd never put this stuff on par with the classic hazelnut spread for any dessert-ish applications.

Sonia? She couldn't make up her mind. The only word she could utter after I demanded she share her impression of the product was "weird." "I dunno. It's weird, it's weird," she kept repeating, as if stunned by the audacity to even create such an enigmatic commodity. If it were up to this guy, the tub would go back for a no-hassle refund. Sonia wants to give it another chance, suggesting that she'll eat it plain, one spoonful at a time, although, even as she says it, it's obvious she's turned off by the notion.

Three stars from Sonia. Two from me.

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Trader Joe's Shrimp Scampi Lasagna

Hmmm...., bubbly, cheesy lasagna...

...baking at 400 degrees for nearly an hour...

...on a hot, humid July evening... an insulated, Thermosified brick oven of a house, with no AC...

...just to sit in your stomach, requiring a shower after to cool down from. With your house all heated up from that oven.

Yeah, I'd almost pretty much have to say no to that.

Except we're talking about Trader Joe's Shrimp Scampi Lasagna. It's all the rage on Instagram from what I hear from my lovely bride. So, off to do our sacred duty once more.

The whole premise of this product sounds great, right? Make a decent shrimp scampi except in lasagna form, with the layered noodles and whatnot. Add enough garlic and butter to make a sanguivoriphobic Paula Deen blush and it should be a slam dunk, right? How can this lose?

For perhaps the first time in reviewing TJ's products, I'd say the failure is the shrimp itself.

Listen, I get what they're going for here. With the open intent of making the product even more lasagna-esque (and likely also to help obfuscate how many shrimp are actually in here), the shrimp here are ground up. As in, not whole. As in, not fleshy and firm but instead little mealy tidbits kinda resembling really bad ground turkey. It just doesn't work. The shrimp tastes fine but still just seems wrong, if that makes any sense. Ground shrimp? That'd be a no from me.

Everything else works well enough if graded on a frozen pasta curve. There's plenty of the mozzarella/Parmesan cheese mix to go around - even my cheese loving kids said there was a little bit too much. I got a pretty good guilty pleasure from scraping some of the last remnants from the tray that had some extra butter and garlic on them. The white wine sauce was solid if not overly notable except a little tick up in spice from some crushed red pepper, and noodles were fine and firm and all that.

Still, yeah, the shrimp...the scampi lasagna would have been better with whole shrimp, even if it meant shrimp in less bites. Quality over quantity.

The setup costs $5.99 and comes as 3.5 serving tray. We picked up two to have for our family and it seemed about the right idea. My lovely bride enjoyed the shrimp lasagna just fine, without the same qualms I had. One kid scrunched her nose at it but ate it anyways, mostly, while another one asked for seconds, so there's a plus. I don't love it, I don't hate it, there's a good chance I wouldn't buy it again but wouldn't be upset if we did.

Maybe we can wait til it's cooler out though.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Shrimp Scampi Lasagna: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Trader Joe's Patio Potato Chips

Eating outside in the summer is pretty great, isn't it? I think so. A couple times already this not-quite-summer, Sandy and I have pulled our kitchen table out to our smallish back deck and piled everyone out there for a laidback "snacky dinner" - veggies, fruit, chips, hummus, cheese, etc. More times than not, something off the grill, which i'll fire up as the kids are playing in the sprinkler. It's great. Everyone gets to eat what they want, avoid what they don't.

In a similar vibe, here's Trader Joe's Patio Potato Chips. Everything about them evokes that eating outside, picnicky, snacky feel, from the name to the illustrations to the fun concept of four flavors of chips all mixed together. They're kinda like a summery-choose-your-own adventure package, right? And chips! Show me a decent picnic without chips...tough to do!

So, how these TJ's tangled taste taters fare?

Well, like many things, the concept is brilliant but the execution is a bit sloppy. There's four flavors here - salt and vinegar, dill, ketchup and barbeque. I can't tell the ketchup and barbeque ones apart after multiple tastes, and it takes a little discernment to tell the vinegar and dill ones apart, too. Part of the issue is, of course, they're all mixed up with flavor seasonings rubbing off on one another all the way from point of manufacture to point of consumption.

This leads to another point, sort of: if eaten all together, really the only flavor that stands out is, well, vinegar. It's probably because it's the punchiest of the varieties. But if there's a few dill chippies, there's more of a pickley taste, and if there's any of the other ones, they take one more of a sweet pickle type flair. That's not necessarily awful but perhaps not what everyone would be looking for.

Other than that, for the most part, they're pretty good chips. All of the chips are ridged and crispy with a little of the requisite greasiness that define high levels of snackitude. I mean, even when unsure how well all the flavors really melded together, I was downing way too many of them, so there's that. Sandy said she would have preferred if they different types were differently textured, so as to more easily tell them apart. I could be down for that as well.

Overall, the patio chips are an okay pickup. Chances are we'd buy again, but our girls weren't the hugest of fans so maybe not. Sandy gives them only a 2.5 for their flavor identity uncertainty issues. That's a touch low but not too far off the mark. I'll go with a 3.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Patio Potato Chips: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Trader Joe's Spicy Salmon Gyoza

Taking one for the team! It's what I do!

Seriously, as second out of four kids, I have classic middle child syndrome. Always had ever since my little sister was born. Remember minivans with only one side door and bench seats so there was that back corner spot? Who always volunteered for it, on the long road trips we'd take to New England as a kid? Me! Happily. Heck, one vacation up to my grandparent's old cabin, everyone realized we shorted ourselves a bed and blankets. So who volunteered to sleep in the van without complaint! Me! I was like 10. True story.

Kinda extends to the blog...except you're all like my TJ's siblings, and since this is where we all meet, I'm still in the middle. So if there's something a bid odd, a bit strange, a bit new looking, I'll happily volunteer to try it out...even if I'm a bit, well, apprehensive about it.

Such as it is with Trader Joe's Spicy Salmon Gyoza. TJ potstickers a common freezer staple, but those are like chicken, and pork, and stuff...salmon though. That's a different level. I like salmon just fine...but as a frozen dumpling? Errrr...well...I got it! I'll try it out! All for you all.

Pro tip: Don't bust them open while cooking, as I did. That's why I didn't take a pic of the actual product...because it looks, well, kinda gross. Smushed up salmon, some cabbage strands, some edamame, all in a pinkish a parent of small kids, there's a certain thing that came right ot mind that this resembled.

No matter, how it taste?!?!?! I think "interesting" is a good word. How to describe it? There's a certain fishiness to the salmon, a bit more than expected. It kinda leads off the flavor profile as dominant. Soon enough, there's some chili and sriracha and pepper that creeps in, and then lingers for a while. But there's still this fishiness that impedes it all. A cleaner tasting protein, whether it be salmon or chicken or pork, would have been a vast improvement.

Also, the salmon seems to be mushier than other gyoza in TJ's inventory. Not that any of them are overly firm, but there's at least a semblance of fleshiness to them. Not here. It's not completely unpleasant, but to that I'd say I'd have a hard time eating them if not sauteed a little bit first to get a little crispiness to the wrapper. A soggy steamed only outer shell just wouldn't work here, I don't think.

The instructions say to pair with your favorite sauce. There seems to be enough flavor here to not warrant too much more in terms of dipping dumplin's in a little sumpthin', but if that's your thing it could work. I'd suggest something mildish.

My receipt says the bag cost $4.99, but I swear the price tag on the freezer window said $4.19...regardless, it's not an awful price for an alright product. I guess the biggest thing to me is when I eat gyoza or dumplings or anything close to them, I crave more of a comfort vibe, and these seem more experimental. Good try though, and I applaud the overall effort. Chances are I'll finish the bag but it'll take me a bit to, especially if my beautiful bride continues to decide to sit them out as a non-salmon fan.

Middle kid gives these a middle score...can that keep everyone happy? Please?

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Spicy Salmon Gyoza: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Monday, March 25, 2019

Trader Joe's Milk & Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Popcorn

Growing up, most of us were aware of Whoppers—the candies, not the burgers. They weren't super high on my list of preferred treats, nor were they highly sought after by most of my cohorts. There were one or two oddballs in our class that liked them, but by and large, they seemed to be a snack favored by older generations. 

I can even remember my father talking about "malted milk balls" to some of my young friends and I when we were kids. All of us youngsters looked at each other asking, "What the heck is a 'malted milk ball'?" "That sounds gross," we unanimously agreed. It wasn't until much later that when aged folks would refer to malted milk balls that we youngsters would reply, "Oh. You mean Whoppers." I'd reluctantly consume them when they'd show up in my annual bag of Halloween spoils, but it was rare that I actually wanted or craved a malted milk ball.

These coated popcorn pieces are obviously not malted milk balls, per se. However, they remind me of them somewhat in terms of size, shape, color, flavor, and texture—and I feel very much the same about both types of candy in the end. It's hard to hate candies like this completely, but for Sonia and I, it's also hard to wholly embrace them.

The crispy inner portion—where the malted milk would have traditionally hidden—has been replaced with popcorn. It's not the first time we've seen this kind of thing at TJ's. Those reindeer dealies come to mind. In this instance, though, we see both milk and dark chocolate. Half of the pieces are just a deeper shade of brown. It takes a bit of discernment to distinguish the two flavors, though, predictably, I do prefer the milk chocolate version slightly if I really pay attention. Sonia didn't care to declare a favorite, although in general, she likes dark chocolate a bit more.

There is a thin layer of caramel between the chocolate and the popcorn, and there is, of course, salt, but both Sonia and I think the chocolate overpowers any "salted caramel" aspects of the candy. I'm not saying it's not there. I'm just saying if you want something to register as "salted caramel," you shouldn't slather it with a bunch of chocolate necessarily. Sonia doesn't even think the popcorn element is prevalent enough.

If you're craving something chocolatey and don't mind that popcorn and caramel aren't all that prominent, you still might enjoy these little guys. $2.99 for the bag. Sonia likes the packaging. It's all Eastery and springy and vernal and stuff. I guess Trader Joe's is replacing the Easter Bunny with an Easter Bear because they come out of hibernation this time of year...? Also because bears eat tons of chocolate...? And they hide in fields of daffodils...? 

Sonia said it was cute. She didn't say it made sense.

In the end, these candies just aren't very memorable in our opinions, and we probably won't buy them again. Double threes.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Trader Joe's Barbeque Popped Ridges

There's a certain order for most things, right? And when that order is out of whack, it causes a bit of confusion. Sometimes we're not even aware that there is an order until it is disrupted.

Such as it is with Trader Joe's Popped Barbeque Ridges.

Whoops, there, I did it again. I mean Trader Joe's Barbeque Popped Ridges.

See what I mean? Putting "Popped" first seems more natural, doesn't it? There's a natural order to adjectives in the English language, and while the name of this snacky TJ's new particular item isn't a textbook example (though a new particular snacky TJ's item could be), it brought this to mind.

I keep wanting to put Popped first. But it's second. Maybe it's all so I can't refer to these chips as TJ's PBR and get some hipsters really confused.

Anyways, the chips. I guess you can call them that, but as you can see, the packaging refrains from describing these snacks in that way. The texture and crunch of these ridges is more like potato stick mixed with corn chips with a little extra styrofoam. It's a little offputting and is my major demerit. I don't eat junk food like this all that often, so maybe there's other similar products out there that have the same kinda structure to them. I've had popped items before, though, but none of them struck me like this.

Everything else is pretty on par. The barbeque seasoning is pretty representative - a little tangy, a little sweet, a little smoky, a little salty. Sandy described it as "cheap bbq flavoring" which is more or less accurate - TJ's went the tried-and-true route and didn't swing for the fences here.

Not sure what else to really say about them. In all the popped ridge thingamabobs are okay, and aren't terribly pricey at less than $3 a bag. I can't see these being a new favorite, though. If these were 100% potato chip, they'd be unremarkable but fine. If they were 100% corn chip, it'd also work. But as a half-and-half conglomeration of crispy crunchy snacks, well, they're just odd. Kinda offputting. We're likely to finish the bag just fine, but it won't be in one sitting for sure. Not that bingeworthy. They are gluten free but that's likely not a huge surprise.

Sandy musters them an uninspired three while I'll slide in half a spoon behind.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Barbeque Popped Ridges: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Trader Joe's Ruby Cacao Wafers



No. No. No.

Just to make sure I wasn't crazy, as least not as it pertains to the definition of a wafer, I Googled it. There it is, first result, right up top, set forth by whichever source Google deems as most trustworthy...


Dictionary result for wafer

  1. 1.
    a very thin, light, crisp, sweet cookie or cracker, especially one of a kind eaten with ice cream.

So imagine my surprise then, when opening a bag of Trader Joe's Ruby Cacao Wafers, that I did not see any wafers any where. None.

What I see instead: all these little roundish flat purply brown rose colored morsels that looked like a nonpointy ill chocolate chip or a baby candy melt.

No cookie. No crispy stuff. Nothing waferesque at all. Just these little pebbles that would look at home in an aquarium. I was sold a sack of lies.

Fortunately, whatever you may call them, these TJ's ruby cacao thingermabobs are actually pretty tasty.

My lovely bride, ever the source of new, trendy, cool stuff she sees all over Instagram, says that ruby cacao is a newish fad sweeping America, and that in Japan there's like ruby cacao KitKats. Or, you know, things with actual wafers. I digress. Never heard of it, so here's my first go...

Wow. Unique. I'm still struggling to come up with the right descriptors. Obviously, there's a healthy chocolate element, definitely towards the darker, deeper end. Yet there's so much sweetness - not even like from a chocolate covered berry, except similar. It's just not as potent, yet fruity in a different way. I checked the ingredients to see if any fruit flavors added - nope. Apparently it's what the beans taste like, and best I can tell you is, try some for yourself if you haven't already.

The morsels are soft, softer than most chocolate chips and closer to the aforementioned candy melts, except not as chalky. Speaking of melts, the cacao bits seem to do a good job of that - pop some in your mouth but keep 'em there for a few to let the taste come alive a little and wash all over. I also nuked a few and they melted right on up without much fuss. I suppose they could be used to dip all sorts of stuff in if that's your thing.

Sandy's not overly impressed. She had a couple then opted for a cookie for her night time treat, as did our daughters. I had a few small handfuls to try and get a better sense - I'd use the word interesting or intriguing more than delicious for them. They're kinda odd, but in a good way...probably. I dunno, try them for your self, kids. Middle scores here because we don't know what else to do, the only thing we're not wavering on is these aren't wafers. Period.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Ruby Cacao Wafers: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, December 31, 2018

Trader Joe's Champagne Gummy Candies

Well, 2018, you've been an interesting year. You were certainly better to us than 2017, but that one wasn't hard to top at all. 

Sonia and I are loving life on the open road so far, and 2019 will be our first full year of nomadic living. Bring it on.

We found this fun bag of gimmicky gummies at a Trader Joe's in Austin, Texas. I don't think it ever would have occurred to me in a thousand years to turn champagne into gummy candy. But fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it—somebody did.

Each candy is shaped like a champagne bottle. Imagine that. Sonia thinks they resemble...well, I won't tell you what she said about their suggestive shape on this family-friendly blog. Just suffice it to say that I had to tell her to get her mind out of the gutter. Although, well, she kinda has a point.

The flavors are very subtle. There's rosé and brut. I want to say I can detect the difference between the two, but I wouldn't want to put money on guessing which was which in a blind taste test. They're not overly sweet or sour or flavorful. I suppose champagne is supposed to have a "dry" taste and feel to it. These do too in a way, although the dryness of champagne doesn't really lend itself to gummy candy particularly well, in my opinion. And there is actual champagne in there—but all the alcohol is burned off in the manufacturing process. I'm guessing if you were inclined to pair a gummy candy with a glass of actual champagne for some reason, this would be the product to reach for.

Texture-wise, Sonia and I both found the candy to be somewhat leathery. The "best by" date on our bag is in 2020, so it's not like they should be stale. It's an odd mouthfeel. There's no melt-in-your-mouth quality here at all. They require a tad too much masticating, if you ask us. Sonia thinks they might even pose a choking hazard, since they're "slippery" as well as overly-chewy.

If you're too cheap to spring for an actual bottle of champagne, you could probably skate by with this $2 bag of clever candies as your contribution to the NYE party refreshments. As long as people are on their way to Happy Town, they likely won't even notice that these gummies aren't that good. Meh. They're not that bad, either, I guess.

Happy New Year!

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Trader Joe's Buche de Noel Ice Cream

Buche de noel?

Never heard of it.

Seriously, I haven't.

And not that it necessarily helps make anything any better...but a yule log? Again, only a faint idea. I had to look it up. Judging by pictures, it looks like something along the lines of Swiss roll (of which I only have slightly less vague idea of what that is) or a big ol' oversized ho-ho. Now, I do know what ho-hos are...I grew up shoving them down my esophagus by the fistful. But yule logs, which is so much easier to write than its French name which translate to the same thing? Nope, never had it to my knowledge.

Maybe that ought to DQ me from reviewing Trader Joe's Buche de Noel Ice Cream...but it's ice cream and a lot of you on Instagram and whatnot said it was good, so I had to try it, and it was between reviewing this or a bag of carrot sticks. The reindeer can take care of those in just a couple short weeks.

And sorry, not impressed.

This TJ's Christmas-inspired ice cream seems to be a somewhat fancier take on the classic taste of cookies and creme. Except, of course this time, it's cake and cream. And to me, it falls short. Not that it's terrible stuff, as I reminded myself with a couple late night spoonfuls right now. The sweet cream base is alright, at best. Unfortunately it's slightly bland whereas, as always, I wanted something more bold  for what comes down to a pretty basic ice cream flavor. It's all sorts of nondescript.

And cocoa swirl? Please. There's some slightly browner areas of the ice cream, if you look at it from the right angle in the right light. It's negligable, at best.

The "cake" bits are alright, though. They're plenty rich and flavorful and help pull this dessert more towards the realm of respectability. Thing is, when I taste and feel them, it's not cake that comes to mind. It's more dense like a brownie. Still, the chocolate cake is generously and amply (and if I may say so, deliciously) swirled in and about, with multiple pieces in every bite. So we got that going on.

Still, and I may be speaking out of my South Pole here, I wonder if this would be better as a chocolate ice cream with sweet cream swirled in. Keep the cakey bits as is, more or less. That might be more approximate of a true yule log experience in ice cream form.

Both Sandy and I took a couple bites and shrugged. Maybe we're just ice cream snobs. But we're both not impressed, for much the same reasons mentioned above, and we'll not rush to return the carton by any stretch, but we're not gonna pick it up again either. Bah humbug, I guess.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Buche de Noel Ice Cream: 5.5. out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Trader Joe's Snowflake Pastry

I want to say it was two Christmases ago, but Sonia and I splurged and bought one of those O & H Danish Kringles from Trader Joe's, and it was amazing. All who partook of the pastry agreed that it was divine: family, friends, guests, and pets. The decision was unanimous. Whether dunked or dry, buttered or not, that pastry was a win, no matter how you sliced it. We neglected a review on this blog since there are generally so many Trader Joe's brand goodies to be scrutinized this time of year.

But with offerings like this one, TJ's is making us wish we'd picked up another Kringle instead.

They've got the right idea: a soft bread, almond paste filling, and some sugar sprinkled on top. But the execution is poor. Just look at the uneven distribution of the sugar. The almond paste is severely deficient throughout the bulk of the pieces, and even the bread itself is slightly sub-par.

The bites that were full of almond paste were head and shoulders better than their non-almondy counterparts, but there's simply not enough of it to go around. There's a thin ring of the stuff right where the outer lumps of bread join to the inner circle. When one snags a piece from this area, the first bite or two tends to have copious quantities of the almond paste, but after that, it's just plain old boring bread.

Unlike the Kringle, this product is conveniently divided into sections, making for potentially simpler servings. No knife needed. Simply tear off a slice with your hands, in the manner of a loaf of monkey bread or pull-apart cake. As you can see in the picture below, however, my better half did not trust my grubby paws and opted to slice her pieces with surgical precision anyway. 

The product does dunk well, absorbing a generous lot of whatever hot beverage you're sipping at the moment, but that can be said about nearly any holiday pastry, from loaves to cakes to muffins or even cookies. Heating the pastry improves both taste and texture slightly, but does not entirely redeem it.

There are about nine servings in the package, according to the nutrition info, and for once, I won't argue with that assessment. $5.99 for the whole thing makes it affordable, but probably not the best way to spend six bucks at Trader Joe's this time of year.

Sonia's biggest complaint was the uneven sugar and almond filling distribution, as well, but she was quite content dipping and dunking with her beloved java. Three and a half stars from her.

Had the bread itself been melt-in-your-mouth delicious, it might have been worth it, but as it stands, I'll be a bit Scrooge-ish and snub this poor pastry with two and a half stars.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Trader Joe's Mint Flavored Fudge Brownie Bar

Earlier this week when writing about the roasted cauliflower dip, I wrote that I dislike when I ate a lot of something and don't know if I like it or not.

You know what else stinks? Not particularly enjoying something that it seems like everyone does.

It invites too many questions. Is the product somehow defective? Did I perhaps lose some portion allotment lottery where I just so happened to receive the least choice segment that is so unlike the rest of it? Is there something wrong with me? Am I too picky? Do my taste buds work right? Do I need to see a doctor?

Such as it is with Trader Joe's Mint Flavored Fudge Brownie Bar.

No, I won't be shelling out any copays over it, but, man. Sandy and I picked this up to bring over to our good friends Mark and Emma's to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah. Figured between us and our kiddos we'd all really like it and it'd somehow match up pretty well with Emma's delicious homemade latkes (10 out of 10 Golden Spoons there).

Dessert time! Kids devoured it, as one would expect children with anything chocolate would do. Both Sandy and Emma oohed and aahed over it. I took a bite...and was not impressed.

First, the brownie portion is too small. I neglected to take a picture of the actual product but the pic on front is fairly representative. Vertically speaking, it's maybe half brownie before going into icing. I'm an icing guy. I love corner pieces of cake...but man, there needs to be something that can back that up as well. There's not enough brownie for all that rich icing, and what was there was kinda spongey. I'll give it somewhat a pass as this is a frozen product which we quick thawed in the microwave, perhaps with a different method of warming it'd turn out better.

And then, the icing.

Mint flavored? Puhleese.

Unless my tongue somehow came down with a Paula Deen version of the Midas touch, it all just tastes like butter. Butter butter butter. Where's the mint? There's maybe a scarce hint here or there, but really, it just tastes like rich, thick buttercream slabbed up on top.

The chocolate ganache does add a nice touch and for me brings the whole brownie bar back into the respectable realm, so there's that. It really needed to counteract the butteriness and pick up the brownie's slack, which it did. The ganache doesn't completely salvage the whole thing, but you'll never hear me say anything bad about ganache either.

Both Sandy and Emma admitted it could have been a lot more minty which would have upped their already positive opinion. So it's not all me...they're just more forgiving and tolerable, which is a good thing for Mark and me. Both lovely ladies graced the brownie bar with similar sentiments and scores: "Damn tasty...could have been more and delicious though," they both more or less said before plopping about a 3.5 to 4 on it each? Me? I'd go a little lower, but seeing as that I just might be the outlier here, you may take my score with a grain of sugar.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mint Flavored Fudge Brownie: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, November 19, 2018

Trader Joe's Mini Stroopwafel Ice Cream Sandwiches

"I-C-E C-R-E-A-M S-A-N-D-W-I-C-H P-L-E-A-S-E."

"Great job, M, Now spell 'stroopwafel.'"


"It's okay, baby. I don't know how to spell it either."

So it goes these days with my oldest daughter M. She's just a few months into first grade but knows how to spell most anything we can throw her way...and the thing is, she actually enjoys it. Weird kid. But she insists on spelling things at random, including when requesting her dessert the other night, which, of course, was one of Trader Joe's Mini Stroopwafel Ice Cream Sandwiches.

There's been a buzz about these recently. And with good reason. I mean....stroopwafels. Who can hate on them one bit? And ice cream too! These seem to be a match made in heaven.

I'll have to admit that I'm underwhelmed here, unfortunately. I kinda hate when something seems to be so built up, so buzzworthy, and purported to be something so amazing and divine, just for my experience to be so lacking. Is it me that's wrong, or is it all of you? Hate those questions.

Where to start? The taste. Yes, as one would expect, there's a fair amount of caramel here. But it's flat, very flat. The layer in the stroopwafel is frozen and hard and kinda bland, and it's not a strong flavor out of the ice cream either. There's none of the purported saltiness.

Also, frozen stroopwafels aren't particularly fun to bite through. Which I guess shouldn't be surprising - they are a wafer meant to be placed atop a hot cup of coffee, and we're at the other end of the spectrum here - but it's a little stiff cardboardiness going on. Ice cream layer is just fine.

I'm not impressed to be honest. These mini ice cream sandwiches could have been better with some stronger flavor and softer caramel. A serving size is two of these buggers but I was happy enough with just one - a second didn't seem worthy of my caloric indulgences for the day. I cannot be any less excited about them, which pales in comparision to how I felt pre-purchase. it's just meh all the way around, no matter how you spell it. Meh meh meh.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mini Stroopwafel Ice Cream Sandwiches: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

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