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Thursday, November 8, 2018

Trader Joe's Chantilly Cream Vanilla Bean Mini Sheet Cake

Icing: it's the best part of the cake, and the worst part of hockey.

If you're not sure exactly what that means, just turn to the hockey fan nearest you and ask them about it. Right now, as I compose this post, the Capitals and Penguins are playing one another. #ALLCAPS! It's a big rivalry—almost as big a rivalry as the ultimate argument about cake. There are those like my lovely wife that claim the bread part is always best. And then there are people like me. I'm usually an icing kinda guy.

Not long ago, Sonia and I sampled TJ's Party Cake. I liked it a bit more than she did in the end, but we both enjoyed the cake more than the frosting in that instance. In this case, the vanilla bean icing is the main attraction for me. It actually tastes like vanilla beans more than regular white icing in the same way vanilla bean ice cream tastes more like true vanilla than even a highly respectable French vanilla. And like vanilla bean ice cream, this icing has actual ground vanilla beans in it.

The icing isn't completely even across the top of the cake. Around the edges, it's significantly shallower than in the middle. There are a few areas that even seem to have greater quantities of frosting than cake—as in, you take a fork-full, and you're chewing two parts icing to one part cake. It didn't bother me much at all because the vanilla bean was so tasty. You bready cakey people might disagree. However, even I must admit the bread here is nothing to complain about. It stays moist and fresh-ish for quite a while after opening the product. It's not unlike the bread part of the Party Cake, but perhaps a bit denser and richer by virtue of the presence of beaucoup buttermilk.

In general, I'm not even a huge cake and cookies guy anymore, but I'm sure I've consumed hundreds of pieces of cake at parties and get-togethers over the years, and many of them, perhaps even most, have been vanilla. I generally prefer vanilla cake over chocolate, although there have been notable exceptions. I eat less cake these days for a number of reasons: health concerns, weight, not to mention I don't get invited to many parties these days, and I attend even fewer. All that to say it takes a pretty decent cake to impress me at all. 

$4.49 for the dessert isn't a bad deal. Four stars from me. Three and a half from Sonia...who didn't even finish all of her icing.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Flavored Hot Cocoa

Let the milk and cocoa...simmer on the heat...don't ya know the bitter cold makes the bitter sweet?

Ahem. If you have children under the age of 10 or so, you may be aware of a band called The Okee Dokee Brothers. In short, in a world full of mostly wretched, ear clawing, about to drive you mad kid's music, the Brothers band is surprisingly fresh, fun, and more than tolerable to the point of practically downright enjoyable for the whole family. We'e trekked out for an overnight trip out of town to go see them play in Columbus, OH a few months back, just in time for their new album release Winterland. Solid album from start to finish...and believe me, I know. It's been on repeat for the past month everytime we've driven anywhere, so I am intimately familiar with each song on the album, including the lead off song "Blankets of Snow" where the first line of this review came from.

Could be a lot worse. Could be Kids Bop 265 or whatever they're on now.

So my apologies for not being able to think of another way to start off a review of yet another hot cocoa concoction for TJ's, this time Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Flavored Hot Cocoa.

Unlike my kid's number one choice of music, this one may slightly tilt towards the older crowd. My kids are just happy with anything brown and sugary (it counts as "chocolate" for them") and if there's marshmallows it's a bonus.

Salted caramel is much more the lead flavor of this beverage. It starts with that flourish, then delves into the cocoa after a brief semi-salty interlude. I'm not sure I'd say it's exactly "high quality" salted caramel...but it works with the chocolate elements enough to make a fairly drinkable, fairly enjoyable product. Even when made with water, there's a pretty rich, developed taste which I'd imagine would be even more so with milk, but after a tummy bug knocked me out for the last day and a half, I wasn't gonna try. I can definitely down some on a cold day while not feeling too bad about leaving the kiddos with a packet of Swiss Miss.

Odd point: this mix goes through the trouble of being made with coconut creamer powder, yet still contains milk in that said powder. Coconut creamer doesn't really even need milk, so why bother? It'd be cool to have this as a dairy free option, but no dice. 

This caramelly cocoa runs $3.99 for the squatty cannister which holds enough for eight servings, so about 50 cents a cup overall. Seems like an okay but not amazing value to me. At least it comes with a free three tablespoon scoop, and it'll be a cannister that I'm sure my kids will fight over once emptied. Oh well. It's all okee-dokee with me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Flavored Hot Cocoa: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, November 2, 2018

Trader Joe's Soft Honey Nougat with Almonds

The moment Sonia popped the confection into her mouth, she said what I was thinking: "Weird."

"Mmhmm," I agreed, mouth bulging with candy.

"It tastes fake," added the missus. 

I didn't disagree, but I looked at the ingredients. First on the list: glucose syrup. I was hoping to see "cane sugar" or "honey" there.

At first, this candy feels fake, too—almost like hard plastic. The nougat quickly softens, though, and goes from stiff and rigid to soft and pliable. The nuts are the only elements that remain hard after a few moments in the mouth, and they add the only non-sugary flavor to the product. The taste of honey is detectable, but I wish there were a good bit more of it.

We both agree the almonds are the best part of this sweet snack, and since they're playing second fiddle to a block of vanilla-flavored sugar, they still don't redeem the product entirely, in my opinion. Sonia started enjoying the candy more and more as she tasted the almonds, got used to the unfamiliar texture, and learned that the nougats came all the way from South Africa. I'm not sure why we have to import something that could potentially be little more than wads of corn syrup, but I guess we're just that much more sophisticated for eating foreign confections.

Despite an initial wariness, Sonia will bring a respectable three and a half star score. At $3.49 for 8 pieces of nougat, I think it's a little overpriced and uninteresting. I'd prefer a product that's simply nice big whole almonds with just a thin coating of this candy. Two and a half stars from me.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

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