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Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Trader Joe's Gochujang Paste


A few years ago, there was some big hullabaloo about a Philadelphia-area contest for best cheesesteak. I'm originally from the surrounding 'burbs, and there were chefs all competing...and putting things like bean sprouts in the cheesesteak. Lump crab. Swiss chard and aiolis get the idea. As pretty much a staunch "Wiz wid" guy, I could only shake my head. 

Oh, how times changed. 

Perhaps the western side of the state perverted whatever idea I've had of what a cheesesteak is, as I made them for dinner last night. Not only did I use Mancini's and not Amoroso for the roll (gasp), when I needed something for a little spice for mine....I used Trader Joe's Gochujang Paste.

Fermented red pepper with rice used as a base for this slightly grainy, fairly spicy, and a touch sweet paste...on a cheesesteak? I'm aghast at myself, almost.

Except, you know what? it worked, and worked pretty well. 

Gochujang is definitely a somewhat acquired taste. It's different than most spice, as its a touch deeper, with more depth and taste and subtlety. It's the fermentation that really brings it out. I've used powdered gochujang to add a kick to my own sauerkraut, and I've grown to love it. 

This particular TJ version isn't quite as potent, but still offers a lot of the same warmth and depth. It'll be welcome back on another cheesesteak, as well as any variety of dishes. Rice, veggies, on some meats, added to some soup or sauces, or whatever - sure thing. It'll be just my own, my lovely bride didn't seem interested and my kids weren't entirely up to the adventure.

Just a couple bucks for the lil tub. Worth a pickup. Didn't seem demonstrably different from similar condiments I've scored at Asian groceries around here, but I'll admit I'm not 100% attuned to its authenticity. I'll save that for cheesesteaks, but you know what? Innovation is just fine, if there's a good outcome. Still not sure about the bean sprouts, though.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gochujang Paste: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Monday, September 19, 2022

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Beer

I was beginning to think this stuff didn't exist. I mean, sure, the internet is full of hundreds of pictures, reviews, and opinions about it, but every time the beautiful wifey or I tried to procure some at our friendly neighborhood TJ's store, it "wasn't in stock" or it "wasn't in season." It seemed like a cruel trick being perpetrated by Trader Joe's corporate offices, the friendly clerks at each and every location we stopped at, and even the online food and beverage reviewing community.

Either they finally all agreed that the joke was wearing thin and decided to brew the stuff for real just to gaslight me further or we finally just got lucky and wound up at the right place at the right time to get some. I'm not sure which. Occam's razor would suggest the latter case is true rather than the former, but reductionalistic logic has its weaknesses too, you know. I digress.

I love cookie butter and all its many wonderful derivative products. I also love beer. How could I not love cookie butter beer? Pumpkin ales have their place, but there's something autumnal about speculoos spices that seem equally appropriate for this time of year, and I think I'd lean toward something like this over virtually any pumpkin ale or even Oktoberfest beer I've ever had. This is much sweeter and more dessert-ish than any typical ale, so the comparison is really apples and oranges, but nevertheless—this is my new favorite fall beer. I consumed it this past weekend while watching my Nittany Lions beat the Auburn Tigers for the second year in a row, and I enjoyed every sip of it.

The can mentions vanilla beans and toasted coconut. Vanilla is there, yes. Coconut? Hmm. Well, I'm not saying they didn't use coconut flavors. But I don't think cookie butter tastes like coconut and I can only taste coconut in this beer if I really use my imagination. There's a good bit of cookie butter spice flavor, namely cinnamon and nutmeg. Overall, it's a light, smooth taste that's refreshing and satisfying. It's definitely a beer, though, in both texture and flavor. It's not like an alcoholic milkshake or a super sugary liqueur.

The can says to pour it into a stemmed beer glass. That's technically a red wine glass in the pic, but it's got a large round bowl and I think it opened up the flavor of the beer nicely. Also it looks fancy.

At 9.5% ABV, it's on the stiffer end of beers. I think I've had wines with lower alcohol content. It's $15 for four 16 oz cans. Apparently this is the first iteration of the beverage in aluminum cans. It's been available exclusively as a $6 glass pint bottle for the past two years or so. Definitely not the cheapest brew at Trader Joe's, but worthy of a purchase or two in our opinions. Four stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Trader Joe's Salted Maple Ice Cream

Here's the annual reminder that maple shouldn't really be considered a fall flavor. I mean, sure, I get it, maple and maple leaves falling and all that, but maple season is really late winter to early spring when the that magical maple season really is. That's when the sap freely flows and boils down to the delicious syrupy sweet gift from God that is maple. 

Not really gonna complain. Y'all take all the pumpkin spice anything you want, gimme maple any time, any day. 

And now...there's Trader Joe's Salted Maple Ice Cream. 

Oh man. Not gonna lie: it's pretty awesomely terrific. Love a good maple ice cream, like the creamees you can get up in Vermont. Like those, this TJ's offering is soft and creamy, which only adds to the overall richness. The base itself is is very amply maply, with a small touch of sea salt to even kick it a little further up. In our pint, which did not photograph well, there was also a small vein of concentrated maple/salt concoction that chugged it into another gear. 

Every bite is soft, smooth, decadent, sweet, maply and delicious. Almost no complaints at all. 

Except...well...there's an error of omission here. There's just something needed, for a little texture perhaps, something to kinda ground the overall richness. A little something earthy, perhaps. Pecans would be a great choice, but I'd accept small walnut bits, too. It's just that little extra something that's needed to really bring it home. 

Regardless, my lovely bride and I had no issue polishing off a pint in about five minutes, and we'd definitely pick it up again. For $3.49 a carton, it's not a bad price either. Check out the ingredients and nutritional info here. Fantastic, and oh so close to perfect, any time of the year.

Bottom line; Trader Joe's Salted Maple Ice Cream: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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