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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Macarons

If you're willing to spend $5 for 12 bites of unadulterated scrumptiousness, buy these.

Despite our affinity for most things pumpkinny, Sonia and I bought these with a degree of skepticism and wariness. Even though pumpkin has a lot of potential, it's really easy to screw it up. Pumpkin ice cream, beer, cookies, cheesecake, pie, pancakes, muffins, or souffle...any of it can go either way, depending upon the brand, the freshness, and the seasonal availability of quality ingredients.

Incidentally, these macarons are FREAKING AWESOME. Unless you HATE pumpkin-flavored things, you must try these. As Sonia put it, "It's like eating sweet whipped pumpkin clouds straight out of heaven." Immediately after removing them from our freezer, we each tried one frozen, and were fairly impressed. We were tempted to wolf down the entire tray before they were thawed. But in a rare instance of heroic self-discipline, we waited, cleverly distracting one another with tales of edible pumpkin-things from our childhood, and we managed to kill the entire 30 minutes until full-thawage had occurred, at which point, I ate another one. It had all the fluffy, creamy, deliciousness of the first one, yet the relative warmth of the pastry allowed the immaculate flavors to permeate my palate fully and bathe me in a sea of refreshing pumpkin ecstasy.

I've never claimed to avoid melodrama. In fact, I find it an important alternative to old-fashioned restraint on certain occasions. This is one of them. These pastries are soft, gluten-free, they melt in your mouth, they're creamy, and they have the perfect balance of sweetness and pumpkin spices. I'm madly in love with them. I have nothing negative to say about them. This dessert has once again reaffirmed that age-old assertion that vegetables can make flippin' amazing sweet treats, in spite of their healthful vegetability.

Sonia gives them five out of five stars. I give them five as well. Boom. There it is. Sonia and my first perfect score in a year and a half.

Bottom line: 10 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Trader Joe's Golden Caramel Swirl Ice Cream

Imagine you bought a pepperoni pizza, and when it came time to eat said pizza, you realized there was only one solitary slice of pepperoni on the whole pie. How would you feel? Would it matter how good the melty mozzarella, how perfectly zesty the sauce, how delectably delicious the crust? Would it matter that, technically speaking, your purchase is a pepperoni pizza, as it is a pizza with pepperoni on it, just not as much as expected? I mean, when I worked at various pizza shops, there were standards for a large pepperoni pizza, namely, four in the middle, nine in the middle ring, and sixteen on the outer. Hooray for progressions of squared numbers!  Going back to our thought exercise, how long would your battle with your buddy/spouse/significant other/dog/other personality be over who gets the pepperoni and who doesn't? Namely, how cheated would you feel, and ultimately, what would be your opinion of your purchase?

I bring this all up in relation to Trader Joe's Golden Caramel Swirl Ice Cream because it's very relevant. At the very least, in our own purchase, there was no golden caramel swirl in the Golden Caramel Swirl. None. No swirl. At all. Zip. Nada. And I refuse to believe that, against all odds, the one that I, one of the galaxy's foremost amateur hack reviewers of all things Trader Joe's, just so happened to snag would be the only carton in existence nearly completely devoid of any caramel.

Notice I said nearly completely devoid. To be fair, my taste buds sensed caramel while consuming this particular ice cream....on only about two or three of roughly 100 bites I spooned myself. That's maybe what Sandy got, too, out of the whole carton, so it's not like there's some hidden mega caramel vein just waiting to be tapped. There's only three logical explanations I can think of for this: 1. We're idiots and don't know what we're talking about. While always possible, I sincerely doubt it in this case, considering we've reviewed the Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce this particular dessert claims to contain. Barely there. 2. Both the chocolate and French vanilla ice creams are way too rich and vibrant for a flavor like caramel to really shine through, so it's there but way too subtle. Eh, maybe, but then again, probably not. 3. It just ain't there. Now you're talking.

Anyways...aside from the whole "for all intents and purposes, there's really no caramel in the Golden Caramel Swirl ice cream" snafu, it's actually good ice cream. The French vanilla is impeccable, and darn if it isn't some good, rich, tasty chocolate. But that goes back to the opening pepperoni pizza analogy - doesn't matter how good the rest of it is if what's supposed to be there isn't. The little write-up on the side of the package prattles on about this being some sort of "gold medal candidate" or some silly Olympic-ish verbiage. Well, in my book the abject absence of the caramel is pretty much an automatic disqualifier, and let's not even get the East German judge started. Ice cream seems to be something that's a hit or miss for TJ's, and this is a definite miss. Sandy's gonna be nice and, while noting it could use something like some crunchy ice cream cone bits, give it a 2.5 despite its major fault. Me? Sorry. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Golden Caramel Swirl Ice Cream: 3.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Trader Joe's 72% Cacao Dark Chocolate

I guess this review is kind of a cop-out, because everybody knows what chocolate tastes like. Everybody knows what dark chocolate tastes like, too. I would describe it as milk chocolate, but a little more bitter.

Now, we could get into wine critic-esque language involving "flinty undertones" and "hints of earthiness," but that would be pretentious. This is an "everyman's" kind of blog. Russ and I are indeed everymen. And I suppose, by association, that would make Sandy and Sonia everywomen. And along those lines, I do think this is a chocolate bar that everyone can enjoy, even those who've never had anything other than Hershey's.

I'm not a particularly huge fan of dark chocolate. I like white chocolate and milk chocolate because I have a sweet tooth. Indeed, I must have at least several sweet teeth. However, on occasion, I do enjoy the richness of dark chocolate, so long as I am not in the middle of one of my sugar-craving fits. Sugar is still the second ingredient in this chocolate bar, as you can tell from the photo on the right, but the sweetness doesn't overpower the cacao in dark chocolate—and this bar is no exception.

According to this Wikipedia article, a product must have at least 35% cocoa solids in order to qualify as dark chocolate. The 70 - 99% range is generally used for baking purposes. So, in the grand scheme of things, this chocolate is pretty darn dark. I was expecting it to be quite bitter, but both Sonia and I agree that it was surprisingly delicious and palatable. (Sonia usually does like dark chocolate, so it's not as big a surprise that she was a fan).

We're not often in the habit of just buying random chocolate bars, unless Russ and Sandy highly recommend something from TJ's, such as this little gem you might find at the checkout. But in this case, we received these at a lovely wedding we recently attended. Each bar was wrapped in a beautifully-designed candy wrapper created by the bride. We snagged a few as wedding favors and ate them in the days after the wedding. Thanks K & J!

Sonia will give this bar a 4. I'll give it a 3.5.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

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