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 Coffeehaus European Style Low Fat Yogurt – Mocha and Chocolate flavors

Trader Joe's Coffeehaus Lowfat Yogurt

Possibly the most unwieldy name Trader Joe’s has unveiled to date. I’m not even sure I’ve got it right.

Tangy coffee – do you like it? If you can answer that one question for yourself, there will be no need to read the rest of this post about Trader Joe’s Coffeehaus “European style” low fat yogurts. I will repeat it once again – do you like the taste of tangy coffee?

Very probably you have never had tangy coffee before, you might be confused by these words – angered by them even. No problem, friend. Just relax, sit back, close your eyes… and imagine. Imagine sipping a cup of coffee, imagine that unmistakable coffee aftertaste, that bold, full-roast dark coffee flavor that sits on the tongue like burnt toast. Now imagine it’s also real tangy. Tangy like a glass of Tropicana orange drink. Tangy, tangy coffee, sitting on your tongue, and also it’s cold. Do you like that idea?

If you’ve said yes, hold on tight because we are going to get into this. If, and I’m guessing this is more likely, you said no then you can feel free to navigate away from this browser tab right now. You sir, will not like Trader Joe’s Coffeehaus yogurts because if there’s one thing they have, it’s a serious tanginess.

Let’s unspool this for a moment. There’s about five different things going on in the name of this product alone, and it could do with a little unpacking before we start laying into if I, personally, enjoyed this thing or not.

To begin, let’s start with what a “European style” yogurt might be, and why Trader Joe’s feels they need to single that notion out for some reason – not just by name, but by packaging, iconography and font as well. How, in fact, is European yogurt different from the Greek yogurts, French yogurts and Swiss yogurts which can all also be found in Trader Joe’s yougurt aisle? The straight forward, if basically uncorrect, answer is that “European style” yogurt is called as such because it isn’t going to sit well with the average American. More specifically, it’s much less firm than standard grocery store yogurt, and much more tangy due to the presence of the many live, active bacteria cultures fermenting it full of lactic acid.

Now, every yogurt in the world is a product of bacteria cultures – that’s just the basic nature of its existence, but it’s not a fact that the big commercial yogurt companies like to play up on TV here in the States. The “now full of more live bacteria colonies than ever before” pitch is just not one that appeals to the standard demographic. As such, the bacterial nature of yogurt has been downplayed to the point where it’s almost totally overlooked. For the same reason, your usual grocery store yogurt varies between “slightly tangy” and “not tangy at all”.

Much more common in the US are the standard, “custard” style yogurts where fruit and thickening agents have been blended into a firm, sugary, low-bacteria yogurt. Confusingly, custard style yogurt can also be called French or Swiss style yogurt, despite the fact that they are much more American than European in sensibility. In fact, real Swiss yogurt (yogurt made by the Swiss in Switzerland) must, by Swiss law, contain a certain minimum number of bacterial colonies to even be considered yogurt.

So, to summarize, by saying “European Style” Trader Joe’s is singling that this is going to be some bacteria-filled, tangy yogurt, and you’d better be ready for that. They are as good as their word as well – each type of their coffeehaus yogurt comes packed with four different live and active cultures: S. thermophillus, L. Bulgaricus, L. Aciodphilus, and Bifidus. I don’t know quite enough about biology to expound on what all the important differences are between these, but I can tell you that you can sure as hell taste them in every tangy, zingy bite.

The other unusual aspect of these European style yogurts are their rather continental flavors. Dannon and Yoplait may have turned every type of cream pie and sherbet into a yogurt flavor, but even they haven’t yet done a straight up mocha or dark chocolate yet. While that might not go over very well in a custard style yogurt, it makes for a very nuanced bite here. The subtle bitterness of the dark chocolate and the mocha both play against the sourness of the yogurt, the tang of the lactic acid and the gentle sweetness of the added sugar. The result is a yogurt that challenges the tongue to a unique flavor experience, not merely a confection of high sugar content sweetness that passes the gums unnoticed.

So do I like tangy coffee? In this case, yes. I’ve had sweet yogurt, and I’ve had unsweetened yogurt, but I’ve never had yogurt that takes a path separate from sweetness all together. Tangy, bitter yogurt is an intriguing development, and one that I could easily see myself enjoying on my classier mornings.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes – if you’re willing to give a whole new yogurt experience a chance.

Would I Buy It Again: I’d like to think that I’m just cultured enough to do so.

Final Synopsis: A very tangy, somewhat bitter, somewhat sweet, sophisticated yogurt.

 

Trader Joe's Coffeehaus European Style Lowfat Yogurt - Mocha

Trader Joe’s Coffeehaus European Style Lowfat Yogurt – Mocha

 

 

Trader Joe's Coffeehaus European Style Lowfat Yogurt - Chocolate

Trader Joe’s Coffeehaus European Style Lowfat Yogurt – Chocolate


Trader Joe’s Gone Bananas

Trader Joe's Gone Bananas

The serving suggestion involves laying them on top of a half-eaten, non-chocolate banana? You have gone banana’s Trader Joe’s!

Apparently, Trader Joe’s has gone bananas…one bite at a time, which sounds harrowing but, going by the package graphics, actually seems to be quite a wacky adventure. Admissions of madness aside, someone at Trader Joe’s must have a pretty damn good idea what’s going on, because these chocolate-covered, frozen banana bites are delicious. Munch-tastic I might even say.

The strangest thing about this this banana snack is that we don’t see it in freezers across the nation. Covering sweet, frozen banana in a thick coating of sweet milk chocolate is as brilliant as it is tasty but, outside of certain episodes of Arrested Development, it’s rare to see a really good frozen banana in this country. Let’s get on this, America! The Bluth’s don’t have a monopoly on frozen banana stands – they don’t even really exist!

The second strangest thing about Trader Joe’s Gone Bananas is the very non-traditionally Trader Joe’s packaging. The Trader Joe’s MO is generally something austere, psuedo-victorian, and plastered with at least one bit of vaguely congruous stock clip art – an approach they take to everything from minestrone to salmon jerky. This package, on the other hand, is bold, features an honest-to-goodness product shot and a playfully cartoon-ish sock monkey. I keep having to look at the Trader Joe’s label to remind myself that it’s really a Trader Joe’s product.

But a Trader Joe’s product it is, and it’s one of the simplest products they have on the shelf. Exactly two ingredients go into it, bananas and chocolate. Thankfully they decided to go with milk chocolate instead of trendier, and more problematic dark chocolate. The result is a sweet, thick chocolate shell, that gives way to a surprisingly sweet and creamy banana core. It works together so well that there’s no need for anything else – between the two you’re taken on a voyage of mingling, complex flavor with every bite-sized bite.

As the cute name, cute packaging and bite-sized portions may suggest, this is a great snack/desert for kids. The portion size is easy to control and, as far as deserts go, it’s a natural and healthy alternative to more sugary food. The only real caveat? The frozen bites tend to stick together in hard to separate clumps. Letting them thaw a little helps get them apart, but leave them out a few minutes too long and they start to go mushy on you. Get distracted or pulled out of the room and you might come back to find that you’ve got some soft, chocolate-covered banana lumps on your hands.

That said, these still aren’t exactly health food. Four of these little bites packs in 130 calories, 70 of that from fat. In fact, one serving has 34% of your daily saturated fat allotment. That’s not unexpected for something with so much chocolate in it, and all else considered it can still boast that there are only 14 grams of sugar per serving.

Really though, the sell here is on the amazing taste. I’d buy these again even if they were twice as bad for me. In fact, for those of you looking to get really decadent with it, Trader Joe’s has published their recipe for the Gone Banana’s Split – a gooey, sweet mess of chocolate covered banana goodness.


 The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes – these are great for kids or adults.

Would I Buy It Again: Absolutely – they’ve got it all figured out.

Final Synopsis: Who would have thought simple chocolate covered banana bites could be so good?

Trader Joe's Gone Bananas - nutrition facts

Trader Joe’s Gone Bananas – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Milk Chocolate Covered Potato Chips

Trader Joe's Milk Chocolate Covered Potato Chips

After yesterday’s disastrous beet and purple carrot juice, I thought I finally thought I had had enough of seemingly preposterous food pairings. Why not judge a book by its cover? You might be wrong every now and then, but you’ll be right about 95% of the time. Surely I could live with that, right? I was fooling myself, of course, as I said before the unknown allure of seemingly insane couplings holds an irresitable draw for me. Here it is, the very next day and I’m back at it again with a treat that couldn’t sound worse to me on paper.

Chocolate covered potato chips. Honestly, I’m surprised this combination even crossed anyone’s mind to begin with. The name easily evokes the sloppiest, laziest summer days of youth when, with one hand, I might casually shove a handful of chocolate into my mouth then supplement it with a handful of chips from the other, not bother with all the effort of clearing my esophagus in between. Homer Simpsons’ famous Gum & Nuts comes to mind, along with any number of childhood’s boderline creations (popcorn and ketchup, apple butter and ice cream). In other words, I was ready for mediocrity at best.

Consider my gob smacked when I actually tried these things. The sweet taste of milk chocolate melts seamlessly into the salty kiss of the potato chip, all bound up in a pleasurable crunchy bite. All but overwhelmingly delicious, this crazy confection literally sat my ass down. After crunching the initial test chip my tongue quickly cited that well known edict “This Is Effin’ Good!” and summarily took charge of all cognitive and motor functions, pleasuring itself with chip after chip. It was only through a great exercise of self-control later on that I was able to salvage about half the bag. We’re talking dangerously good folks. Salty, crunchy and sweet altogether, without being too much of one or another – this chip had everything that I didn’t even know I was looking for.

No downsides here, but maybe a couple suggestions. These came packaged in the same way as Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate and Peanut Butter thingies, which is to say with no consideration for the inherent meltiness of chocolate. No problems yet, but it’s just not a good idea to sell chocolate all jumbled together in a bag. Also, the bag is quite small, but I’m inclined to consider this a good thing at the moment since these things are guaranteed diet-killers. Overall though, these chips are a sweet, secret surprise.

 

Would I Recommend Them: Yes sir, I would.

 

Would I Buy Them Again: So long as I’m not worried about sticking to a diet.

 

Final Synopsis: Chocolate and Potato Chips – the definition of synergy.

 

 


Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Roasted Pistachio Toffee

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Roasted Pistachio Toffee

Will this fill the void within me?

What do we seek, in this world, beside a little sweetness in our lives? Is it toffee? Today, I decided to find out.

The Trader Joe’s by my house has an impressively diverse toffee selection, but of them all these crazy little buggers always leapt out at me. Pistachio, right on man, sea green pistachio slapped almost drunkenly all over the outside of an otherwise normal looking toffee morsel. The moment I saw them, I was captivated by how off-putting they looked – something about the way the crushed nuts sit on the chocolate coating make them look like they were picked up of the laundry room floor. Overcoming my momentary repulsion, I brought them to the counter and had them rung up. After all, eating strange, off-putting things is what this blog is all about.

As one does when one comes into possession of some toffee, I freely offered it to those around me the rest of the day. Interestingly, everyone responded in almost exactly the same way I did: with an initial chilly refusual followed by a slow change of mind that came almost to their own surprise. I think the thought process goes something like, “Those look weird,” followed by, “Wait a minute, pistachio and toffee?! This could be a brilliant new taste sensation!”

Alas, all high hopes were dashed. Crushed pistachios on dark chocolate toffee taste, basically, like toffee. As one of my fellow taste tasters put it – “it tastes like Almond Roca”, which is basically what it is. But what of the dark chocolate, the pistachios? Do they not elevate this into a more elite form of toffee? Man, I gotta tell you – really they do not. The intense butterscotch blast of the toffee effortlessly overpowers the nuances of the chocolate and nuts, and the nutty coating effectively prevents you from sucking on a piece and appreciating it. Is it still awesome? Sure, it’s toffee – but that’s about all it is. I will say that if you eat a couple pieces then wait – wait until after the butterscotch has faded, then wait until after the chocolate has faded – at somewhere around the 3 minute mark BAM!!!, the lingering taste of pistachios will totally be there.

Is that what I thought I was getting? No. Was I naively conflating the taste of sweet pistachio ice cream with the real taste of ordinary pistachio nuts and imaging some sort of sublime transcendent treat to match this toffee’s awkward exterior? Perhaps. If you are seeking that exotically flavored toffee look elsewhere, it is not here.

Would I Recommend It: Can’t think of a reason to recommend it over any other.

Would I Buy It Again: Naw.

Final Synopsis: You can do what you want to toffee, the toffee don’t care.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Roasted Pistachio Toffee - Nutritional Facts


Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate covered Peanut Butter Wafer Cookies

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Wafer Cookies

Such deceit hidden behind such alluring words

I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking what I was thinking. “Oh man, dark chocolate with peanut butter on a crispy wafer? That sounds good.” And it does sound good, it sounds really good, but it’s just not the case. It is simply alright.

Now, in all fairness much of the fault here has got to go to the packaging. In general, you can rely on Joe to come up with clever packaging that’s as effective and efficient as it is eye-catching. Not so here, just a jumble of snack squares tossed into a bag. This is a fine approach for animal crackers and dog food – foods that are heat and crumble resistant. Not so much for chocolate, peanut butter and wafer. The first time I opened the bag I was presented with a gooey mess – peanut butter and chocolate slumped messily over irregular bits of wafer.

In a perfect world this probably could have been avoided, I would have kept the bag perfectly level upon purchase and placed it in a cool, spacious drawer. As is all to clear from the wars, famines and imperfect snack goods that assail us – this is no perfect world. My food cabinet is crowded and located above the stove. Things get cramped and warm from time to time, and there’s not much I can do about that.

The reality of the situation is that there’s no way around ending up with this mess. I stuff my snacks in my cabinet with everything else and the house heats up during the day. I treated these guys no different from anything else I buy, and the end result is a mess that’s as technically difficult to eat as you’re liable to find.

Even if they cookies hadn’t come to me melted, there’s no way they could be indulged upon outside or exposed to the mild heat of a house in summer – we’re talking about chocolate for god’s sake, known to melt at the drop of a hat. Seems to me like ol’ Joe should have taken that one into account. If he knew what he was doing, these’d come in a little, sub-divided plastic tray (like most cookies), and I’d have nothing to complain about but the taste.

What’s wrong with the taste? Not much, to be honest. They taste fine, but fine isn’t all that I expect from a chocolate-peanut butter cookie. The main issue, I believe, is that dark chocolate does not go as well with peanut butter as we’d all hope. That may be shocking to hear – we’ve been conditioned to spring energetically from our seats at the mere mention of chocolate and peanut butter combined, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. Maybe it’s time that we, as a nation, start to break from our all-encompassing, slavish acceptance of the peanut butter-chocolate duo and start examining each instance on its own merits. In this case, I’m sorry to say it just doesn’t hold up that well. If we were talking milk chocolate, sweet and smooth, that’d be another case entirely. As it stands, the strong, slightly bitter overtones of the dark chocolate fight against the peanut butter and render the whole experience average at best. All in all, it’s enough to make you wonder why you even bother sometimes.

 

Would I recommend them: By no means.

 

Would I buy them again: Only as a tool of retribution.

 

Final Synopsis: Your hands will look like you pooped on them.

 

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Wafer Cookies - Nutritional Facts


Trader Joe’s Ready to Bake Brownies

Trader Joe's Ready to Bake Brownies

That's actually, exactly how mine came out looking.

So here’s one for you – a bag of pre-made brownie mix that you literally just pour into a pan and bake. Coming across it in the Joe’s, I was shocked by the simplicity of the audacity. “Oh,” I thought, my eye passing it by, “Some of that pre-mixed, instant brownie batter.” The idea seems so natural, so expected, that it took me a moment to realize I was looking at something I had never seen before.

This quaintly colored sack of delicious batter is a world apart from that multitude of utterly mundane boxes proclaiming their how “E-Z” their dry powders are to whip up into brownies, cakes, muffins etc. We’ve all bought them, we’ve all used them, we all know that we must provide the butter, milk etc, not to mention the mixing bowls, spatula and bake pans. It’s not a great burden, Lord knows, but He also know that I’ve had a box of Sara Lee brownie mix sitting in my cupboard for 3 months because the thought of the whole involved production overcomes my quite low threshold barrier for desire of brownies.

So this pre-made mix, to me, is dangerously appealing. I lightly butter a cooking a pan, split open the top of the bag, and spend a few minutes watching the batter slowly plop out into it. Unless someone invents a brownie batter that spontaneously springs into your mouth, fresh-baked, the moment you open it up this is as convenient as things are going to get.

So how does it taste? How can anything, even brownies, possibly be delicious after spending untold weeks or months in vitro?

Certain words tend to pop into your head when you consider pre-made, wet food in sacks. Rank is one; rancid is another. Pre-made, zero-prep amorphous food sludge is almost always the domain of the bottom shelf-dwelling, off-brands at the grocery store. Items that push the definition of the word “food” to its extreme, marketed to those too destitute to eat anything better or too depressed to summon up the effort.

I am as startled as I am happy to say that these brownies are completely delicious. After twenty minutes they came out of the oven perfectly sweet and tasty. I was expecting a dense, heavy brownie, still a bit mucky, but they were uniformly light and fluffy – almost cake like. A better brownie, even, then the box mix brownies which I used to labor over myself. Truly, we live in an age of wonders.

 

Would I recommend them: Oh yeah, no doubt.

 

Would I buy them again: The next time I want brownies.

 

Final Synopsis: Betty Crocker better go run and hide.

 

Trader Joe's Ready to Bake Brownies - Nutritional Facts