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Monday, January 23, 2012

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Filled Cupcakes

After our last review, Sonia and I were feeling a bit gluten-deficient, so we ran out and picked up some cupcakes. Not gluten-free cupcakes. Regular old glutenful cupcakes.

Now, I was super hungry when I tried these for the first time. It was the day after we got them home from TJ's. The cupcakes were moist, rich, and delectastic. (Does that fictitious adjective work for you? I have mixed feelings about it. It's supposed to be a contraction of "delectable" and "fantastic," but it kind of loses some of its potency when I have to explain that. But probably most of you would have gotten it anyway...I think. But anyway, I digress). Yes, delectastic. And I'm not really the hugest fan of dark chocolate. I know dark chocolate is tres chic right now. Everybody loves chocolate, and dark chocolate is supposed to be better for you than milk chocolate because there's less sugar and more cocoa bean and more antioxidants and more magical unicorn juice and all that nonsense. But I'm actually a fan of white chocolate because there's more sugar and less good for you stuff—and perhaps one of the best desserts I've ever had was a white chocolate peanut butter cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory, which is one of the most unhealthy restaurants in existence. If you actually look at the nutrition information for what you're eating, you'll probably never go there again. But anyway, I digress again—for the second time in one paragraph. Maybe it's time for a new paragraph.

Ahem. My point was that I like sweeter chocolates better. But in this case, the dark chocolate was both rich and sweet. Sweet enough for me. It blended with the peanut butter beautifully. One of the best cupcakes in recent memory. And I've had some pretty tasty cupcakes in my day. Crumbs and Frosted Cupcakery come to mind. There are those who will tell you that Sprinkles is of the same caliber as those guys, but I'm not one of them. Nor is Sonia. I'm also hoping to check out cupcakes from the legendary Magnolia Bakery in Manhattan on our next trip to NYC. And for you gluten-free people who've made it this far into what has become a highly gluten-laden article, please please please check out Sweet Freedom Bakery in Center City Philadelphia next time you're there. Amazing. In fact, if you're kosher Jewish, vegan, or allergic to wheat, soy, corn, peanuts, eggs, and/or sugar, you can still check out their products. Seriously. I'm not sure what is in their stuff, but it's none of that stuff.

Definitely not the case with these TJ's cupcakes. In fact, I think I just named the entire ingredients list of these cupcakes in that big sentence near the end of the previous paragraph. But on with the review. I ate two cupcakes the first time I tried them. They were great. The following day, Sonia insisted that I have a third while she ate the final one. I didn't put up too much of a fight, even though my tummy was protesting because of the first two cupcakes. (I am gluten-sensitive, but not really gluten-intolerant). This third cupcake was definitely not as good as the first two. It might be partly because I wasn't as hungry, but I think a big part of it was that the cupcakes were actually beginning to get stale. It had only been about 24 hours, but there was a distinct difference. Those first two cupcakes would have gotten a 5 from me. That third cupcake would only get a 4. So I'll split the difference and give these guys a highly-respectable 4.5 stars out of 5.

Sonia gives them 4 stars. She says they're not too sweet, just sweet enough. She says its a perfect peanut butter to chocolate ratio. She's a fan. And she's an even bigger cupcake connoisseur than I am.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10 stars.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Trader Joe's Organic Fair Trade Café Pajaro Blend

I'm going to admit that I'm really not all that knowledgeable when it comes to coffee. I'm just not. I sorta know what a café au lait is because that has been one of Sandy's usual pickups out at the coffee shops. But a caffè americano? A latte? Espresso versus cappuccino? Can't help you there. Heck, I get confused about what Starbucks names their sizes. I'd be the world's worst barista, easily. For a good space of time, I was thrilled with whatever gas station brew as long as there was a good selection of the little colored International Creamers available.* So, yeah, I know I'm not exactly a threat to take over the title of Mr. Coffee, but I know what like. I like coffee that's dark, strong, and vibrant, that'll smack me awake as I settle in with a fresh French press-full for a long day's work at my corporately bland, super-bleachy lighted, muted cubicle (as you can see from the picture - hey, look, my reflection!). In other words, completely the opposite from the free work stuff that tastes like brown water that somehow spoiled. With the right stuff in my cup, there's a fighting chance that I won't commit a felony or curse out some ridiculous insurance company have to deal with (believe me, I've come close).

As a coffee novice, I generally like Trader Joe's selection. Two big winners for me are the New Orleans Style with Chicory and the Italian Roast, but even the cheapie Cup of Joe stuff does alright in a pinch. This past time around, it was time for something new, so let's get on with the Trader Joe's Café Pajaro.

In case you don't know Spanish or couldn't pick it up from the packaging context of the big ol' Toucan Joe, pajaro simply means "bird." So we're talking about bird coffee. I guess that's supposed to make consumers feel like it's a tropical treat. Eh, maybe. The coffee bean mix comes from farms in Nicaragua, Peru and southern Mexico, so it's at least a little exotic-y. The beans are definitely dark roasted but not scorched (like way too much other stuff out there). When brewed, the output is definitely dark, dark coffee that smells rather inviting. For me, a little half and half is all I need to get it right. Too much added sugar will cover up way too much of the natural flavor that's subtly sweet with some chocolate tones. The good thing is, unlike some coffee/cocoa crap I got at TJ's around the holidays, the chocolate taste is there but it doesn't muddy up the overall flavor. It's not quite as bold as I'd like (especially when compared to the TJ's chicory coffee) but it's certainly not weak or watery tasting at all. It won't be the best-tasting coffee you'll ever have , but the Café Pajaro makes for a good cup better than any at-work option, and for $7.49 a canister, a decent value. Definite bonus points for being organic and fair trade.

For the most part, Sandy's been off coffee for the past couple months. The few times she's snuck a sip here and there, she's grimaced and said "blecch" and not much else. Oh, good ol' pregnancy-induced taste aversions that ruin things you once held dear (like one time when we went out for Mexican food). If the baby doesn't like coffee, what can you do? Anyways that means I'm handling the judging of this by myself, like an adult. Hrmmm. It's decent enough but I like the aforementioned ones better, so let's be fair about it and say....

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Fair Trade Café Pajaro: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
*I once made the mistake of telling that to a talented barista buddy of mine. He immediately cringed and turned away. We've never talked about coffee since.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Crispy Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies

We're always getting review requests here at WG@TJs. It's often for random individual products that people are too scared to try...but there are two categories in particular that people always want us to check out: vegetarian/vegan stuff and gluten-free stuff. Lately, it seems like gluten-free has been more popular than ever. Since Sonia and I are both sensitive to gluten, we've tried a handful of TJ's gluten-free products just for our own benefit. (We usually just go ahead and eat regular wheat products and suffer the consequences). But we're also trying to help people who really have to do the gluten-free thing out of absolute necessity.

And thankfully for sufferers of Celiac Disease, there are a few products out there that make gluten seem downright unnecessary. This is one of them.

Sonia and I were both amazed by the taste of this product. Really amazing chocolate chip cookie taste. They're very, very chocolatey, with a strangely home-made quality for being super-crispy, packaged in plastic, and well...wheat free. There's a picture of what appears to be some colonial type bakers cooking up a batch of these things. Who knows? Maybe the gluten-intolerants of the seventeenth century whipped up batches of crispy rice-flour cookies all the time. Or maybe they were burned at the stake because their intolerance of wheat was assumed to be some sort of divine retribution for witchcraft. Whatever the case, I'm happy Trader Joe stumbled upon this tasty recipe.

The texture is exactly as described. Crispy and crunchy. And how! It usually seems like it's harder to nail the texture of a gluten-free product than the flavor, as was the case with Trader Joe's Gluten Free Brownies. If you really like the crunchy feel of crispy cookies like I do, these are spot on—but I do have to admit that I'm an even bigger fan of gigantic, warm, soft chocolate chip cookies. We may have to wait a while for them to uncover the magical formula that can yield a gluten-free batch of those. Until then, I'll be happily crunching away on these puppies. They reminded us of the little Famous Amos crispy cookies you get out of vending machines. But better.

Overall, I was very impressed. I'll give them 4 out of 5 stars. Sonia does too.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

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