REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Commendation Bar

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Commendation Bar

I am convinced the LTO product mastermind(s) at Trader Joe’s is Willy Wonka. That’s the only way I can explain the Chocolate Commendation Bar. Like Trader Joe’s current name variations, like Trader Giotto’s, I’m going to call these masterminds Trader Insane-But-Fan-Effing-Tastic’s.

Okay, maybe Wonka Joe’s has a better ring to it.

While most food companies are focused on smaller portions, Wonka Joe’s decided to flip the script for the holidays and make their existing one-pound bar over 300 percent larger. Why not 100 percent or 200 percent? Because Wonka Joe’s knows that in ‘MURICA, you go big or you go home. After all, “a little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Commendation Bar 2

At a solid 4 pounds 6.4 ounces, the Commendation Bar sounds more like something on a birth certificate, than a shelf. Apparently Wonka Joe’s considered naming this chocolate baby Super Size Chocolate Bars, Wicked Lahge Chocolate Bahs, or You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me With The Size of These Things Chocolate Bars, but ended up with Commendation Bar because it was worth celebrating. WTF? That’s like picking out names like Apple, Khaleesi, or Sparrow, but going with James.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Commendation Bar 3

Name nuances aside, here are my creds for tackling this four-pound beast: the one-pound chocolate bars are a staple on my shopping list. One time when I was purchasing said chocolate bar, the cashier asked if I was going to eat it all by myself. I looked at him indignantly, said “yes, of course,” and proceeded to go home to eat it all in one sitting. So, you can only imagine what the cashier was thinking this time with a four-pound chocolate bar. And, you can probably imagine that I thought I could tackle this bar in one sitting. Boy, was I wrong.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Commendation Bar 4

I picked the dark chocolate bar (61 percent cacao) over the milk chocolate (31 percent cacao) because I don’t like my chocolate too sweet. My typical one-pound bar of choice is the dark chocolate with almonds so I stayed in the dark chocolate family.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Commendation Bar 5

Opening the bar was like Christmas morning. The bar had 32 perfect rectangles with 11 vertical lines going through each, all wrapped up in silver foil. Given the amount of one-pound bars I consume, I consider myself pretty good at breaking off rows of chocolate but it took me forever to break off a single row on this one. I even smacked the bar on the floor a couple of times and it only dented the surface. A single rectangle was the size of my palm – at least this Commendation Bar is a really good value!

As indicated by the difficulty of breaking the chocolate, it was really hard to eat. I had to angle it sideways and bite like an Olympian biting a gold medal with their molars. Taste-wise, it was just like the one-pound dark chocolate bar – smooth with a perfect balance of bitter and sweet.

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One rectangle down, 31 more rectangles to go. I began thinking that instead of a commendation, it was condemnation like the infamous chocolate fudge cake scene in the movie Maltida. I was Bruce Bogtrotter gnawing away at the chocolate bar with my molars. Trunchbull? My own gluttony.

Unlike Bruce, I couldn’t finish the entire bar. I shamefully only finished a single row or four rectangles. Yikes, at this rate, I’ll be eating this bar until next December. Overall, I am impressed that Wonka Joe’s nails quality and quantity.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 square – 330 calories, 200 calories from fat, 22 grams of fat, 13 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 0 milligrams of sodium, 490 milligrams of Potassium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of dietary fiber, 22 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $14.99
Size: 70.5 oz. bar
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Willy Wonka (aka Trader Joe’s LTO product mastermind(s)) had to have been behind this. Good value. Smooth with a perfect balance of bitter and sweet. Nails quality and quantity.
Cons: Really hard to break off – smacking the bar on the floor risks cracking your floors and not the bar itself. Secretly a condemnation bar if you try to eat the whole thing in one sitting.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s It’s Sedimentary, My Dear Cookie

Trader Joe's It's Sedimentary My Dear Cookie

On picking up Trader Joe’s It’s Sedimentary, My Dear Cookie mix, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a little. The precious Mason jar, the muted tones of the “candy coated chocolate drops,” the cutesy crowd-sourced name. I wanted to trust the company that’s kept me in Speculoos Cookie Butter all this time, however. I read the instructions – mix butter and egg, dump entire jar in.

Wait. What?

Trader Joe's It's Sedimentary My Dear Cookie 2

First rule of Cookie Baking Club is: cream the butter and sugar first. Most cookie recipes (and all mothers) will tell you that whipping the sugar and butter together until pale and fluffy before everything else is cookie gospel. It’s what makes them light and airy. Now Trader Joe was telling me not to. I feared ending up with hockey pucks – something your childhood friends’ hippie parents would give you, saying “These are better than Chips Ahoy, trust me!”

Initial impression opening the jar was the smell of OATS! The oat force was strong with this one. Peanut Butter chips and graham cracker crumbs were present, although aromatically invisible. The dough came together quickly in my mixer – less than 30 seconds. Second rule of Cookie Baking Club: Don’t overmix!

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Using a loosely-packed 2-Tbsp scoop, I was able to form 30 cookies, despite the label stating it would make 18. That’s a pretty good yield. Next – refrigerate the dough for two hours.

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TWO HOURS? What kind of patience and willpower does Trader Joe’s think I have? With a tiny fridge, I had to cram every other cold item I own into the crisper bin so these free-range oat balls could chillax.

Eventually, it was time to bake. Since they were cold, the dough didn’t spread or flatten much – more like puffed out into domes.

Trader Joe's It's Sedimentary My Dear Cookie 5

I must admit, these cookies surprised me.

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They’re dense, but not potential deadly weapons in a food fight. More than 4 might leave you feeling like there’s rocks in your belly, though. They were crumbly on the outside and soft on the inside.

After baking, the oats piped down and let the peanut butter chips and graham cracker crumbs dominate the flavor, which I appreciated.

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I would have liked more “candy coated chocolate drops” for color, but overall, this was a pretty decent cookie mix. Could be a nice gift for busy parents, kids, or anyone who wants to upgrade from the “cut and bake” pre-made cookie dough.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/8 cup (as prepared per directions) – 200 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, 115 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $4.99
Size: 23 oz. jar
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Easy to make. Nice earthy peanut butter and graham cracker flavor. Presentation is gift-appropriate.
Cons: Could use more “candy coated chocolate drops.” Cynics might contract charming-itis from the whole thing.

REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Quasar Bar

Trader Joe's Quasar Bar

Each Halloween, we are given an invitation to be That Place.

You know. The one at the top of the hill with the full-sized Take 5’s and Reese’s Pumpkins that’s decked out with trap doors, creaky porch stairs, and an abandoned basement that’s haunted by Captain Windemere, the one-eyed Disc Jockey who refused to play special requests.

That Place? Is the coolest place in town.

And you and me? We could be That Place. But first, we gotta find, taste, and stock up on the best full-sized candy out there.

So it is that, in a spot of convenient timing, Trader Joe’s gives us not one, but TWO full-sized candy bars to consider for the occasion: the Quasar and the Boffo, here to compete with Milky Way Midnight and Snickers. The Milky Way-ish Quasar is the first runner up for consideration. Let’s see how it goes.

Trader Joe's Quasar Bar 2

In a shape that may or may not look like the CTA-102 qausi-stellar object, this bar sports an impressively smooth coating that tastes of fudge, coffee, and Dove semisweet chocolate while the nougat provides an earthy fluffiness that reminds me of a malted milkshake. The caramel rounds things off with a hefty dose of stretchy toasted sugar. Taken together, there’s fluff, snap, and stretch, which sounds like it came straight from Richard Simmons’ 1995 classic, “Sweatin’ to the Oldies 2: An Aerobic Concert.”

And while that’s all well and good, it’s time for the true test: Milky Way Midnight v. Quasar.

FIGHT!

Trader Joe's Quasar Bar 3

First off, who needs carbon dioxide and stardust? If I’m reading this right, our universe is made of chocolate, caramel, and nougat, which makes me want to quit my job and hop on-board the next spaceship. Look out NASA! Here I come!

Confectionary-driven occupational transitions aside, let us put our science cap on and compare the differences.

Biting in, the Milky Way is softer and fluffier than our Trader Joe’s compatriot. The caramel is thin, but powerful in its toasted-sugar-and-vanilla way. The dark chocolate, on the other hand, serves as little more than a crispy shell that tastes of air, wood shavings, and disappointment. The center nougat works double-time in hopes to make up for the chocolate by giving us a double punch of bright vanilla, but it can’t quite edge out what’s been lost in the chocolate.

On a second chomp of the Quasar, the nuances are front and center. Alongside the malt, sugar, and chocolate, there are hints of brown sugar and toffee in the caramel while the milk chocoltiness of the nougat and the semi-sweetiness of the coating balance off each other in a way that would make Count Chocula jealous. The nougat takes a little more jaw work than its competition, but the chocolate is richer and the caramel is stretchier. Without a doubt, Quasar, you are my new Milky Way.

Trader Joe's Quasar Bar 4

Everything I know about Quasars I learned from Professor Higgins, Power Rangers, and these bars, and, while spatial distortions of gravity, magical swords, and chocolate bars seem dissimilar, they are connected by their capacity for their sheer, unlimited awesomeness. This bar reinforces that: the chocolate is just sweet enough, the caramel is stretchy, and the nougat is fluffy and light. In flavor, texture, and sheer “I want to eat that again,” the Quasar gobbles up the Milky Way Midnight, not even looking back as it cleans its teeth with a toothpick.

But are they good enough to make me That Place this year? I have hope.

Now I just need to find the ghost of a one-eyed Disc Jockey…

(Nutrition Facts – 1 bar – 220 calories, 40 calories from fat, 4 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 44 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 30 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: 99 cents
Size: 1.8 oz
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Balance of milk and dark chocolate flavors. Thick, stretchy caramel. My new Milky Way. Quasar CTA-102. “Sweatin’ to the Oldies 2: An Aerobic Concert.”
Cons: Nougat takes some jaw work. Making Count Chocula jealous. The ghosts of Disc Jockeys who refuse to play special requests.

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.

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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.