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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Trader Joe's Pecan Pumpkin Oatmeal

Let's face it: in our modern society, pumpkins and pumpkin-flavored stuff is available year round, or at least it could be. All of the pumpkinnery you see at this time of year is more due to the demand for it, rather than the seasonal availability of pumpkins.

But I'm not really complaining. There's something about pumpkin that's only really good between October and December. Pumpkin's not really a February/March kind of flavor. And it's definitely not a June/July kind of flavor. So every year, at the beginning of the season, I begin consuming massive quantities of pumpkin-flavored things that I wouldn't normally buy. That way, the novelty-factor of said pumpkin-items is very high through the middle of November or so, and yet, by the end of December, I'm so sick of pumpkin that I can go for another 9 months without missing it at all.

Now, we've been pretty heavy on the pumpkin this year so far, and we're almost reaching that midway point through the 3-month season of acceptable pumpkin-consumption. I'd like to tell you I'm not pumpkinned out at all yet, and that our scores are thoroughly fair, unbiased, and objective, but realistically, the Pumpkin Macarons might have had a bit of an advantage over this oatmeal. We're not taking back our perfect score on the macarons just yet, but I feel like maybe we might have given this oatmeal a slightly higher score had we tried it right at the beginning of October.

Our biggest complaint about this product is its lack of rich pumpkin flavor. We found that a spoonful of TJ's Pumpkin Butter added a nice little extra dose of pumpkinny goodness. Without it, there's a hint of pumpkin, but not much more. (It is possible that our tastebuds have achieved some sort of pumpkin-overload at this point and that we simply can't taste it as much as the average consumer anymore). However, the pecan flavor and a few actual pecans gave the oatmeal a really nice texture and taste—a little above and beyond what we expect from traditional oatmeal.

All in all, it's a decent buy if you think pecan oatmeal sounds good. If you're really craving pumpkin, however, don't expect too much. Sonia, a self-proclaimed oatmeal connoisseur, gives it 3.5 stars. I dabble in oatmeal from time to time, but I'm far from an expert. I'll give it a respectable 3 stars.

Bottom line 6.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Trader Joe's In Shell Pumpkin Seeds

Just over five years ago, Sandy and I had our first unofficial date, and me being the euphemistically labelled romantic guy, I still have us a little souvenir from the first magical night: a plastic baggie of pumpkin seeds. It was a few weeks before Halloween and I figured, why not carve pumpkins with this cute chick who I just somehow convinced to start talking with me? This, of course, was kinda neglecting the fact that when I get nervous, my hands get all sweaty, thereby making holding sharp objects not that best of ideas, but, well, you know, gotta do what you gotta do, right?

Anyways, yeah, I still have the seeds we roasted from that first pumpkin. What I thought I'd eventually eat as a nice little snack just may end up as a family heirloom. I'm sure my almost four-month old daughter can't wait for those! We've roasted pumpkin seeds plenty of times since then, only to eat them in quick succession. That's a lot of work though - cutting the hole, scooping out, pulling the orangey goo strands from the seeds, roasting them, etc - that between everything this past fall, we just haven't done so yet, much to our chagrin. Homemade are always the best.

Well, for a consolation prize we got Trader Joe's In Shell Pumpkin Seeds. They're pretty much what one should expect from a bag of pumpkin seeds. All they are is dry-roasted with a little salt, so nothing too utterly special. There's the usual good qualities of roasted seeds - a little nutty, a little earthy, even a little sweet like pumpkin seeds ought to be. There's a few of them still with a little pumpkin gut still attached and charred on, but much less than what you'd have in a typical homemade batch. The one thing I liked about them that I didn't expect is how fresh they taste. Seriously, I've bought some before which were so stale I could've confused with my daughter's inheritance. That's not the case here. They're highly munchable, and a snack equally as good for either pairing with a beer or having in the car for a driving snack....just don't do all three at a time. Drive safe, all.

There's been times I've witnessed Sandy glancing squinty-eyed all over the pumpkin patch while diabolically uttering the phrase "I want your seeds, man", so believe me when I say she likes pumpkin seeds. She's said most of what I said above, but noted that when they're homemade, she likes roasting them a scant more to ever-so-slightly burn them for slightly bigger crunch. She'll shell out a 4 for these while gently reminding me that hey, we gotta make our own soon. Yes, love. In the meantime, I'll munch on these fairly happily and give them a 3.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's In Shell Pumpkin Seeds: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Trader Joe's Sliced Smoked Gouda and Artisan Reserve Vermont Cheddar

So there's this shirt that I wear pretty often on casual Fridays at work that's absolutely ridiculous and a constant conversation starter. It's black, with a big white printed logo on it that says "Wisconsin Cheese Cupid." "Cheese Cupid?," people ask all the time. "What the heck does that mean?" It's the name of some cheese pairing app that was giving away free shirts on Facebook yonder back that I just happened to stumble across and against better judgment click on only to completely forget about until the package arrived on my doorstep about three months later. The shirt's been a showstopper since. As for the seems to indicate that every type of Wisconsin-originated cheese goes with just about everything, so, to me at least, it doesn't appear all that helpful.

In part because of this shirt, and in part because of my unabashed love of Trader Joe's (which does have a pretty great cheese selection), a lot of folks around me seem to think that I'm some sort of residential cheese expert. Far from it, I say. I know what I like and I know what I don't. I like the fresh mozzarella balls from places like PennMac right down the street from me in Pittsburgh's Strip District. I don't like Kraft singles and their various generic knockoffs. As far as TJ's stuff, though, to be honest, I haven't branched out much from the pretty typical sliced and shredded options. Admittedly, most of the few times I have, whether it's been this incredulous mad scientist concoction, or some waxy hole-y colby-esque grossness, I haven't been too impressed.

Until recently, at least. Let's start with the Trader Joe's Sliced Smoked Gouda. Oh man. This, friends, puts the good in gouda. Let me count the ways. Melted on top a freshly grilled burger? Yes. How about over a bowl of homemade potato soup? Absolutely. Straight as is? No doubt. But the very best way I found to enjoy this has to be as a grilled cheese sandwich with a little raspberry mango jam spread over top. Absolutely heavenly. I love the deep, smokey, rich flavor, I love the thick-cut slices, I love how the wax holds all the melty goodness in place so none goes to waste. Heck, I even love the price. $2.99 for a half pound? That's about the going rate for the cheapie yellow American at the local chain's deli counter, and this is much, much, much better. If you like gouda, this is a surefire winner. I don't really have the right vocab to really explain how good it is, or what exactly makes it so good, but I know good gouda when I taste it, and I'm tasting it with each bite of this.  There is not a single complaint that can be made here that I can think of. 

As for Trader Joe's Artisan Reserve Vermont Cheddar, I go a little back and forth. It's far from being bad cheese, no doubt, but as one of my coworkers stated today, "it sounds an awful lot of fancy marketing for just a hunk of cheese." I think she may be right. I've been to the Cabot factory and outlet stores in Vermont and eaten enough of their free samples to know what to expect from a chunk of Green Mountain state Cheddar, and this just isn't quite it. It's seems to me it should be a lot sharper for purportedly being aged for three years, and it also strikes me as being kinda creamy-tasting. Don't get me wrong, it's plenty sharp, but I've had a lot sharper in my day. I know there's a bazillion decent uses for a block of cheese like this, but so far Sandy and I have just sliced ourselves little bits to chomp them on down. If not for opting for the gouda in the aforementioned potato soup, some of this all shredded up would have been a fairly delectable option. It's the same price as the gouda, which makes it almost an equally good value in my book.    

Sandy's about an equal fan of both, giving them a three each. "I don't have a lot else I can compare them with, so I think they're both pretty good, I just don't know how good," she said. Fair enough, I suppose, although I occasionally hear her randomly utter about the gouda. Me? I gotta go with a full-handed five for the gouda, and I'll play nice and say a four for the cheddar.

Bottom lines:
Trader Joe's Sliced Smoked Gouda: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Artisan Reserve Vermont Cheddar: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

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