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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Trader Joe's Organic Maple Butter

Are we pumpkin spiced out?

Here we are....halfway thru October...and there's been nary a new, exciting, enthralling, OMG-worthy debut of anything pumpkin spice related. That's fine by me. When we've reached the tipping point of society where the local garage is advertising pumpkin spice brake pads, it shows we've gone too far. Cinnamon is far too crumbly to offer decent stopping ability anyways.

Maple, though?

In my opinion, maple really ought to be the official flavor of fall. Can't get enough of it. It goes well with almost anything. It's far more versatile than most people give it credit - think beyond pancakes, people. Maple is where it's at.

And so it is with Trader Joe's Organic Maple Butter.

It's really tempting to compare TJ's maple butter with something like their maple sugar candy, although that wouldn't be precisely accurate. Whereas maple sugar is highly concentrated nature sugar bomb from boiling down maple syrup to remove liquid, maple butter is simply churned maple syrup that got agitated to the point of creaminess. That's it. As a result, it's still very maple-y, of course, but not quite as much as maple sugar. There is a similar feel though, in that there is a slight chalkiness from the sugar granules. It's nowhere near offputting.

The maple butter is pretty darn excellent. It's absolutely creamy, smooth, and a little bit drippy and runny, but nowhere to the same extent as regular maple syrup. That might make it an excellent "mess control" option for the younger crowd. Like regular butter, it will melt/seep into something warm if placed on top of it, like on top our sweet potatoes the other night. Put it on anything though - veggies, toast, pork roast, chicken, ice cream, etc. And yes, I guess even pancakes too.

It's $5.99 for the small jar, which is about in line pricewise for most maple products. It's not an awful value. I'll admit to being tempted to just guzzle the whole jar down. Love maple and anything maple, as does Sandy, so it's an absolute winner from us. The only thing keeping it from a perfect score is the small lack of anything truly amazing/unique about it, but that doesn't mean it's not worthy of your pick up next time you're at the shop. It's a small jar, you'll find room for it alongside all your pumpkin spice crazy stuff.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Maple Butter: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, October 15, 2018

Trader Joe's Chocolate Salted Caramel Mug Mix

"I didn't choose the mug life. The mug life chose me." It's kinda true. This product has been out for at least a month or so, I'm pretty sure. It's not particularly fall-ish. I'm just reviewing it by default since we don't have any spectacular new pumpkin things to check out and we're between TJ's runs at the moment in our household. But we do have a microwave and mugs, so chocolate salted caramel mug mix, here we come.

I'm a fan of substituting water with milk any time something cake or brownie-ish comes along. But in this case, I didn't have any milk on hand, so water it was. The product still came out fairly rich and creamy, despite the absence of actual cow juice. I guess there's a bit of condensed milk in the caramels, but you know what I mean. No milk was added. I actually followed the instructions for once.

First impressions: I'm really surprised at how easy the product was to make. If I had been handed a dessert like this at a fancy restaurant, I'd have marveled at what wizardry might have been responsible for getting actual salted caramel into the middle of a brownie in the middle of a coffee mug. I never would have guessed in a million years that it could be as simple as plopping two unwrapped caramels into the mix during a 40 second microwaving process. And yet that's it. Stir water into the mix, heat, drop caramels, heat again. Done.

My foodie-hack prowess is responsible for the odd streaking marks on the sides of the mug. I'm sure with a little patience and care, one could spiff the presentation up a bit more than I did. Also, for some reason, the colors of the brownie turned out a bit redder in this picture than they appeared to my naked eye. Not sure what I can attribute that to. I either need to white balance my camera again or get my eyes checked or both. Or neither. It's not a big deal, is it?

Flavor-wise, this product is quite sweet. I've mentioned many times before that I do have a sweet tooth, but I'm craving sugary stuff less and less in my old age. This, surprisingly, was one of the most cloyingly sweet items from Trader Joe's in recent memory. There's a bit of richness to the chocolate, and you can definitely taste the sea salt of the salted caramel, but the dominant essence was very sweet to my tongue. We've seen the Fleur de Sel Caramel on this blog once or twice before, and it's a quality product for sure, but it is quite sweet, as well as salty and creamy. This time, it comes in the form of cellophane-wrapped, bite-size chewy candies—four of them, two for each of the two suggested servings. I should also note that there are two individual packages for the cake mix, too. All the measuring is already done for you.

The flavors of the brownie and caramel come together nicely, despite the sweetness. I can't complain about this product too much in the end. It's very convenient and fun to make. The texture is everything you'd want and expect from a fresh-made brownie filled with gooey caramel, and the price is right at $1.99. I probably wouldn't purchase again just because it's rare I crave chocolate and salted caramel these days, but if you do, this would definitely be a product you should reach for.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Trader Joe's Crispy Quinoa Stars Cereal

"Now THIS is my kinda cereal!"


Now, if this would have been uttered about, say, some pretty decent hot cocoa-inspired cereal, or some special edition Lucky Charms, or heck, even a fresh box of Honey Nut Cheerios, I'd understand. Those are all great cereals with a lot less ho-hum than an average bowful of corn flakes.

But...something like Trader Joe's Crispy Quinoa Stars Cereal? Really? People can get hyped about, of all things, quinoa for breakfast? Wow.

Apparently the answer is yes. And apparently one of those people is my lovely bride, as she happened to exclaim that exact phrase with spot-on inflection that implied complete excitement as she snagged the box and happily tossed into our cart.

Well, okay. Alright. Guess I can give it a try, too.

After some debate, it seems to come down to a simple fact. There's certain grains that are much more prevalent for breakfast cereals. Corn. Rice. Wheat. Oats. As a result, there's a certain level of acclimation and acceptance that can be a little hard to wander outside of, especially when grabbing a handful for a comfort snack, as is my most usual matter of cereal consumption these days.

I think that's what my perceived issue is. These quinoa stars taste exactly what I'd expect a quinoa-based cereal to taste like. They're super earthy, a little nutty. There's a small touch of honey to try and sweeten the whole deal, which kinda works, but can't fully cover up the whole quinoa-ity of the cereal. As a result, there's also this lingering aftertaste that seems to intensify. I ate a small handful as I sat down to write this, and I can still taste it all in my gums and it seems to be spreading to the back of my throat. It's not exactly awful, but not entirely pleasant either.

There's plenty of crispy crunch, though. My wife states it holds up well in milk. There is a slight stale vibe to them - not that ours are actually stale, at least I don't think so. But after occasionally consuming verified stale cereal, there is a small similarity, and I actually don't mean it as a knock. It's just a base for comparison.

And this is perhaps a small thing...but the packaging here is a little wacky. Of course, it's just a bag inside the box...but our inner bag was a full two inches shorter than the actual box. I've never seen a cereal box with that much headspace. It's odd.

Overall, I'm not gonna hate here, as I'm not the target audience. As someone with no gluten restrictions but knowing enough people who do, anytime a half decent gluten free product at a good price ($2.99) comes to market is a event worthy of at least a little celebration. But I can barely eat more than a small handful or two, and I'd probably not enjoy a full bowl. Sandy's kinda the same way, although she enjoy it more than I do and claims she'll buy it again. We'll see, as her initial enthusiasm has certainly dulled in the past few days. "I don't hate it" is about all she'll say. That's a far cry from the parade I thought she was gonna throw for well. Two spoons from me, three from the wifey.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crispy Quinoa Stars Cereal: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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