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Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie and Cocoa Swirl Spread

Just looking at the jar is exciting!

Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie and Cocoa Swirl

I’m typing this post with sticky fingers. No, not because I’m engaged in unsavory, graphic acts. Shame on you for thinking that. My fingers are sticky because I’m currently knuckle-deep in a brand new jar of Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie and Cocoa Swirl – the latest development in TJ’s now three-prong assault on American waistlines known as cookie butter. As readers of this blog know, I’m hopelessly in the thrall of cookie butter, and avoid buying it simply because it will plunge me into mango levels of reckless binging.

I got into the whys and hows cookie butter before. As you’re all probably now aware, Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter was their own version of what is also known as biscoff spread, a peanut butter like spread where instead of peanuts there are finely ground speculoos cookies. I won’t rehash old news, but suffice to say that Trader Joe’s take on the delicious condiment outstripped the original in both taste and texture – creating a mind-blowingly delectable taste sensation and a brand new way to eat cookies.

Trader Joe’s followed up this first miraculous, iPhone level market disruption with a second version, crunchy cookie butter, some months later. The iPhone 4S to cookie butter’s iPhone 4, if you will – a variation on the original theme. Which is why this new approach, the cookie butter cocoa swirl, is so exciting. Trader Joe’s is, for the first time, legitimately attempting to innovate their ground breaking product. But do they succeed?

Like most of you cookie butter fans out there, I’ve tried adding cookie butter to everything and anything that will hold its weight. I’ve put it on everything from celery to croissants, I’ve baked it into cookies, used it on pancakes and even tried spreading it on other speculoos cookies. The results have always been the same – no matter what cookie butter is combined with, it isn’t better than cookie butter by itself. As I pointed out in my first post, cookie butter is like pure, elemental gold. You can add anything to it you like, but you’ll only end up with a less pure gold.

That said, Trader Joe’s clearly decided to take a proper run at clearing this particular hurdle. Before cookie butter came on the scene and took its throne, the previous regent of sweet, spreadable condiments was Nutella – the thick hazelnut and chocolate spread of your dreams. Trader Joe’s has whipped up their own version of Nutella for this product – a mixture of 8% cocoa powder, vanilla flavoring, hazelnuts and cocoa butter. So what happens when you combine a #1 with the former #1? The answer, rather predictably, is that you get a #2. In other words, Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie and Cocoa Swirl is beautifully delicious but simply not as good as cookie butter by itself.

Where do I get off making such a claim, you ask. Who am I to judge between two angels? To you sir, I say set down the two side by side and conduct a taste taste for yourself.

Let’s eat a nice spoonful of this new cookie butter and cocoa swirl. Do you taste that wonderful cookie butter taste? That delicious silky smoothness that’s bursting with impossibly rich speculoos cookie goodness? But pay attention now, notice how the chocolate flavor rises to the fore, overpowering the comparatively subtler and more complex flavor of the cookie butter. It’s a good taste at first, for a moment they mingle together in a perfect balance. Then the chocolate takes control, blanketing your tongue in a heavy chocolate flavor. Notice how that chocolate taste continues to linger on the tongue, not just immediately on swallowing but long after. Wait long enough and you’ll notice it almost becomes sour at the edges of your tongue. Not exactly an unpleasant taste, and to be sure you’ll be going back to the jar for more, but it’s just not quite as good as regular cookie butter is it?

Nutella by itself is wonderful. Cookie butter by itself is even better. Combining the two is a noble idea, but their child, unfortunately, is a bastard unfit to claim the cookie butter throne.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes – but only if you’ve already tried regular cookie butter.

Would I Buy It Again: There’s no reason for me to choose this over pure cookie butter.

Final Synopsis: Even when mixed with nutella, you can’t improve on cookie butter.

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie and Cocoa Swirl - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie and Cocoa Swirl – Nutrition Facts

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Trader Joe’s Mini Pumpkin Pies

Trader Joe's Mini Pumpkin Pies

“Petite Pumpkin Pies Perfectly Produced” – someone’s getting alliterative at Trader Joe’s

What is it about miniaturization that makes things so much more appealing? Regular umbrellas? Just okay. Mini drink umbrellas? Amazing. Regular bottles of alcohol? Enjoyable. Mini bottles of alcohol? Instant fun. Regular elephants? Pretty good. Dwarf elephants? Mind blowing. Whatever it is, it applies equally to Trader Joe’s Mini Pumpkin Pies – delicious, light and flaky hor d’oeuvre-sized pumpkin pies so deliciously edible that they pose a serious danger to your waistband.

I picked up these pies more out of a sense of obligation to my on going coverage of Trader Joe’s pumpkin madness then any real desire to have pumpkin pies. Let me preface my coming remarks by pointing out that I’m a pumpkin pie lover, and always will be so long as I live. Pumpkin pie has an indelible place at my Thanksgiving table this year and every year to come. That said, pumpkin pie is definitely a second tier pie. I love eating it at Thanksgiving, and maybe one or two more times over the winter holidays, but that’s about does it for me. Unlike, say, a good cherry or lemon meringue, it’s just not a pie I hanker for year round.

Why, then, should I expect these mini pumpkin pies to be any better – miniaturization aside. There’s one excellent answer to that question – and that’s the crust. While the heart of the pie might be its filling, its soul is in its crust. A pie can only go so far with an average crust. For a pie to be truly delectable it needs a light, flaky, tasty, buttery crust – and on that front Trader Joe’s knocks it out of the park. The crust on these mini pumpkin pies is the most delicious part – tastier by far than the somewhat indifferent pumpkin pie filling. It’s an all butter crust, imbued with sugar yolk (egg white beaten with sugar) and graced across the top with a few more grains of granulated sugar for good measure – more like the crust of a delicate turnover than a pie. I’m no pie die hard, but I can confidently say this is the most delicious pie crust I’ve ever had.

Trader Joe’s plays to the strength of their excellent crust in two ways. One, in direct defiance of all pumpkin pie tradition, they have put top crusts on these pies. Now normally I’m the kind of guy who’d strut up and down lambasting TJ’s for such a brazen act of effrontery. In this case however, I’ve got nothing to say – the top crust does everything to improve this pie and nothing to hurt it.

Second, by serving these pies in miniature TJ is maximizing the amount of crust surface area they’re delivering while keeping the crust light and thin. The one issue I encountered while baking up these pies was that they tended to crumble apart at the least provocation. This is, of course, the Achilles’s heel of a very light and flaky pie crust. Only by limiting the pies to such a small size is it even possible to cook them without have them fall all to pieces. Of course, even at such a small size you’ve got to expect that that buttery crust packs some fat. And you’d be right to expect that – to the tune of 30% of your saturated fat intake in just one 1.5 oz pie.

So yes, these are delicious pies. But in the end they are still pumpkin pies – while they might delight me, and make an appearance at my holiday parties, I don’t think I’ll be bringing them out again until this time next year.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes, just be careful you don’t eat them all in one sitting.

Would I Buy Them Again: Sure, but not until next Thanksgiving.

Final Synopsis: A tiny, delicious take on the pumpkin pie with a truly wonderful crust.

Trader Joe's Mini Pumpkin Pies - Nutrtion Facts

Trader Joe’s Mini Pumpkin Pies – Nutrtion Facts


Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Waffles

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Waffles

Sure any waffle looks good with a bunch of whip cream and syrup on it.

As Bert so sagely pointed out, a waffle without “w” is simply awful. But what if that waffle has pumpkin in it as well? Does it become something even better? I aimed to find out by taking home Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Waffles, exactly the sort of unpredictable concoction that I should have expected from the mad lab geniuses at the TJ labs. As long as you’re putting pumpkin in everything, you might as well add it to waffles right? Possibly. While there must surely be a case to be made for pumpkin waffles, Trader Joe’s pallid planks aren’t it, offering so little as to be no more preferable than a regular frozen waffle.

Look, let’s talk waffles. I think we can all agree that waffles are one of nature’s ultimate foods – capable of making any meal better. I hope whoever invented the waffle has a damn big monument on his grave, because they’re simply the best – the brainchild of a man who dared to ask, “What if pancakes had little nooks to hold the syrup in?”

There are two types of inventions in this world – the ho-hum inventions that someone was bound to get around to given enough time (the wheel, the book, the space shuttle, etc), then there are the truly amazing inventions, the inventions that, were it not for the fortunate birth of one incredible man or woman, would have never entered into this world no matter how long we waited (the tamagotchi, the keyboard necktie, platform shoes with little fish tanks in them, etc).

Waffles, of course, belong to this miraculous second category of inventions. Our efforts to heap praise upon the inventor, however, is wasted – this genius is lost to us in the long, convoluted depths of waffle history. While I would love nothing more than to leap into some of the truly interesting aspects of waffle history, I simply don’t have enough space here. Instead, I beg you to spend some time on Wikipedia’s waffle page, where you will learn about such things as:

  • The medieval waffle guilds of France
  • A Bruegel painting that “shows waffles being cooked, but also features a man wearing three waffles strapped to his head, playing dice for waffles with a black-masked carnival-goer.”
  • Thomas Jefferson’s “Waffle frolics”

That’s not even all the highlights. Check it out guys, knowledge is its own reward.

All of which brings us back to Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Waffles. The pressing question is, why bother making pumpkin waffles if you aren’t going to make them taste that much like pumpkin? This is exactly the misstep TJ’s makes here – the pumpkin waffles taste a bit like pumpkin, but not all that much. Despite promises of “sweet pumpkin and savory pumpkin pie spices”, what you really get is a waffle that tastes basically like an Eggo. Yes, there are undertones of pumpkin, but its rather subtle and not very satisfying. Hot out of the toaster you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise – these guys smell good, exactly as if they’re chock full of delicious pumpkin flavor, but on the plate they let you down.

Look, these aren’t bad waffles, they’re just bad pumpkin waffles. Do they have more of a pumpkin taste then non-pumpkin waffles? Yes, but it’s not enough to tickle the taste buds that crave that pumpkin taste. Eating these was sort of like listening to a good song that’s turned down too low – I kept wanting to reach out and turn up the flavor so I could really enjoy the experience. Instead, I was just left mildly annoyed.

I topped mine with pumpkin butter ultimately, which made them much more satisfying but left me wondering why you shouldn’t just buy a nicer, regular waffle and put pumpkin butter on that. Beyond the promise of pumpkin flavor, these waffles don’t have a lot to write home about – they’re just your basic, frozen, toaster waffle. It’s a great idea – there’s no reason not to mix pumpkin and waffle – Trader Joe’s just needs to keep on trying in this case.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: No – even the most die hard pumpkin lovers will be let down.

Would I Buy Them Again: I’ll save my money for a better waffle.

Final Synopsis: Not enough pumpkin in these waffles to make them worth the purchase.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Waffles - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Waffles – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Butter

Pumpkin butter coming at you at a dutch angle! Whoa – look out!

There was no question in my mind about which of Trader Joe’s ridiculous list of pumpkin products I was going to try next – the pumpkin butter. I could barely conceive of what this product might possibly look like, but my best guess was something like a stick of butter but orange. I was entirely surprised, and slightly disappointed, to discover that Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter was not actual butter butter, but the apple butter kind of butter. A classic, “Ah – of course, I’m an idiot” moment.

Despite my initial confusion, this pumpkin butter is actually rather good, in a fruit butter sort of way. By which I mean that it’s very sweet, very creamy and entirely suited for any of your general or seasonal fruit butter purposes – whatever those might be. Which is to say, again, that it’s nice but pretty unnecessary by anyone’s definition of the word.

Pumpkin butter is a fruit butter – which is basically what you get when you cook down a load of fruit, puree it and thrown in some sugar and spices. What you end up with is a creamy, smooth spread that tastes like a sweet fruit jam, but spreads like a dream.

If you’ve ever had apple butter, you’ll know what to expect from Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter. If you haven’t had it, imagine eating a jar of sweet pumpkin pie filling and you’re not far off in both taste and consisetnecy. I’ve tried it on a variety of food products, and each time I’m left with the same sensation – like I’m eating the center out of a pumpkin pie that is subtly wrong somehow.

Other than the pureed pumpkin, there’s not a lot to pumpkin butter. For instance, despite its very smooth consistency there is no butter, cream or fat of any sort in the spread. There’s also much less sugar than you might expect from such a decadent spread. The butter is sweetened with sugar and honey, but only to the tune of 9 grams of sugar per 18 gram serving. While 50% is a pretty considerable sugar to food ratio by most standards, it’s a big improvement over the 70+% you find in most jellies and jams. What that really means is that you’re going to want to come to pumpkin butter for the pumpkin first and the sweetness second.

So what do you do with a pumpkin butter? Well, the jar itself happily suggests you try it as “a pastry filling, a poultry glaze, an ice cream topping, on toast, mixed with fat free cream cheese, and as a soup”. In other words, you can do everything and nothing with it. It’s like we’re talking about a sneed here. Works as an ice cream topping and a soup? Really, TJ? Because nothing else in the world does that. In fact, I’m going to have to give this Trader Joe’s Most Creative Serving Suggestion award – ripping away from the former champion.

So yes, pumpkin butter is probably totally unnecessary – but on the other hand, that can be said of all seasonal holiday products. The real merit of this class of food is how tasty it is and, more importantly, how much it helps you get into the spirit of the season. On those grounds, Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter is reasonably effective, but not a knock out. By it’s very nature as pumpkin butter it’s so rich and thick that it’s hard to integrate into your daily routine.

If you’re planning on baking holiday pastries or hosting a pumpkin themed dinner, this is probably a great purchase for you. As a regular sort of Joe, I don’t plan on doing anything with this other than putting it on the occasional piece of toast and, if I’m feeling particularly fey one of these evenings, making a nice bowl of pumpkin butter soup out of it. Pumpkin Butter on toast has been okay, but  something I could skip in the future.  As for the soup, stay tuned for an update.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not unless you’re already a fruit butter fan or can’t get enough pumpkin.

Would I Buy It Again: Sadly, no. I don’t have anything to do with it.

Final Synopsis: Basically, spreadable pumpkin pie filling.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Butter Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter Nutrition Facts


No post today due to moving insanity.

Today’s post is currently mired somewhere in the huge pile of boxes that is my new apartment. If all goes well, and I’m not crushed to death by an improperly stacked column of books, today’s post will be going up this time tomorrow.

Of course, moving also means leaving the safe harbor of my usual Trader Joe’s (which also happens to have been my very first Trader Joe’s) for a new, unknown Trader Joe’s near my new abode.  This new Trader Joe’s is rumored to have more lenient hours and greater floor space, but will it have the same heart and soul? Time will tell, but it has been no small source of anxiety for me  lo these last few days.

Wish me well – I’ll see you all on the flip side.

 


Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds

Trader Joe's Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds

Cranberries and pumpkins seeds in baked pita. Why not?

Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds are a fine, crispy cracker, though it’s applications are limited. More interesting, I’d say, is that they decided to put pumpkin in a pita chip at all.

Accuse Trader Joe’s of anything you want: that their interior décor is garish, that their food nomenclature is erratic at best, that they struggle with keeping listeria out of their salads, whatever – but I dare you to accuse them of not providing enough seasonal foods. I effin’ dare you. Because Trader Joe’s would kick your ass up and down the block if you even opened your mouth to say that. Have you seen the Fearless Flyer for this month yet? Taken a little peak inside? Let me just save you the trouble and summarize a few of the entries right here:

  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread Mix
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Toaster Pastries
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancake Mix
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Waffles
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Soup
  • Trader Joe’s Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli
  • Trader Joe’s Mini Pumpkin Pies
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cream Cheese
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cheesecake
  • Trader Joe’s Organic Canned Pumpkin
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpin Spice Rooibos
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread Pudding
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Croissants
  • Pilgrim Joe’s Pumpkin Ice Cream
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Macaroons
  • Trader Joe’s Country Pumpkin Granola
  • Trader Joe’s Pecan Pumpkin Instant Oatmeal
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bar Baking Mix
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cranberry Scone Mix
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Body Butter
  • Trader Joe’s “This Pumpkin Walks Into a Bar” Pumpkin & Cereal Snack Bars
  • Trader Joe’s Greek Pumpkin Yogurt
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps
  • Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps with Cranberry and Pumpkin Seeds
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Biscotti
  • ACE Hard Pumpkin Cider
  • KBC Pumpkin Ale
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Flavored Dog Treats
  • Trade Joe’s Pumpkin Trees
  • and, of course, regular Pumpkins

And I’m pretty sure this is only a partial list.

I swear to you I didn’t make any of this up – not even “pumpkin trees”, a phrase which you’d be entirely justified in using as an excuse to write off this blog as surreal and joke-prone if it weren’t actually, really a thing they really have.

Pumpkin dog treats? Pumpkin greek yogurt!?!? These people are goddamn crazy. This is not the output of a sane company. No one needs this many pumpkin products for fall – in fact, no one needs this many pumpkin products over the course of their entire lifespan.

Somebody get in there and restrain these lunatics. I’m not joking, someone is in serious need of restraint and possibly anti-psychotics. Somewhere in the upper offices of Trader Joe’s Monrovia enclave an executive is stomping around, frothing at the mouth, demanding more and more pumpkin dishes, occasionally bursting into the R&D department and executing employees for not thinking “pumpkin” enough. I wish I could think of an alternative scenario that would explain this level of pumpkin output, but I really can’t.

I can only imagine the chaos overtaking the Trader Joe’s processing facilities. Huge dump trucks full of pumpkins backed up down the road, honking at each other so they too can send their load tumbling into the giant pumpkin hopper, itself already clogged with huge, bright orange pumpkins as the special, industrial pumpkin masher below, a specialty unit flown in from Germany, overheats under the strain of too many pumpkins.

Which brings us to the first entry on the ludicrous list of Trader Joe’s pumpkin products – Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps and Pumpkin Seeds. I’ll be hitting as many of these items as possible before the end of pumpkin season and, arbitrarily, I’ve chosen to start here. Keep an eye on the pumpkin list though – I’ll update it with links to articles as I go.

These really are excellent crackers. Case in point, they’re made with whole wheat and whole seeds, they’re toasted to a crispy brown, and they’re made by a small family owned bakery in Canada. That’s a very nice pedigree.

The pita crisps find a very nice little spot between sweet and salty. The saltiness (sea salt) is quite slight, just enough to grace the tongue and heighten the sweetness (organic cane sugar and the sweetened cranberries). Neither is so strong that it detracts from the earthy, whole grain taste of the toasted wheat and roasted pumpkin.

The fact is, I’d probably have preferred the crackers more it they didn’t have the cranberries at all. It’s an excellent snacking cracker in and of itself, thick, with a nice snap and good crunch that isn’t too dry. The cranberry bits are fine, they lend a slight chewiness to each cracker in addition to their sweetness, but they also infuse it with a berry flavor that fights a lot of other foods. This means that you’re limited as to what you can eat these pita crisps with. Most cheeses are just fine, especially Trader Joe’s fruity goat cheeses, but that’s about it. However most dips, particularly hummus and salsa, clash with the berry taste, which really curtails their table top use.

As compliments to cheeses or eaten by themselves the crackers are very nice – they’re just going to have a hard time rising out of the novelty, holiday food niche.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes, if you’re planning ahead to a nice cheese plate.

Would I Buy Them Again: Good though they are, I’ll be buying less specialized crackers in the future.

Final Synopsis: A very, very good cracker, but a bit too sweet to go with many foods.

Trader Joe's Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Greens and Seeds Salad

Trader Joe's Seeds and Greens Salad

Greens and seeds *and* squash, is more like it.

I picked up Trader Joe’s Greens and Seeds Salad the other day after a moment’s hesitation. Greens and seeds? Seeds are not normally my go to salad toppings. I was even more surprised by the ingredients: butternut squash, feta cheese, pomegranate and pumpkin seeds. First off, I’m not sure butternut squash counts as anyone’s idea of “greens”, but more than that, who’s ever heard of mixing pumpkin and pomegranate seeds together. Nevertheless, remembering the rather delicious lessons Trader Joe’s couscous and cabbage and quinoa and wheat berry salads taught me, I decided that I’d better just suck it up and give it a try.

Folks, I’m glad I did. The salad mix might be unconventional, but the taste is right on. This is exactly the kind of salad I go for – a hearty, robust mouthful that hits every taste bud on the way down. Where salads like Trader Joe’s Walnut & Gorgonzola focus on a narrow, rather bland taste profile, the greens and seeds in this mix cover the whole pallet. The butternut squash is savory with mellow, earthy tones, the feta is as intensely flavorful as a nice fragrant fetid should be, the pomegranate packs that astringent, high-toned zing, and the pepitas are salty and nutty. It could, and maybe should, be the taste equivalent of dressing in a tux, sandals, and a clown wig, but somehow it manages to all hang together. The eclectic assortment of tastes are helped in no small part by the excellent salad dressing pairing – a zingy and creamy honey dijon balsamic. The dressing is strong, quite mustardy and vinegary, so you might only want to put about a third of it on at first, but it’s this strength that unites and accentuate the tastes of the other ingredients.

Two potential marks against the salad. First, it’s meat free. I’m perfectly happy to make a meal of salad alone, which generally means I’m looking for something with at least a little meat in it. That said, all the cheese and seeds in this salad means that you’re getting 11 grams of protein per serving. That’s not bad. The other caveat is that the squash is, as you might expect, a bit squishy. That doesn’t bother me, but if you get hung up on texture this may not be the salad for you.

Trader Joe’s rolls out new salads all the time, but this rather wild salad combination has come out this fall for more reason than mere happenstance. Spring mix and summer salads abound, but this is one of the few truly autumnal salads I’ve ever had – a pointed and purposeful concoction made with only those ingredients that are in season during the harvest – or so they say on the company website, at least. I’m a food fan, sure, but I’m an even bigger fan of food born out of high concept musings. Kudos on this happening salad, TJ!


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, if you don’t mind squishy squash in your salad, you’ll love this one.

Would I Buy It Again: Absolutely, I’m adding it to the shopping list now.

Final Synopsis: A hearty salad with a tasty autumnal bent.