REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon Jam

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Jam

There has to be some mandate from Trader Joe’s corporate that gives talking points to the Hawaiian-shirted cashiers flanking the stores. The bespectacled, olive-skinned gentleman scanned all my groceries and stopped at the new-ish item, Trader Joe’s Uncured Bacon Jam.

“Have you tried this before?” he asked. This is a popular question I get when I’m not just, like, buying six handfuls of dried pasta and a gallon of Charles Shaw wine. I have also gotten “I like your shirt,” and “Why did you stare at that box of Joe Joe’s for fifteen minutes, grunt really loud, and then drop kick that bunch of bananas onto the conveyer belt?” The answer to that one is actually something reasonable about trying to look good for girls, but I have to shop at the other Trader Joe’s now.

I hadn’t tried the Uncured Bacon Jam. The man recommended toasting a sliced baguette and drizzling olive oil on it, then spreading a bit of jam on each piece during a dinner party, with a tinkling piano playing in the background, I’m sure. That sounds really nice. I went home and slathered it on some white bread with peanut butter. It was good.

I was fully prepared to hold up the container and point, declaring, “But it says ‘jam’ on the jar! Like peanut butter and jam!” in a dumb voice, but the sandwich was good. The ingredients complemented each other. In fact, I would say it’s a suitable substitute for any fruit jam use, for better or worse.

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Jam 2

The jam itself is spreadable meat immersed in liquid. So, that seems kinda gross. It looks a little like the contents of a sink’s garbage disposal. At first taste, it’s sweet, like any fruit jam would be. It has a baby food-texture that ends in little chewy bits of meat. The sweetness subsides and opens up a smoky, savory roundness that eventually lands on a tart aftertaste.

I ate it off a knife (and only cut my tongue a tiny bit… ladies) and it proved too sweet to eat alone. Even with some bread, anything more than a dollop was too sweet to bear. Like any other jam, a little goes a long way. One thing I did notice is that one of the main ingredients is “dark brown sugar,” which makes this more of a faux-maple bacon food item. The jam definitely needs to pair with something bold to counteract the cloying element.

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Jam 3

The jar itself says to add it to pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and appetizers, but I only had it in a peanut butter sandwich and with a grilled cheese. If you use a sharp cheddar/muenster combo, it helps balance the flavor profile nicely, if you don’t use too much. I can’t really think of too many other times I’m putting jam on things, though. With the bacon trend in the rearview mirror, the usefulness of this is a little in question.

Perhaps the jam is not as versatile as the jar would have you believe, but I can see how a tiny spot of this stuff would work at a dinner party with all your Trader Joe’s cashiers in attendance. They’re all sitting around the table wearing Hawaiian shirts, serving tiny paper cups of coffee and commenting on each other’s groceries. Man, I want an invite. Do you think they serve that half-popped popcorn there? And cookie butter? Oh, rainbow carrots and hummus! That’s it. I’m going to march back there and compliment them on their shirts.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 tablespoon – 45 calories, 2 grams of fat, 1 grams of saturated fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 75 milligrams of sodium, 5 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of sugar, 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $4.49
Size: 8.5 oz jar
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Goes well with a peanut butter sandwich and a grilled cheese. Can be used to substitute any jam.
Cons: When do you put jam on anything? Can be a little too sweet.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Molten Chocolate Macarons

Trader Joe's Molten Chocolate Macarons

Let me guess. It’s a weekday. You’re busy. Too busy.

If you’re lucky you have a whole extra 2 minutes and 45 seconds to put your lasagna in the microwave, take out the trash, put on a cleaner pair of pants, and water the petunias. Wait, do you have a garden??? Who cares. Dump some water somewhere. This is no day for stops. No day for gentle meandering. No day for the 2 hours and waaay too many steps it takes to make a macaron.

Nonetheless, you want one.

So it was for me last Wednesday. Thus, low on blood sugar and pressed for time, my hand did not hesitate when I saw my craving had been sloshed through a Dexter’s Laboratory ray to create some giganto incarnation that may or may not come alive and try to take control of the city. They were huge. They were chocolate. They would be mine.

Trader Joe's Molten Chocolate Macarons 2

First off, let’s get the overgrown, bloated elephant out of the room: the instructions suggest that the reader microwave these pastry beasts.

Resist.

Put your hand down. Step away from the cubic kitchen appliance. Look, I tried using el microondas with one of them and the thing came out with a half exploded, half burnt filling and a soggy cookie. In hindsight, this makes sense: microwaves cook the water inside the cookie. That water turns to steam. Steam makes soggy cookies. Soggy cookies makes puppies cry. Don’t make puppies cry.

Instead, I advise keeping these in the refrigerator and enjoying them at room temp. In this incarnation, the cookies are pretty boss. The outer crust crackles while the inside remains not too puffy and not too squishy in that “just right” way that makes Goldilocks wanna bust a move.

From there, it only gets better. The dark chocolate filling is piled in a hunk of nutty, roasty, fudgy goo whose depth contrasts well with the sweet cocoa cookies and whose richness could knock my Italian grandpa outta his pinstripe suit (love ya, grandpa!).

As if that weren’t enough, that filling is capped with a layer of some sort of nutty paste. Not Nutella, but rather some thick chocolate goo that, from what I can gather, has toasty nutty nubs (are they almonds?).

Sure, it may all be nothing beyond a glorified, high-quality chocolate frosting, but I’m admittedly a sucker for such things. Of course, the nuance of the filling is all lost if you slip these in microwave, so don’t listen to the instructions. The box tells lies. Lies!

Trader Joe's Molten Chocolate Macarons 3

There is an admirable pugnacity about taking something splendid in its ordinary form and making it massive, but, as I learned from that classic box office flop, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, one must approach one’s gigantified power with caution lest chaotic, giant-baby-induced destruction ensue.

Similarly, these cookies have benefits and downfalls in their bulk. On the one hand, you get served an enormous, tip-top, mildly unorthodox chocolate cookie. On the other, said cookie can get overwhelming, overloading you with sugar and richness and lies about putting them in the microwave. Then again, these boulder-sized hunks become pretty grand when eaten defrosted at room temperature, retaining a crisp crust, soft cookie, and rich ganache filling.

Sure, they’re not too spiffy and won’t be replacing Francois Payard anytime soon, but did I mention they’re huge? Huge. If you eat one, you should wait 45 minutes before swimming or waive any complaints of digestive issues.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Macaron – 390 calories, 180 calories from fat, 20 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 50 milligrams of sodium, 46 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of dietary fiber, 39 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of protein..)

Item: Trader Joe’s Molten Chocolate Macarons
Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 2-pack/7 oz.
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Massive. No oven required. Crust on outside. Sweet, soft cookie insides. Nutty, slightly bitter dark chocolate filling. “Pugnacity” is a lovely word. Will make my grandpa jump out of his pinstripe suit.
Cons: May be too massive. A little hum-drum. Microwave gives poor results. The box tells lies. Crying puppies. All that time I wasted watching Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Handcrafted Chocolate Raspberry Tamales

Trader Joe’s Chocolate Raspberry Tamales

There is particular group of human beings who cannot resist a product promising a peculiar outcome. The type who must buy the exploding gumball to see their tongue turn purple. The type who invest in Netflix socks that pause one’s TV when the viewer falls asleep. The type that bids on the 1972 Pinto to see if it really explodes.* These are the humans who see uncertainties and are triggered by both an infinite curiosity and nagging stubbornness that demands, “I must find out!”

*Exploding not advised.

I am one such human. Perhaps you are, too? Being such, I was thrilled/terrified to spot these Chocolate Raspberry Tamales. Having never encountered a sweet tamale, I presume they could be wonderful. They also could be horrendous, but, as I learned when Fluffy the Cat exploded the tree in Christmas Vacation, what’s the holidays without a little strategically placed suspense?

Trader Joe’s Chocolate Raspberry Tamales 2

To wit, sweet tamales are on the reg in many regions of the world, especially in Mexico and spots of South America. They’ve been celebrated, steamed, and rustled up in variations ranging from rum raisin to dulce de leche and don’t look like they’re on any cusp of endangerment. Nonetheless, I had my hesitations. My bold and stupid hesitations.

Trader Joe’s was generous in putting instructions for steaming these in a boiling pot of water or slipping ‘em in the microwave for two minutes on half power. Wanting my journey into chocolate consumption to be swift, I opted for the microwave, buzzing one inside a damp paper towel as the apartment became infused with the smell of chocolate.

Three microwave beeps later, I unrolled the tamale from its husky shell to find what looked like a holiday fudge. Indeed, one bite was enough to convince me that someone had taken the middle of an undercooked brownie (my favorite part) and smooshed it with chocolate fudge. Avoiding the grit of hand-ground cornmeal, the masa dough is smooth and pillowy as a $2500 memory foam mattress, a texture that avoids the mealy taste of corn and allows the cocoa and semisweet chocolate to pop right out.

If this was Star Wars, those chocolate chips would be on the Dark Side. Because this is not an alternate fictional universe with evil Sith Lords, this Dark Side is for the best as the nutty, roasted coffee-like notes of the dark chocolate chips allows the sweet, fudge-like richness of the dough stand out. I’m relieved to discover that Trader Joe’s avoided the messy goop that a raspberry jelly filling might’ve entailed and instead blended the raspberries right in the dough. What they ended up with is a tamale that has hint of tart fruitiness at the end and a little warmth from the cinnamon spices they pinched in there, but, on the whole, this is all chocolate, all the time.

Trader Joe’s Chocolate Raspberry Tamales 3

No question: compared to fruitcake, this wins. Compared to the toil of making sugar cookies with festive sprinkles laboriously hand-cut into shapes of magical woodland creatures, this wins. Compared to what my mind thought this would be versus what it actually is? Oh, buddy, this wins big time, thus reinforcing, again, that the presumptions of my brain are not trustworthy.

These tamales tie in flavor with fudge, ping in with a bit of fruity variation, avoid the gloopiness of raspberry filling, and nail it on ease of preparation for a festive treat. Take note, small children: Santa Claus is coming to town and he wants some tamales, stat.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 tamale – 230 calories, 120 calories from fat, 14 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 220 milligrams of sodium, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of dietary fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Handcrafted Chocolate Raspberry Tamales
Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 4 tamales/10 oz. package
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Like a gooey brownie. Melty semisweet chocolate chips. No obnoxious raspberry jelly blobs. Butter is involved. Chocolate, chocolate, all the time. Strategically placed suspense. Netflix socks.
Cons: Want to eat the whole bag. Try to expand patience by putting bag away. Still want to eat the whole bag. Limited time. Will not appease raspberry lovers. Limited time. Exploding Ford Pintos. The unfortunate demise of Fluffy the Cat.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Turkey and Stuffing Seasoned Kettle Chips

Trader Joe's Turkey and Stuffing Seasoned Kettle Chips

“We’ve all heard of Thanksgiving leftovers, but Thanksgiving pre-ftovers?” No laughs. I exit the room. I come back in, trying to make a better entrance. “Guys, if Trader Joe’s keeps this up, we’re going to have to rename Thanksgiving Christmas.” I exit the room. I enter again. “You know what they call three strikes in a row in bowling? A turkey. You know what they call four strikes in a row? Obama’s labor policy. That one’s for you, Uncle Jeff!” No laughs. I exit the room, fill my pockets with rocks and march into the ocean.

At least I died after getting to try Trader Joe’s attempt at a Thanksgiving cornucopia shoved into a snack, the Turkey Stuffing and Seasoned Kettle Chips. What it made me realize is that Thanksgiving is about dull, comforting tastes that feature varying textures, and that a subtle flavor with a light description of the product can possibly induce taste hallucinations.

Opening the bag, a waft of powdered mashed potatoes enters the air. Upon first bite, it tastes a little like powdered mashed potatoes, and maybe a hint of sage. It kind of looks like it’s dusted with powdered mashed potatoes.

We’re going to take a timeout from this review for a reassessment: Of course it tastes like potatoes, you dope. It’s a potato chip. And 80 percent of all the stuffing you’ve eaten has been dried and pre-mixed from a plastic bag, which is like the cousin of the powdered mash potato.

Trader Joe's Turkey and Stuffing Seasoned Kettle Chips 2

Let’s read the packaging. “These thickly cut, kettle cooked chips are tossed in a seasoning that tastes like a traditional American Thanksgiving meal—first you taste the turkey, then comes the stuffing, and if you close your eyes, you’ll swear you can taste the creamy gravy, too.”

On a second taste a muted stuffing flavor appears. It’s good. Was it always there or was I eating the words on the back of the bag? Does it matter? Nibbling on one at a time, I even catch some dark meat turkey flavor, but only a whisper of umami. Eating the chips by the handful, the overriding flavor is stuffing seasoning before sodium overload makes it all taste like other non-Thanksgiving kettle chips. The aftertaste has a black pepper hum that resembles the outline of a gravy, that lends a tail of personality that elevates the final product.

The chip itself has a slight grit, which is not unpleasant but highlights the main difference between this and a real Thanksgiving dinner. There is no celery snap, no meat gristle, no butter gooey bread crumbs. A potato chip is a potato chip. A potato chip is not a Thanksgiving meal. Are all the flavors there? Sure. I caught them, whether they were real or not. And they serve as a pleasant nostalgia, priming the pump for all the other garbage food on the holiday table.

At best this chip has hints of just about all the main meal touchstones of a Thanksgiving dinner, which is pretty amazing. And even at its worst, it’s a decent kettle chip with sage flavoring. It would have been nice to have a little more kick in there at some point, like cranberries, maybe, or something acidic? But we must dance with the date we came with. And that date is racist Uncle Jeff and a crispy stuffing. Maybe slap them on the leftovers sandwich you’re eating in line for Best Buy at 4 a.m. Oh, that’s right, no Black Friday for me. I’m dead! What a blessing.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz. – 140 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of cholesterol, 130 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 0 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Turkey and Stuffing Seasoned Kettle Chips
Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: 7 oz. bag
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Stuffing flavors, turkey flavors, possibly present and enjoyable.
Cons: A tad dull. Could just be powdered mashed potatoes flavor.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter

Trader Joe’s might as well be a candy store.

I’m sure their “real” food and produce are top quality, but I’ll never know. I’ve never walked out of there with anything other than a snack bounty. Take my last visit for example – chips, peanut butter cups, cookies, burritos, and Pumpkin Pie Spiced Cookie Butter.

Wait, what? Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter? What kind of sorcery is this?

I like pie! I like cookies! I like butter! Pumpkin and I can go either way, but ’tis the season. If anything is going to ruin my excitement for this, it’s the pumpkin.

Well, it looks like canned pumpkin pie filling. It smells just like pumpkin pie filling. It tastes…better than pumpkin pie filling?!

Are you familiar with the original Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter? If not, it’s a delicious gingerbread-like spread with little bits of cookie crunch. It’s magic in a jar. Think of a slice of pumpkin pie with a dollop of that instead of Cool Whip. That’s what this tastes like. Trust me, it’s incredible.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter 3

This stuff tastes like Grandma baked a pumpkin pie with a buttery gingerbread crust, and then pureed it. Again, just trust me.

To me, pumpkin pie is one of those desserts that gets steadily worse with each bite. The first bite is delicious, especially in contrast to the savory Thanksgiving feast that preceded it. The next bite…slightly less. The bite after that makes me realize I still have half the slice to go, and from that point forward I basically have to force myself to finish. (Same goes for pecan pie if I’m being honest.)

I’ve also always found the texture of pumpkin pie filling to be slightly off-putting, almost like an off pudding, if you will. Stop booing and let me finish. I also feel like the filling is too sweet most of the time. Not with this cookie butter. This is perfectly sweet without being overwhelming.

It’s funny, when I picked this off the shelf, I wondered what I’d even spread it on. When I got home and popped it open I realized it didn’t even need to be paired with anything. There’s no need for a middle man, it’s great on its own. 

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter 4

Still, I had to do my due diligence for the people. In two days, I’ve already had this on toast, a bagel, an apple, and pretzel sticks. Here’s a shocker, it was great on all of them. Outside of mixing it with peanut butter, I can’t think of many snacks this wouldn’t mesh with. I’d probably spread this on chicken.

I’m having a hard time thinking of any negatives. Like regular cookie butter, I did find that I wanted to brush my teeth after eating it, as it left a gritty, pasty feeling in my mouth, but that’s me grasping at straws. I really should be grasping at a spoon to finish the jar off. 

Judging from the line of products TJ’s has put out with the original cookie butter, I’m pumped to see what the future holds for this one. I’m hoping they eventually put out cookies, ice cream, and the jars with the chocolate swirl. 

Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter is so good that I might write Trader Joe’s an email begging them to make actual pumpkin pies with this product for the Thanksgiving season. I’d replace the old standard with one of those in a split second. 

(Nutrition Facts – 2 Tbsp. – 220 calories, 140 calories from fat, 15 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 50 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 11 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice Cookie Butter
Purchased Price: $3.69
Size: 14.1 oz jar
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 10 out of 10
Pros: Better than standard pumpkin pie filling. Delicious cookie bits. Great on everything. Great on its own. Trader Joe’s innovations. Magic in a jar.
Cons: Leaves a gritty, pasty feeling in my mouth. The word “dollop.”

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisp

Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisp

Instructions for Sadness:

Don’t think about brownies.
Mmmmm…
Or fudge chunks.
Chunks?
Or crispy edges.
Edges!
In fact, just throw all the chocolate near you away.
(Slow motion:) Nooooooo!!
Your only thoughts should be about canned beets.
Ew.
And standardized tests.
Please. No.
Maybe stare at a broken clock, read a self-help book, and reflect on your recurring nightmares about the one-eyed, door-to-door orange juice salesman.
BAH!
But not brownies. Or cookies. Or both.
Mmmmmm…

Promise me something: if you like chocolate, crispy bits, fudge chunks, and crumblies, ignore the above instructions. I know I did as I grabbed these Brownie Crisps from the shelf, puzzling over the image on the polymer bag. “Is that a Brownie Brittle replica? Or just an ugly cookie? Perhaps some mutant Cocoa Puff?” Only one way to find out…

Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisp 2

Before we get going I feel the need to talk about the original Brownie Brittle. By now, you might be familiar with those slivers of chocolate crunchies, but, if not, allow me to introduce you. Brownie Brittle is a crispy, crunchy creation, much akin to a very, very thin chocolate cookie. The cookie-like shards are pummeled with teensy round chocolate chips, broken up, and served up in wackadoo shapes.

Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisp 3

As you can see by my poorly constructed tent resort camping facility, the structural integrity of these brownie crisps rivals that of Lincoln Logs. The Original Brownie Brittle was a bit thinner and more delicate, breaking into shards at the ill-angled toss of a bag. Not so with these chunks: they’re sturdy, yet also crumbly, holding an integrity that transmogrifies an Oreo with a graham cracker with an especially wonky-shaped Tollhouse. Basically, it’s a giant, thin brownie-cookie hybrid that’s been baked on a sheet, sent through an identity scrambler, and smashed by Thor (that’s how they do it in the production facility, right?).

Of course, the hybrid’s success hinges on said brownie-cookie’s execution. This one? Is splendid. The outside base starts crunchy, then disintegrates into a dutch cocoa, sugar-filled crumble. None of my crisps are burnt, avoiding the charcoal bitterness that so easily throws off a brownie corner’s game. I’m working to eat the crisp alone, but it’s hard to get a bite without konking into a chocolate chunk.

And those chunks? They’re everywhere. Scattered on top. Scattered inside. Moderately mammoth-sized. Peewee mammoth-sized. These chunks are special in their flavor’s capacity to complement the cocoa base. The chocolate here is nothing exotic. No citrus or nutmeg or hints of pine. Just some very simple pudding, butter, and coffee notes, maybe a hint of vanilla, all of which contributes a dark, melty bitterness that rounds out the sugary grit in the chocolate crisp base. I ate them. I ate them all. My regrets are nill.

Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisp 4

Of all brownie’s transmutations, this is surely its most hardship-free: crunchy, crumbly, cocoa buttery fragments scrambled with chocolate chunks. If any of that sounds like something you might enjoy, hustle on over to Trader Joe’s. While extremely similar in concept to Brownie Brittle (i.e.: shards of a brownie-cookie hybrid), these crisps are a bit thicker with chocolate chunks the size of a small child’s eyeball. I’m knocking them a few for lacking ingenuity, but, between the chunks and the crispy crumblies, these are downright delicious.

If you enjoy the last crumbs of brownie corners, make haste to your Trader Joe’s. To hesitate? Means one would miss out. This would make one sad. One might cry. One might cry a river so deep, one’s Industrial City Planners would have to construct a new bridge to redirect the water hazard created by one’s tears. Save yourself from sadness and city tax dollars. Get the brownie crisps. Nothing about brownie cravings should involve delayed gratification.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 crisps – 100 calories, 35 calories from fat, 3.5 gram of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 35 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 11 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein..)

Item: Trader Joe’s Brownie Crisp
Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 5 oz. bag
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Crispy. Crumbly. Lots-o-chocolate chunks. Chunks’ flavor complements crispy cocoa base. Structural integrity of a Lincoln Log. Chunks the size of small child’s eyeball. Smashed by hammer of Thor.
Cons: Copycat of Brownie Brittle. Won’t appease anyone looking for chewy/fudgy brownies. Bag empties quickly. Standardized tests. Recurring nightmares of the door-to-door orange juice salesmen.