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Showing posts with label pantheon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pantheon. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Trader Joe's Hold the Corn! Appetizers

Hold the corn! That must be a pun on "Hold the phone!" But wait, that doesn't rhyme—not even close. Ah, Trader Joe's must be making a play on "Hold the cone!" which is, in turn, a pun on "Hold the phone!" I guess TJ's is making fun of themselves. Unless this is somehow a play on "Hold the horns!" you you "hold the bull by the horns," buuut that's a stretch.

The inspiration behind the title of this product means nothing if the product doesn't taste good. Fortunately, it does. Oh how it does.

The rice wrapper here is crispy, dry. The veggie-based filling is moist and fairly rich, but not overpowering in any way. The primary flavors are sweet corn (imagine that) along with some onion, the rice from the shell, and juuust a hint of spice from the red chili powder, green peppercorns, and garlic.

I could have sworn I detected the taste and texture of quinoa up in the mix, but alas, there is none listed on the ingredients. They aren't excessively greasy or oily. The nutrition info here is very reasonable, considering how utterly delectable these things are.

There's also the slightest suggestion that these are somehow veggie spring rolls that want to be dipped in a sweet and sour sauce of some kind. I might have tried that pairing if we'd had any packets laying around. Most people might not have that inclination—Sonia certainly didn't—but I'm big into condiments, and I always want to dip my appetizers in something—maybe an avocado salsa or chipotle sauce would have worked here...? I would have even slathered them with melted cheese of some kind—not that they really needed it. They didn't last long enough to be experimented upon. Perhaps we'll try them with dips upon the next purchase—and there will be a next purchase.

Served as appetizers, these will certainly make your guests ready to eat more food. The only problem I can foresee is that the only thing they'll want to eat is more of these delicious cones of corn. Each one is like a mini cornucopia, perfect for Thanksgiving...or any other time for that matter. $3.99 for 12, found in the frozen section. Two big thumbs up and a very high recommendation from this nomadic half of WG@TJ's. Four and a half stars from me. Five stars from Sonia.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Trader Joe's Maple Streusel Bread

Pumpkin spice? Where we're going, we don't need pumpkin spice.

*flips down sunglasses*

Yes, yes, I's that time of year. As sure as the turning of leaves and late summer into early fall, here come all the social media posts about pumpkin spice this and that and everything else conceivable. I see them all over the TJ's fan pages. I don't blame you...but I just can't join you. Not that huge a fan.

Give me maple all day every day instead. And if you can, give it to me as the new Trader Joe's Maple Streusel Bread. 

Oh. Mah. Goodness.

Let's not deceive ourselves here. There's nothing healthy about this. Even I cringed a bit looking at the nutritional stats the first time, and I'm no prude. Nor is maple truly an autumnal flavoring - mapling season runs late winter into early spring.

But still. Everything about this maple bread evokes fall. Warm up a slice and taste for yourself. Warm gooey maple ribbons, brown sugar swirls, maple glaze with buttery streusel around the perimeter, densely decadent dough with a hint of mild maple...oh man. Sensory overload. It's like every slice is a syrup-logged piece of French toast, except of being soggy and limp, it's dry bread. It's amazing.

And so, so rich. The first slice was so amazing I had to go back for more. About halfway thru the second, I questioned my judgement. Literally, this stuff sits like a brick in your gut. For a quick and easy breakfast-y kinda deal, I truly appreciate that to keep me going. Pick it up and you'll feel it - the loaf feels way more chunky than it looks.

I mentioned French toast. This streusel bread would probably also make awesome French toast, but man, it tastes so good as is I didn't try that yet. But I will. Ohhhhh I will.

No complaints from me. None. There's almost even a homemade quality to it that I'd love to try and pass off as my own. Your unscrupulous Aunt Millie just might. Sandy loved it as well, though she noted she wished it had even more maple. She's a mapleholic though on the level of Buddy the Elf.

It's $3.99 a loaf which strikes me as a very fair deal. And like squirrels readying themselves for winter, you better bet we'll be stocking up for a long winter ahead. Y'all stick to your pumpkin spice, we'll be quite happy, thank ya.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Maple Streusel Bread: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Trader Joe's Italian Bomba Hot Pepper Sauce

Fermented Italian condiments? So hot right now.

So, so hot.

And so, so good.

Case in point: Trader Joe's Italian Bomba Hot Pepper Sauce. Mama mia, this sauce is especially speziata.

Take for instance the very first ingredient and the entire base of this new intercontinental condiment from all of our's favorite purveyor of such things: calabrian chili peppers. Not familiar? I wasn't overly as well. Look 'em up on the Scoville heat registry though. Jalapenos start around 2,500 Scovilles and range up to maybe 8,000. That's kinda spicy for most folks. Calabrians? Try 25,000 to 40,000. So these bad boys, just to start out with, are anywhere from 5 to 10 times spicier than the common American standard. Hoooo boy.

But that's not all, of course. Nah. Crush 'em allllll up, but make sure you keep in all the seeds with the capsaicin/ And let it sit, and sit, and sit, and ferment. That's not gonna make anything more mild in terms of flavor. Definitely not the case here.

The result? Full blast heat, with a good dose of fermented funkiness to back it all up and add a lot of depth. That's precisely what's going on here. And it's spicy in a genuinely chili pepper kinda way, and not some cheap vinegary mode. It's spice in a very authentic form. But although spicy, it doesn't completely overwhelm or linger too long, at least for me. It's just the right amount of burn.

The actual sauce is mostly the peppers in a kinda crushed/shredded/generally decimated form suspended in sunflower seed oil. Kinda odd, I would have expected olive oil, but I digress.  Texturally that might a challenge for some, but not me. Love it. Love everything about the TJ's bomba sauce.

Please, please, please share all the different ways to implement the bomba sauce in different dishes. I'm imagining mixing some in pasta sauce, some paired with mozzarella and fresh tomatoes, on pizza, on grilled chicken, with eggs, with crusty warm bread, with crackers...yes to all. Love it.

I have not a single complaint and will be stocking up every trip I can so help me God. Absolute, unqualified perfect five from me. This might be a mistake but I'm going to assume my lovely bride loves it as well - she tried only a bit, then had a couple bites of ice cream and said she could still taste the bomba afterwards. Then we both pretty much fell asleep and here I am having to finish this review. I'll say 4.5 from her and if I'm wrong, it won't be the first time.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Italian Bomba Hot Pepper Sauce: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Thick & Chunky Salsa

At first, this fine salsa didn't look new to me. Not completely. I felt like it had been well-established on TJ's shelves for years and years. Yet it was being marketed as "new."

How could that be?

Oh yeah.

Nearly nine years ago, we looked at this salsa's predecessor on this blog. Back then, it wasn't organic. At least not certified organic. This new stuff has the seal of approval from Quality Assurance International. Conspiracists will tell you that the New World Order will be rolling out a single world government, a single world currency, and a single world religion. I'm pretty sure QAI will be the folks responsible for planning the single world menu for all work, school, and dissident camp cafeterias.

Or maybe they just make sure stuff is really organic when people say it's organic.

Either way, we'll just have to trust them. And I do. My gut tells me this salsa's organic. It just tastes and feels fresh and invigorating somehow. Sonia said the exact same thing upon first bite without any prompting from me.

It's also bold. Where its predecessor was simply "chunky," this product is thick and chunky. It's like if that previous incarnation were the mild-mannered mortal version of the product, then this is the post-spider bite/science experiment gone horribly wrong/exposure to radiation superhero version of the salsa. 

It's got nice big pieces of tomatoes and peppers, and some onion bits are visible as well as tastable. There's some garlic flavor and juuust a hint of flavors like vinegar and salt. It's a well-rounded tomato-based salsa in almost every way.

We're dealing with half a chili pepper on the spice-o-meter, which means it has enough heat to scare away wusses and crybabies (no offense, spice-o-phobes) but not enough to administer searing pain to all who partake. I'm pretty happy with the spiciness here. I don't know if things are starting to bloom out here in the southwestern desert, or whether its the drier climate or higher amounts of dust in the air, but Sonia and I both need a little spice to open up our sinuses lately. Somehow, salsa just tastes better in the southwest.

Anyway, if the original version of this salsa made our Pantheon, then this organic version most definitely will also. It pairs nicely with another recent addition to our best of the best category—but then again, those dippers pair up with just about anything pretty well. Both are very tasty products.

Closing thought: this salsa's only $2.49! How is that even possible?

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Elote Corn Chip Dippers

Well, here's a rare sighting that just so happened to be captured on camera:

An opened bag of Trader Joe's Organic Elote Corn Chip Dippers, in my house, that hasn't been completely ransacked and emptied somehow.

I mean, sorry, about the rip up top. We usually strive to take a photo of an unopened item. It kinda presents better. It's really kinda an amatuer move on our part. Party foul.

But man...have you tried these yet?

Holy smokes.

Sandy and I are now on our fourth in less than a week, which for people who try to not eat a lot of "junk food"... is a lot of "junk food."

What's there not to love about these elote chips? Not familiar with elote? Neither are we, to be perfectly honest. but these chips got me begging for another trip to Mexico to have a try at the real deal. Until then, I'll happily make do with these.

The spice blend is pretty complex for a chip. It's sneaky as it builds and builds in intensity. The first few bites are pretty mild. A little heat, sure, but that's when I particularly noticed the creamy buttermilk flavor these chippies offer. But then the rest of it comes on about three or four bites in. There's habanero spice and good pepper bite and all sorts of other things really going on that I'm not 100% sure how to explain except....dang. It's smoky and creamy and spicy all in one, in a way I've never experienced before on a chip.

Add on top of that the incredible texture here. Oh goodness. These corn chips are almost soft and crumbly and a little bit mealy to an almost melt in your mouth essence. They're still crunchy, to be sure, but not in a typical tortilla chip or Frito kinda way.

I've heard some comparisons to Cool Ranch, no, no. I mean, I get the basis for comparison for the elote chips...there are some similar elements...but these chips are better, so much better. I tasted both side by side while tailgating for baseball's opening day, and the TJ's Mexican corn chips absolutely blow Doritos out of the water, by a long shot.

These chips are awesome just by themselves. Really, yes, they are made for dipping into something, but it's 100% not necessary. Unless you have guacamole. Oh man. Pair them up and you'll see. My goodness.

They're $2.29 a serving, I mean bag. I need to stop buying them. I don't want to. Sandy loves them just as much as I do, I think....which is a lot. I cannot think of a single negative thing to say. Amazing. I want to go finish off that bag right's open and taunting me...double fives for the first perfect ten on anything on here since I have no idea when.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Elote Corn Chip Dippers: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Trader Joe's Amba Mango Sauce

It's been a while since it's been mentioned here...I get weird about packaging, and especially for condiments.

Namely, I hate squeeze bottles. Hate. That potentially uncontrollable plopping purge. That variable farty sound. The way when they're empty they only exude scented air and not only product. Ugh.

Jars and bottles are okay, and you'd think that'd cover most basics aside from individual packets (also not a huge fan, mostly cuz I either can't open them or rip them right in half)...but here comes, of all things, a pouch. With a spigot. Whaaaa?

Such as it is with the new Trader Joe's Amba Mango Sauce. Why a pouch? I'm clueless here. Sandy said they're more refrigerator friendly than a jar or bottle. I'm not sure if I buy that. I see no reason for this to be in a pouch, and alone made me somewhat hesitant to try. Fermented mango stuff is cool, pouches with spigots, not so much.

Man oh man, I'm glad I got over that.

Imagine a mild, slightly sweet curry sauce, without any milk or anything for that little extra creaminess, and that's almost exactly what we got here. I wasn't sure if it was gonna be more jelly/jam/chunky/salsa like - nope, just smooth, smooth sauce that comes running out of that faucet faster than a tornado or a house falling down, as my four year old would say. There's some serious flow.

Sandy and I poured some over some roasted chicken...and wow. It's unbelievable to me how mild it is. Mangoes can be strong and overpowering, and fermented stuff (which I love) can have that serious level of funk....but there's none of that here. Although fairly simple and somewhat unassuming, the amba sauce has a certain balanced smidge of complexity between the faintly sweet mango and the spices, with the slightest bit of ferment as the backdrop.

It's delicious. There's a part of me that wants a little more oomph, a little more bite, a little more spice, a little more something. But nah. The more I had, the more I appreciated it just as it is. It almost went better on our potatoes than our chicken, and man, I'd put this on almost anything.

I've never had the privilege of trying authentic real amba sauce, so how good of a comparison this is to the "real stuff," you're gonna have to tell me. And also the price, too...Sandy picked it up but misplaced receipt. First one to hit me up with a price gets a shoutout here. EDIT: thanks to loyal reader rh383, it's $3.49! Not a bad price at all!

I can see buying this again and again and again. Pork, roasted veggies, falafels...yes please. I can put down the hot sauce and sriracha for the amba any time. My kids don't like it, which is odd I think...oh well, more for Sandy and me. She ranks it as a perfect five, and well, it's been long enough since we've placed something on the Pantheon, so I'll go a little higher than I would (seriously, the pouch and spigot thing bug me way more than it should) to ensure the amba's place among the all time greats.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Amba Mango Sauce: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, June 4, 2018

Trader Joe's Gone Berry Crazy!

Ever had Shari's Berries? Delicious, right? They also cost an arm and a leg. I mean, sure, the presentation is fancy, and the berries are near-perfect, but they start at about $20 plus shipping and handling. Also, who wants to just sit and wait, fingers crossed, hoping that FedEx will actually get the address right and not just toss the package haphazardly onto the porch from the street? Not me, that's for sure.

Now you can enjoy high-quality chocolate-covered strawberries for just $2.29 right from your neighborhood Trader Joe's. Heck yes. Remember Trader Joe's Gone Bananas!? Same concept, similar packaging, only guessed it: strawberries instead of bananas.

The berries come frozen, but they're in excellent condition, flaunting beautiful red hues, sweet strawberry taste, and the perfect amount of firmness. They're supposed to be served frozen, and we can testify that they're awesome that way—although just slightly thawed works just as well if you can wait that long to eat them.

There are approximately two dozen strawberries in each box. Most of the berries are relatively small—about the size of the tip of my thumb—but we did find some size variation in each box. A few were quite large. The outer layer of chocolate is fairly thin, but it's more than enough to balance out the taste of the strawberries. It's a dark chocolate, so it's not too sweet.

Back in 2011, when Gone Bananas! were still new, I shared a story about Sonia and a toxic chocolate banana from a shady Southland street vendor. As a result, that product narrowly missed a shot at immortalization in our blog's elite Pantheon of great foods. My wife's never met a strawberry she didn't like. Five out of five stars from her. I absolutely loved this product, but in all honesty, I think I like the chocolate banana combo just slightly more than these. Still, I won't deny them the score they deserve: four and a half out of five from me.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Trader Joe's Chocolate Whole Milk

We're beginning to approach the end of my oldest daughter's first formal year of schooling, and I'm continually amazed by how much she's learning. I'm sure every parent feels this way, to some degree, but man - my kid is smart. Just this past weekend, as I drove around town with her buckled up in the back of the minivan, I listened as she read off words she recognized on road signs and could read. "Car wash." "Burger." "Ice cream." And so on. And it was without any hesitation whatsoever - she read them as easily and breezily as any of us would. She's gonna be like Sandy, I think - a really good reader, her nose always stuck in a book somewhere. We already pack our bags full at the library on a regular basis, and most nights she'll beg for the light to left on as long as possible so she can keep on reading as late as she wants....

Which reminds me. I should probably move Trader Joe's Chocolate Whole Milk to a higher shelf in the fridge, out of the sightline of a five and a half year old. If she knows this is in our house, it's game over, and I want it all for myself. FOR ME!!!

It's been years since I've drank milk on any sort of regular basis. It's just not my thing any more. And whole milk? That's not what I grew up on. We were 1%, occasionally 2% family growing up. Certainly never skim - that always seemed a little pointless - but whole milk? Nah. That seemed a bit much.

But this milk? Holy cow. Almost literally. Maybe I'm still in sugar shock and a little buzzed, but I almost cannot believe how utterly delicious it is. Words kinda fail. It's just...try it. If you haven't already. Apparently this version of TJ's chocolate milk was available years ago, then discontinued and just brought back. Big Joe, whoever made that decision, give them a bonus!

It's thick and creamy and undeniably smooth, almost like drinking chocolate pudding or ice cream. Except even better! The chocolate flavor is rich and decadent, but is decidedly more towards cocoa than chocolate if that makes sense. It's a very pure kind of flavor, without being overly sugary tasting or too cloy or sickeningly sweet. Yes, I'm aware of all the added sugar. No, I do not care. It's called "treat yo' self." It's the kind of flavor that only a rich creamy base like whole milk would work with - anything else would be too thin to really flesh out the depth of flavor here abounding from each sip.

Even better, from personal expereince, it mixes well with a little Kahlua and vodka for a...well, I'm not sure what that'd be called. A mocha Russian? I'm sure there's many other alcoholic possibilities here - creme de menthe, anyone? If you got any other ideas, share away.

Anyways I have no doubt that my kiddo could at least read the words "chocolate" and "milk" and she's got just enough juvenile mischeviousness to try and guzzle away at some when ol' Mama and Dad are strugglin' out of bed in the morning. She's self sufficent enough to make her own breakfast half the time, which explains why she and her sister each ate three freezer waffles the other morning. She could figure out how to pour herself a cup, or beg us relentlessly...and sometimes Dada just wants to be greedy. Fortunately at $3.99 for the half gallon carton it's not exactly a costly fridge filler. Both Sandy and I cannot think of even the slightest of complaints or suggestions or anything - it's just some pretty darn good chocolate milk. Better than that, even.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Whole Chocolate Milk: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Monday, January 22, 2018

Trader Joe's Coffee Syrup

In May of last year, I was slowly coming down out of a caffeine-induced psychotic break of sorts, desperately trying to regain my grip on reality, all the while dealing with some pretty heavy family and business stuff, weaning myself off bean-based brewed stimulants, and catching precious moments of shut-eye whenever the opportunity presented itself. Sometime during that java-driven haze, I became vaguely aware of this coffee syrup's existence. Neither my body nor my mind could have handled such a product at that juncture, so we steered clear of it last spring. 

By the end of the summer, according to multiple online reports, this product had been discontinued. Part of me was relieved, as the pressure to review such a dangerous substance had been lifted. I didn't want to fall off the wagon so soon and return to my caffeinated coma for many more months. But another part of me pined for the opportunity to taste a product that by many accounts was not only one of the best offerings of Trader Joe's 2017 coffee craziness, but perhaps one of their greatest coffee products of all time.

Well, friends, Trader Joe's Coffee Syrup is BACK, and IT. IS. HEAVENLY. It was prominently displayed on the "new products" shelf at the Wilmington, Delaware store. Nothing but cane sugar, water, and coffee. And that's all it needs.

Yeah, sure, there are other coffee syrups out there...and likely one of them is Trader Joe's third party supplier, though I couldn't tell you which one. And I certainly can't vouch for those other brands, but I can tell you that this stuff is divine.

It pours like a maple or agave syrup, though just slightly thinner. The thinness makes for easy mixing with milk, coffee, or your beverage of choice. It's still thick enough to make an excellent ice cream topping though, and the flavor blends seamlessly with vanilla. I tried a spoonful straight. It's got a strong coffee flavor just by itself, but it's also very sweet. I imagine it's not unlike a spoonful of Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate with equal parts liquid cane sugar mixed in. And yes, if one were so inclined, he could drink this stuff straight out of the bottle, though few would find the intensity pleasant after a sip or two.

I'm not even really a "coffee guy," as I've stated many times on this blog, but I must say this is quite possibly the best-tasting coffee item I've ever sampled in my life. My mochaphile wife was even more impressed. She's not only in love with java, but she appreciates many coffee-flavored treats and desserts as well. Up to this point, her favorite coffee-flavored dessert has been Haagen Dazs coffee ice cream—and she's in awe of this product's ability to approximate the flavor and quality of the Haagen Dazs offering when combined with vanilla ice cream. In this case, we used Humboldt Organic Vanilla, readily available at TJ's in our area.

It's actually awesome on pancakes, in place of traditional maple syrup. We haven't gone there yet, but rumor has it this product mixes well with certain cocktails. Its flavor isn't too far from that of Kahlua, so I'm thinking makeshift White Russians or Mudslides...? The possibilities are endless. Let us know what weird and crazy things you do with the stuff in the comments below...though, um...keep it family friendly, if you know what I mean ;-)

Sonia and I haven't added anything to the Pantheon in nearly a year and a half, so it's high time we bestow that honor once again. Five stars from Sonia. Four and a half from me.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Oat Cranberry Flax Seed Cookies

Hrmm, let's see. Gluten free. Oats. Cranberries. Gulp...flax seeds.

And in a cookie too? What? Jeez oh man, what kinda healthy hippie treehuggin' BS are we about to get suckered into by Trader Joe's Gluten Free Oat Cranberry Flax Seed Cookies?

Okay, yeah, that's a bit extrreme. But is it okay if I admit I wasn't thrilled about picking up and buying this sixpack of cookies? I mean, I like cookies in almost every way, shape and form...just ask my family around the holidays...but, this? These don't sound like a treat to me. Instead, these cookies, on first pre-sampling impression, seem to be one of those gimmicky "Well if you're gonna eat snacky doodads, make them healthy ones!" products that seem to always suspiciously spring up right around New Years.

For the two, maybe three bucks, I figured worst case we could throw them outside on a snowy day if we didn't like them. You know, for our winged friends. Bird suet. Because that's how they sounded to me...

Jumping Jack Flash, these are a smash, smash, smash.

Seriously. These are awesome. I can think of no other word. Usually when I think "gluten free" I think stiff and cardboardy (or in the case of most anything made with rice flour, damp newspaper-y), but that is so absolutely not the case here. Soft, crumbly, slightly chewy, as if they're almost pulled from the oven, the texture on these cookies is simply unbelievable. From pure mouhtfeel standpoint, these are amongst the tops I've ever laid my teeth too. And that's saying a lot.

The oats make a good earthy base for the batter, perfect for the slight tartness of the cranberries to stand out. I almost wish there was a nut like some almonds just for a little added harvest-esque touch, but the cookies don't suffer much from their absense. To be honest, I didn't notice the flax seeds much one way or another, so I'll take that as an overall positive. Can't let too much hippieness get between you and a good cookie.

I'm impressed, Sandy's impressed. Gonna stock up on these suckers and try to hide from our growing group of kiddos. These are some of the rare store bought cookies that I know I couldn't make better myself. It's been a while since we've crowned something as an inner circle hall of famer, but it seems due now. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls...a perfect score. Now go out and get 'em!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gluten Free Oat Cranberry Flax Seed Cookies: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Trader Joe's Organic Reduced Sugar Wild Blueberry Preserves

Here is the easternish part in the ol' U-S-of-A, there's two main types of blueberries, at least as far as I can discern. One I'll call the "New Jersey blueberry." Those are the huge, round ones, can be as big as marbles. No Chris Christie jokes, please.While they can be sweet, more often than not, those berries tend to be a little more bland to downright sour, and can be mushy very easily. There's not a whole lot necessarily wrong with them - as a kid in suburban Philly, we'd often cross the Delaware River and pick a few quarts for pies and whatnot - but they're not the "good ones" compared to their brethren, what I'll call the "Maine blueberry."

Wild Maine blueberries are the bomb. Small, potent, often extra sweet naturally, without anything else added to them. I associate them with Maine because I can recall picking and eating them right on the spot on family vacations visiting my grandparents and traipsing around the south central part of the state.

Seeing as that Trader Joe's Organic Reduced Sugar Wild Blueberry Preserves is both very sweet, with smaller looking berries in here, it seems a no-brainer that some berries akin to my preferred Maine blueberries are used. It's also a Canadian product, so probably Canadian berries, and NJ is a bit further away from Canada than Maine, so...there's that, eh?

As one should expect from preserves (as opposed to jelly or jam), this is some think, chunky stuff, with the emphasis on the fruit. I swear there's whole berries in almost every bite. It's simplistic enough of a recipe for sure, almost bordering on what you Aunt May would do while canning her own. No hint of anything fake. Except...probably less sugar. It seems odd that a concoction that is composed of 7/18ths added sugar is considered "reduced", and I think I just got a cavity thinking of how much must be in normally sugared jam. Ugh. Anyways, as I said, it's thick and chunky, and almost bordering on a high quality pie filling-type consistency. Yumz.

Delicious stuff, it really is. It's enough that my daughters have asked for "yogurt with blueberry jam" for breakfast every morning for the past week - pictured is our second jar in as many weeks. Seems healthyish enough I don't mind giving it to them so often. And I'll admit to eating it straight off the spoon. Anything else you'd like to do with some good preserves - scones, toast, alongside some cheese, etc - go for it, it'll work. And all for a very reasonable price - only $2.99 for the jar! Nice!

Really can't argue or find many nitpicks - I can't, Sandy can't, our kids can't. Our five year old gave it a perfect score, and I can't argue that. Tastes like summer in a jar - this might be our main jam for now on.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Reduced Sugar Wild Blueberry Preserves: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, June 12, 2017

Trader Joe's Brownie Crisp Coffee Ice Cream Sandwiches

It's no secret we have a soft spot for ice cream here. Well, to be honest, we probably have more than a few soft spots from ice cream too.

It's just about summer. Certainly feels like it. Not like there's ever really an ice cream offseason, but if there's a time of year meant for ice cream, it's now...

...and there needs to be one just for us adults, right? Let the kiddies clamor for the chocolate soft serve with rainbow sprinkles. Let's claim us a good ice cream sammich, and a little bonus if it gives us adults a little energy shot too.

Go get Trader Joe's Brownie Crisp Coffee Ice Cream Sandwiches. Go get them now. They're $3.99 for a four pack, so basically a buck each.

There is nothing better you can get, anywhere, for a buck. Challenge me. You won't win. For the record, Powerball tickets, even winning ones, cost $2.

In pretty much every conceivable way, these ice cream treats are perfect. There's not a single thing that could be better. Perfect size - palm size, about an inch of ice cream high, with two thin brownie "crisps" playing the bread role. Perfect taste - rich, creamy espresso laced cream. I've had so many "coffee" ice creams that were little more than brown tinted vanilla. So not the case here. Those brownies tho too - legit fudgy flavor with big ol' chocolate chunks in there to add a lot of cocoa oomph. And perfect texture too. The whole bite for these brownie coffee sammiches is flawless. The "crisps" really aren't crispy at all but are instead just rigid enough to hold the whole shebang together while still somehow maintaining a soft, chewey middle in a concoction no more than few millimeters thick. These really are some baking marvels at work with the perfect creamy ice cream with little coffee ground beans sprinkled here and there.

Sandy and I busted out the box over the weekend for a small family get-together and all adults agreed: awesome. No complaints at all, just satisfied "mmm"s across the board. And even better yet - none of the kids wanted a bite! Not like we'd share anyways.

Nothing to add. Nothing to subtract. Perfect as is, as our score reflects below. It's not us growing soft...except from eating more of these all summer long.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Brownie Crisp Coffee Ice Cream Sandwiches: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Trader Joe's Sumatra Coffee Brownies


Ugh. Don't you just hate that word?

"Moist" doesn't bother me too much (I'm more bothered by double negatives and the word "notate" not being used to mean composing musical score), but man, most people hate the word. It's kinda a big thing. Eh well. To each their own, and if you're part of the moist-hating crowd, so be it.

Too bad so many people hate the word "moist" because it's a great word to describe the perfect brownie...and very apt to describe Trader Joe's Sumatra Coffee Brownies.

If you like dried up crusty corner brownies, stay away. These sumatra brownies are super moist in the most perfect of brownie ways...thick and fudgy and rich. Soft. Chewy. And definitely not dry in the least. It's almost like they were brought out of the over a few minutes early.

Yet by some odd mad science of baking, there's a perfectly crispy outer shell layer. The crust is perfect, just thick enough to hold the whole shebang together without getting your fingers messy, with only the smidgiest smidge of grease, with a little coffee dust (presumably) on top.

And taste...oh man. I've already used the word "rich" and that is an understatement. Very chocolatey, in a very deep way. The coffee element is a little more subtle, but definitely present. It'd probably be enough to have the kiddos make a face, even if you were one to give them a coffee-laced sugar hit - hey, I don't judge.

There's so little to not like. I can't think of much. One brownie is more than enough for Sandy and I to share - only a few bites is just enough and not too much. Which will bring me to the one odd point, because hey, it's TJ's were talking about...the packaging. Four brownies inside the bag, and they're packaged in twos - why not either each seperately, or all together? By twos seems odd. No matter.

Not much else to say. For these little moist morsels, there's nothing I can notate that's not good. We've had them three nights in a row now and still can't find a single complaint. Perfect fives from the wife and me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sumatra Coffee Brownies: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, January 20, 2017

Trader Giotto's Oven-Baked Cheese Bites

"You wanna taste something truly amazing?"

I'm not asked that question nearly enough.

But forgive me for being a skeptical when my lovely bride Sandy asked me that the other night while motioning to the half-eaten bag of Trader Gitoo's Oven-Baked Cheese Bites on the shelf. I've heard from other folks that they're pretty tasty little snackers...but truly amazing? I'm in favor of not cheapening our language, so to me, those words should not be carelessly tossed about. These bites better be something else.

"You know when we make, like, real homemade mac 'n cheese and there's those little pieces of slightly burned or crispy cheese? They're just like those. Promise."

Well, that's definitely a good step towards being truly amazing.

Giotto's cheesy tidbits are something else. Yet not. That's the thing: the only ingredient is cheese! Well, technically two cheeses. There's the mysteriously labelled semi-aged cheese (now that sounds like a gamble) and grana padano cheese. Never heard of grana padano? Me neither. I'm a sheltered 'murican.  But apparently it's at least somewhat akin to parmigiano reggiano if you're familiar, a really good parmesan if you're not.

I'm going to presume that it's the grana padano from which the cheese bites derive much of their flavor, because there's a definite strong parmigiano/parmesan vibe to them. Very strong. This isn't quite right, but the words "pleasantly pungent" come to mind. The taste also strays a bit towards salty for me - after a few I really wanted a tall glass of water - but it's a very cheesing and pleasing taste that makes it hard to eat just one.

It also helps that even though oven-baked, there's a crumbly, slightly greasy comfort food vibe. But so crunchy! Very, very crunchy. I'm not sure of the all the science into baking nothing but two types of mysterious cheese into a crunchy shelf stable form without adding anything....but here it is. Sandy said that the crunch form also held up very well when she tossed a handful into her black bean soup at lunch. Crunch retained, no sogginess even after several minutes. Nice.

Sandy loves these. Most times I have to tease her opinion out a little bit for my reviews. Not this time around. "Five. No question. Five. Pantheon worthy." Well...I'm not entirely certain of that. I'd be inclined to go more of a four (that aforementioned saltiness is a bit much) but...apparently in the last six months or so I've spontaneously developed this amplified crunching ability which rattles my wife's eardrums to no end. Like, it's really loud. I don't know, sounds the same to me, but apparently this newly bestowed gift was on full display with these cheese bites. I had to apologize, and part of my retribution, I'll bump another half point. Not sure of cost, but inexpensive enough that Sandy bought two bags without feeling guilty, so not too much. Check 'em out...if you want to try something truly amazing.

Bottom line: Trader Giotto's Oven-Baked Cheese Bites: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Trader Joe's Jalapeño and Honey Chevre

This might be my favorite cheese in the world right now. The taste zings across your tongue like a bolt of lightning. I feel like I hadn't ever truly tasted a jalapeño pepper until I had this cheese. The tang from the chevre, the sweetness of the honey, and the heat from the peppers set one another off so perfectly—in a manner I'd never have imagined. 

But beyond just the heat of the peppers, you can taste the green, planty, earthy part of the peppers, too. There's a miraculous way the goat cheese allows you to taste it separately from the spice of the jalapeno. Yet the cheese is surprisingly sweet. It does taste like real honey.

Although I don't want to downplay the heat, because it is significant. This cheese is not for the faint-of-heart. The fire is there right from the first bite, but it also builds up on the tongue in a subtle, yet powerful way. After a number of bites in a row, you need to breathe through your mouth for a moment to cool it down, maybe take a swig of whatever beverage you're enjoying, and hold for a few beats before going back to the cheese. But don't get me wrong, it's not too hot. It's just right if you ask me.

We had it with some nice light crackers, neutral in flavor. I wouldn't want to pair this cheese with anything too strong because the main attraction should most definitely be the flavor of this amazing chevre. Sonia thinks it might go well with some kind of lightly-sweet honey bread. I'd eat this stuff with anything as long as it's relatively muted, flavor-wise. 

Once upon a time, I may have slapped a different TJ's chevre product with an unusually low score, and it may have been suggested that I don't appreciate goat cheese. Au contraire. I'm just not huge into goat cheese for dessert. Despite its sweetness, this cheese, at least in my mind, is a complex, savory side dish or appetizer that deserves a perfect five stars. Sonia gives it four and a half.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Trader Joe's Bollywood Popcorn

I wish I had something intelligent to say about Indian cinema and all the Bollywood classics that I'm sure exist. I simply don't. Closest I come is being able to say I was in the same room once or twice when Sandy was watching "Bend It Like Beckham" (I was probably writing a half-witted review, much like this one). And how representative that particular movie is of most Bollywood fare...I have no idea, because I don't know any better.

And I won't admit to knowing much about Indian cuisine, either. Most (okay, all) of my exposure has been either at Indian restaurants or the frozen food aisle at Trader Joe's, and how authentic that experience really is...I don't know, either.

But I can say I've eaten a lot of popcorn, and that whenever I've had any version of tikka masala I've loved it. Finally, those two classics have come together in Trader Joe's Bollywood Popcorn.

Ripping open our bag took some persistence and care. It probably didn't help we were pretty eager to chomp some down for a night of Olympics watching...but this was a tough bag to crack, to balance the force necessary without causing a popcorn micro-supernova. The payoff, though, was amazing - a big, aromatic cloud of cloves and cumin and garam masala, which quickly laid to rest how potent the seasoning might be on a simple popcorn base.

Potent is an understatement. My goodness. The best way I can explain it is a "happy heat." If you're a tikka masala fan at all, you know what I mean - it builds slowly but surely, with a lot of warmth, and it just lingers on and on, but it's never overbearing. I'm kind of amazed it comes from popcorn and not an actual dish with chicken or paneer and rice.

Combine all that with perfectly munchable popcorn kernels - solid, fluffy, crunchy, well popped, without many (if any) widows. It's a perfect snack. And it's been a long, long time since we've done this, but Sandy and I housed the entire bag in about an hour's time - that's what we get for keeping it within reach on the couch. And for once I can claim we were equally guilty.

To be honest, I'm trying really hard to think of anything even remotely critical to say about this popcorn, and I'm coming up empty. No deductions at all from these two American judges. And only $1.99. Perfect 10.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Bollywood Popcorn: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Friday, April 29, 2016

Trader Joe's Island Salsa

Memorial Weekend is only about a month away! You know what that means - the unofficial start of summer and all that. And that means vacation time! For a lot of you out there, that means one big thing: the beach.

Listen: I'm not opposed to beaches. I can spend a day there and reasonably relax. But maybe it's my fair gingery complexion that causes sunburn too easily, or my general aversion to sand in uncomfortable places, but given the choice, send me off to the mountains (cannot wait for a weekend canyoneeering in Zion National Park in June). For the whole family, we have our sights set on a Pirates road trip which true to tradition will probably include a stop at TJ's and a zoo. We'll probably spend a day at Presque Isle (best lake beach!) but other than that, islands? Beaches? All that? not in our plans.

Buuuuuuut...if you want to send your tastebuds on an early tropical vacation, you can easily pick up a jar of Trader Joe's Island Salsa. $2.99 on your local TJ shelf.

Even for us admittedly nonbeachy folks, this is some good, good salsa. The mango and pineapple base offers a sweet citrusy opening flourish that, while a little cloyingly candylike, quickly resides. In the middling transition, there's a quick hit of the bell peppers and onions before ending up with a mostly subtly spicy bow. Now, I said mostly. Depending on perspective, if you get the right or wrong bite into one of the very ripe red jalapenos, the heat goes up quite noticeably. But if that happens, just pop in another bite real quick, and chances are, the smooth sweetness will soothe your burning buds.

Like most fruit salsas, it is kinda delicate in flavor. The salsa was a great accompaniment for some tortilla chips, and atop a mahi mahi burger....heaven. Grilled chicken would also be a great pairing, whereas things like beef tacos I wouldn't see as much, unless you're into that kinda thing. 

I'm not quite sold on the word "chunky" in the description, though. Really, the whole salsa flows fairly alike to crushed pineapple, so there are small little chunks, but no mega veggie or fruit boulders. I guess if pressed I could say chunky, but to me, it's much in the moderate middle between smooth and chunky.

Also, as a huge bonus for my beloved wife: no tomatoes. None. That's got to be the reason she gives it a perfect five. I'm not able to ask her, since she's not quite 18 months old yet, but I'd love to know what my younger daughter B thinks - she was eating this by the spoonful as happy as could be. Well, until she caught that one jalapeno...but even though, after making a face for a couple minutes, she went back for more. Regardless, Sandy in a rare flash of exuberance goes with an all-out perfect five for her score. I want to go there myself, but fruit salsa aren't my bag, but this is undoubtedly the best fruit salsa I've had that I can remember (at least in the jarred grocery category)...alright, alright, we'll Pantheon it.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Island Salsa: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Trader Joe's Rustic Apple Tarte

  1. 1.
    of or relating to the countryside; rural.

  2. 2.
    constructed or made in a plain and simple fashion, in particular.

I'd say both definitions of "rustic" apply pretty well to this apple tarte. Sonia and I, now residing in rural South Jersey, have never lived anywhere more rustic in our lives. And as chance should have it, we got a free slice of homemade apple pie from a local roadside produce stand just the day before we heated up our Trader Joe's Rustic Apple Tarte. The farmers' apple pie was scrumptious. Absolutely amazing. 

Sonia and I both agreed it was possibly the best apple pie we had ever had. Granted, nether Sonia nor I grew up in homes with mothers or grandmothers cranking out fresh-baked apple pies at, ever. Sadly, McDonald's apple pies in the little green cardboard boxes were about the best we had ever had as kids. But we were in absolute agreement that this roadside stand had just set the bar for near-perfect country-style apple pie. 

But the very next day, TJ's gave our local farm market a run for its money. We could get into the semantics of how tartes (or tarts) are very different from pies, but if we're honest with ourselves, we'll all agree that their similarities outweigh their differences. They're basically the same animal as far as I can tell—at least when comparing this tarte with this most recent sample of apple pie.

Trader Joe's offering would never have stood out in our minds had it not looked, felt, and tasted homemade. But it did. Straight out of the oven, the smell was heavenly. I was shocked how soft everything was when I cut that first slice. The crust was buttery and flavorful, and there was just the perfect amount of it. It was perfection in and of itself, and yet it took nothing away from the apples. There were tons of apple slices and slivers throughout the pie. In my mind, they were definitely the main attraction. They still had enough crispness to feel like apples, but they were supple and sweet enough to feel like a delicious baked dessert. The syrup was very sweet, and if anything, was the weakest part of the pastry. It was just a tad too sugary, even for me. And I feel like had it been just a mite bit less overpowering that it could have let the natural apple flavors through even more. But to complain about it would be unfair, since it is dessert after all, and is meant to be quite sweet.

The most pleasant surprise—and in many ways the most "TJ's-esque" thing—about this tarte was the layer of candied almond slivers on the top of the confection. At first, I thought it was granola of some kind, but upon closer inspection, they proved to be little pieces of almond. They added a welcomed crunch to the texture and...well, a nuttiness to the flavor. Also the use of "Northern Spy" apples prompted a Google search for the origin of the name. It conjured up images of Civil War treachery in my mind, perhaps the 1860's version of TURN. But, alas, I found nothing so dramatic—just that they're native to New York state and frequently used in making pies.

The only other complaint we might make about this product is that there's a significant amount of saturated fat and calories...if we wanted to be picky. But, as mentioned before, it is a dessert after all, and both Sonia and I will tell you that it's worth a few extra minutes at the gym. It's another item you might bring to your family's Thanksgiving Day dessert spread in lieu of something made by hand, and it might just make you the hero of Turkey Day. It's absolutely delectable. Four and a half stars from me. Perfect five from Sonia.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Trader Joe's Turkey and Stuffing Seasoned Kettle Chips

Well, hope you all had a happy and safe Halloween. We sure did out here in the 'burgh, although our kiddos were too smart to fall for the Jimmy Kimmel "we ate all your candy" bit we tried to pull on them. Too smart, those kids. Anyways, on to the next holiday (and my personal favorite) - Thanksgiving!

One thing I'm thankful for, as triflingly unimportant in the grand scheme it is: Seems to me we're in the midst of a potato chip renaissance going on here. For the longest time, the only kind of chips out there, that I could think of anyways, were: plain, sour cream and onion, barbecue, and salt and vinegar, with the occasional rogue bag of cheddar and sour cream, but who really liked those, anyways? Maybe some slight variations in there, but all that there really was. Then....Lay's kicked up their "Do Us A Flavor" campaign and BAM. I didn't know that you could make chips taste convincingly akin to biscuits and gravy, or Reuben sandwiches, or a gyro, or...well, yeah, let's forget those cappuccino ones, shall we?

Now, just as November rolls in, a new entrant: Trader Joe's Turkey and Stuffing Seasoned Kettle Chips. I'm kinda surprised that they didn't go for a name like "Holiday Dinner", "Gobbler Goodies" or "Thanksgivingesque" - the name as is just sounds too straightforward. But too awesome to not try.

And not disappointed one bit. Not. At. All. Cracking the seal unleashed a very savory aroma much like a fresh dish of stuffing waiting to get devoured....yum. Salivating already. Quick visual scan: very much like sour cream and onion, but okay, who has time for that, it's munch time...oh goodness. The first taste that hits is hard on the stuffing. Very upfront. Sandy and my brother both said, independently, that it tastes very much like Stove Top brand stuffing - I'm picking that up, too, but I think that's mostly because that's what I first think of when I think of stuffing. There's the taste of celery and slight herbal bite of rosemary and thyme in there that really seals the deal.

That's fine, but....what about the turkey? It's present, but more subtle. The best way I can think of to describe it, there's a certain roastiness to these chips that slowly builds with each chip, and is more apparent on the aftertaste. It'd be impossible, probably, to perfectly replicate the juicy joy of fresh roasted turkey on a dry, crispy potato chip - but to the extent that a chip can, it's there. If you've tried the Lay's Reuben chips, for example, the "corned beef aspect" is perhaps the subtlest, but still present - these TJ turkey tater tidbits are similar in that regard.

Really though, in all, the stuffing and turkey flavors come together very well, and of course, some potato flavor pokes through as well to sell the "Thanksgiving dinner on a chip" idea even better. Now, some might say "well, you'd need gravy and cranberry sauce to really make it Thanksgiving dinner....." Look. There's enough salt on them, with enough taste, that adding just a little more to add a gravy spin would be a misstep. And adding something tart and sweet to them, like cranberry, would throw it all off. IT'S A POTATO CHIP, not meant to replace your holiday meal, or to be some Wonka-gobstopper-esque concoction that will taste like an entire holiday dinner, because then they'd have to include pecan pie and wine too, and now we're just getting carried away.

And they're perfect just as they are. No, I mean that. Perfect. Perfect turkey and stuffing taste. Perfect kettle chip crunch. Perfect for the snack budget at only $1.99 a bag. Just perfect. I love them, and I don't say that about chips often - I'm a guy who most days would prefer a handful of raw spinach over a baggie of average run-of-the-mill chips. I'm going to say these are now my favorite potato chips I've ever had, which will make their logical seasonal demise all the sadder. So, in the meantime: Indulge! Sandy and I polished off one bagful already, and went back for more - self control might kick back in at one point, but until then: Gobble gobble.

Bottom line:  Trader Joe's Turkey and Stuffing Seasoned Kettle Chips: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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