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Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Wondershop Gingerbread Sandwich Cookies

For the past 3 or 4 years or so, each December we've seen these "Wondershop" products on the seasonal shelves of Target stores. As if Archer Farms, Simply Balanced, Market Pantry, Good & Gather, Up & Up, and Boots & Barkley weren't enough, they had to go and add a line dedicated solely to Christmas season snacks.

I mean, I shouldn't complain, because most of the Wondershop stuff we've tried is pretty good, and the packaging is magical and wintry. Wondershop Gingerbread Sandwich Cookies are no different. We've seen some nearly identical sandwich cookies in recent memory. Last year's Pumpkin Cheesecake Sandwich Cookies come to mind. These gingery confections are the same basic idea, but they're made with the most Christmassy cookies of all on the tops and bottoms of the sandwiches.

The creme in the middle is pretty much the same: it's made with cream cheese, sugar, and various oils. In both cases the filling provides little more than sweetness and a pleasant, creamy texture. Most of the flavor is coming from the cookies.

The cookies are vaguely crispy, though I wouldn't describe them as hard or crunchy exactly, either. Definitely not "chewy." They're pretty typical for pre-packaged ginger snaps, texture-wise. 

In the flavor department, they bring a good bit of ginger taste up front. It's not harsh at first at all, but the spices really creep up on you by the end of your first cookie. There's a nice warming sensation at the back of the throat that just begs for a swig of cold milk or hot chocolate. It might be too intense for some, but not even enough for ginger fanatics. For my wife and me, it was just about right: there's a nice little kick, but it's not overwhelming in our opinions, especially if you've got a tasty beverage on stand-by.

The packaging alone screams "Christmas time!" but if you're like me, you intimately associate gingersnaps and the Yuletide season, as well. These would be great for holiday parties, after-dinner desserts, or for mid-meal munching throughout your December vacation. 

$4.29 for three rows of 6 cookies each. I'd buy again next year.

I give these cookies 8 out of 10 Christmas stars.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Good & Gather Italian-Style Smoked Chicken Sausage

I've never been a huge sausage guy. 


That could be taken wrongly in a number of different ways. What I mean is, I'm not the biggest fan of the food known as "sausage" in general, although every once in a while I get a hankerin' and it's usually for the poultry variety. Unfortunately, this product does use pork casings, as many brands of otherwise turkey or chicken sausages do. 

And I've never been a big pig guy either. Heh. Big pig. That rhymes. Where my kosher peeps at? What?

Actually, I'm not kosher, mainly because I LURVE me some bottom-feeding aquatic creatures. And now that I've upset all the #BaconNation peeps as well as at least 2/3 of the adherents of Abrahamic religions, if you're still with me, please proceed to read the rest of this sausage review.

Because these sausages are actually pretty good. They don't have a ton of typical sausage spices—just enough to keep them interesting—and the meat seems to be very high quality chicken. They do well with run-of-the-mill condiments like mustard and ketchup, so you can eat them like that in the manner of a chicken hot dog, or you could go all out, chop them up and deck them with onions, peppers, and pasta sauce, serve them with spaghetti or what have you and either way, they're pretty tasty.

They come four in a pack for just about four bucks. Not a bad value in my opinion. Nutrition-wise, they definitely pack some serious sodium and cholesterol, but I'm pretty sure that's par for the course for most sausage, poultry-based or otherwise.

I'd even think about these as a side dish for a Thanksgiving meal. They're hearty enough and versatile enough that they'd go great with stuffing and mashed potatoes and other Turkey Day leftovers.

I might purchase again as is. Would definitely purchase again if they didn't go with pork casings.

I give these sausages 8 out of 10 stars.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Archer Farms Maple & Peanut Trail Mix

Almost exactly two years ago, I looked at Archer Farms Maple Trail Mix. No, this isn't simply a re-packaging and re-naming of the exact same product. There are different ingredients here, and both the wifey and I like this version better than the original. Let's take a look.

Where the original had stale Chex-esque cereal squares and boring, dog-treat-like "cookies," this iteration has maple-flavored confectionery coated pretzel balls and maple-glazed almonds. Both of those ingredients boast a candy sweetness, but they also let some real maple flavor through, with the almonds containing some actual maple syrup.

The original maple trail mix had raisins, while this version has craisins, or "dried, sweetened cranberries" if you prefer. I've always liked craisins more than raisins, so that's a good change, as well. Then there are honey roasted peanuts. They're scrumptious. I mean, I love any honey roasted peanuts, but these taste quite fresh and have just the right amount of saltiness and sweetness.

Finally, there are pumpkin seeds, AKA pepitas. These are the weakest element in my opinion—not because I don't like pepitas, but because I don't really feel like they belong in this mix. That is, they don't really add anything to the flavor. 

Even before the pumpkin seeds, there's already plenty of saltiness and nuttiness present. Furthermore, the vast majority of them settle at the bottom of the bag, making the last dozen handfuls or so essentially entirely pumpkin seeds, with maybe a few shreds of cranberry here and there.

All things considered, this is one of the best Archer Farms trail mixes I've tried in a long time. It's got a great combination of flavors, it's uniquely mapley and fall-ish, and it's very filling, too. My wife agrees. I'd call this "Awesome Autumn Trail Mix" or something like that since they already have a "Maple Trail Mix."

I would definitely repurchase. I hope they keep it around, even if they slap the GAG label on it. $3.69 for an 8.5oz bag.

I give this trail mix 9 out of 10 stars.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Archer Farms Maple Truffle Butter Cookies

This Archer Farms relic is still lingering there on Target's shelves. That is, it hasn't been Good & Gather-ified yet. You know, "Good & Gathered" would actually make more sense than Good & Gather because at least in the former case, both words are adjectives. By the way, if I ever started my own food line, I'd call it Bad & Dispersed.

No, I wouldn't. But I might call it Bowhunter Ranch. Pretty badass, huh?

These cookies actually tasted just a tad stale. And since Archer Farms is on the way out, I had to check the "best by" date on the box. They're good until April 2021. So...not sure why they were just a bit less fresh than their outstanding Raspberry Truffle Cookie counterparts. Still, they were pretty tasty.

I smelled a nice whiff of mapliciousness when I opened the cellophane wrapper on the tray of cookies. There's definitely an essence of the classic tree sap-based confection surrounding these treats. But honestly, after biting into one, I wanted more maple flavor in the cookie.

And unfortunately, it's not real maple syrup inside. It's "maple filling," with corn syrup as the main ingredient. I think real maple syrup would have seriously improved these cookies. Even if they would have been more expensive, it would have been worth it.

Even if putting real maple syrup inside would be impractical for whatever reason, they still would have benefited from more of the maple gel. The cookies were just a tad dryer than I expected. Despite the filling not being quite up to par with real maple syrup, the cookies would have been better with more liquid in the mix.

You can taste plenty of chocolate, and there's still a detectable amount of maple flavor. The vanilla cookie mostly gets lost in the mix. I feel like the flavors aren't quite as balanced here as the above-mentioned raspberry version. Still, these are a yummy autumn treat. I mean, technically, maple is a late winter/early spring flavor, but it has become known colloquially as a fall flavor, which is fine by me. Happy Fall, everybody. 

$3.69 for 18 cookies. It's doubtful I'll purchase them again unless they tweak the formula a little. 

I give these truffle butter cookies 7 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Good & Gather Roasted Artichoke & Spinach Hummus

Flavorful and fiber-rich, there's nothing like a good tub of hummus. It's so easy to eat, too. Just warm up a piece of pita bread, and soon you've got a makeshift Middle Eastern restaurant on your coffee table while you watch TV.

I usually don't even take the hummus out of the tub. I just dunk the bread right into the container, and when I'm done, I put it all back in the fridge. This product was no different.

I'm not sure if Archer Farms, Simply Balanced, or Market Pantry ever produced any hummus or not. If they did, I somehow missed it all those years. I'm a pretty big fan of the swirled chickpea delight, so I'm sure if I had ever seen it at Target, I would have tried it and probably reviewed it.

There's a subtle artichokey kinda flavor to this hummus, and like many other varieties and brands, there's a nice garlic undertone. I don't really remember tasting much in the way of lemon, capers, or spinach in the actual hummus mix. The peppers are mostly in the middle, where you'll also find bits of artichoke and spinach leaves. I usually feel like there aren't enough vegetable chunks in the middle of tubs of hummus like they did here. Sabra brand does something similar. But if you evenly disperse the center veggies throughout this product, there's plenty of them in this case.

There's nothing harsh about the taste. Sometimes there's just too much garlic or a nasty aftertaste with certain hummus. Not so here. It's got a refined mellow essence that makes it uber-noshable. Quality-wise, I'd put it on par with any other major hummus brand, and honestly, this flavor is probably one of the best combos I've ever tried.

All things considered, this is an extremely tasty condiment. $2.99 for the 10 oz container. I'd absolutely purchase again, and I'll be on the lookout for other flavors in this lineup.

I give this hummus 8 out of 10 stars.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Good & Gather Panang Curry Simmer Sauce

Whether you're scared of the virus or not, dining out in 2020 is significantly less practical than it was in the carefree days of yesteryear. I'm not saying the wife and I don't go out anymore at all, but I'm saying we eat out somewhat less, as is likely the case with most of you.

So, logically, it behooves us to find tasty, gourmet-ish alternatives to our favorite sit-down restaurants. Sonia and I looove us some good Indian and Thai food, so curry is something we like to have on hand at home. We love all the curries: red curry, yellow curry, green curry, Tim Curry—and we both prefer his Pennywise to Bill Skarsgard's. Sorry, Millennials.

But in all seriousness, I was under the impression that most curries were Indian rather than Thai, so I was a little surprised to find out that this Panang stuff is actually not Indian. Technically, it's not Thai either, although you'll often find Panang dishes in Thai restaurants. Penang is an island right off the coast of Malaysia. But Malaysia and Thailand are neighbors, so...close enough, right? Also, there just aren't enough Malaysian restaurants in this country.

Anyway, my wife and I loved this stuff. It's mildly spicy. The base is coconut milk, cream, and peanut butter. It's thick and rich. The flavors here are so complex, yet so easy to appreciate. The notes of garlic, onion, and chili peppers come through, but don't overwhelm the sweet, creamy foundation of the condiment.

It says there are three servings in the container. We managed to finish it in two. This bottle was just enough for a single meal for both of us. We had it with tilapia and sliced bell peppers, served on white rice, and it was amazing. White fish is neutral enough to let the curry shine and be the centerpiece of the meal. We'd love to try it with veggies, shrimp, or chicken next.

This will absolutely be a repeat purchase for us. We're anxious to try the Pad Thai and Butter Chicken sauces in this Good & Gather line. Not sure if anything like this was available under the old Simply Balanced or Archer Farms monikers, but it gets a big thumbs up from me. I think this is the first thing we've tried from Good & Gather that really wowed us. The quality is top-notch and the flavor is restaurant-caliber all the way.

I give this simmer sauce 9 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Good & Gather Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes aren't exactly a summer food in my mind. They're more of a fall/winter side dish—a staple at Thanksgiving and Christmas time—but every once in a while, I get a craving for them just the same, even if it's hot outside.

We picked these up for the second time just recently. The first time we had them, it was around the holidays, and they had the luxury of being served with stuffing, corn, and cranberry sauce, all of which mixed together and helped their flavor a bit. This time around, we just had them as a side with some sandwiches we made. We added salt, pepper, and a few other random seasonings, which provided a significant boost in the flavor department.

It's not that they taste bad by themselves. They're just a bit on the bland side, despite the fact that there's "whole milk and butter" already in there. I guess you sacrifice a bit of quality and flavor for the convenience factor. You can taste a hint of butteriness, and they're also fairly creamy. They just lack the earthy root vegetable flavor you might get from freshly mashed homemade potatoes.

The texture is very nice. It's thicker than a lot of pre-packaged mashed potatoes. There are small chunks of potato throughout the mixture, which makes it feel a bit more rugged and hearty. Maybe that's where the "Yukon" factor comes in. You know? Nothing's smooth out on the wild Yukon frontier. Not even the mashed potatoes. Or maybe they harvested the potatoes from the Yukon...? 

There is an inviting warm yellowish hue to the taters, hence the "gold" part of the product title.

Here's a link to the nutrition facts, as the photo that we snapped of them was unreadable due to the glare-factor.

At any rate, these GAG Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes are easy to prepare. They've got a pleasant look and texture, and while nothing to write home about in the flavor category, they'll do in a pinch, especially if they're dressed up with spices and/or gravy and paired along with other sides.

I give these mashed potatoes 7 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Archer Farms Savory Mustard Trail Mix

When I started dating my now wife, Sonia, one of the first things I noticed about her was that she ate a lot of mustard. She slathered a good percentage of her food in large quantities of the stuff. I called her "Mustard Mouth" since I could often smell it on her breath. There are plenty of worse things your breath can smell like, so I didn't mind.

As a child, I hated mustard. Back in my late twenties, I grew to appreciate it moderately. After 10 years married to a mustard connoisseur, I enjoy it even more than I did a decade ago. It's a very flavorful condiment, and remarkably low in calories and fat, considering its potency.

Now I'm not even sure if this particular product is available at Target currently, but I liked it enough that I thought I'd do a post on it. It says it's "limited edition," so that may mean it was only on shelves for a short time. It may return some day or they might make it part of their permanent collection, or they may re-tool it a bit and release it under the Good & Gather moniker. 

If you like mustard, I say pick it up if you get a chance. It's definitely mustardy, although some pieces have more mustard tang than others. It's quite salty, too.

The only element I wasn't in love with was the rye chips. They weren't particularly mustardy, and they seemed a bit bland and dry to me—a little like eating cardboard.

The seasoned pretzels had the most mustard flavor—not unlike your typical "honey mustard and onion" pretzels, but with significantly less sweetness. This is a "savory" mix, after all. Not surprisingly, the peanuts, almonds, and other pretzel elements all worked very well with the mustard flavor. I'd definitely buy this mix again if I ever see it smiling back at me from that forest of trail mix bags. 

I don't recall how much this particular mix was. I'm pretty sure it was discounted from its original price at the time I bought it, which means it was probably significantly less expensive than those $7 or $8 per bag versions. That's probably more evidence that it was on its way out. Too bad. As a mustard fan, I really liked it.

I give this trail mix 8 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Good & Gather Organic Peanut Butter Poppers

I'm sure I've mentioned it on this blog before, but I looove peanut butter. Always have. I love the condiment itself, I love peanut butter candies like Reese's Pieces, I love peanut butter and chocolate together, I love peanut butter ice cream, peanut butter cake, and even the recent Peanut Butter Falcon film, unfairly snubbed by the Academy this past year.

And of course, I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I like peanut butter and jelly trail mix. I even like peanut butter and banana sandwiches, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, AKA Fluffernutter. Pretty much anything goes with peanut butter...except peanut butter and pickles or peanut butter and bacon. People who enjoy those combinations should take a cold shower immediately and check themselves into the nearest mental health facility.

So I, like many of you, have my opinions about peanut butter. As much as I love the stuff, peanut butter cereals are a sketchy subject. 

While I wouldn't eat peanut butter solo with cold milk, I feel like peanut butter and chocolate desserts go well with milk. That's why cereals like Reese's Puffs work, at least marginally, in my opinion. Peanut butter dessert cereals are usually a safe bet. It's much harder to pull off a "healthy" peanut butter cereal, by my estimation. 

I like plenty of healthy cereals. Kashi, raisin bran, muesli, oats, and shredded wheat are all pretty decent in my book, so you can't accuse me of only eating junk food for breakfast. But in this particular case, I just feel like there needed to be a stronger sweet peanut butter flavor. The taste of the grains was too prominent against the taste of the peanut butter. I think it would have worked fine if it had been just an organic multigrain cereal...or if they'd pushed it just a tad in the direction of "peanut butter treat" rather than "peanut butter health food."

The texture was grainy and crispy, with just a hint of oily peanut butteriness. It was pretty similar to something like Kix. Not bad.

The leftover milk wasn't particularly peanut buttery. It tasted more like the constituent grains: corn, oats, rice. Drinkable, but not in a fun way. These peanut butter poppers aren't inedible, but I probably won't purchase this one again.

I give this cereal 6 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Archer Farms Carrot Patch Pretzel Rods

I could see how you'd wanna dress up something like a carrot and make it seem fun or dessert-like in order to get kids or immature adults to eat them. 

I find it pretty funny when they do the reverse. Pretzel-rods dipped in fudge aren't particularly nutritious, but with products like this one, you might subconsciously believe you've consumed a serving of vegetables.

Ah, I'm just kidding. Stuff like this is quirky and enjoyable. I'm assuming it's an Easter thing, since rabbits eat carrots. You get the kids bouncing around the house pretending they're the Easter Bunny, sprinkling pretzel crumbs all through the carpet. 

Sometimes I'm so glad we don't have kids. I manage to create enough crumbs just by myself. I digress.

These carrot patch pretzel rods are just as tasty as any other chocolate-covered pretzels. They're salty, sweet, and crispy. The serving size is just about perfect for a little mid-meal pick-me-up or post-dinner dessert. 

The presentation is cute, I guess. Each rod is just solid orange. There aren't any green leafy bits or brown "dirt" left on these carrot sticks. Limited edition. Spring-ish enough. They still aren't rolling seasonal products like this one over to the Good & Gather line yet. Not sure if we'll see these around next year or not.

$5.29 for six sticks. That's a little steep. Each piece is individually wrapped, so there's a good bit of packaging.

The wife and I won't have any trouble finishing this pack, but I don't think we'd ever re-purchase.

Happy Easter!

I give these "carrot sticks" 7 out of 10 stars.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Archer Farms Raspberry Truffle Cookies

Just in case some of us survive the coronavirus, there will be the matter of celebrating Easter next month.

It's just about three weeks away. We probably won't be able to wear good suits, dresses, and bonnets and show them off at church or attend big Easter egg hunting events, since we'll all still most likely either be drowning in our own lung fluids or at least self-quarantining and social distancing and all that, but that doesn't mean we can't have a little Easter celebration right at home with the immediate fam.

I'm not saying these are specifically a type of Easter candy, but they could be. They were in a section of other more Easterrific treats like Peeps and bunny-themed snacks, one of which we might look at here before Resurrection Sunday. Anyway, the packaging has kind of a lavender-purpley color, and I'd make the argument that the zig-zaggy lines on the box are inspired by Easter egg designs. Fancy.

The product within is even more impressive. Each cookie is a sweet white biscuit—that's one of my wife's nicknames for me, incidentally—with a layer of milk chocolate on top. But the truly unique element is a thin glaze of raspberry jelly in between the other two layers. The balance of flavors is epic.

The wifey and I both agree the raspberry jelly absolutely sets these sweet treats way above most sandwich cookies. Just imagine eating a Nilla Wafer with a milk chocolate coin and a dollop of sweet red raspberry jam all in one bite. Delicious. Not sure why this type of cookie isn't more common. I've never heard of anything like it before. I'm also surprised there's not more of a buzz about them on social media.

Just the two of us plowed through the box in short order. I found they went down even better with a glass of cold milk. This is exactly the kind of food product that makes me fat. Fortunately, they'll be sold out of these (and most other food items, most likely) on my next Target run. My only complaints: they should make them with white chocolate. Also, they should try to formulate a soft and chewy variety.

I give these cookies 9 out of 10 stars.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Good & Gather Organic Veggie-Flavored Tortilla Chips

If it ain't broke, then don't try to fix it.

It might be a cliche, but it's generally a good rule of thumb in my book. Target obviously disagrees.

I've been aware of this Good & Gather shift for quite a few months now, even though this is our first review of a Good & Gather product. Heh. As an acronym, Good and Gather spells GAG. 

So long, Archer Farms. I think we'll stick with "What's Good at Archer Farms?" as the name of this blog for the time being because 1) the first line of this post 2) I like the name "Archer Farms" a lot more than "Good & Gather" and 3) It's a nod to the classic golden age of Target fare of the past decade? Decades? I'm pretty sure AF was around since I first started shopping at Target some time in the early 2000's.

Isn't "good" either an adjective or a noun? And "gather" is a verb. So...those two words don't belong together in any case. 

I guess it could be short for "Do good and gather stuff" or some other inane simplistic mantra of modern Minnesota marketing masters, but whatever. At least it's alliterative. I'm not into it, but that doesn't mean that we won't see some tasty products coming down the line with the GAG moniker.

First impression of these chips: not great. They tasted burnt in a weird, subtle way. They're thick, relatively rigid...and vegetabley. At first I wasn't into the veggie + corn vibe.

But I must admit they grew on me by the end of the bag. They need salsa. And their girth and sturdiness really lends them to dipping into chunky salsas or dense queso or guacamole.

The flaxseeds provide an earthiness to the product. You can't really taste the individual vegetables listed on the bag like carrot, tomato, beet, and spinach, but rather an interesting blend of all of the above. Still, corn is the dominant taste.

My initial reaction was somewhere in the ballpark of 5 or 6 stars, but like I said, I came to appreciate them more by the time we finished the package and had tried them with numerous condiments and dipping situations. They're pretty versatile and have a unique flavor.

I give Good & Gather Veggie Flavored Corn Tortilla Chips with Flaxseeds 7 out of 10 stars.

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