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

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Trader Joe's Carolina Gold Style BBQ Flavored Ridge Cut Potato Chips

Oh BBQ chips. Such a good ol' 'merican staple...yet so kinda stale. I mean, they're good, don't get me wrong, but when's the last time you had a truly innovative, outside the box BBQ chip? Possibly never? I guess maybe there's a tried-and-true mold, a classic, that's it's hard to innovate besides perhaps tweaking the mesquite or upping the spice a tad. 

But whereas most BBQ chippies go into more or less default Kansas City style, TJ's dare goes towards a different, delicious classic American BBQ genre: the Carolinas! And so shall it be with the the new Trader Joe's Carolina Gold Style BBQ Flavored Ridge Cut Potato Chips. 

Carolina BBQ is a lot more mustard and vinegar based. A touch sweet, definitely tangy, vaguely bitter, huge acidic bite, with varying degrees of spices and heat mixed's not my favorite, but it's right on up there for my lovely bride. Give it to me on some smoked brisket anytime though. 

That's the experience here sans brisket. Except...there's something about a potato chip that doesn't help the flavor translate as well. Not sure if it's more the mustard or the vinegar, as both are successful on chips in other flavor combos, but the flavor builds only very slowly, from not-that-perceptible to mild to fairly good to this weird bitter aftertaste. 

It's a decent chip, but there's two things here that can make them better IMHO: first, more seasoning. More spice. More stuff. Having had the real deal, I'd love something closer to the complete Carolina experience here. Secondly, let's reconsider the chip type. These big crunchy ridge cut are big and chompy and kinda thick, and not terribly greasy....maybe that's holding them back to. I love the big crunch but maybe let's go kettle-cooked, hmm? A little added grease would make them much more snacky. 

Anyways, for $3 and a change up from the norm, we'll take them happily. Our kiddos hate them so there's a plus for us. Still...meh at best for me, while the wife is more in love than I am with them. Two from me, four from her.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Carolina Gold Style BBQ Flavored Ridge Cut Potato Chips: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Trader Joe's Garlic Bread Cheese

 There's some basic things that take me entirely too long to grasp. Just ask my lovely bride. 

Latest example: What the label of the new Trader Joe's Garlic Bread Cheese was trying to convey pre-prepping. 

Bread cheese? What's that? Like...cheese with bread in it? Cool! Right? I'd give that a try. But ooh let's read the description: 'Seasoned with garlic powder & baked golden brown." Golden brown what? Bread crumbs? Something else? C'mon TJ',s tell me. What else we got here?

But upon opening, further inspection and reading of the ingredients, and the sudden realization that the word "baked" was a verb and not an adjective (it wasn't entirely clear at first, phrase parallelism be darned), it was pretty apparent: this is just some cheese with a little bit of garlic in it. Nothing much more, nothing less. 

I mean, there's nothing wrong with that. Garlic and cheese are tasty! But to expect something groundbreaking here is the wrong thought train. It's a pretty mild cheese, kinda like a cross between mozzarella for its taste and halloumi for its heat resistant properties (though not so much it's crumbly curd-y texture). There's a subtle, not-so-in-yo-face garlic flavor somewhat permeating, and is made more apparent by the glistening effect of heating the cheese for several minutes. It doesn't get all melty, just a little sweaty, and remains softly firm, if that makes sense. 

Really, though, that's it. Not everything has to be full flavor onslaught, but this TJ's garlic cheese does tilt more towards bland than bold. It's not awful, and I can what they're going for - like the cheese from cheesy garlic bread - but most of those I've had have more garlic and zest. Serving with some sauce would really help out, and I can see cutting up tiny bits for like a pasta or veggie salad, and how that'd be a welcome addition, but by itself? Meh. 

Would buy again, especially at its reasonable price point (something like $4 for the 6 oz chunk) but I'm not gonna be stocking up and probably won't notice when it's gone. Middlin' scores all around. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Garlic Bread Cheese: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Trader Joe's Spicy Porkless Plant-Based Snack Rinds

You know, when it comes to it....I really have no idea how to start here, except to say I've never been so gobsmacked out of left field before for any sort of TJ's product before. 


Vegan pork rinds?

What the what?

This pretty much sums it up when it comes to me hearing about Trader Joe's Spicy Porkless Plant-Based Snack Rinds for the first time. 

I mean, you know what a pork rind is, right? It's deep fried pork skin, render off a bunch of fat, add a bunch of spices, get a big ol' cracklin' piece that's crunchier than stale granola. It's pretty much as unvegan as you can get. Speaking from a fairly carnivorous standpoint, there's some parts of animals not high on my list, and that's absolutely one of them. 

So, instead of that, make some sort of rind-esque shape from rice meal and pea powder and bake them, so basically make them not so pork rind-y at all, except allude back to them in packaging and marketing by calling them rinds and inventing the new word "porkless." That's not fun to neither say nor type. 

Needless to say, if you're expecting a pork rind, this new TJ's snackers ain't it. There's too much amiss. First off, the crunch? It's not there. Crispy? Sure. Hard and crunchy? Not even close. It's a pretty soft bite all things considered. Maybe leave the bag open for a day or two to stale 'em up a touch if that's what you're looking for. More importantly, though, is the aftertaste. After the burn of the spice (more on that shortly) burns off, whereas a some nice fatty savory sensation from an actual pork rind would kick in to really bring the whole experience home...there's just this earthy meh-ness. i mean, I know you can expect much from rice and peas (not a knock, just saying) but they are absolutely a different flavor and taste base than any meat product, which cannot be replicated. 

All that being said, what stands out for these pig-free poppers is the spice blend. It's great! Sure, there's a touch of vinegar, but also so much more - the cayenne and little pinch of habanero really ratchet up the Scovilles while onion and garlic flesh out the flavor more. It's hot and spicy and tasty and delicious. Great seasoning, regardless of what you'd put it on. 

Really, I think instead of trying to emulate and going toe-to-toe (err, hoof-to-hoof?) with pork rinds, which as far as I know aren't exactly cornerstones of the 'murican snackfood pyramid anyways, call these guys something more like "rice and pea snacks" or something catchier. Okay, maybe I see why they went with rinds after all...but you don't have to compare yourself to others to stand out. Just be yourself. 

Failed to get a respectable pic of the ingredients and nutritional info, so here ya go. Thanks Big Joe. 

I'll eat them, may even buy again. I will admit on second tasting while writing this they grew on me a little, but I'm not the biggest fan yet. Meh, and same for my lovely bride who mehs them as well. We'll be nice, give them kudos for the spiciness, and go with threes. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Spicy Porkless Plant Based Snack Rinds: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, May 10, 2021

Trader Joe's Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake

We've seen a lot of great sweet treats and after-dinner desserts from Trader Joe's over the years, and reviews of them generally do pretty well here on the blog. For example, our most popular post of all time by far, based on total page views, is my review of the original speculoos cookie butter. Or if you go by Farcebook likes, it's my review of cookie butter ice cream. Neither product is completely unique to Trader Joe's, but in both cases, they offered something that, at the time of release, wasn't widely available in the United States at your average, everyday grocery store. Those types of imported flavors tend to be the most popular, most successful, and in my opinion, most interesting offerings from Trader Joe's. For one thing, even if their speculoos cookie butter weren't the very best example of such a product, the average American shopper wouldn't even know the difference, because a good portion of us hadn't ever tried cookie butter at the point when TJ's made it popular.

However, most of us have had strawberry cheesecake...and I'd even venture to say most of us have tried very, very delectable, mouthwatering strawberry cheesecake that nears culinary perfection. So...if you're gonna tackle something with a high standard already established, you better bring your A game, you feel me?

Let's just say we're in a parallel reality where cheesecake hasn't come to America for whatever reason. It's popular in Europe and a few Yanks have tried it and they tell tales of this rich, sweet, creamy dessert when they come back stateside and get all their friends excited to either travel abroad or have some imported. Then Trader Joe's, out of the blue, begins offering Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake. Okay. Then I'd probably be pretty enthused. Everyone would be.

But I must say, not only is this not the best strawberry cheesecake I've ever had, but it's not even the best frozen cheesecake I've ever had. Archer Farms and Cheesecake Factory both make (or made) pretty decent offerings in that department.

This product might have been a contender if they'd simply swirled that strawberry gel all throughout the middle of the product. As it is, it's only on top. And it's by far the best part of the cheesecake, at least as far as Sonia and I are concerned. The cheesecake itself seems a little dull and boring, as cheesecakes go. The graham crust is pretty decent, I must admit.

It's a sweet dessert that's adequate for a small group for an after-dinner treat or what have you, and most people would be perfectly fine downing a slice or two, just so long as they don't overthink or overanalyze like I'm doing right now. But this isn't even the best cheesecake we've seen from Trader Joe's. It's not like they messed it up, but they didn't make it particularly memorable, either.

Three stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Trader Joe's Cajun Style Alfredo Sauce


Ah, the old familiar refrain, sung daily from the shorter, stinkier faction of my evergrowing family. 

To which I always respond: Hamsters.

Heck, I'd go all Bubba Blue on them, too.  Hamsters are like fruit of the earth. Barbecue, boil, broil, bake, saute. hamster kebobs, creole and gumbo...I could go on and on. Usually it quiets them down. 

Please note: We don't actually eat hamsters here. It's all lighthearted diversion, as well as a subtle shoutout to one of the finest cartoons series to ever grace this earth

All that being said, if not some hamster, man, something else is really needed to make Trader Joe's Cajun Style Alfredo Sauce work.

As perhaps the fatal flaw for our dinner and this pertinent review, my lovely bride and I splashed a ladelfull over this new Cajun-inspired pasta sauce on just some plain rigatoni the other night. Kids had marinara so we didn't have to hear complaints of "too spicy." The result was pretty meh. 

With giving the chance to shine all by itself atop just some plain noodles, the sauce doesn't hold up well. There's a bit of cool creaminess, a bit of bite from the cheese...and paprika. Lots and lots of paprika. Paprika is all there is for spice. Paprika is good and all, but the whole spicy sensation defaults to solely that so it all feels a little one note. Sure, the grana padano slips in there too, with its parmesanesque twinge, but in the end, it's not unpleasant but seems a bit incomplete. 

Atop some roasted veggies, though? It's a better experience. Perhaps some of the taste and texture of our broccoli and Brussel sprouts took away just enough of the creaminess so other aspects of the sauce began to emerge, like pepper and  garlic and chili and fennel. Granted, paprika was still the dominant spice force, but at least it wasn't by itself. 

I'd give this another try, but would be sure to grab some chicken or sausage or hamster-stuffed alligator (for the true Cajun experience) or something to mix in with some hearty pasta and veggies. That'd seem more like it. Some sauces are meant to shine, and others meant to throw assists to the meal components, and the TJ's Cajun alfredo seems to be the latter. By its lonesome, though? Pretty meh. We'll both toss it a 3. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cajun Style Alfredo Sauce: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons. 


Friday, April 30, 2021

Trader Joe's Fruity Chewy Candy

I'm sure I've mentioned it on this blog before, but I grew up with numerous systemic food and environmental allergies. I was treated for and grew out of the food allergies, for the most part, while my environmental sensitivities still remain. None of the allergies were life-threatening, but my parents forbid me to consume any amount of the offending ingredients, among which were wheat, milk, and sugar. Just think about that. I was a kid who couldn't eat wheat or milk or sugar. The vast majority of meals and snack foods contain at least one of those things, if not all three.

So suffice it to say, it was a big deal to me when my reactions to such foods waned and my parents' resolve to keep me away from the banned substances abated. The first domino to fall was sugar. The world of tooth-rotting candies opened up to me for the first time when I was in my early tweens, and I quickly became a Starburst connoisseur. I'd go through an entire box during the course of a two hour movie, maybe sharing one or two pieces with my friends, reluctantly. I don't eat them nearly as much today, but when I saw Trader Joe's offered their very own store brand knockoff version, I had to try them.

Interesting. I thought I'd easily prefer the Trader Joe's version, but I'm not blown away. There's something odd and unfamiliar about TJ's candies that's hard to reconcile, especially after my decades-long affinity for name brand Starburst.

There are a lot of similarities, ingredients-wise, and also a few differences. Both have "corn syrup" as the number one ingredient. That's something I'd expect from mainstream candy companies, but not necessarily Trader Joe's. At least it's not high fructose corn syrup in either case. The second ingredient in both cases is "sugar," although the TJ's version specifies that it is, in fact, cane sugar. TJ's product employs the use of coconut oil in place of Starburst's hydrogenated palm kernel oil. I guess that's good. We don't want hydrogenated oils if we can help it.

Surprisingly, Starburst lists fruit juices from concentrate higher in their ingredients than Trader Joe's, which does contain "fruit juice" and "vegetable juice" in their "2% or less" section, which specifically serve as "color added." Starburst still uses chemical dyes like Red 40 and Yellow 5 for color, which are apparently somewhat carcinogenic. So...if you want your fruit chews sans cancer, that'd be a reason to reach for Trader Joe's brand.

Taste and texture-wise, I'm still going with the original Starburst over this Trader Joe's Fruity Chewy Candy. Each of the four classic flavors (orange, lemon, strawberry, cherry) is just ever so slightly less scrumptious than their name brand counterparts, and the raspberry flavor included here is even less memorable than any of the above. As an adult, I don't think I'll ever re-purchase this product at TJ's and I'll only ever eat about two Starburst at a time right around Halloween or Easter, so hopefully that's a small enough quantity to avoid death by fruit chews. If those food dyes are going to do me in, the damage was already done decades ago.

Sonia wasn't exactly overwhelmed by these candies, either, but she can't say she prefers Starburst hands down the way I can.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Trader Joe's Chocolate & Peanut Butter Joe-Joe's Sandwich Cookies


Keep on...with the force, don't stop, don't stop til you get enough....

Classic Michael Jackson song, with extra advice to Luke Skywalker tossed in? Sure, I can roll with that. 

But yeah, there's many forces in the world, and as plain as that statement is, it's even more obvious that chocolate and peanut butter combined is one of them. Is there really any such thing as "getting enough" of that classic confectionary combo? 

In a word, yes, apparently. Because such is the case with Trader Joe's Chocolate & Peanut Butter Joe-Joe's Sandwich Cookies.

Take one of Joe-Joe's usual Oreofied sandwich cookies. He won't mind, and no, the name of the cookie isn't a "Joe-Joe" - that apostrophe in the title name denotes Joe-Joe's ownership of said cookie. I'm not a lawyer but I'm fairly certain a cookie cannot own itself. Anyways, take some peanut butter creme, sandwich between two chocolate wafers, coated in candified peanut butter, and drizzle chocolate atop. Voila. It's peanut butter inside chocolate inside peanut butter inside chocolate. A confection inception worthy of reflection...but it's not perfection.

It's all...just too much. Maybe I'm just getting old and sugar bombs like these don't hold the same appeal unless I'm in the right mood but, maybe, a line has to be drawn somewhere. What's the issue? Hrrmm. It's not the cookie itself - there's absolutely nothing wrong with a good ol' sandwich cookie, especially if it's got a nice creme-y peanut butter tinge. 

Nah, instead, let's go with the peanut butter candy shell. It tastes okay but still seems off - it's not quite the flavor or the texture but maybe somehow a little of both when shellacked over a cookie. There's a difference between regular peanut butter, peanut butter creme, and candy shell style peanut butter, of which of course the coating is the last of and my least favorite out of that trio. Add on top some chocolate drizzle and man...ate one, and had to take a breather afterwards. Had another a few minutes later and that pretty much sank my battleship for the rest of the day. Too sugary. Too rich. Too heavy. Just...too much. 

Maybe on the right day in the right mood these cookies would hit differently but yesterday, when sampled, was not the day. 

A small sleeve of eight cookies cost about $4, so make of that price point what you will. Not awful. And naturally they're awful for you as well. But on the plus side, there's an ampersand in the product name - those are becoming rarer these days. I don't love 'em, but don't hate 'em either. Nothing about them is screaming repurchase or avoid to me, unless my lovely bride has an opinion on them - I totally snuck them when she wasn't looking as payback for eating the whole donut we were gonna share the other day. Don't worry love, there's still some on top of the microwave and no it wasn't the kids - it was me. 

Meh, Let's just go down the middle. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chocolate & Peanut Butter Joe-Joe's Sandwich Cookies: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Trader Joe's Organic Banana Fruit Spread

Hello friends! Last week was a bit of a tough week for the Western Pennsylvania division of the WGaTJ's-writin' team, and it's good to be back. Both my lovely bride and I came down with a case of the 'rona and were basically knocked out of commission for a few days. Thankfully, we're almost fully recovered by now. Big thanks to those crazy lovebirds Nathan and Sonia for holding down the fort once again while we were more squarely on the mend. 

It's not to say we're completely symptom free right now. My tastebuds still aren't working quite right. Everything tastes okay...but nothing tastes good. Coffee just tastes all around awful, as if I'm having it for the first time again. Of course, this is better than how Sandy is doing - she can barely smell and her sense of taste  is slowly crawling back from completely on its way to mostly dead. 

So in other words, it's baby steps from here back to full hitpoints. We'll take it. 

And if you're taking baby steps, you may as well eat baby food. 

I've heard Trader Joe's Organic Banana Fruit Spread referred to as rather baby food-esque in other social media I've been scrolling through. Didn't know if to believe it or not, or if so if TJ's could do themselves a marketing favor by slapping a baby kangaroo on the label and rebranding it as "Trader Joey's."

Nah, they shouldn't. There's too much added sugar for that. 

Really, all this spread is made of is banana, sugar and pectin. It' soft and spreadable like a nonchunky jam. The spread is smooth and even, with an odd kinda sheen to it, that definitely evokes professionally mashed banana. It's wholly a bit familiar and odd at once. 

And as may have to be my disclaimer over the next few weeks, my taste may be a bit askew but all I can taste is banana with added sugar. The result isn't candylike, like a banana runt, but still the sweetness of a banana amped up while the other features are left in check. It seems a bit off, and not, for me, 100% enjoyable. I tried some by itself, and on a waffle with a little peanut butter and chocolate chip, and both times I came to the conclusion I would have preferred a plainer, more natural banana flavor. but I guess then TJ's wouldn't have much of a product to sell, so maybe this just isn't for me. 

Our kids will probably go ape for it though, and in the end the 'nana spread seems to be a relatively alright jar of jam or jelly, so if they like it, full speed ahead, ya little monsters. 

I'm a solid meh. Sandy, with her zero taste right now, doesn't have much of an opinion but noted it does have a pleasing enough texture at the very least. Put as down as a meh for both how we're feeling and how we're rating this product, and we''ll be glad to revisit later. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Banana Fruit Spread: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Friday, January 15, 2021

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Cookie Sticks

Personally, if it were me designing the cover art for this product's packaging, I would have gone with a narwhal. Narwhals are the only animals with a tusk that has a girth to length ratio comparable to these cookie sticks. They're very long and very thin, hence the moniker "sticks" as opposed to "bars," "batons," or "fingers."

If I were instructed by my creative director to steer clear of narwhals for some reason—perhaps they're too freakish looking for a box of cookie sticks, or they carry connotations of cold climates and frigid waters, or they're just too cumbersome-looking in general—the next obvious choice is a unicorn, right? I mean, they're not real, and their horns are significantly shorter than these sticks in relation to their thickness, but at least everybody knows they're fun mythical animals with horns coming out of their heads.

Instead, Trader Joe's packaging artists decided upon a zebra-like animal to grace the cover of this cylindrical container. Regular zebras don't even have horns. Only unicorns do. So, logically, this would be a zebracorn. What's a zebracorn, you ask? It's pretty much my favorite animal. It's like a zebra and a unicorn mixed...bred for its skills in magic.

You feel me?

The tubular box is unique. There's a tab around the middle that you tear off and then the top separates so you can access the cookie sticks, and it slips right back onto the bottom when you're done. It's not air-tight, though, so it does little to prevent exposure. We found the sticks got stale in fairly short order. 

Even on day one, they weren't exactly show-stoppers. There's a lightly sweet and salty bread as a base and a semi-sweet dark chocolate coating. They tasted fine to both of us, but we weren't blown away. We tried dipping them in coffee, but they don't retain the liquid very well. They're vaguely crunchy, nearly pretzel-esque, texture-wise. It's a nice mouthfeel, but they seemed to lose some of that initial crispness if you don't finish them right away.

I must admit, they're convenient and snackable. I just wish they delivered a little more in the flavor department. For the price, $1.69, they're a decent enough value. Not sure if we'd purchase again, though. Three stars a piece for these zebracorn horns.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Trader Joe's Chocolate Lava Gnocchi

Gnoccolate. C'mon, man. You missed a golden opportunity to create a beautiful new word, Trader Joe. 

In keeping with this week's chocolate theme so far, it's time to take a look at something many of you already have an opinion of: Trader Joe's Chocolate Lava Gnocchi. We were unable to obtain them last year, so since Sonia and I haven't had much luck scoring this year's newest products in a timely fashion, we'll be sharing our opinions on this formerly buzzworthy product making its sophomore appearance in Jolly Old Saint Joe's frozen section, just in case you're still sitting on the fence about making the $2.99 purchase or not.

It's not the first time we've seen Trader Joe's choc-ify something that's not traditionally chocolatey or desserty. I wasn't particularly impressed with last year's chocolate hummus, but all four of us on the team appreciated the chocolate raspberry tamales in the happy golden days of yore. Do they still sell them? Didn't see them on our last run. Oh well. They should if they don't.

In my opinion, these chocolate lava gnocchi fall squarely in between the two aforementioned choc-ified concoctions. They're not the sweet, rich, indulgent desserts I was hoping for, nor are they a wholesome savory dinner item, either. They're basically chocolate-flavored potato balls. If that sounds good to you, then you might love 'em.

But you also might hate 'em. They're starchy. Like very starchy. Potato is about the most starchy substance I can think of. And then whoever formulated this product was like, "Hey it's not starchy enough with just potato puree. Let's add some rice starch and more potato starch. Then Starchy Joe's Starchy Starch Balls with Starch and Chocolate will be complete!"

I mean, they do taste like chocolate. But like I said before, it's not the rich sweet flavor I was hoping for. A little whipped cream goes a long way in terms of sending these gnocchi in the indulgent dessert direction, but doesn't make them entirely delectable. As far as "lava" is concerned, there's not much. No need to evacuate the town at the bottom of Mount St. Gnoccolate. There's a mild wetness you can see in the center of a piece cut in half on the right side of the pic I took, but even that gets sucked right back into the starchy void before it can really liquefy completely and flow freely. So the lava factor was disappointing. 

Also, they look like fresh reindeer droppings.

We'll have no problem finishing the bag today. We had most of them for breakfast. Is that weird? But we probably won't re-purchase. Three stars a piece.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joe's Dark Chocolate Bar

In the spirit of the season, we'll be making a list and checkin' it twice:

Trader Joe's. Check. 

Candy cane. Yes. 

Joe-Joe's. Yup.

Dark chocolate. Texas sized 10-4. 

A chocolate bar with a name like Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joe's Dark Chocolate Bar should be fun, festive, seasonal, joy inducing. A cure for what ails ya. It should be a little snippet of merriment, a little piece of contentment, a little bite of something good in a world gone mad. I mean, it's a candy bar, but really, can you blame anyone for pinning at least a little hopes of something positive on it. 

Hate to sound grinchy, but that's a bit too much for this chocolate bar. It's simply just okay, kinda good but certainly not great. Let's run through that list again and see what's naughty and nice. 

Trader Joe's - on the nice list! Really, did you expect anything different?

Candy cane. Oh there's plenty of candy cane, and it's very candy cane-y. That's a good thing. The "generously topped with crushed peppermint" is a bit of an oversell - I prefer the underpromise/overdeliver model of satisfaction personally - but there's plenty enough little candy cane shard that get all up in there and in tooth crevices and whatnot to make the bar plenty candy-cane'd up. Nice and minty and everything. No issue.

Joe-Joe's. Well, okay, here's where things start going sideways. For the uninitiated, Joe-Joe's are TJ's version of Oreos. They're rather ridiculously tasty, and featured plenty this time of year in all sorts of festive offerings. But here? It's literally just cookie crumbs from the Joe-Joe's table. There's not a lot of them, and the ones present are rather small. This could be forgiven if Joe-Joe's creme filling were somehow incorporated (like a little reservoir in the bar itself?) but nope. The cookie essence is completely lost as the cookie crumbs aren't prominent enough in either size or taste to stand out at all. It just feels like another small crunchy bit that could be attributed to a candy cane instead. Not enough in my book. 

Dark chocolate; The usual goodness here. As usual, i could do darker but no complaints. 

There ya have it. For a $1.99 you could do better for sure, and while these won't ruin your day, if your kid ends up snatching the whole thing to use for shingles for a gingerbread house you shouldn't be heartbroken either. Middling score here all around with a double 3. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joe's Dark Chocolate Bar: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons. 



Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Protein Smoothie

Growing up, my family had exactly two sit-down meals a year when my mother and father and I would eat together in the same room: Christmas Day and Easter Day. They were both uber-formal, awkward, starchy events that none of us really looked forward to. Thank goodness it was only twice a year. Even Thanksgiving was usually a buffet-style, eat-whatever-you-want, whenever-you-want type affair. Sonia ate with her parents a little more regularly than that, but often just winged it and grazed like I did.

We've both carried those habits into our adult lives and into our marriage, for good or ill, and we're constantly snacking here and there rather than setting a designated time to consume a large portion together in the same room at the same moment. We're at home far more often than usual recently, but in years past, while we traveled, and before that in the normal commuter workaday world, we were both frequent smoothie and protein shake consumers, since in many cases, these types of beverages make an excellent, filling meal-on-the-run or meal supplement.

Fiber-rich fruit smoothies were generally my personal preference, although a protein smoothie was occasionally more convenient. I just found protein smoothies to seldom have a taste and texture that appealed to me. This one's no different. The texture isn't particularly gritty in my opinion, but the flavor doesn't really lend itself to pumpkin spice. It's not sweet enough to be dessert-like, and there's too much whey protein and soy protein taste to really be palatable to me. It still tastes like "health food" that they're desperately trying to dress up as something fun and chuggable. If you ask me, it's simply not.

Sonia disagrees. She's probably more accustomed to the typical taste and texture of protein smoothies more than I am, and she definitely has a bit more affinity for pumpkin spice come fall time. I had about two or three sips up front and let the wifey drink the rest. It didn't take her long to polish it off. She thinks there's enough pumpkin spice flavor to keep it interesting. We both agree it's very filling and most of the ingredients are pretty decent.

Sonia also points out that there's not only pumpkin pie spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, but also a good amount of pumpkin puree. So I guess you're getting your veggies in addition to your protein.

There are two servings in the 16oz bottle for $2.99. Since the texture wasn't awful and the smoothie delivers 11g of hunger-curbing protein, I won't shaft it completely and throw out two and a half stars. Sonia gives it four stars and her seal of approval.

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, September 2, 2020

Trader Joe's Corn & Green Chile Pepper Quiche

I've been watching a bunch of 80's movies on Amazon Prime lately. What a weird decade. I mean, it was so carefree compared to today. Everything was loud and goofy, from music to clothing to hairstyles. It's such a stark contrast to 2020, which is why I've been finding it so refreshing to bask in all the gaudy glory of 1980's American cinema. Plus, there's not a lot I want to see in the way of new stuff right now, and it still costs $20 just to rent the third installment of Bill and Ted.

Also from the 80's: a book called Real Men Don't Eat Quiche. I mean, it's apparently satirizing the idea that certain things are more masculine to consume than others, but still...I must admit I don't know many dudes obsessed with quiche. In defense of my own masculinity: the three quiches I've reviewed on this blog represent more than half the quiche I've consumed in my entire lifetime. And so far, all of those specimens have fallen into a kind of "take it or leave it" status with me and the wifey.

As is standard for a quiche, this one's primarily made of eggs. I heated ours for 25 minutes in the oven rather than the microwave, and the insides came out surprisingly mushy, especially when one considers the outsides were extremely crispy. I know quiche should be soft, but I felt like the insides had an excess of moisture and the outsides were, if anything, a little too dry. 

Sonia pointed out that there was a decided lack of veggies, corn in particular, in the filling. We were expecting a whole bunch of corn kernels as well as more substantial chunks of chile, too. I guess we were pining for a sort of savory corn and veggie pie rather than a quiche.

Flavor-wise, it's eggy and quichey—not overly salty, sweet, or cheesy. It begs for a little help, honestly. Some salsa and/or hot sauce is definitely in order here. We had no trouble finishing it, but for two thirds of your daily saturated fat and 98% of your cholesterol, I was hoping for just a tad more piquancy. More green chile peppers would have unquestionably made it more memorable for Sonia and me.

$4.99 for the 9 oz quiche. Probably not a repeat purchase for us. Three stars a piece.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic 100% Pomegranate Juice

Eating a pomegranate is such a unique experience. The Punica granatum's insides don't resemble any other common fruit. The husk part is bejeweled with dozens of tiny red seeds. Popping the little red morsels out with a spoon can be tedious, but the crunch and the unique sweet-tart berry-esque flavor make it so worth it.

I'm not even sure how you'd juice a pomegranate. The seeds are such a small portion of the entire fruit, and even those are mostly a starchy white material coated with something slick and juicy. They must just crush all the seeds and then strain out the starchy pulp..? That's just a guess. Considering how tiresome it is to eat pomegranate, it must be even more laborious to juice one.

Fortunately, we don't have to juice the fruit ourselves. All we have to do is drink it. But even that might not be easy for some.

Upon first opening the bottle, there was a whiff of something nearly beet-ish. I'm not a fan of plain beet juice, so it was a little off-putting. I poured a glass each for Sonia and me. 

The taste of the beverage is something more in the direction of cranberry, at least at first. It's sweet and sour—tart enough to make you pucker. Up front, the flavor seems pleasant enough to me, but just a moment later, the finish hits you with a wave of dry bitterness that's hard to describe and not particularly palatable to me or the wifey. It's a biting, caustic essence that can potentially mar any element of enjoyment that may have occurred just a second or two prior.

In my opinion, the astringent aftertaste doesn't completely ruin the experience. But if you ask Sonia, she'll say otherwise. She noped out after just a few sips.

I've managed to consume at least half the bottle on this hot August Sunday afternoon. Compared to other more prevalent fruit juices, it's not particularly refreshing or chuggable. Both Sonia and I find it significantly less drinkable than POM Wonderful. I'm thinking of it as a unique non-alcoholic red wine meant to be served chilled—a select strain from the vineyard that I just don't quite "get" yet. I keep drinking it thinking it'll grow on me. It wouldn't be the first beverage that was unappealing to me initially but slowly became a staple in my fridge over time.

As it stands now, I think I'll go with three stars. After all, it's organic and full of antioxidants. I'm choosing to see it as an adventure, and an experience—much like the eating of pomegranate seeds. Sonia gives it two stars, stating that the aftertaste just ruins it for her.

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Trader Joe's Hatch Chile Cheddar Seasoned Popcorn

Is it worth it? Let me work it. Put my thing down, flip it and reverse it.

Ti esrever dna ti pilf, nwod gniht ym tup.

Thanks, Missy Elliot, for the lyrical inspiration. Turns out that second line never was gibberish...duh. So obvious now, not so much back then.

And thanks, Trader Joe's Hatch Chile Cheddar Seasoned Popcorn, as well as my lovely bride, for the real life inspiration to put that line to use. Time to work it, flip it and reverse it.


Well, for only $1.99 a bag for this new popcorn sensation sweeping TJ's shelves across the nation, I figured it'd be worth to buy two of 'em on our latest trip. You know, for science. Couldn't wait to get back home and give it a try, and when we finally did, I opened the bag atop, in the most traditional of ways, took a hand sized scoop, dumped it into my mouth, and started waiting for that hatch chile cheddar seasoning to wash over my existence and take me to a place I didn't know existed.

And waited..and waited..and waited...and waited...okay, I'm impatient, here's a fresh batch o' hatch...and waited some more...and a little more...ugh.

The issue with the hatch cheddar isn't the flavor itself. Oh no, it's nice - a nice teeny bite of white cheddar, and a great little savory, mildly spicy kick from the hatch chiles which grows a little with each bite. it's wonderful flavor, topnotch. But it's the intensity itself. It's...subtle? Subtler than subtle? I don't know. I was recently reminded how potently flavored the TJ's pickle popcorn is, with its unmistakable bite. If that's one end of the spectrum, this stuff is on the complete other end. It's...milder than mild. Weaker than weak. Wimpier than wimpy. Maybe I'm just too much of a hatch chile guy, but I'd love if the flavor were kept the same but intensified by a factor of at least four or five. It's good I want to taste more of it.

Enter the second popcorn bag, rap lyrics, and my wife.

Second bag, opened a few days after the first to be sure, she said to open from the bottom. That way if all the flavor dust kinda settled down there, we could be hit with a more intense flavor experience upfront. Duh. So obvious yet genius at the same time. Who says we always had to open the bag at the top? What am I, a sheep? No way! My house, my rules, as okayed by my wife! Let's do it!

Yeah...not much different that way either. The hatch and cheddar mix was a bit beefier, but not by that much. Sigh.

It's too bad, really. Everything else is pretty great - good sized kernels, perfectly munchy with ample fluff, not too greasy or messy. The whole experience just has to be "more hatchier" in the eloquent words of my wife. I've read some folks on the social sites when trying this popcorn added some of their own seasoning to liven it up a bit, so it's not just us.

Sigh. The hatch chile cheddar popcorn could have been an all time classic, but instead is relegated to the "maybe rebuy/maybe not" category. The lack of realized potential is really holding it back, and for some reason this kinda hurts but I can't give it much more than like a 2. It's sad, but at least my wife joins me in the grief by giving it a charitable 3.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Hatch Chile Cheddar Seasoned Popcorn: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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 

Monday, June 1, 2020

Trader Joe's Mint-A-Breath Bones

For the past few years, our dogs have been obsessed with Greenies brand dental treats. If you're a dog owner, you might want to check them out if you haven't already. They really do help clean the dogs' teeth. There's a noticeable reduction in yellow stains on our pooches' chompers since they've been eating Greenies.

And they LOVE the taste and texture. They beg for them everyday. Alfred knows which drawer we keep them in, and he'll camp out next to it multiple times a day, staring at it, asking us to give him one of his favorite snacks. He barks nice and loud if we ignore him.

Both dogs gobble those things up like nothing else. They'll choose Greenies over Milk Bones, Snausages, Canine Carry Outs, or any Trader Joe's brand treat we've given them so far, and we're very pleased with their effect on our pups' breath and dental health.

Enter: Trader Joe's Mint-A-Breath Bones. How do they compare? 

First impressions: they're much harder than Greenies, which isn't particularly convenient when we want to break them in half for our very small dogs. But it's a plus in that one of these bones keeps Alfred busy for the better part of a half hour, whereas its Greenie counterpart is gone in minutes, if not seconds.

Greenies come in two different sizes. We usually go for the smaller size, but if the larger one is all that's available, we'll grab that one, and we simply break each toothbrush-shaped treat in half. These Mint-A-Breath Bones are comparable to the larger of the two Greenies sizes.

The treats were apparently too hard for Sadie, and she didn't even make a dent in hers. She's the smaller of our two dogs, and she's never really been into chew toys or super hard snacks. She's always had more stains on her teeth and worse breath than her brother, though, too. She seemed interested in the smell of the bone, but she gave up trying to eat it rather quickly.

That's the Greenie on the left, Mint-A-Bone on the right in the pic above. Ingredients-wise, the Trader Joe's version is rice-based, while the original is made with wheat. There's significantly more protein and fat in Greenies than the TJ's version, and also more calories by volume. 

I just read that the Mint-A-Breath Bones aren't recommended for dogs under 30 pounds. Whoops. I guess we'll break out a sharp kitchen knife next time and saw one in half for both our dogs. In light of that, I think we'll stick to Greenies for now. Here's a quick video with our animal friends' reactions to the bones:

Four paw prints from Alfred. Two paw prints from Sadie.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Trader Joe's Synergistically Seasoned Popcorn

synergy [ sin-er-jee ]
1. the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc.; synergism.
plural synergies
adj synergistic
adv synergistically

You don't see the word "synergistically" used on many food products these days. I've only ever heard "synergy" used in the context of humans working together, but I guess I see how it could be applied to culinary elements instead.

I'm down with various flavor combinations that might initially seem like they'd clash or conflict with one another such as salty and sweetspicy and sweet, and tangy and salty, but throw them all in the same mix together with "smoky," and there's just a little too much going on for this guy's tongue to handle. I think the straw that broke the camel's back for me was the presence of vinegar in the mix. It's right there next to sugar on the ingredients list. Sweet white vinegar? I want it to work, but it just doesn't in my humble opinion.

Also, I'm not in love with the smoky element here. I've tasted "smoky" done very well, and I've tasted it done poorly in more instances than one. I question the authenticity of "natural smoke flavor." What exactly got smoked? I'm going to bet they didn't put the popcorn itself in a smoke house. It might have worked had they done that, but I'm sure it's not practical or cost-effective to smoke each individual piece of popcorn. I'm guessing it's some kind of liquid smoke or additive.

The spiciness by itself works pretty well. It's not too hot, and it gives the popcorn a pleasant pungency. I think I'd really enjoy the flavor if they'd lose the sugar and smoke elements.

Texture-wise, the Trader Joe's Synergistically Seasoned Popcorn is pleasantly crunchy. Most pieces are large and spherical, flaunting a mouthfeel not unlike the Popcorn in a Pickle, for example. As far as color is concerned, they appear a shade of amber-esque light orange—a color you might assume indicated cheddar cheese flavor under normal circumstances. As far as look and feel, this snack is nothing to complain about.

The bag seems oddly oversized. There's an enormous amount of vacant space—even more than other popcorn products from TJ's. I feel like there's the same amount of popcorn in the bag, but the bag is 50% larger than typical popcorn products. It's always disappointing to open a snack bag and find it only half full.

I'm sure there are some adventurous snack enthusiasts that are mad about the flavor of this product. I'd like to say I'm one of them, but I'm afraid this won't be a repeat purchase if I have anything to say about it. I'm not telling you not to try it. The bag pretty much lays it all out for you: tangy, salty, smoky, spicy, and slightly sweet flavors...together at last. If that sounds good to you, knock yourselves out. The wifey liked it better than I did. She kept repeating, "It's weird, it's weird" while eating her first couple handfuls. Apparently, her opinion of the product improved as she got used to the flavor, and she settled on three and a half stars. 

Two and a half from me.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

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