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, November 21, 2014

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake

I was wrong. The next fiendish play in Trader Joe's diabolical plan to take over the world/make me fat (or fatter, depending on your perspective) wasn't Cookie Butter and Cocoa Swirl Ice Cream. It was cheesecake. We shoulda seen that comin'. But man. This stuff blindsided me like an 18-wheeler at a complicated New Jersey intersection with "jughandles" and no left turns and such.

Except way more awesome than getting T-boned by a semi. WAY more awesome. Apparently, this stuff showed up at the Marlton TJ's just last night, and like half the staff has already tried it. I'm lucky there were any packages left. Really lucky.

Because this stuff tastes like heaven. Imagine cookie butter. But cheesecake. I know that's not particularly informative. You've probably already gathered those two bits of information by now. But...it actually tastes like what you want it to taste like. It's basically really amazing plain cheesecake crowned with a cookie butter spread on top. And the crust is made of speculoos cookie material! It's cinnamony, it's creamy, and it's just about perfect.

It better be. Because it's seven friggin' dollars a box! But as a once-in-a-while or whenever-TJ's-can-keep-it-in-stock treat, it's worth it. Seriously. I speak the truth.

And, well, truth be told, I didn't wait the full two hours for thawage to occur for my first piece. But it was still amazing. Just as amazing as my second piece, which was fully thawed. The only difference was how cold and firm the first piece was. I'm pretty sure I'd be happy eating this stuff straight out of the freezer. Or off the blistering concrete on a hot summer day. I don't mean to sound desperate. It's just...BECAUSE COOKIE BUTTER CHEESECAKE.
The only thing I can think of that would be meaner than offering another incredible cookie butter product right now before the holidays would be something along the lines of Trader Joe's getting together with Big Pharma and offering prescriptions for cookie butter I.V. bags.

It's been a while since a perfect score, and Sonia and I are both on board this time. This is an incredibly delicious product. Even in light of its price tag and its not-so-much-for-folks-on-diets style nutrition info—this puppy gets a perfect 10.

Bottom line: 10 out of 10.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Caramel Sauce

We're just gonna slip in one more pumpkin product review before Thanksgiving comes, and then I think we'll be good until next October or so. We've taken a two week break since our last pumpkin product, but I suspect I'm still in that pumpkin-overload zone. Both Sonia's and my skin is a little more orange than usual, and we need to go ahead and move on—which we will. Soon. I promise.

Back when the Shelly household was only two members strong instead of four, they tried a fleur de sel caramel sauce that impressed Russ well enough. So just imagine dumping a decent amount of pumpkin butter in that caramel sauce, and that's pretty much what we have here. Also, we ate this pumpkin caramel with the same French vanilla ice cream reviewed alongside the fleur de sel. I can't imagine this stuff going well with anything other than vanilla ice cream, but maybe I'm just not using my imagination.

To cut to the chase, we both enjoyed this ice cream topping, but Sonia definitely liked it more than I did. It's sweet and it tastes like, well, pumpkin and caramel. Imagine that. I felt that the pumpkin spices burned my throat on occasion. And I don't mean they burned my mouth like hot sauce might. I really mean that they tingled excessively in the back of my throat...all that ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon. I found myself coughing while eating this after a number of sauce-rich spoonfuls. But I think the takeaway here isn't necessarily that this product is too pumpkin-spicey—it's that you should use it sparingly. A little bit goes a long way. Sonia is always wise in that regard, and she rarely overdoes it with sauces, icings, or frostings. Maybe that's part of why she liked the product more than I did. But even when I used it in much lesser quantities, it sat very heavy in my stomach, and it just wasn't my favorite ice cream topping. It's unique, seasonal, and it certainly doesn't taste bad...it's just that it's not what I would go for in terms of pumpkin ice cream. I'd turn to the Pumpkin Pie Mochis—and I'm still anxious to try the elusive Ginger Pumpkin Mouthfuls—before I'd pick up another $3 jar of this sauce.

I always try to pick out my score for these products in my head before I know Sonia's score, so as to keep my opinion unbiased. In this particular case, I was shocked that her score was an unexpectedly-high 4.5. I had decided beforehand that I would give it 3.5 stars, but after I heard Sonia's score, I was tempted to give it even less, so as to pull it down out of the "really darn good" category, because in my opinion, it doesn't really belong there. But there it shall stand nonetheless.

In the comments below, let us know what you've done with this product other than put it on vanilla ice cream!

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Trader Joe's Southwestern Style Chicken Poppers

As mentioned in my previous post, the Pittsburgh branch of WGaTJ's is now a family of four with the arrival of Baby B. Toddler/Big Girl M is so pretty enamored with her little sister, which is awesome, and makes being back home and trying to get settled in so much easier. We've been home a bit now, with me taking off work for a while for all the late night snuggles and constant butt wiping. And naturally, I'm the main chef right now for the three of us capable of solid food, and fortunately we've planned well. Between a meat stockpile from a great local farm and a bunch of homemade freezer meals we've prepped well in advance thanks to my wife's cousin and her work, and along with a bunch of fresh fruit and veggies to help round out our meals, a couple Trader Joe's easy dinner options have taken real good care of us thus far.

That's how we got involved with Trader Joe's Southwestern Style Chicken Poppers. Let's see here....chicken, tortilla crumbles, cheese, peppers....hrmm, this sounds vaguely familiar...aha! There were those southwestern stuffed chicken breasts we had a few months back. These pollo poppers are kinda similar to those in concept, just in a much more snackable form with corn and black beans added in for a heartier bite. I suppose these cowboy croquets are meant more as an appetizer, but in our maverick ways, Sandy and I made them for lunch the other day, which we'll tip or cap to as a worthy enough meal.

Looking back now that a few days have passed, there's nothing overly memorable about them, which doesn't mean they were bad. The crumbled tortilla chip shell actually held up surprisingly well - no spouts or leakages during baking. And each bite consisted of an adequate enough distribution of white chicken chunks, corn, and beans, with a little jack cheese and seasoning (mostly, yeah, seasoned salt) mixed in, with some little traces of spinach in both the crust and filling. "Spicy" is not a word I'd associate with them, although if you're super spice sensitive, like the dragons in M's favorite new book (thanks, Uncle Dan and Maymay!), you *might* have a small issue with 'em.

In all, I'd pick these up again without much hesitation, which is a lot more than I can say for our previous clucky appetizer find. I'm sure with a little hot sauce or guacamole, I can make those flavors pop a little more. As is, though, not bad, not bad.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Southwestern Style Chicken Poppers: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons