Hello. My name's Nathan, and I love Trader Joe's. My wife Sonia does too. She's a great shopper, has excellent taste and knows good value when she comes across it. As many of you know, Trader Joe's is unsurpassed in the world of good-value grocery stores, so we spend a lot of our time and money there. Although the store fairly consistently delivers great taste with its own unique line of food products, there are definitely some big-hits, and unfortunately, there are some misses...

After doing a couple of internet searches for reviews of TJ's food items, Sonia discerned an apparent dearth of good, quality reviews for the store's offerings. So, at her suggestion, we decided to embark on a journey of systematically reviewing every Trader Joe's product, resulting in the blog you are about to read...

A couple of months into our Trader Joe's rating adventure, an old college friend, Russ, who unbeknownst to me had been following our TJ's blog, decided that I had been slacking in my blogging duties (which, of course, I was) so he decided to contribute his own original TJ's reviews to the blog, thus enhancing it, making it more complete and adding to it a flavor of his own. He and his wife Sandy are also avid TJ's fans and, as you will soon discover, he is an excellent writer and is nearly as clever, witty and humble as I am.

Seriously though, Russ: You go, boy!

So here it is: "What's Good at Trader Joe's?"

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Trader Joe's Cauliflower & Broccoli Vegetable Patties

So...I guess this goes as a companion to the Carrot and Pea Patties review from earlier this week, since they're exactly the same product, except with different vegetables. Here, we have exciting white hockey pucks...white, with green flecks. These browned up a little more nicely than their peas and carrots counterpart, and they were a little firmer overall. To me, they tasted a little more like cauliflower than broccoli. To Sonia, they tasted a little more like broccoli than cauliflower.

We both liked them about the same as their orange brethren, but if either Sonia or I were forced at gunpoint to choose a favorite, we both said carrot and pea would win by a tad, despite quite a few reader comments to the contrary.

I think I liked the orange fellows just a little better because of the onions. I love me some onions. Often, the presence of onions makes one watery-eyed, but in this case, the lack of onions made me cry. Not really—it wasn't a dealbreaker, since we gobbled these guys up just as quickly as those oniony hombres.

If the aforementioned carrot and pea patties made good breakfast burrito filling, then these would be slightly more adept at making an actual sandwich. We tried stirring chunks of this product into tomato soup and were pleased with the results, and we've heard it makes a good topping for a salad. With both these patties and the carrot and pea variety, mild cheeses and avocado slices were nice additions to sandwiches and burritos, but the products can stand alone just fine, unless you're some kind of vegetable-hater. 

They're the same price: $1.99 for four, and they come frozen. I highly recommend heating on the stove top with olive oil rather than in the oven, as the product tends to dry out a little too much that way. If you've got any other preparation/serving suggestions, fire away in the comments section. Once again, four stars from Sonia, four stars from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Trader Joe's Ditalini Pasta + Cheddar Cheese + Cauliflower + Kale (=Best Mac and Cheese, Ever)

My mother freely admits to having "punishment meals" for us kids growing up. By this, she means if we were acting up one day, and she had enough, she made sure to make something for dinner she'd like and we'd all hate. For days full of extra shenanigans, she'd pull out the big guns: tuna casserole. We all HATED it, chief reasons among them being canned tuna, which I always associated with my cat scarfing up then barfing everywhere. Still can't even bear the smell of it.

The details of the exact day have been lost to time and memory, but the ramifications have not: The day that I suggested that instead of regular tuna casserole, my mom instead put that canned kitty emetic into her homemade mac and cheese. Homemade mac was a capital-T Treat in our house. Still is. And whether out of my relative innocence, her maternal instinct of mercy, or perhaps her reluctance of making her devilish kids choke down a dinner so maybe we'd all just go to bed earlier, she obliged. It was awful. And then she kept making mac and cheese every time that way. A family classic, ruined.

Another way that, as a kid, I thought mac and cheese could get spoiled is by adding in veggies. Now, as a child, I was strangely okay with spinach...but kale? Cauliflower? No and no. Not gonna happen. I would have begged for tuna over those, I'm sure.

Not so much these days. Here's to Trader Joe's Ditalini Pasta + Cheddar Cheese + Cauliflower + Kale (=Best Mac And Cheese, Ever). PEMDAS headscratching aside, it sounds awesome...doesn't it? Gotta give it a try for $4.99 for a large 1.25 pound tub, large enough for several lunches.

If it could last that long....

This mac isn't earthshattering or lifechanging or anything....but it's the best I've had commercially available, for sure.  Pretty tasty all the way around. I wish the cheddar cheese sauce was a little sharper, with a little more distinction, but it's very creamy and subtly spiced with herbs like dillweed and garlic. It hits the right oozy comfort spots that adding anything like hot sauce or anything more than maybe a dash of black pepper would seem a sin. Warm gooey cheese can do a soul right, can't it? The cauliflower is steamed yet firm, al dente-ish, and is present in enough bites to add a good textural variant without being overbearing. And honestly, it's kinda easy to overlook the kale too - which is a compliment to the rest of the dish. it's soft and completely unobtrusive and inconspicuous. Ditalini pasta is basically elbow chopped up into smaller carbo-tube chunks -  I would have preferred perhaps a heartier noodle like rotini - but no real complaints there either.

Both Sandy and I enjoyed a few bites as a side dish over our lunch at my workplace. Even B, our youngest, got in a few bites and gave it a two thumbs up. M, our older daughter, wasn't that impressed (I'm thinking it's the sight of the kale) and skipped trying it, which hey, more for us then. Sandy was a tad disappointed at the presence of the chunks of cauliflower, as she thought it'd be more of a pureed-in variety, thus using less cheese and making it somewhat more healthy so she feel less guilty about eating it...if that makes sense. Does it, or have I gone mad? I don't know. She gave it a three and a half. I'll go in a little higher - for me, the only real thing that could ruin it is tuna. Thankfully none here.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Ditalini Pasta + Cheddar Cheese + Cauliflower + Kale (=Best Mac and Cheese, Ever): 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, February 20, 2017

Trader Joe's Carrot & Pea Vegetable Patties

She may have simply been trying to upsell me, which is uncharacteristic for a TJ's employee, but the checkout lady suggested I try these patties with sweet chili sauce, implying that their flavor wasn't particularly pleasant on their own. I politely declined, mainly because I didn't want to lose my place in line, but I got to thinking, "these patties must be really bland." Later, I found a comment or two online supporting that sentiment. Uh oh. Let's have some hot sauce on stand-by, just in case.

Next morning, I woke up hungry. Lacking other breakfast options, I decided to brave these veggie patties for my morning meal. I opted for the stove top heating method. I readied my skillet with a bit of olive oil and opened the package to find...orange hockey pucks. Not especially enticing. Not particularly appetizing. But I proceeded nonetheless.

After a full 12 minutes on medium heat, my patty began to brown. It had sopped up all but a few drops of the above-mentioned olive oil and was looking far more edible than it had straight out of the box. I decided to try it sans condiments. I braced myself for disappointment...and perhaps even disgust...

But what I tasted were all the ingredients of a delicious breakfast burrito, minus the tortilla, all smooshed together in a little round veggie patty. Not sensational, but not unpleasant in the slightest. Eggs, potatoes, onions...and of course peas and carrots, all right there, toasty warm and pre-seasoned with a dash of salt and pepper. I mean, the olive oil certainly helped, too. But I didn't even feel the need for hot sauce. In fact, I tried it with a little Tapatio later on, and sure, it gave the veggies a nice hot kick, but honestly, I preferred the patty plain. I did wrap it in a soft flour tortilla and made a proper burrito, but I was quite happy to let this product stand on its own.

Texture-wise, there were small pieces of soft carrots and peas, and all the other ingredients were scarcely more than an indiscriminate mush. But as a breakfast burrito, it worked. It didn't want to keep its puck-like circular shape at all. It wanted to fall all to pieces—just another reason to serve it in a tortilla, if you ask me. When it comes to food, Mexican-Americans are very practical people. And being married to one has its perks...like almost always having hot sauce and/or some sort of tortillas on hand.

Would this product work as a veggie burger? No way. It's not hearty enough. It's not firm enough. It certainly wouldn't pair well with traditional burger condiments. And there's absolutely no indication that this product is trying to imitate meat. Not even fake meat. But as a breakfast burrito-filler substitute, it's got my seal of approval. Less than $2 for four patties? This might even be a repeat purchase. Sonia liked it too, and she remarked that it was much more flavorful than she expected it to be. Double fours here.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.