REVIEW: Pepperidge Farm Cheeseburger Goldfish Crackers

Pepperidge Farm Cheeseburger Goldfish

Look, I know.

I know I shouldn’t have tried to pogo through Times Square. Or put the Tootsie Roll in the Easy Bake Oven. Or tried to build a tent in gale force winds in the middle of the Mexico desert. I do ridiculous things sometimes because I’m curious if they can be done. Somebody should stop me.

But nobody did. Not when I was walking to the grocery. Not at the back of aisle 3. Not the guy hacking up sirloin at the meat counter. So, unhindered by human or meat cleaver, I dive in to Pepperidge Farm Cheeseburger Goldfish Crackers, one-by-one.

Pepperidge Farm Cheeseburger Goldfish 4

Starting simple, the cheddar is familiar and orange as the hunk of cheese from whence it came. It’s wonderful in that nutty, salty, and savory way. It’s perhaps a bit too safe, but it’s also nice to be reminded that there’s a reason these have been bobbing about since 1962.

I’m surprised and disappointed to find the ketchup tastes much similar to the cheddar cracker, but with a very, very, very, very minuscule hint of canned tomato paste. Some may say the tomato isn’t there at all, but, if you close your eyes and use your imagination, you can taste a tomato-y afterthought at the end. Those looking for the sweet tang of ketchup shall be sad in this tomato effort, but the sprinklies of salt coating each fish help things along. It’s not a bad fishy, but not noticeably different enough from the cheddar to declare its taste as unique.

Now, on to the most curious beast: the burger cracker.

No skipping around the tulips: it’s pretty good. No hints of metal, artificial smoke, or burnt-charcoal. There’s a salty, savory, roasted-portabella edge with a hint of caramelized onion bits found at the bottom of the pan. Sure, it may not be the medium-rare hunk of cow I look for, but it holds its own, and, in that capacity, it goes excellently with the cheddar. The two eaten together may encourage you to shovel up every last crumb of the bag as if you were raised by wolves. Do not be ashamed of being raised by wolves: scoop those crackers down, you wolf-human.

Pepperidge Farm Cheeseburger Goldfish 3

Maybe it’s the smell of charcoal in the air, but I think I like these. I really do. They’re not spectacular, even a little too safe, but they’re also not putrid.

They’re savory, nutty, cheesy and easy to chomp. It would be exciting to see Pepperidge Farm go further with the idea of the burger: give me some jalapeño, Colby, and mustard-coated Goldfish. Bacon and bleu. Give me all the pickle-flavored fishies you can muster. I shall eat them. Eat them all. If I’m going off the deep end, so be it.

But maybe you will join me? Here? In the deep end? It’s nice. And way fun. And has lots of crackers.

(Nutrition Facts – 56 pieces – 140 calories, 40 calories from fat, 4.5 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 210 milligrams of sodium, 21 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Pepperidge Farm Cheeseburger Goldfish Crackers
Purchased Price: $2.49
Size: 6.3 oz. bag
Purchased at: Morton Williams
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Nutty. Savory. Burger cracker not gross. Cheddar remains unchanged. Brown bits of caramelized onions. Salt sprinklies. Benefits of being raised by wolves. Pogo sticks.
Cons: Ketchup tastes like cheddar. Absence of tang. Can’t order medium rare. No pickles? Trying to set up a tent in gale force winds.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites

What do we want this summer?

We want to accomplish our goals. To clean out our garages. To power wash the driveway. To fulfill that suppressed dream of joining Cirque du Soleil as a zebra.

We want to eat cold stuff. By the bucket-full. Ice cream works, but we want variety. We want snacks. Hand-sized snacks. Snacks that are parceled such that they are easy to carry, easy to share, and are arranged in such a way that you don’t have to make a big deal out of it: no sparklers or rhinestones or dainty bows, people. Just fun, simple, and sugar-laden.

Thus enters the Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites.

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites Ready to be Chomped

At the size of a keychain Rubik’s Cube, each 25-gram bite comes out ready-to-go upon defrosting for two hours in the fridge, which translates to 30 minutes on my kitchen counter. Perhaps this 30 minutes seems like a Very Long Time to you (it did to me). Never fear. Simply channel your impatience into reverse engineering a Dodge Caliber or learning to play the bagpipes. Watch as 30 minutes goes by like a breeze.

Lacking the thick film of cookie butter seen in the holiday Cookie Butter Cheesecake, these come with a milder Speculoos hit than its seasonal counterpart, but the spice cookie still holds a strong presence in the form of a small swirl on the top of each bite. That swirly-gig of creamy cookie spread, coupled with the Speculoos crumb crust, just nudges at the trademark cinnamon-and-molasses spice cookie, which is plenty for me. I’m really here for the cheesecake, people.

And that cheesecake is dealt with grace. Nothing avant-garde. Just cream cheese and sugar, well-whipped and in a balanced ratio with the cookie butter. The cheesecake has that uniquely light yet dense quality that cream-cheese-based cheesecakes carry, ending with a tangy sweetness. If you’re sensitive to such tang, proceed with caution. If you adore such tang, prepare thyself to crave these at two in the afternoon, which is when they go splendidly with your afternoon coffee and lo, life is perfect.

But perfect only for a micro-second. Blink and the whole box could be gone in less time than it takes your roommate to pick up his/her socks (really, how long have those socks been there?), and, at $4.49 a box, these 12 cubes seem increasingly teeny. Luckily, the taste justifies the price and, with all that dairy and wheat pummeled somewhere in there, you can have them as part of your balanced breakfast. Some may say there’s too much sugar. You should not let such statements hold you back. I know I didn’t.

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites Breakfast Time

April on this East Coast is long: 30 shower-filled days, teasing false promises of “warmth.” But summer is coming. I know it. And I’m trying to be patient. These cheesecake bites? They help. They are pricey, yes, but they are worth enjoying.

Tangy, cool, and yet filled with warm Speculoos spice, they are the bridge between warm winter desserts and cool summer weather, carrying me into the Promise Land of lounging by the ocean with a glass of Kool-Aid, so pull out your over-sized flippers, grab a cheesecake bite, and prepare: summer’s coming.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 piece – 90 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 55 milligrams of sodium, 10 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites
Purchased Price: $4.49
Size: 10.6 oz. box
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Cream cheese tang. Crumbly crust. Tangy sweetness. Balanced ratio of cookie butter:cheesecake. Summer’s coming. Becoming a Cirque Du Soleil zebra.
Cons: A little pricey for the small size. Must wait for them to defrost. Realizing I have no patience. Supports Cookie Butter’s world domination. Dainty bows. Socks that are never picked up.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Partially Popped Popcorn

Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn with Butter & Sea Salt

What is happening?!?!?!?!

Cars are driving themselves.

Cookie Monster is a life coach.

Pink chickens are running around Portland.

And now this. Partially Popped Popcorn.

Like the rest of the above news, I am terrified, curious, and impossibly hopeful. Could this be re-animated Corn Nuts, one of the most brilliantly underrated gas station snacks of all time? Or is it the gunk at the bottom of my half-burnt popcorn bag? The stuff that drilled me with two cavities? Will it be brilliant? Will it be terrible? Will it be edible? (I don’t have dental insurance, people.)

Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn with Butter & Sea Salt Tumble

Bust open the bag and gaze in wonderment at the poofs. They are smaller than I imagined (think: tinier than a marble, yet larger than a ladybug), but they make up for their diminutive size in aroma: just a slight crevice in the bag and wafts of butter, salt, and slightly sweet corn breeze into the air.

Less poofy Styrofoam associated with over-popped movie kernels, Trader Joe’s special “mushroom kernel” has a slight crisp-crackle before giving way to an inside that is both crisp and smooth with each kernel having a different level of partial puffiness. The kernel bits still have a special skill of getting snagged between teeth, but it seems that my former fear of actually chomping out a tooth has no basis in reality or logic, which seems to be a common trend with most of my thoughts.

Each corn bit is coated in a salty, buttery film that strikes a balance between the nutty butter and sodium while allowing the corn’s sweetness to come in at the end. What’s better is that this film is actual butter (in fact, the entire ingredient list is as follows: popcorn, canola oil, butter, and salt). It leaves a gentle trace on one’s fingers in much the same way as Cheetos might. This butter-salt mix combines with little crumbles of corn, leaving you with salty-sweet fingers to lick at the end of your journey and, as a result, less sorrow when you find your bag is empty. Less sorrow is good.

Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn with Butter & Sea Salt Bowl of Habit Forming Goodness

Well, what a pleasant surprise. I dig these partially popped nubs. They are inverted and wackadoo, and, depending on your propensity for corn-like goodies, the full bag might be in your digestive system less than 15 minutes from the moment you crack it open. The plain butter-salt flavor may be boring for adventurous tasters, but when/if you get a hankering for a simple salty snack, these are worth a shot. If you pick them up and find yourself uninterested in their Plain Jane flavor, perhaps you could put them on mac ‘n cheese before you pop it in the oven or sprinkle them on an ice cream sundae for a crunch. I imagine it all going excellently.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Popcorn Traditionalists. I’m not saying these are better than regular popcorn. I’m just saying Orville Redenbacher should be distressingly anxious about his business right now.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/3 cup– 140 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 260 milligrams of sodium, 18 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of dietary fiber, less than 1 gram of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Partially Popped Popcorn
Purchased Price: $2.49
Size: 6 oz. bag
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Butter, butter everywhere. But not too much butter. Poofy. Crispy. Crunchy. Something new, delicious, and a little wonky. Low ingredient count. Corn=counts as a vegetable (right??). Cookie Monster as a life coach.
Cons: Generic butter-and-salt flavor may put some to sleep. Kernels have chance of getting stuck in teeth. Probably not REALLY a vegetable. Lack of dental insurance. Questionable pink chickens.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Crispy Cookies Filled with Belgian Chocolate

TJ's Crispy Cookies Filled with Belgian Chocolate

With cookies from the Netherlands, chocolate from Belgium, and ownership by a California-based grocer that sports Hawaiian shirts, these cookies are reserved for only those with an open mind, an appreciation for all nationalities, and a predilection for spontaneous, risky, sometimes foolish, yet always admirable purchasing habits at the supermarket.

That is, they are reserved for you.

Yes, you. The few. The proud. The dashingly madcap buyers of consumer goods. And yet, despite your inherent courage, you will be tempted to stand back, to cling tight to the familiarity found in the Pepperidge Farm “Milano.” There is great safety in familiarity. Do not be ashamed. I, too, have stood where you stand.

But sometimes, gentle readers, we must branch out. Who among us is brave enough to defy the traditional, “Milano”? Who shall cross not one, but three (THREE) international borders to emerge on a new, diversified biscuit horizon? Who will dare to eat the cookies? After consumption, who will remain?

It’s a long journey. Let us begin now.

TJ's Crispy Cookies Filled with Belgian Chocolate A perfect duet

Actually, I lied. It’s a staggeringly short journey.

Because these are some good sandwich cookies. Straight up. Ripe for dunking in your afternoon coffee, the cookie itself has some solid structural integrity, more crunchy than crispy, just right for a solid dunk in coffee or tea if you’re so inclined.

It’s also sturdy enough that I could see it making good building material if you’re looking for a weekend construction project and are too lazy to go to Home Depot or are a contractor who specializes in building cookie log cabins for grandmas with questionable, Hansel-and-Gretel-inspired intent.*

*A note to contractors: please do not fall prey to innocent-looking, yet maliciously-inclined grandmas. Only contract to happy grandmas who wish to spoil their grandkids with abundant amounts of milk and cookies.

TJ's Crispy Cookies Filled with Belgian Chocolate insides

In terms of taste, the cookie wafers are faintly sweet and mild. Some may call it dubiously flavorless, but I can think of worse things. For example: 1) having a distressing population of moles infest your backyard, 2) dying from a spontaneous accumulation of nuclear plasma in the Hudson Bay, and 3) being buried in the break room beside the water cooler. These cookies? Nowhere near nuclear waste or water coolers, buried or unburied.

Thankfully for anyone snoozed out by the cookie’s mild taste, that biscuit is but a canvas to better showcase the smothering of Belgian chocolate smooshed between. This inner cocoa mass proves itself smooth, but still creamy, much like a halfway-hardened ganache. The chocolate flavor starts out rich, cane-sugared, and a little woodsy in that semisweet way as it trundles toward a slight coffee-like bitterness to balance out the sweet, bringing the cookie a good dose of ying, yang, and yada yada yada.

When combined, the cookie sandwich, what with its rich chocolate inside, crunchy cookie outside, and absence of hydrogenated oil (all the arteries shout, “Yay!”), not only edges this cookie up in the “Good Stuff” rankings, but, dare I say, sneaks it just above the Milanos. The lower ingredient count really does heighten the chocolate’s flavor. It may not be spectacular or even original in execution, but it’s simple, and, by gum, simple done downright well.

TJ's Crispy Cookies Filled with Belgian Chocolate lunch time!

I often imagine the cavernous hallways of the U.N. Headquarters echoing, “Can we all get along?” If these American-Netherland-Belgian-inspired cookies imply anything, I’d say definitely. The well-tempered, semisweet chocolate paired with the crunchy, mild cookie makes these simple and balanced. They hearken back to the Milano, yet, with their lower ingredient/preservative count, their taste is stronger and respectably unique. Plus, they are in the shape of a rectangle, so they really look like “sandwiches,” and “sandwiches” are good for lunch, right?

(Yes.)

And now that I have given you an excuse to have cookies for your mid-day meal, my work here is done.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 160 calories, 90 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, Less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 45 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, Less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 7 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Crispy Cookies Filled with Belgian Chocolate
Purchased Price: $2.79
Size: 7.5 oz package
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Sweet, crunchy cookie. Smooth, semisweet chocolate. Taste is stronger than Milanos thanks to lower ingredient count. Cookies for lunch. Encourages positive international relations. Makes good building material.
Cons: Some may think the cookie portion boring/tasteless. Forces me to betray my beloved Milano (I still love you, Milanos!). Backyard rodent infestations. Death by nuclear plasma. Grandmas with malicious intent.

REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s The Tonight Dough Ice Cream

Ben & Jerry's The Tonight Dough Ice Cream

You may think it’s harmless, generous even, to share this pint with your friends.

Don’t.

It seduces and, thus, accumulates a distressing number of amorous relationships. Give a bite here, share a bite there, and suddenly you have callers all over you, ringing you at 2 in the morning to explain their dreams and tugging your arm to elope with them in Vegas. Go through all this and then where will you be?

In Divorce Court. That’s where.

You’ll have to deal with all that paperwork, the taxes, Judge Mallory. Take it from me: avoid Divorce Court. Don’t share. Save the whole pint for your awesome self. Here’s why:

Ben & Jerry's The Tonight Dough Ice Cream-behold, horizons of dough ahead

Creamy and smooth with a melt slower than Blue Bunny, but not as creamy as a small-batch Gelato Fiasco, the ice cream stands up to the Ben and Jerry standard I’ve come to know: mild, sweet, and inoffensive, if a bit bland. The caramel portion is milky and sweet with the tang of cooked sugar coming in at the end while the milk chocolate portion leans strongly toward the milk with a dry, cocoa-forward finish.

For those looking for dynamically punchy bases, the ice cream alone is not something you’d hoard in your underground nuclear bunker. But then the mix-ins arrive and explain everything: the base is but the palate cleanser. The humble binder of goods. The tabula rasa for a dairy-inspired art installation worthy of the MoMA.

Ben & Jerry's The Tonight Dough Ice Cream gobs and swirls

And it all starts with the cookie dough chunks. There are gobs of them. Everywhere. Gobs of salty-sweet-and-gritty peanut butter dough. Gobs of familiar, sugar-forward chocolate chip dough. Big gobs. Little gobs. Standard gobs. But mainly big gobs. I eat the gobs. You should, too.

Then there’s the cookie swirl: a thick ribbon of gritty dark chocolate wafers so delightful, it may sully forth magical woodland creatures to Twitter about you. With its taste of Oreos and firm integration of bitter-laced sugar throughout the pint, this is the slightly liquefied embodiment of childhood nostalgia. Aside from a snowplow that harnesses the energy of three Hadron Colliders, I can’t think of anything I’d like more.

Ben & Jerry's The Tonight Dough Ice Cream empty bowl of sadness

And after all that’s over, the bowl’s empty, and it was worth it to not share. It was creamy with a mild base that allowed for those excellent mix-ins to shine like so many sequins on a WWE Wrestler at a European discotheque. Sure, the base is mild and the whole thing is composed of already-existing mix-ins, but these elements are combined in a such a way that allows the Whole to be elevated to a new level: gritty, sugary, chewy, melty, salty, bitter, chocolate-y, and peanut buttery. All the elements of the food pyramid.

If you find the chocolate/caramel base too mild, maybe finish it off with some caramel or fudge. If you miss Fallon’s old iteration, perhaps top it off with potato chip chunkies. Or just scoop-scoop it into your bowl and never look back. I know I didn’t.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 cup – 310 calories, 140 calories from fat, 16 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 55 milligrams of cholesterol, 100 milligrams of sodium, 35 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 26 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein.)

Item: Ben & Jerry’s The Tonight Dough Ice Cream
Purchased Price: $5.19
Size: 1 pint
Purchased at: Food Emporium
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Creamy. Chocolate-y. Peanut-butter-y. Balance of bitter, salty, and sweet. Gobs of cookie dough. The pint is all yours. WWE wrestlers decked out for the disco. Hadron-Collider-powered snowplow.
Cons: Caramel and chocolate bases are mild. No potato chip clusters. Divorce Court. Deluded lovers you don’t love who explain their dreams to you at 2 in the morning.