Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Joe Joe's

You’ll need to come back and look at this again in a minute.

It seems high time I review Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s. After Trader Joe’s introduced us to the Joe Joe all over again with their amazing, new Cookies and Creme Cookie Butter, it seems like the perfect time to examine the Joe-Joe itself a little more deeply.

Joe-Joe’s are, simply put, the Trader Joe’s version of Oreos. Never seeing a popular product that they didn’t think they could do themselves, both cheaper and better, TJ’s has bypassed Nabisco and stocked their shelves with their own take on the iconic black and white, frosting-filled cookie. It’s these cocoa and vanilla crème cookies that have been blended down into a mind-melting emollient in the super delicious Cookie and Creme Cookie Butter, but Trader Joe’s hasn’t limited their cookie palette to just one type.

Just as the Nabisco Oreo has boldly gone off in new, sometimes insane, flavor directions with their cookie (trying out such elaborate concoctions as Birthday Cake Oreos, Root Beer Float Oreos, Watermelon Oreos, and even Cookie Dough Oreos), Trader Joe’s has sought to follow suit – bringing to the table a diverse, although more limited, selection that includes Peppermint, Chocolate Creme, Vanilla Sandwich, and more. This being the time of Pumpkin Madness, Trader Joe’s has of course engineered a brand new, entirely seasonal variety – the pumpkin Joe Joe.

The Pumpkin Joe-Joe is both what you’re expecting and not what you’re expecting. Based on the box art I assumed this was going to be a variation on the Vanilla Sandwich variety – vanilla cookies on the outside, with some sort of vaguely pumpkin-y icing on the inside. I, once again, was underestimating TJ’s devotion to pumpkin. While the filling is, indeed, average and pumpkin flavored so are the cookies. The whole thing, top to bottom, is one pumpkin flavored cookie ready to meet all your pumpkin-flavored cookie needs. Of course, that need for pumpkin-flavored cookies is small and fleeting, so one box of these will probably do you about right, assuming that you feel any such need at all.

I for one, certainly didn’t. While I applaud Trader Joe’s continued efforts to jam pumpkin into life’s every nook and cranny, there are some times it works out beautifully, and some times you just have to shrug. The pumpkin flavored Joe-Joes fall into the later camp. Joe-Joe cookies are creamy, crunchy and delicious. It could even be argued they’re superior to the Oreo cookie itself. On that grounds there’s no reason to turn these down – on the other hand, these cookies scratch exactly one itch, and that’s idle novelty. The pumpkin is there in an after-the-fact sort of way. When you bite in you’ll taste a sort of fairly sweet, cinnamon/nutmeg spiciness, which is quite nice. There is a hint of pumpkin taste that lingers in the bite, then you swallow and it’s gone. Gone, but not forgotten. Pumpkin has that magic sort of touch that lingers in the mouth long after the swallow and it’s in full force here. Once the cookie is gone, and the stronger, sugary tastes have vanished, the aftertaste of pumpkin emerges from hiding, declaring “Yes, you ate something with pumpkin in it.”

It’s not a bad trick, really, and if you’re planning to have people over for a harvest party or throwing a Halloween get together for your class, these will be kind of cool to have out. They’re reasonably good, but they’re not replacements for the classic variety. Will you miss them when they’re gone? No more than the Watermelon Oreo’s, I would imagine.

The real value of Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s, as far as I’m concerned is the box art. I believe this may provide a window into Trader Joe’s Pumpkin fevered mind. On one side of the box, we’re presented with a perspective-less landscape, irregular pumpkin shapes ominously crowding the foreground. Amongst these, three of the pumpkins have strangely “turned into” Joe-Joe cookies, still featuring their pumpkin stems and unchanged in size. Is it possible this is how Trader Joe’s fevered pumpkin-geneers see the world? Do food objects occasionally waver before their eyes, super-imposing themselves on top of pumpkins, like the vision of a starving man in a Bugs Bunny cartoon?

On closer inspection, the land which the scene takes place on also appears unusual. Huge, round, orange hills with long striations extend one past another, blotting out the horizon – as if the land itself was reduced to pumpkins, the world nothing but one endless, ever-mounting series of incomprehensible pumpkins.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Joe Joe's 2

Don’t gaze to long, lest the Pumpkin Madness claim you too!

The other side of the box is much more disturbing, and exceeds my ability to fully analyze. We’re presented, jarringly, with a flattened, distended pickup truck. It too is dwarfed by the many pumpkins that crowd the image – including three massive towering pumpkins that overflow the truck itself, dwarfing it with their inexplicable size. This is to be expected from Trader Joe’s pumpkin psychosis – but the truck is not so easily understood. One headlight is blank, the other ringed by concentric circles, like two wildly staring eyes.  The truck seems to almost have one of those cartoon car faces – a nose, eyes, a mouth – except twisted and disturbing. The blank eyes point directly at the viewer from the trucks “face”, its huge, broken, irregular grill spread into a wide deranged grin. It brings you the pumpkins. It brings you the huge, alien pumpkins whether you want them or not. It brings you the pumpkins, regardless of its own will, regardless of any will but the pumpkins own, driverlessly bearing down on you from the hill side. It brings you pumpkins, from the heart of madness – pumpkins, pumpkins, PUMPKINS!

 

Happy Halloween everyone!

 

 

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Trader Joe’s Cookies and Creme Cookie Butter

Trader Joe's Cookies and Creme Cookie Butter

Trader Joe’s Cookies and Creme Cookie Butter. Not technically made from Oreos… but only technically.

Hold the goddamn presses, ladies and gentlemen. We may be in the very height of pumpkin season, the most exciting time of the year of the Trader Joe’s product reviewer, but we’ve got to forget about all that for a minute. Novel pumpkin products are all well and good, but Trader Joe’s has just released something of national importance. I’m speaking, of course, of Trader Joe’s new Cookies and Creme Cookie Butter. It is, not to mince words, Cookie Butter made from Oreos.

Yes.

Yes, Oreos. Oreo cookie butter.

Yes.

I understand if you need another minute to grapple with this fact. Take your time. Breathe.

Look guys – look. I’ve occasionally accused Trader Joe’s of screwing around, hinted that maybe they don’t always know what they’re doing. I take all that back, because this is a masterstroke. Needless to say, it is almost terrifyingly delicious.

The orignal Cookie Butter, precious Speculoos Cookie Butter, our lord and savior, has always been great. It’s been there for us in thick and thin, when times are tough as in times of bounty. Its creation objectively improved the state of affairs in the world, and its creator should be enshrined upon her death – but for all that, it always seemed to me like it peaked too early.

There was never any other place to go with the original cookie butter, regardless of how Trader Joe’s tried, and tried to improve upon what was already, it appeared to me, unimproveuponable. That was my folly, for while I was naysaying TJ’s efforts, I never in my wildest dreams realized there could be more types of cookie butter. That there was no reason to limit cookie butter just to the original, delicious speculoos cookie base, but to expand it to other types of cookies! To expand it to Oreos!! OREO COOKIE BUTTER!!!

This development is almost unbearable exciting for two reasons. One, it’s super, super delicious. It’s just so damn good. Eating Trader Joe’s Cookie and Creme Cookie Butter is like mainlining Oreos into your blood stream. Oreos or, as I should say, Trader Joe’s Joe Joe’s. Joe Joe’s are, of course, the Trader Joe’s take on Oreos – identical to their forebearer in all ways except the name.

Trader Joe’s has taken these Joe Joe’s, and broken it down into a brand new type of cookie butter – or more correctly, a cookie butter and cream filling swirl. TJ tried this sort of cookie butter swirling before with Trader Joe’s attempted Cookie Butter and Nutella mixture. While in theory this sounded amazing, a couple issues with the flavors kept it form becoming a classic. Those problems are absent here, and the oreo cookies and oreo crème mixture works beautifully together.

The thick, black veins “cocoa” cookie butter tastes exactly like the dark and crunchy cookie part of oreo cookies – only better. Whatever process they were applying to the cinnamon-spiced speculoos cookies they simply applied to the chocolate cookie shell here, making a mostly smooth, slightly crunchy, delightful cookie spread. Everyone knows that the chocolate exterior of the oreo cookie is what you put up with in order to get to the delicious creamy center. What Trader Joe’s has succeeded in doing is taking the tasty essence of that chocolate cookie and distilling it to it’s simple, beautiful core. The resulting cookie butter gives you the strange but amazing sensation of eating a cookie without the chewing.

This amazing, chocolatey cookie butter is paired, naturally, with unbelievable pure stripes of the Joe Joe’s creamy, frosting filling. This filling does taste a little different from the filling you get in a standard joe-joe/oreo, but it’s hard to say why. The creamy filling here is much softer than what you find in the cookie form, and there is much more of it. If anything, it tastes better than it does in ordinary cookie form.

I’ve often dreamed of getting a whole bag of oreo cookies, scraping out just the filling and eating it all at once, but never dared to try lest the delicious taste drive me insane. Where I only dreamed, Trader Joe’s has acted, not only combining the creamy filling together in one place, but making it even gooier and creamier. This is literally a dream come true.

Trader Joe's Cookies and Creme Cookie Butter - Top View

The beautiful, untouched surface of cookies and creme cookie butter. It’s almost like the Bat Signal, but for deliciousness.

There is no down side to Trader Joe’s Cookies and Creme Cookie Butter – there is only the challenge it presents to your existence. How can you go on living a normal life, knowing this new product is in the world. Are any of the rationales that prop up your life strong enough to stand up against the idea of just sitting down and eating an entire jar of Cookies and Creme Cookie Butter with your bare hands? This is a non-trivial question, folks.

The biggest challenge, really, comes from trying to figure out what to do with this stuff. It’s very, very tasty, that’s true, but there isn’t really a decent way to cook with it. Even Trader Joe’s acknowldeges this on the side of the jar, listing three feeble ideas (dip pretzles in it?) before admitting that you can “eat it right out of the jar”. And really, that does seem to be the most enjoyable thing to do with this cookie butter – aside from possible covering your nude body with it and plunging into an unimaginably hedonistic orgy. This cookie butter is less a condiment than it is a confection in a jar. It’s like  an advanced form of super cookie that, nevertheless, fills the exact same space in your life that regular cookies do –  enjoyable moments of indulgent snacking. Cookie butter just does it more efficiently

This brings us to the big question – is Trader Joe’s Cookies and Creme Cookie Butter better than Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter? It’s a serious quandary, and one that I’ve considered carefully over many spoonfuls of both these spreads. In my considered opinion, the original cookie butter is still best. While the cookies and creme cookie butter is amazing, and delicous and wonderful, it’s almost overwhelming sweet. In the long run, when eaten directly, it tends to be a bit one note compared to the somewhat more nuanced speculoos cookie butter. In the absence of any real recipes to incorporate these amazing spreads into – if we’re simply eating them out of the jars with our fingers like elevated apes – the win goes to Speculoos Cookie Butter, where the remarkable sweetness is tempered by the more complex, spiced flavor of that classic Christmas cookie taste.

That said, so long as Trader Joe’s continues producing both there’s no reason to choose. Buy them both, and enjoy them in unguarded moments, gliding upon the clouds of heaven.


 The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: YES!

Would I Buy It Again: YES! YES!!!

Final Synopsis: COOKIE BUTTER MADE FROM OREOS! BUY NOW!

 


Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

SOMEONE STOP THESE GUYS!

I’d long suspectd that Trader Joe’s had lost their marbles, but I didn’t realize they’d actually gone insane. How can I tell? Because Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds is the sort of mad creation that only the incomprehensible visions of true insanity can show. We know that TJ’s is willing to put pumpkin in every last thing they can get their hands on, but putting extra pumpkin in pumpkin itself? That’s as far down the rabbit hole as you can go. There’s so much pumpkin here that it’s liable to collapse into some sort of pumpkin-induced singularity – sucking the entire world into one infinitely dense, rapidly rotating pumpkin. Adding pumpkin spices to pumpkin seeds is the food equivalent of clutching your head while rocking back and forth and whispering “pumpkin-pumpkin-pumpkin-pumpkin” to yourself ceaselessly in the corner of a dark room.

That said, these things are actually pretty good.

Roasted pumpkin seeds are, like peanut brittle, one of those snacks that are only ever trotted out because they’re in season. I’m sure there are people out there who might eat more than a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds out of curiosity/politeness, but I’ve never met them. Generally, roasted pumpkin seeds are served up with some sort of savory spice on them – paprika, cumin, oregano, etc. Less often you’ll find them mixed with cinnamon and sugar, or some other sweet version. Trader Joe’s one ups all these recipes with their excellent preparation.

For starters, they skip the whole pumpkin seed and go right for the meat of the thing – in this case the pepita, or hulled pumpkin seed. This means you aren’t dealing with any of the semi-edible, obstinate pumpkin seed shells, just the crunchy, nutty seed itself.

The second brilliant step, is that TJ’s treats the pepitas like you would a honey-roasted peanut. They aren’t screwing around here with the seasoning – each little seedling is blasted front-to-back and top-to-bottom with an even dusting of sugar and spice. This gives them a sweet, satisfying, roughness that balances fully against mealier, dry nuttiness of the pumpkin seed itself. Of course, it’s not just any spices we’re talking about here – Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds are coated with a mixture of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and, of course, plenty of sugar. While the sugar content will make you think of honey roasted peanuts, the other spices do a good job of approximating the flavorful complexity of a traditional pumpkin pie.

The result is something you won’t find anywhere else on the market. There’s been a huge uptick in exotically spiced nuts in recent years – from chili-spiced peanuts to honey-mustard almonds – but pumpkin pie spiced nuts haven’t been done yet. The result is an addicting and enjoyable snack – albeit one that might perform better on a different nut. The pumpkin seeds, although well prepared, are still waffer-y and dry, with a tendency to “pulp up” in your mouth in a way that real nuts don’t.

While I’d certainly be happy if someone wanted to come out with a pumpkin pie spiced peanut, I won’t turn up my nose at these pumpkin seeds. ‘Tis the harvest season, after all – if there’s ever a time for pumpkin seed it’s now. Setting out a bowl of these at your next autumnal gathering will fit the bill just right.


 The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Sure, they’re tasty and snackable.

Would I Buy Them Again: Yeah, I’d substitute these for honey-roasted peanuts.

Final Synopsis: Sweet, roasted pumpkin seeds done right.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Seed Brittle

Pumpkin seed brittle – well, why not Trader Joe’s? Are they crazy? Well, yes, it certainly might be well warranted to accuse a man of madness on any old ordinary day if he shows up with the idea of making peanut brittle, but replacing the peanuts with pumpkin seeds. That might well warrant alarm. But these aren’t ordinary days. The twisted, orange doors of the Pumpkin Gate have been thrown open and from now until November we are at the mercy of the pumpkin-drunk gourd lords of Trader Joe’s. If that is the way the wind is blowing let it not be said that I don’t also blow that way.

It’s hard to know which way to turn when you goal is to document the unrestrained pumpkin revelry at Trader Joe’s, but Pumpkin Seed Brittle strikes me as particularly bold/insane. Brittle is, by itself, one of those divisive, old-timey candies, like black licorice or Peeps, that you have either eaten with fondness from your childhood, or detest the very thought of. It is, generously, a seasonal treat – not dissimilar to nog, or fruit cake – created, offered and eaten more out of thought to tradition than any real physical desire. Brittles, in particular, tend to last – the snack that is left over from after the party ends.

That’s not entirely the brittle’s fault. It is, by its nature, not a very social snack. A veggie or ranch dip, for example, is designed to be grazed upon easily by any number of party-goers Brittle, on the other hand, doesn’t break easily, makes your fingers tacky, and cements your molars together in a way that that is more scary than fun.

While peanut brittle does have a history of being made with different tupes of nuts/seeds (such as pistachos, or sesame seeds) pumpkin seeds in a recent innovation and, understandably, one that Trader Joe’s was eager to jump in on.

The first thing you’ll notice is the very nice box the pumpkin brittle comes in – pleasant colors and big, warm art make it perfectly suited to gifting.Inside the box, things are just as you’d expect them to be. The pumpkin seed brittle looks the same as peanut brittle – same dark brown color, same jagged panes of shattered brittle stacked up in uneven piles. The only real difference is that instead of standing out, like peanuts, the pumpkin seeds blend into the same mellow brown color of the brittle.

When it comes to flavor, the difference is similarly subtle. The pumpkin brittle is made from the same key ingredients that all brittles are made from – sugar, water, and butter. Be it peanut or pumpkin, the candy tastes the same – like sweet, carmalized sugar. The actual pumpkin seeds, when you come to them, are mild and crunchy, but don’t make much of an impact on the dish. In fact, while peanuts are a fairly notable part of peanut brittle – large, smooth and bland counterparts to the sticky, sweet brittle. The smaller, flatter pumpkin seeds don’t contribute nearly as much. You’ll notice a pumpkin seed when you bite into one, but don’t expect that strong taste of roast pumpkin seeds. The reason for this is that the recipe uses pumpkin seeds that have already been shelled. This makes for crispier, tastier eating – but remove much of what is uniqe about the pumpkin seed taste. These small seeds (and seed fragments) don’t provide much taste, even a bland one – they’re just a bit of crunch, and then gone.

To counter this, TJ’s dusts their brittle with “traditional pupkin pie spices”. In this case, that means cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and some others. This is by far the strongest part of the brittle, giving each piece a very nice, sweetly spicy flavor. Pumpkin it may not taste like, but pumpkin pie it certainly does.

If you’re jonesing for that autumn brittle, you might consider picking this up for the novelty of it.  More generally, however, we can consider this as something like Trader Joe’s Truffle Salt, a food better suited to holiday gift giving than actually imbibing.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Sure, especially if you’re looking for a new kind of brittle to give people.

Would I Buy It Again: Yes, but not until next year.

Final Synopsis: Like peanut brittle, but with some pumpkin pie spices on it.


Trader Joe’s Cowgirl Bark  

Trader-Joes-Cow-Girl-Bark

Ginger and cranberries – I suppose that’s kind of girly?

Trader Joe’s Cowgirl Bark raises all sorts of questions. What does that strange set of words mean? Why did TJ decide to keep going with the bark thing, after last years lackluster Cowboy Bark? What is bark? And, most importantly, what makes this a girl bark instead of a boy bark?

While the era of sexism is long from over, society’s the tolerance for male-centric, “we make the rules” BS is lower than it’s ever been. It is a time of striving for equality, and reappraising long held assumptions. It is in this climate that Trader Joe’s decided to make their bag of “girl” candy pink with flowers on it. Pretty brazen move, TJ.

Based just on the bag alone, I had low hopes for this chocolaty snack bag. Neither myself nor any of my taste testers had much love for the Cowboy Bark, a rather lazily styled re-release didn’t seem like it was going to change my mind. The formula, as Trader Joe’s points out on the bag, is certainly different – white chocolate, crisp rice, triple ginger cookies, pretzels, cranberries, almonds and peanuts and mushed together instead of dark chocolate, toffee, Joe Joe cookies, pretzels, almonds and peanuts all mushed together.

In theory, it doesn’t sound that bad, except, of course, for those two words right up front – white chocolate. The world is filled with a plethora of strange thing, but white chocolate is, to me, one of the strangest. Whoever was in charge of protecting the chocolate name against low-quality imitators was clearly out to lunch when white chocolate came along. Although I’ve had the occasional falling out with chocolate, it’s still  a beautiful, wonderful thing – delicious in any form, and on any occasion. Like bad sex, as they say, bad chocolate is still pretty good.

The issue with white chocolate is that it does not taste like, and is in fact not, chocolate. Who does white chocolate think it’s fooling, really? It’s one of the classic disappointing switcheroos. If you offer someone chocolate, then hand them a bar of white chocolate, you have just deeply disappointed that person – guaranteed. 100% of the time people are less excited to get white chocolate than real chocolate.

Is that unfair to this “white” sheep of the chocolate family? Certainly not, white chocolate sucks, that’s all. In addition to it’s delicious sugar and cream contents, real chocolate contains a wide rage of intriguing stimulants and anti-oxidants, such as theobromine, thiamine, phenylethylamine, and of course, our good buddy caffeine. In white chocolate, all of these are missing – stripped from the chocolate, on purpose, in order to turn it into white chocolate. White chocolate is, literally, what’s left over when you take all the good stuff out of chocolate. The colorless corpse of chocolate, from which the soul has departed.

And yet folks – and yet, I actually like Trader Joe’s Cowgirl Bark considerably better than their Cowboy Bark. The big failing of the Cowboy bark was that the intensity of the dark chocolate overpowered the other, allegedly tasty, ingredients. With white chocolate there’s no such problem, and the pretzels, peanuts, et al. get to make their presence known. The result is actually a fairly tasty mash up of chocolate and snack foods. You’ll certainly notice the salty pretzels and crunchy nuts the most, with the cranberries and ginger cookies more or less unnoticeable amid all the other noise.

Nevertheless, overall this bark basically works. I wasn’t wowed by it, and it may be made with white chocolate, but taken altogether the salty, sweet punch of the candy is good enough to bring you back to bag for seconds and thirds. There’s certainly room to improve – storing chocolate in a loose bag, as we’ve explored before, is not a good idea unless you want it to melt together into a huge messy blob – but Trader Joe’s is getting closer. Maybe they’ll come out with a third iteration using milk chocolate instead (Cow Bark perhaps?), and it will actually win me over. There’s a brilliant idea in here somewhere, they just haven’t quite reached it yet. Until then, the general populous can probably steer clear.


 

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: With hesitation, to people who don’t mind messy fingers.

Would I Buy It Again: No, this is the best white chocolate I’ve had but it’s still just white chocolate.

Final Synopsis: A treat best reserved for people who like white chocolate, like confectionery bark, or both.

Trader Joe's Cowgirl Bark - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Cowgirl Bark – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Potato Chips with South African Style Seasoning

Trader Joe's Potato Chips with South African Style Seasoning

The seasoning you love, now in bag form.

Back when I reviewed Trader Joe’s South African Smoke Seasoning I was delighted to discover it was one of Trader Joe’s hidden gems. Easy to overlook on shelves full of peppercorn grinders and rock salt, this South African style seasoning is imbued with a whole different dimension of flavor – the savory, rich taste of smoked meat.

When used on hamburger, steak, chicken, or anything you might like to barbecue, it’s a killer seasoning that brings to the fore the richer, meatier flavors hidden in any meat – a little magic touch of South African umami.

Of course Trader Joe’s would be Trader Joe’s if they could just leave it there. Which has lead, apparenlty, to Trader Joe’s throwing this seasoning designed for meat onto potato chips with the new Trader Joe’s Potato Chips with South African Style Seasoning.

It’s an innovation that could go either way. On the one hand, we live in an age of out-of-control potato chip creativity. Bold, daring and, some might say, insane flavors of potato chips are not just possible to find, but aggressively marketed from supermarket shelves. 10 years ago about the most “out there” chip you could find was jalapeno. Nowadays you can dabble in the sorts of epicurean excess that would have made Nero take note. Chicken & waffle flavored potato chips,  mac & cheese,  wasabi ginger, balsamic vinegar & rosemary, – even cappuccino, by god, cappuccino! It’s an age of snack madness, and one that Trader Joe’s is clearly unafraid to get in on. Already they’ve weighed in on with their non-standarad Beurre Meuniere Popcorn. Throwing a meat seasoning onto potato chips is almost tame by comparison.

So we can’t doubt the boldness of Trader Joe’s resolve or vision – the question is, does this seasoning  actually go well on potato chips. The answer, sadly, is no.

The same qualities that make the South African Smoke Seasoning so savory on meat work against it here – it’s simply too salty and strong tasting for the simple potato chips. Divorced of a meat base, the seasoning has nothing to work off of. The result is sort of like throwing a handful of the seasoning directly into your mouth. It’s not that the taste of the seasoning is bad, it’s simply overpowering. When used on a grilled steak or hamburger, the smoke seasoning simply blends in to the complex profile of the flavors at hand. Here, on its own, it has the very strong taste of bratwurst, or as one taste tester put it, “burnt hot dog”.

How much you’re going to like these chips, then, depends on how much you like that heavy, bratwurst taste, without getting the juicy bratwurst bite. This wouldn’t be as much of a dealer breaker if it wasn’t for the strength of the taste. Trader Joe’s isn’t mincing around here – each chip is blasted with a full on shot of seasoning that is close to overwhelming. These chips are best not eaten by the handful, but slowly, one by one, or not at all.

For me the intensity of the flavor simply didn’t work together very well. Between the serious saltiness, and the heavy seasoning these chips tended to overshadow whatever I was eating them with. When your potato chips taste more like hot dogs than the hot dogs themselves, it’s generally not a good thing.

The chips may not work very well as chips because of the seasoning, but what if they were the seasoning. That barely coherent thought is what lead me to cook up the recipe below – country fried steak, with crushed potato chips instead of breading.


 

Trader Joe's Potato Chips with South African Style Seasoning-Fried Steak

Trader Joe’s Potato Chips with South African Style Seasoning-Fried Steak

Trader Joe’s South African Style Seasoning Potato Chip-Fried Steak

Ingredients:

  • 2 steaks, about 1/2″ thick
  • 1 cup flour (any sort, I don’t care)
  • 1 cup pulverized Trader Joe’s African Style Seasoning Potato Chips
  • 2 or 3 eggs, beaten
  • About a 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • Maybe a delicious gravy?

Directions:

  • Pulverize the hell out of your chips. You can do this with a food processor, or by putting them in a baggy and smashing the hell out of them. (This is the most fun part of the recipe.)
  • Spread the flour around in one dish, and the potato chip dust in another dish.
  • Have the eggs ready in another dish or shallow bowl.
  • Dredge the meat on both sides in the flour. (This is the third most fun part of the recipe)
  • Dredge the meat in the  potato chips dust, followed by the egg, and finally in the potato chips again. (This is the second most fun part of the recipe.)
  • Repeat these steps with all the meat.
  • Place enough of the vegetable oil to cover the bottom of a skillet and set over medium-high heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer, carefully add the meat.
  • Cook each piece on both sides until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side.
  • Serve the steaks (with some of the delicious gravy?)

Notes: This recipe delivers a crunchier steak than you might otherwise get, and the African Smoke Seasoning lends it’s helping hand, giving it a robust, BBQ sort of taste.

Turning chips into the seasoning instead of  just adding the seasoning directly might be considered taking the long way around, and that’s a fair criticism, but dammit we live in the world of the Mini Waffle Stick Maker and Segway. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing in an unnecessarily, silly way.

A delicious gravy is bound to help these steaks out, but that’s beyond the purview of this post.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not unless you usually feel your brautwurts aren’t brautwursty enough.

Would I Buy Them Again: I don’t think so.

Final Synopsis: Trader Joe’s excellent south african style seasoning should stick with meat instead of potatoes.

 

 


Trader Joe’s Fruit Bar with Flax and Chia Seeds

Trader Joe's Fruit Bar with Chia Seeds and Flax Seeds

Flax seeds *and* chia seeds *and* stylish packaging? I’m in.

Trader Joe’s has renewed it’s fruit bar producing efforts of late. We just took a look at their new line of thick and hearty two ingredient only fruit bars. Not content to rest with a mere 14 varieties of fruit bars across three separate labels, TJ’s has released yet another one – this one simply called “Fruit Bar with Flax and Chia Seeds.” The hardest part about covering these bars are their homogeneous names, a trend that TJ’s has decided to double down on by not even telling you what kind of fruit this bar has in it. Fruit, it suggests to you coyly, with seeds! Okay TJ, that weird enough to get my attention.

The reason, it turns out, that Trader Joe’s leaves the fruit name off this one is that, for once, it’s a blend of the whole orchard. Apple puree is the primarily ingredient, followed by a mixture of pear, elderberry and strawberry touched with lemon juice.

I went in to the bar with low expectations – after reviewing every fruit bar TJ has to offer, I was pretty sure they wouldn’t have any more surprises for me. I was wrong. This bar easily bests all of the Apple & Whatever bars I reviewed last month. That maybe shouldn’t be such a surprise really – when you limit yourself to just 2 ingredients, you’re also limiting our flavor palette. Trader Joe’s Fruit Bar with Flax and Chia seeds has a much deeper, more nuanced taste, injecting each chewy, tacky bite with a density of flavor, one fruit mingling harmoniously with the next in a way that teases the tongue to probe each bite. The lemon juice, in particular, has an appreciated presence, giving the bar a zesty bite that sets it aside from its starchier, blander siblings.

In and of itself, Joe has a winner here. However, they don’t stop there, mixing in a pinch of flax and chia seeds to boost the nutritional profile. Both flax and chia seeds have been very much in the public eye of late for their “super nutrient” qualities. While their purported qualities owe as much to marketers as they do to science, these seeds are undeniable potent sources of nutrients and fats. Each bar brings a full 1000 milligrams of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, advertised right there on the front of the wrapper. That’s a fun perk if you’re trying to get more into your diet, and an interesting concession to texture for the rest of us.

As already mentioned, the bars is gooey and tacky in that “stick to the wrapper” kind of way. The added seeds give the bar a touch of crunch to each chewy bite that lends them a touch of welcome body.

The result is a surprisingly tasty, fruity, and munchable fruit bar. If you’re looking for single ingredient fruit bars (or fruit leather), you’ve got plenty of choices out there. However, if you’re just looking for a good fruit bar to snack on, this is the best TJ currently has to offer.


 

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Sure, if you like fruit bars, or need natural alternatives Fruit Roll Ups.

Would I Buy It Again: I’m not a big fruit bar guy, but if I was this is the one I’d go for.

Final Synopsis: Trader Joe’s tastiest fruit bar.

Trader Joe's Fruit Bar with Chia Seeds and Flax Seeds - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Fruit Bar with Chia Seeds and Flax Seeds – Nutrition Facts


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