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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cream Cheese

In a shadowy boardroom somewhere in Monrovia, California, a clandestine meeting recently took place. TJ's crack product development team had been gathered to formulate something diabolically delicious, cookie buttery, and hopelessly addictive.

"What we need is a cookie butter product that's spreadable," said Big Joe thoughtfully, thumbing the collar of his Hawaiian shirt.

There was an awkward pause. The product developers looked at each other with raised eyebrows. One young man timidly raised his hand and spoke with a squeaky, wavering voice, "Uh, sir, Original Speculoos Cookie Butter is spreadable. Same with the Crunchy Cookie Butter. Also Cookie and Cocoa Swirl."

Big Joe stewed for a moment, eyed his subordinates coolly, and considered choking the young man with a dark-side-of-the-force-like death grip. But then he mellowed.

"Alright then, Smitty. Since you're so smart, why don't you tell us what direction we should go in our next bold play for world domination," said Big Joe gruffly.

With every ear in the room anxiously awaiting Smitty's next words, he reached down into the most fiendish recesses of his culinarily-inclined imagination and spoke: "How about spreadable Cookie Butter Cheesecake?"

And that, my friends, is how Smitty got promoted to Grand Moff of Trader Joe's Corporate Offices, and more importantly, how Trader Joe's Cookie Butter Cream Cheese was conceived. It's been a while since the last new cookie butter product: Cookie Butter Cookies. And rumor has it that the product development team was leaning towards cookie butter made from cookie butter cookies rather than regular old Speculoos Cookies, and they were going to call it Trader Joe's Cookie Butter Cookie Butter. Oh well, maybe next time.

For now, we'll have to settle for this tub of spectacular cream cheese with real crushed speculoos biscuits. OMG. It's stupidelicious. It's not EXACTLY spreadable cookie butter cheesecake, but it's darn close. Sonia and I both think the cheesecake and Cheesecake Bites have a bit more cookie butter flavor bursting through than this cream cheese, but it's nothing to complain about in my humble opinion.

Sonia wishes there were speculoos cookie chunks floating throughout the product. I see where she's coming from, but normal cream cheese isn't exactly "chunky." A little extra texture might be nice in this case, though. Another tiny little teensy-weensy problem with this—that might keep it from our Pantheon—is that the flavor can easily be overshadowed by other ingredients. I must admit that it's not quite as potent as other cookie butter products. When I tried this spread on white bread, it was perfect. But with the non-Trader Joe's whole wheat bagels we happened to have on hand, I tasted more wheat than cookie butter. Which is fine, I guess, but frankly, I'd rather have a semi-healthy, hearty whole grain flavor OR a cookie butter "dessert-for-breakfast" kind of vibe. They sort of clash when they're competing for the collective attention of your taste buds. But our poor bagel pairing isn't really the fault of this product.

All in all, it's a delicious edition to the cookie butter family. If you ask me, it IS tasty enough to eat directly out of the tub, however, for the sake of your own self-respect and human dignity, I can't really recommend doing that. It's great when served with something neutral or complimentary, and it melts and spreads just like regular cream cheese, but you might find it to be slightly less versatile than original cookie butter. Now, for cooking, on the other hand...I can't wait to see what recipes people tell us about in the comments section, because this stuff has "Baker's Best Friend" written all over it.

Sonia gives Speculoos Cookie Butter Cream Cheese 3.5 stars. As the original cookie butter fanboy, I can't go lower than 4.5.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Trader Joe's Kale Quinoa Salad

Bacon chocolate bars. Fig cookies ...err ....cakes .... bars. errr... whatever you want to call them. Greasy Greece-y cheesy dough spiralsMega carrot cake cookies. Super-de-duper crunchy brownie bites, which apparently everyone in the world except me knew were Sheila's Brownie Brittle.

Is it any wonder that I could use a salad?

As fun as it would be to subsist on nothing but all of those aforementioned treats, plus any cookie butter confections and other assorted TJ's goodies, well, that's just not how it works. You need veggies, and in the hot hot heat and humidty of summer, some nights nothing but a cool, crisp, flavorful salad will do.

It doesn't get any easier than Trader Joe's Kale Quinoa Salad. As the package implies, it's a full, ready to go salad in a bag, ready to be rinsed off, dumped in a bowl, and served up. And there's a lot in here, too - crisp, fresh kale for the leafy green base, with some fresh shoestring carrot and broccoli for kind of a raw crunchy natural slaw to really fill the salad out. There's the typical red cabbage and radicchio shards intersparsed through out. All of that is well and good, but the toasted quinoa - man, that's a great addition, much better than any crouton. The itty quinoa bits (of which there are plenty) add a crispy, toasty, slightly nutty munch than makes a tasty accomplice to the rest of the kale, etc. The lemon vinaigrette is okay - somewhat light, a little citrusy, with a slight sweet tartness that plays off the natural veggie flavors well enough - but isn't terribly memorable, either. Of course, I say this as a non fan of most salad dressings, so take my opinion for whatever it may be worth. There's also a small package of pepitas and cranberries that add some textural variance and flavor, but it'd be nice to have more of them, especially the cranberries.

And this is one huge salad too. Sandy and I have bought it twice - the first time, we were extraordinarily hungry, so we plowed through the entire bag between the two of us for dinner, and that seemed to be pushing it a bit. The second time, we roasted some chicken breasts to cut up and mix in with the salad - man, that was filling, and though we ate to our hearts' content, there was enough remaining for a good leftover lunch for me. Really, not a bad value at all the for the $4.49 it set us back.

We're both fans, although strangely, me more than the wifey for once. Not tht she hated it, by any stretch. The first time we dined on it, she expressed some of her fullest love she could for a consumable good (non ice cream division). After the second...more of a "meh" reaction. Maybe it's because we knew what to expect. Regardless, Sandy said she'd probably still pick up the kale quinoa salad for a few lunches here and there, giving it a 3.5 overall. Me? it deserves better than that in my humble opinion. Not quite perfect (seriously, more cranberries, please) but I'll grade a little higher to give it the score I think it deserves.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Kale Quinoa Salad: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, August 3, 2015

Trader Giotto's Arugula & Parmigiano Reggiano Ravioli

Every time I hear the word "arugula," I think of the movie My Blue Heaven with Steve Martin. I was too young to really appreciate the film the first time I saw it, but the scene in the grocery store where he asks for arugula has stuck with me for the past 25 years. "It's a veg-e-ta-ble."

And apparently "parmigiano reggiano" is just a fancy way to say "parmesan cheese." But put together like that, it's pretty hard to speak the title of this product without trying to sound like an Italian mafia don from New York City. Near the end of a recent podcast episode, you can hear my sad attempt at saying "Trader Giotto's Arugula & Parmigiano Reggiano Ravioli" with an Italian accent. And if you like that, please check out my even-more-offensive Indian, Danish, and Japanese accents on our YouTube channel.

Whether you say it with an Italian accent or can barely pronounce it at all, you have to admit that arugula and parmigiano reggiano is a great combo. And it's even better inside ravioli pasta. It's a far cry from the bizarre "fusion" experiment we recently checked out called Trader Joe's Chicken Pot Pie Ravioli—admittedly, a mostly successful experiment. But this product tastes a time-honored family recipe from the Old Country—not that I know anything about the Old Country. I'm about as Italian as the Queen of England. But it tastes like something that you'd get from a mom and pop's Italian place. Not a hole-in-the-wall pizza place, either. Like maybe The Olive Garden, but much better. It's a delicious, balanced blend of veggies, cheese, and pasta, and it goes great with olive oil and Trader Joe's Shaved Cheese Blend. All of the flavors are somewhat subtle, but very pleasant. They go together so well because no single ingredient outshines the others, taste-wise.

The amalgam of parmesan and arugula is nice and smooth. There are no chunks of veggies or cheese. They're blended together to an almost creamy consistency. There's definitely a little more substance to the mixture than just plain cheese by itself, but it's not a "chunky" experience by any means. Even the Chicken Pot Pie Ravioli had more body to it, since there were hunks of carrots and peas and tiny whispers of chicken in that product. We enjoyed the texture in both cases, but for different reasons.

This pasta is easy to prepare and reasonably priced at $3 for the package. Sonia and I both recommend it.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

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