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Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites

Humanah-humanah-humanah!

Yowza, cookie butter is back – this time in bite-sized cheesecake form! Let out the angelic choir and ring the church bell until it cracks – happy days are here again!

Or wait a minute. Am I being too hasty?

After all, didn’t Trader Joe’s full-sized Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake fall a little short of the mark? And isn’t it true that while Speculoos Cookie Butter is, by itself, the finest achievement humankind has ever produced, that most of Trader Joe’s cookie butter spin offs have suffered from the difficulty of living up to the bar set by their near-perfect progenitor?

Yes, as we’ve seen time and time again, speculoos cookie butter, when mixed with other things, is almost never as good as cookie butter by itself. Yes, these cheesecake bites are delicious – delicate, decadent and the perfect size to indulge on without feeling guilty. However, while they succeed as cheesecake bites, they don’t actually taste like cookie butter.

This probably isn’t the end of the world. Any cheesecake is better than no cheesecake, and certainly speculoos cheesecake bites are much better than no cheesecake bites at all. They only real problem I have is, if you’re going to sell me on cookie butter, I expect the cookie butter to be there. In this case, despite the mouthwatering nature of each pretty little bite, there just isn’t any cookie butter taste to speak of.

Even though the top of each bite is swirled with a little smear of cookie butter, that taste doesn’t come through. There’s some magic something in cookie butter that is lost as soon as you start blending it into other deserts, and in this case it’s lost almost completely. Compare these to the Trader Joe’s full-sized cookie butter cheesecake. That whole cake was layered with a thick schmear of delicious speculoos, and it still lost something in the execution.

On the other hand, this is Trader Joe’s very first foray into making cheesecake bites, and as an experimental product, I love it! It’s a cold, hard fact that cheesecake is the best damn desert a person can hope for – and it’s an equally cold, hard fact that if you eat more than a slice and a half of cheesecake in one sitting your heart will clog up and explode. These cheesecake bites allow you to indulge in a bite-sized square (or three) of cheesecake, satisfying that craving without blowing out all your fitness goals.

As a way to get people on board for bite-sized cheesecake squares, it makes sense to launch the product with that cookie butter name recognition. However, as a cookie butter product, they don’t really stand up to scrutiny. TJ, you should have more faith in your delicious cheesecake recipe – these are delicious by themselves, with or without cookie butter.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yup, as long as you aren’t hankering for a cookie butter fix.

Would I Buy Them Again: Yeah, the next time a cheesecake craving strikes.

Final Synopsis: Great as little bites of cheesecake, not so great as a cookie butter delivery system.

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites – Nutrition Facts

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Trader Joe’s Rosemary and Thyme Maple Toffee Sunflower Seeds

Trader Joe's Rosemary and Thyme Maple Toffee Sunflower Seeds

I…I don’t know where to begin on this one. It’s like someone just started free associating nouns and they decided to make it a product.

Holy cow – what? Trader Joe’s Rosemary and Thyme Maple Toffee Sunflower Seeds? Wait, Seriously?

Every time – every time – I see something like this from Trader Joe’s I think to myself, “We’ll this is it – Trader Joe’s has gone as crazy as they possibly can.” Surely we won’t be seeing anything as crazy as partially popped popcorn kernels again. Or fried broccoli. Or a BBQ rub made from coffee grounds. And yet here we are – holding a bag of sunflower seeds in our hands, sunflower seeds that have been seasoned with rosemary, thyme and maple syrup. That’s really what these are – no tricks. Here’s the product copy, straight from the website:

“We took great care with our supplier to balance the natural herb flavors of rosemary and thyme with salt. Next, the seasoned seeds are coated in a mixture of maple syrup and salted butter, just before they are fire-roasted in small batches.”

Look at that, just look at that – you can practically hear the desperation of the copy writer as he strains himself to sound casually breezy. The struggle as he tries to convey that this is just some toffee and rosemary and whatever, no big deal – while he knows perfectly well that he’s never once in his life even heard of anyone doing this to any food product, let alone sunflower seeds.

I don’t know – maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m the one who’s gone crazy because I’ll tell you this much right now – these rosemary, thyme and toffee seeds are actually pretty good. Could a sane man dare utter that sentence? That very excellent question is beyond the scope of this blog post…all I can say right now is that Trader Joe’s is as skillful as they are brazenly daring. How else could you explain the delicately balanced mixture of spices, sugar and seeds that makes these snacks compulsively snackable?

I don’t know about you, but when I think rosemary I’m thinking, like, Rosemary Chicken levels of rosemary. BAM!-in-your-face, yup-that’s-rosemary, levels of rosemary. Trader Joe’s has been very careful not to give us that sort of rosemary here. There’s a bit more rosemary than salt on these seeds, but not by much. It’s just a hint of rosemary, along with an even more subdued touch of thyme, that you’ll taste behind the sweet and warm taste of crispy toffee.

If you think about these sunflower seeds as toffee-coated candied sunflower seeds, you’re on the right track. A handful of crunchy, sugary, maple toffee is what you’re going to mainly taste when you pop these in your mouth, followed by the familiar mildness of sunflower seeds, and only then will you notice the subtle but persistent touch of these two herbs, rosemary and thyme, which lingers long after the sweetness has faded. The seeds benefits from the light touch, and they’re easy to munch down, but in the end it’s still a strange taste that takes some getting used to.

Why Trader Joe’s even bothered to put rosemary and thyme in this mix at all, I don’t know. It seems like the logical move would’ve been to do something like cinnamon and nutmeg, or just to keep the herbs out of it all together. As it stands, this makes for a weird snack. Sweet and savory tastes rarely mesh well – and while these sunflower seeds are pretty good, the tastes ultimately clash more than harmonize.

Trader Joe’s has presented us with an intriguing new combination of flavors with these sunflower seeds, but it fails to make a persuasive case for its own existence.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: I wouldn’t – while they’re not bad, they’re probably too idiosyncratic to really catch on.

Would I Buy It Again: I really doubt it. They get points for daring though.

Final Synopsis: Candied sunflower seeds with just enough rosemary and thyme to make them weird.

Trader Joe's Rosemary & Thyme Maple Toffee Sunflower Seeds - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Rosemary and Thyme Maple Toffee Sunflower Seeds – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Biltong Beef Jerky

Trader Joe's Biltong Beef Jerky

Like regular beef jerky but… neater.

Trader Joe’s has unleashed some strange jerkies on the world already – the unusual salmon jerky and addictive sriracha bacon jerky both spring to mind – but Trader Joe’s new South African-inspired Biltong Beef Jerky has got to be my new favorite. With a more nuanced and flavorful mix of spices, and thicker, more robust slices of beef, this jerky elevates a classic snack to a new level.

Biltong, as the bag will tell you, is from the Dutch bil and tong meaning, literally, “rump strip”. The Dutch name reflects the origin of the recipie. The notion of drying cured meat strips had been native to South Africa since time immemorial – but the arrival of Dutch settlers brought the notion of spicing the meat with black pepper, coriander, sugar, salt and vinegar – putting the jerk into the jerky, as it were.

The result is something extremely beef jerky like… and yet not. At first blush, beef jerky and biltong jerky are damn similar – after all they’re both beef, they’re both spiced and dried – but they vary in small, interesting ways. The first thing you’ll notice is that the biltong is narrow but thick – about half an inch wide and nearly that thick. It’s a much more orderly snack than your usual, raggedy, crumbly pile of wafer thin beef jerky – easier to eat and easier to share.

This same thickness gives the biltong jerky an amazing chewiness. Where ordinary beef jerky tends toward dryness, biltong tends toward juiciness. One strip will give your jaw muscles a full on work out. Once you’ve popped a strip in your mouth, however, you’ll quickly notice something else.

The blend of spices and flavors marinating the biltong is subtly different from most beef jerkies. While Trader Joe’s plays coy with the exact mix in their description – calling it a “family secret” – the result is a taste that is less intense than ordinary beef jerky (which, as we know, often tends toward extreme flavor profiles), and since it hasn’t been smoked the flavor of the meat itself is more apparent. Aside from the expected saltiness of the biltong, there’s a gentle pepperiness along with a faint fruitiness (thanks to the apple cider vinegar used in the curing process) and perhaps even a hint of floral notes – from Trader Joe’s Flower Pepper perhaps?

In any case, the resulting biltong is a whole new take on ordinary beef jerky – with thicker juicer slices, and an equally savory, if more subtle, flavor palette.


 The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, a definite must try for jerky fans – enlightening.

Would I Buy It Again: Absolutely, I love a good jerky.

Final Synopsis: Beef jerky’s slightly more refined older brother.


Trader Joe’s Soft Baked Snickerdoodle

Trader Joe's Soft Baked Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles!…?

Trader Joe’s offers many cookies, but aside from the occasional Joe-Joe, I don’t usually bother to review them on this blog. A cookie is, in general, a cookie. There’s no need for a reviewer to tell you how Trader Joe’s big bucket of animal crackers taste – you can imagine that pretty well on your own. The intent of this blog, as stated so long ago, is to review those products that are so strange/weird/interesting that you just have to wonder what the hell is up with them.

Trader Joe’s Soft Baked Snickerdoodle cookie is one such product – promising soft, from the box snickerdoodles that are also gluten-free and vegan. How could such a thing be possible, short of selling one’s soul to Satan? I can’t imagine, and I’m not necessarily even going to rule out that possibility, because somehow those magnificent bastards have managed to pull it off – an amazingly soft and chewy, and very tasty, vegan, gluten-free cookie.

Just don’t call it a snickerdoodle.

The traditional snickerdoodle is a basic sugar cookie that has been dusted in cinnamon sugar – originally a New England creation, and named in the whimsical fashion those folks share for baked goods (see also Raspberry BramblesTangle Breeches, and Kinkawoodles. It’s a simple pleasure, but a good one.

In the course of making their soft baked, vegan, gluten-free snickerdoodles, Trader Joe’s necessarily had to leave out the core ingredients of the sugar cookie – namely the flour, butter and eggs. In their place TJ’s has leverged such ingredients as evaporated pear juice, date paste, and sorghum wheat.

The resulting cookie is still very good, but it just doesn’t quite taste like a sugar cookie or a snickerdoodle. The replaced ingredients result in a very dense and moist cookie, a delight to chew upon, but with a subtly fruity (almost fig newton like) undertone.

Even more unusual, these snickerdoodles don’t taste very much like cinnamon. Whether this is because too much cinamon would have thrown off the delicate balance of the vegan ingredients or what, I don’t know – all I can say is that there’s not so much a “cinnamon sugar” taste to the cookie as there is a hint of cinnamon that hangs around in the aftertaste.

But honestly, this is just splitting hairs. The cookie is a good one – rich and tasty and, most importantly, delicately soft – without involving any artificial preservatives, gluten, animal products, peanuts, or tree nuts.

If you’re looking for an amazing snickerdoodle, you can look elsewhere. If you want an amazing cookie that meets all your nutritional requirements and still stays soft, look no further.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, especially if you live a gluten free or vegan lifestyle

Would I Buy It Again: Honestly, I probably won’t – I scarfed these down much to quickly. Not a diet safe purchase.

Final Synopsis: Excellent, soft and chewy cookies that aren’t actually snickerdoodles.

Trader Joe's Soft Baked Snickerdoodles - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Soft Baked Snickerdoodles – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Complete Salad – Kale Quinoa Salad

Trader Joe's Kale Quinoa Salad

…and pumpkin seeds! Why don’t you mention the pumpkin seeds, Trader Joe’s? Why are you ashamed of them?

I’ve been very interested in Trader Joe’s line of Complete Salads (like their Harvest Blend, and Baby Spincah & Pecan versions) so I immediately jumped on Trader Joe’s brand new Kale Quinoa Salad.

Like all the other salads in the Complete Salad line, this is an amazing deal. For only $4 you get a massive bag of greens that could easily feed two cows, let alone two people. I’m something of a salad fiend, regularly sitting down to eat massive bowls of salad for lunch and dinner in the same day, and even I was overwhelmed by the huge portions you get from this bag. Definitely a good deal.

This salad is what it sounds like –a mountain of kale (in this case baby kale), packaged with a large bag of toasted quinoa. By itself this may not sound very appealing, but TJ’s dresses the salad up nicely – leanding it some more body with a handful of shredded broccoli, diced carrot, chopped red cabbage and radicchio, and scattering in a handful dried cranberries, and pumpkin seed kernels to provide flavor accents. That’s a pretty damn Complete Salad, if I do say so myself.

If you asked me to name one thing that Trader Joe’s consistently knocks out of the park, I’d say practically everything. But if you really pinned me down, I’d say their salads. The saladsmith have really honed their saladsmanship skills to elevated levels, and their skills are on full display here.

Of course any salad lives or dies by its dressing choice, and Trader Joe’s has certainly screwed up this part of the equation on occasion. In this case, TJ’s decided to pair the greens with a “lite” lemon vinaigrette. This suits the salad very well, the zingy zest making the salad taste as light and fresh as a spring breeze.

While I enjoyed this salad, your mileage may vary. The hard balls of crunchy quinoa give it a texture that isn’t usually found in salads, and there’s a ton of it. Unlike the cooked quinoa found in Trader Joe’s Wheat Berry and Quinoa Salad, there’s a real, crunchy, nutty texture here that will make or break the salad for you. If you’re already a fan of toasted quinoa, you’ll love this – but if you’ve never had it before you may want to proceed with caution.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, as long as you don’t mind the texture of crunchy quinoa.

Would I Buy It Again: Absolutely – I think I’ll top mine with some roasted chicken next time.

Final Synopsis: A zesty, refreshing salad perfect for spring, and another great addition to the Complete Salad line.

Trader Joe's Kale Quinoa Salad - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Kale Quinoa Salad – Nutrition Facts


Too sick to post

sam-simon

Dramatization.

Sorry everyone – I’m too sick to post today. Hope to be back on schedule for Thursday!

Until then, please enjoy a “Comment of the Week” – one of the real comments left on my blog this week.

Posted by “buy cool t-shirts” on 2015/04/09 at 1:47 am:

If some one wishes expert view regarding running a blog after that i advise him/her to pay a visit this website, Keep up the nice
job.


Trader Joe’s Greens, Beans and Grains

Trader Joe's Greens, Beans and Grains

‘Could you pick up some Greens, Beans and Grains from Trader Joe’s?” That’s not confusing, right?

Trader Joe’s Green, Beans and Grains could be anything, with a name like that. What it actually is, is a West African inspired curry-like, vegetarian dish. In this case, the greens are kale, the beans are garbanzo beans, and the grains are couscous. Also there are peanuts, which are technically legumes, but whatever. They don’t get to be in the title. These tasty components have been simmered up in a heavily spiced tomato based sauce that tingles and excites the tongue. Despite not having any meat in it, this dish manages to satisfy quite nicely – a result of the complex, savory spices as much as the hearty, filling beans and grains.

The strangest thing about the name that Trader Joe’s choose for the product, is that it falls so short of actually describing the contents of the dish in any meaningful way. “Greens, beans and grains” is so vague and non-specific that it hardly serves as a product title at all – greens, beans and grains can show up in so many dishes and so many combinations, that this title only obfuscates the nature of the dish rather than help you out in any way. It’s like if Taco Bell decided to call one of their dishes “Cheese, Beans and Beef” – it effectively signifies nothing and sows confusion. It’s a sort of anti-product name really, confounding innocent shoppers and muddying the waters of cognition with its nebulous semiology.

Here’s the thing – if the dish is so West African, as Trader Joe’s themselves claim on the side of the box, shouldn’t there already be a name that it’s known by? Trader Joe’s looooves attaching strange, exotic names to their food products, often without explanation, such as their Pa Jeon, Uttapam, Kouigns Amman, Dukkah… I could go on. Why not do that again here?

The fact is, Trader Joe’s has gone somewhat rogue with West African cuisine in this dish. The word “inspired” on the side of the box is meant in the same way that horror movies about ghosts that make people’s heads explode are “inspired” by true events. The germ of the idea comes from traditional West African dish maafe – or peanut stew. Traditionally maafe is made from peanuts, collared greens, tomatoes, onions and a selection of spices such as chili pepper, coriander, garlic and cumin. Trader Joe’s made the radical decision to swap out the collared greens for kale and, strangely, the peanuts for garbanzo beans, but the spices and the tomato and onion base are still there. It’s this tasty stock that makes the dish worth eating, as well as connecting it to its African roots.

Really, given how much the dish has deviated from its West African origin, TJ’s has shown remarkable restraint in giving the product a lackluster name instead of just sticking “Trader Joe’s Maafe” on it, and being done with it. That shows integrity, Trader Joe’s Marketing Department. Kudos.

It may not be, strictly speaking, a West African dish – but Trader Joe’s Green, Beans and Grains is interesting enough to make a strong case for its own existence in the frozen food aisle.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, it’s pleasantly spicy and reasonably healthy.

Would I Buy It Again: I very well might – this would be an easy way to dress up boring meat.

Final Synopsis: A spicy, West African curry – with couscous.