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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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Trader Joe's Harvest Spice Trek Mix

This product has mindblowing potential: an autumnal blend of fruit, nuts, and spices. Unique and delicious. Harvestacular. Both Sonia and I want to recommend it to you wholeheartedly, but we have this one little reservation. Let's break down the ingredients and see where this product fell from potential Pantheon status to a mere 7 stars...

Roasted almonds: check. Awesome. I love almonds, and they add so much to any trek mix. There's plenty of big perfect whole almonds here. Absolutely no problem.

Holiday spiced cashews: check. Who knew these were a thing? Sweet, happy little candied cashews that taste like fall. Amazing. Thanks for introducing me to these, TJ's.

Holiday spiced pecans: check. OMG. Even better than the cashews. A harvest trek mix featuring my three favoritest nuts in the whole world? What could possibly ruin this amazing mix?

Dried apple slices: check. It's the one harvest fruit that can tie all these excellent nuts together. They're thin, sweet slices of real apple, and some of the pieces are quite large. Okay, I may have found a new favorite trail mix...

But wait. There's another ingredient in here. Oh, it's ginger. Big chunks of actual ginger. And a heck of a lot of it. Won't that be too pungent? Oh wait...it's Candied Ginger. But you know what? The "candied" aspect of it really doesn't tone down the strength of the ginger flavor. It's still ridiculously strong. Why did they put so much of that stuff in here? I'm guessing Trader Joe's had a surplus of it after Russ and Sandy gave it a two out of ten, so they decided to sneak it into this poor unsuspecting trek mix.

I mean, we're down with ginger. Ginger as a flavor works just fine. A dash of real ginger can add a nice bit of zing. But when half the bag is full of massive chunks of the stuff, it just doesn't work for us. It's basically all we can taste if we're just indiscriminately shoveling handfuls of the mixture into our mouths. Oh well. At least we can still pick out the ginger chunks and eat the other ingredients. We just have to do a bit more work.

There were a few bites where I still got little pieces of ginger mixed in with the apples and nuts, and in those cases, it was pleasant. A dash of ginger is nice. There's just way too much of it in here. And this isn't the first time an otherwise great product was—I won't say "ruined" by ginger—but maybe "made less excellent" by too much ginger.

I understand some of you are really, really into the ginger chunks. If that's you, then we offer a projected score of 9.5 out of 10 for this product. For those of you who aren't, we'd like to steer you in the direction of an excellent non-TJ's trail mix that's very similar to this one, but without ANY ginger chunks at all.

As it stands, three and a half stars from each of us.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Trader Joe's Unsweetened Organic Açaí Puree Packets

Stepping out of our comfort zones and trying new things—that's what it's all about when it comes to venturing the wilds of Trader Joe's like our team has these past six years. Not that I'm uncomfortable with acai. I've been singing its praises since before this blog began. No, I'm not uncomfortable with acai as an ingredient. But when it comes in a bag pureed all by itself and I'm the one who has to figure out what to do with it—that's a challenge for me. I mean sure, there are suggestions on the packaging and there are tons of recipes and ideas online. But up to this point, the acai in my world has always been pre-measured, pre-mixed, and pre-sweetened. And I liked it that way. 

But could I like it like this? It was worth spending $4.49 to find out.

Sonia and I have been brewing up fruit smoothies in our little generic wannabe "bullet" blender as of late, and we knew acai would be a welcome addition to our concoctions, which generally feature bananas, strawberries, yogurt, almond milk or coconut milk, and agave sweetener. It seemed like acai would probably blend pretty seamlessly with those ingredients. But knowing the berry's properties of earthiness, natural caffeine, and high levels of fiber, there would be certain potential pitfalls associated with using too much or too little in our homemade mixtures, namely: creating a beverage that might not taste great, missing a decent amount of sleep, and/or extra visits to the bathroom. But despite these inherent risks, we dove right in to acai-land and got a-mixin'.

Once thawed, the product is a fascinating purple goo. I had never tasted acai by itself before. It's far less sweet and much more earthy/nutty than I ever imagined. Those mixologists at Robek's and Jamba Juice always told me acai had a "natural chocolate-type flavor." Well, it certainly does when sweetened. But by itself, the flavor might be likened to some unusual, berry-ified bitter cocoa bean paste. If anything, our smoothies needed more sweetener than usual once we added the acai, in order to cancel out its natural bitterness.

Once sweetened, however, it added a very welcome complexity to our beverages that one simply cannot achieve using more traditional fruits and berries. It wasn't quite like those store-bought mixtures or a "professionally-blended" smoothie, but it certainly wasn't bad. We never did quite achieve that chocolatey taste we've had before, but we created an interesting fruit-based beverage with a velvety texture and an inviting richness seldom attained outside an actual smoothie joint—where you'd pay upwards of $5 for a single acai drink. 

Both Sonia and I are finding this one a bit hard to score, since it's just a single ingredient that begs to be used with many other ingredients. But for what it is: a convenient, relatively-reasonably priced (acai ain't cheap) exotic berry puree that can enhance your homemade smoothies and shakes, we think it deserves to be rated "really darn good."

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Trader Joe's Korean Style BBQ Sauce

In case you were wondering, I am completely not fluent in Korean. And I've read/seen enough of those clickbait-y type articles that show someone's tattoo that they thought was a Chinese/Japanese/Korean character for "Peace" or Love" or what have you and what it really meant (at least to some) was "Goofy White Person" or "I Have Three Nipples" or something along those lines. I have no idea if those are actually true.

So when I see some Korean trampstamped along the bottom back of Trader Joe's Korean Style BBQ Sauce, pardon me if I'm a little apprehensive. It's probably something really nice. But if it could be translated as "Silly Foodie Hack Blogger, Are You Really Going To Review Me Even Though You Never Had Korean Barbecue?",  it'd be what I deserve.

Because it's true.

Yes, I know. Shame on me. I know Korean barbecue is a thing. A very popular thing. Presumably, a very good thing. Unfortunately, it's not a very present thing here in the Pittsburgh area, far as I can tell. So pardon me that TJ's is my first foray into this particular area of cuisine.

Since I have only its own merits to judge it on, I'll start off by saying I generally like the sauce...but now I'm very interested in trying to compare to something a little more authentic. I'd think the particular blend of flavors could be a little better executed. Upfront there's a heavy soy sauce-y hit met with a fairly sweet dose of sugar. What kinda struck me is how similar, in some ways, that the taste mimicks regular barbecue sauce once that soy gives way, but there's no tomatoes involved. Instead, it's gochujang sauce for the main body of the flavor. What's gochujang? I barely know myself, but looks like a blend of cayenne pepper, miso, vinegar, pear puree, and water. And more sugar, of course. The sauce has a fairly smooth body, aside from smallish pepper flakes here and there, with medium/average consistency.

There's a good bit of spice on the back end, which honestly I didn't notice until trying a spoonful of the sauce by itself. Any of the heat seems to dissipate easily into the rest of the dish, such as the pulled pork we had the other night, or the burger I dumped some on top of tonight. That being said, I could see this being a little wild for those with a sensitive palette - my kiddos avoided after a small taste or two, for example. It's not exactly an even flavor throughout, and perhaps a little less soy/a little more spice would have helped in that regard.

Between the wife and I, we'll get the bottle finished without too much struggle, but we don't have a new favorite on our hands here, either. It'll do, and as stated, the TJ's sauce does make me eager to try out authentic Korean barbeque. For a tasty mealtime condiment and possible gateway sauce to a new food world, we're game.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Korean Style BBQ Sauce: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons