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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Trader Joe's Extraordinary Bark of the Finest Collection

Well, like Nathan said recently, it's Christmas time, so we best be gettin' on to to reviewing all sorts of holiday treats. To me, Christmas season begins with Advent, ends on Epiphany, and interrupts itself whenever I hear the opening chords of "Christmas Shoes" - I just can't help but get mad at that grifting little kiddie conniver, the many faces of Rob Lowe be damned. No matter, to me, this is the time of year that Trader Joe's shines brightest of all, with all those holiday goodies - thanks for putting them in the produce aisle this year, forcing me to walk by them, by the way. Good thing my cohort got to review the gingerbread pancakes first, though - those were a disaster awaiting re-experimentation in our test kitchen here. Taste was okay, occasionally a little too heavy on the ginger as mentioned, but man, with following instructions carefully, they were a runny mess that stuck to our pans, and believe me, we know how to cook pancakes. Meh.

On to Trader Joe's Extraordinary Bark of the Finest Collection. What a goofy, overly honorific, and pretty much unearned name. There's nothing all that special here. Okay, so dark chocolate...I've been getting more and more used to the darker stuff recently (Lindt's 90% bar? Love it!) so the chocolate base layer actually tastes a little too sweet to me. Take that for what it's worth, my scale might be whacked. That's not the problem here.

No, the issue is with all the little stuff added on. And I do mean "little". There's a billion itsy bitsy almond and pretzel shards, which is okay but kinda run-of-the-mill by itself. All the other stuff, like the mini peanut butter cups, and popcorn, and the unlabelled-upfront-but-definitely-there Joe-Joe cookies? Few and far between. There were maybe four or five Reese knockoffs in the entire six serving bar - not good enough. A few more of those, and a couple more bites of cookie, and more than three pieces of popcorn would have been pretty good. Although, I'd personally kick off the Joe-Joes altogether and get more PB cups and popcorn on there, because the barky bites with those, with the little added crunch of the nuts and pretzels, and if the cocoa-drizzle on top were just right - mmm mmm mmm mmmmmm. Those were good, not "too much" on there, and certainly not too little either. The entire package needed to be like that, not just a few choice morsels in an otherwise sparsely chunkified choco-wasteland.

The repeat purchase potential for this extra ordinary (definitely not extraordinary) product depends completely on the level of effort I wish to bring forth to the next office holiday food day - that is, if I wish to bring something more than my usual case of ginger ale but lack desire to much more than plunker down another four bucks. For the first seasonal foray into the world of TJ's Christmassy treats, both Sandy and I were a little disappointed, but in the end not overly, I guess, and I guess we're just gonna have to keep on going back. Got a particular holiday treat we need to get our grubs on? Recommend away!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Extraordinary Bark of the Finest Collection: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Trader Joe's Gingerbread Pancake Mix

I'm going to kick off this review by comparing these pancakes to a cereal we reviewed earlier this year. First, they're both for breakfast. Second, we prepared both of them with milk (although the instructions for these pancakes said to just add water). Thirdly and most importantly, they were both just too gingery for us. Or rather, certain bites were just too gingery for us in both cases.

The ginger bits in the batter had a tendency to sink down to the bottom of our mixing bowl, so the first few pancakes we made were just like regular flapjacks but with a mild to moderate gingerbreadishness about them. Really pleasant overall. With butter and maple syrup, they tasted really good, and the gingerbread vibe was a nice holiday twist. However, the last few pancakes had at least one hunk of "crystallized" ginger in every bite. 

You can chalk it up to user error and say we should have fluffed up the batter a bit before each pancake hit the skillet—and in hindsight, that might have solved the problem. But even then, I think there would have been too much ginger. It might have been a blessing in disguise that the first half of our pancake batch was relatively ginger free. Because the ones with ginger were WAY too gingery, even dressed up with butter and syrup.

Each ginger chunk was about the size of the piece of pimento you might find in an olive. That might not sound very big, but the flavor of ginger is so potent, it overshadowed everything else. We were expecting something that tasted like gingerbread, not raw ginger. Ginger's great as a spice, but it's just too much for Sonia and I when it becomes the main attraction.

This pancake mix isn't a complete fail, in my opinion, but you really have to love the taste and texture of actual ginger for them to be considered a win. Sonia's only other comment: "Not terribly impressed." She gives them 2.5 stars. I'll be the slightly less grinchy Grinch this time and give a 3.5.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

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