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Friday, October 7, 2016

Trader Joe's Sticky Pumpkin Cake with Hard Sauce

When I first read the title of this product, I assumed the "hard sauce" was referring to some sort of a solid sauce—like that Magic Shell stuff that you put on ice cream. And since ice cream is featured so prominently on the cover photo, I then wondered if maybe they stuck some ice cream in the box. I mean, this product comes from the frozen section, so it wouldn't have been outside the realm of possibility to cram a pouch or cup of vanilla ice cream in there somehow. Then, of course, I saw the little caption that says "...just a serving suggestion" and realized there was no ice cream. I frowned and mentioned it to Sonia. She, too, felt deceived by the artistic rendering of an à la mode dessert on the packaging. I was then further frustrated when I realized the "hard" part of the sauce was, in fact, dark rum, rather than a substance that shifted states of matter from a sticky syrupy liquid to a solid candy shell in a matter of minutes or seconds, right before my eyes.

After consoling one another about the tragic absence of ice cream from the box, as well as the equally disappointing presence of hard liquor in lieu of Magic Shell, we pulled ourselves together and proceeded with the preparation of our dessert. We flipped the package over and discovered that the only heating instructions provided involve a 1200 watt microwave. Now it's been pointed out many times on this blog that I'm quite adept at using the microwave for my culinary endeavors, while my skills with an oven or stove-top have generally lagged behind those of my peers. However, it should be mentioned at this juncture that Sonia and I have actually done without a microwave for the past three or four months. We have our own reasons for not purchasing a replacement microwave right now, but mainly, we just wanted to see if we could do without it. And surprisingly, neither of us have missed it very much. That is, until the day we went to heat up this sticky pumpkin cake.

At wit's end after the triple dose of first-world problems dished out by this syrupy, seasonal Trader Joe's pastry, I frantically searched the interwebs for a ray of hope concerning a viable alternate heating method. Thanks to the magic of Google, I quickly stumbled upon a thread on Chowhound involving some other poor microwaveless fool and his Trader Joe's Sticky Toffee Pudding, a wintery cousin of this autumnal pumpkin dish. (Sonia and I actually reviewed that one last year, and we should have remembered that it was to be heated only in the microwave, but now we're in our late thirties, our memories simply aren't what they used to be.) Long story short, I modified the advice given in the Chowhound thread and floated the pumpkin cake (yes, it floats!) in a large lidded pot on the stove-top, boiling the water all around it, thus steaming it, heating it, and yet maintaining a level of moisture that could never be achieved in the oven or regular stove-top pan.

At any rate, it worked quite well, and wow, I guess I should get to my thoughts on the actual food product before this review goes over a thousand words and you still don't know what we think of this product. It's good. There's definitely some pumpkin spice flavor, but it's blended in with heavy notes of the above-mentioned dark rum and caramel. The syrup is rich, lavishly sweet, and super smooth. The pecan pieces are a nice touch, and they add not only nuttiness to the taste, but a bit of crunch to the texture. 

It's really a delicious dessert, but we do have a few reservations. I'm sure it would be even better with vanilla ice cream to balance out the heaviness of the rum-caramel. And it would probably be even better with more pecans, too. If you're hugely into pumpkin spice products, this might be something you'll want to pick up, but if you're on the fence or if pumpkin spice and rum just isn't your thing, you're better off waiting until December and picking up the sticky toffee pudding. Despite our affinity for all things pumpkin, we both enjoyed that one just a little bit more, although this one's nothing to complain about by any means.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Trader Joe's Grainless Granola

Some of our longer tenured readers may recall me prattling on and on a couple years ago about the Paleo diet I was doing. Not really wanting to rehash it all in detail, so for the uninitiated, here's the TL;DR version: For years I was severely overweight before starting a exercise and Paleo diet regime that resulted in me losing 100 pounds. It's been nearly a year and a half since I hit that century mark, and I've kept but a small handful of those pounds off thus far. And while I don't follow a Paleo diet too strictly any more, I still dabble with it here and there when given the choice, and so it's still kinda part of my ongoing weight loss maintenance program.

It's somewhat late to the party, but here's Trader Joe's Grainless Granola. Kinda wonder what took TJ's so long. A couple years ago when being discontinued in local Targets, I bought every last sackful of Renola in the greater Pittsburgh region. So, I'm pretty familiar with these kinda caveman-friendly mixes of fruits, nuts and seeds, although I still can't figure out why they're referred to as a "granola."

It's a good mix overall...but a bit odd. There's no real crunch or crispiness or anything. Instead, it seems as if perhaps the moisture of the dates permeated the nuts (cashews and walnuts) and seeds (sunflower and pumpkin) so almost everything is a soft, slightly smushy, uniform texture. That's not necessary a bad thing, but it cuts down on the snacky factor of it, and could present issues for those wishing to sprinkle some on top of some yogurt or oatmeal. The dates and dried bananas seemed to clump a tad bit, too, so if that's not your thing, beware.

Also, you gotta like cinnamon. A lot. This stuff has a massive dose of cinnamon that'll smack your nostrils when the bag opens and be present in every bite. It's not enough to override any the individual components, thank goodness, because there's plenty of "as-is" natural flavor in the granola. There's also a small smattering of vanilla, but it's not as even or present as the cinnamon, which is fine.

A few small handfuls filled the hunger hole for a good amount of time. I kept a bag at my work desk for a few days and happily munched, and wasn't 'til I was throwing out the bag that I noticed that it said to keep refrigerated after opening....umm, why? Nothing perishable in there. Someone please explain.

Anyways, the sack cost $3.99 which is about right for a snack mix of this nature. You could probably make your own for a little less, but, well, convenience. It's what separates us from the cavemen.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Grainless Granola: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

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