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Friday, March 29, 2019

Trader Joe's Fresh Mozzarella Cheese Sticks

As a young bachelor, I wasn't much into eating cheese by itself. It just never appealed to me. I was fine with cheese on sandwiches, pasta, pizza, and other stuff—you know, the usual suspects. But as a married man, I've learned to live with a woman who almost always has cheese on hand in our fridge—and not just slices of cheese or shredded cheese, but variants of cheese that were designed to be eaten as stand-alone snacks: those little wheels of Babybel, for example and, of course, various brands of string cheese like Frigo or Polly-O.

At this point, I should pause and clarify something that most of you probably realize already: this is not string cheese. Foodie-hack that I am, I tore into one thinking it was. As I removed the entire plastic sleeve, I wondered why there was so much liquid surrounding the cheese, now spilling out of the packaging and onto my pants and the floor. Then I proceeded to grip the top of the cheese stick and pull down in a peeling motion. Not only did the cheese not peel as anticipated, but a little disc of it wanted to separate from the top in an unexpected way. I popped the little piece into my mouth and immediately realized: this product isn't like other cheap sticks of string cheese that kids constantly crave. This product is far more akin to those expensive mozzarella balls that cost something like $6 or $7 at the supermarket—the kind that's simple, subtle, and super gourmet.

Indeed, these are quality mozzarella balls in stick form. They're cheese sticks for a more refined palate. I'm not saying your kids won't like them. I'm just saying that if they do, they've got refined tastes. I've had some top-shelf mozzarella at county fairs and arts festivals, and for $4 at Trader Joe's, this product isn't a far cry from those other upscale offerings.

It's a clean, light, milky flavor that will be perfect for warmer weather. 

These sticks aren't heavy, gooey, or overpowering in any way. They're super soft, too. There are delightfully few ingredients. I could see them working well in antipasto, or pairing with olives, tomatoes, bruschetta, or any other Italian foods with subtle flavors, but I must admit they make pretty satisfying snacks just by themselves. Sonia's a bit more of a cheese connoisseur than I am, and she enjoys these even more than I do.

If you like the subtle flavors of fresh mozzarella and ever wanted to enjoy them in a convenient, snackable form, this isn't a bad purchase at all. Four and a half stars from my better half. Three and a half stars from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Trader Joe's Garlic Salt with Grinder

Let's see...

Sea salt.

Roasted garlic.




In a grinder tube.

That's all, that's it. That's all it is and there ain't no mo'.

It's so simple. It's almost too simple, some might say. But somehow, Trader Joe's Garlic Salt with Grinder is bordlerine magic.

I'm not sure what the sorcery behind this is. Maybe it's extra salty and delicious sea salt, because that comes on strong. Or perhaps it's extra roasty and pleasantly pungent garlic. I mean, open the cap and it'll smack ya upside the olfactories. That garlic permeates every sprinkle of every bite. Maybe it's the onion and parsely helping give the salt and garlic a solid base that holds it all in near perfect harmony. Maybe it's perfect ratios. Maybe it's the grinder making perfectly sized granules that have a little crunch and got dispersed all over whatever.

Maybe it's all of the above.

And listen...typically I'm not a "put salt on everything" kinda guy. Added salt is, to put it mildly, generally not good for you. My day job consists partially of reading and evaluating cardiac patient medical notes...and over and over again: No salt diet. Patient advised to restrict salt intake. Low sodium diet encouraged. And so on and so on.

But everything in moderation, right? And if you're gonna sprinkle more salt on your dinner or whatever, make sure it's a good one!

I want to put this on everything. I discovered this garlic salt grinder at a dinner with friends a few nights ago. Plain cheese pizza...good but not great. Grind some of this TJ's garlic salt on though? Transformative! Since then, I've used some on veggies, eggs, quiche, cous cous. I've thought of making garlic bread with it. About the only thing it didn't taste good on was some homemade coconut ice cream my kids made...but even that wasn't as awful as it sounds. Not recommended though for sure.

I love it. Sandy loves it. Everyone who tried it loved it at the dinner - it was the absolute hit. There's something magic here, I swear. And for $1.99 it ain't a bad price either. It's just that simple.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Garlic Salt with Grinder: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Monday, March 25, 2019

Trader Joe's Milk & Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Popcorn

Growing up, most of us were aware of Whoppers—the candies, not the burgers. They weren't super high on my list of preferred treats, nor were they highly sought after by most of my cohorts. There were one or two oddballs in our class that liked them, but by and large, they seemed to be a snack favored by older generations. 

I can even remember my father talking about "malted milk balls" to some of my young friends and I when we were kids. All of us youngsters looked at each other asking, "What the heck is a 'malted milk ball'?" "That sounds gross," we unanimously agreed. It wasn't until much later that when aged folks would refer to malted milk balls that we youngsters would reply, "Oh. You mean Whoppers." I'd reluctantly consume them when they'd show up in my annual bag of Halloween spoils, but it was rare that I actually wanted or craved a malted milk ball.

These coated popcorn pieces are obviously not malted milk balls, per se. However, they remind me of them somewhat in terms of size, shape, color, flavor, and texture—and I feel very much the same about both types of candy in the end. It's hard to hate candies like this completely, but for Sonia and I, it's also hard to wholly embrace them.

The crispy inner portion—where the malted milk would have traditionally hidden—has been replaced with popcorn. It's not the first time we've seen this kind of thing at TJ's. Those reindeer dealies come to mind. In this instance, though, we see both milk and dark chocolate. Half of the pieces are just a deeper shade of brown. It takes a bit of discernment to distinguish the two flavors, though, predictably, I do prefer the milk chocolate version slightly if I really pay attention. Sonia didn't care to declare a favorite, although in general, she likes dark chocolate a bit more.

There is a thin layer of caramel between the chocolate and the popcorn, and there is, of course, salt, but both Sonia and I think the chocolate overpowers any "salted caramel" aspects of the candy. I'm not saying it's not there. I'm just saying if you want something to register as "salted caramel," you shouldn't slather it with a bunch of chocolate necessarily. Sonia doesn't even think the popcorn element is prevalent enough.

If you're craving something chocolatey and don't mind that popcorn and caramel aren't all that prominent, you still might enjoy these little guys. $2.99 for the bag. Sonia likes the packaging. It's all Eastery and springy and vernal and stuff. I guess Trader Joe's is replacing the Easter Bunny with an Easter Bear because they come out of hibernation this time of year...? Also because bears eat tons of chocolate...? And they hide in fields of daffodils...? 

Sonia said it was cute. She didn't say it made sense.

In the end, these candies just aren't very memorable in our opinions, and we probably won't buy them again. Double threes.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

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