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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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Trader Joe's Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix

A couple weeks back, with my folks in town for the weekend, I made coconut flour pancakes for breakfast. Look at me, trying to be a fancy caveman on a diet (down close to 30 lbs now!). They weren't that hard to make - a little coconut flour, a banana or two, a henhouse worth of eggs in the blender - but to be honest, they weren't that great, in my opinion. There's a problem, I think, with trying to make one thing taste like something else while omitting a key ingredient or seven - if you know what it's "supposed" to taste like, chances are, you're not gonna be happy with an alternate outcome. Prime example: these not-so-great English muffin wannabes. Granted, perhaps I'm speaking from a position of privilege (no major food issues or allergies or conditions), but to me, given no health restraints, if you wanna eat a pancake, just go make some real pancakes, even if you're on a paleo diet. You'll live. Cavemen would probably still be around if there were a prehistoric IHOP or two. Just sayin'.

With this in mind, when I saw Trader Joe's Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix, I figured it'd be worth a try and a small dietary cheat. Admittedly, at first I was a little enticed with the presumptive hope that they'd be paleo-friendly with the ease of "just add water", but a quick scan of the ingredients revealed otherwise pretty quick. Eh well.

Tell ya what: as a guy who's always been much more eggs-and-bacon than breakfast-carb-centric, I enjoyed these quite a bit. There's not much that's real special, per se, about these flapjacks, except they work in a very simple, straightforward, satisfying way. While the batter is typical hotcake matter, there's ample coconut flakes interspersed throughout that while cooking get a little crispy and add a lot of coconut flavor that stands out. And like a good pancake, the edges got a little crispied themselves (my favorite part) that, despite my very limited pancake-making prowess, turned out pretty well. Making them was a cinch - I've had other pancake mixes that turned into clumpy disasters when aquafied, but not these. A double batch made twelve decent sized pancakes, which were devoured easily by the wife, the toddler, the teenager, and me with a little maple syrup. I'd imagine with the coconut, some tropical fruits or powdered sugar would make a great accompaniment as well.

Sandy enjoyed them right around the same amount I did. "Yummmm....I just wish you were better at making pancakes," she said. Fine, rub it in that I slightly blackened or squished one or two. Not every one can make the fantastic crepes like you can, dear. You should try that with the remaining mix, by the way. Regardless, this mix is a hit - can't go wrong for the couple bucks it'll set you back.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Trader Joe's Pumpkin O's

I really hate to snub yet another vegan-ish pumpkin product, because I know a good percentage of our readers are vegan or vegetarian, and a number of you have already expressed your fondness for this particular cereal. But I just couldn't get into it. It tastes really bland to me. Once again, Sonia enjoyed it—which, of course, makes me feel even more like a jerk. But in the end, I gotta stick to my guns. I bring you truth—truth about TJ's pumpkin flavored products. That's my high calling in life.

And honestly, I think the odds were stacked against this product from the beginning, at least as far as I'm concerned. With one notable exception, TJ's O's cereals have been "fails" for the WG@TJ's team: we've taken looks at Honey Nut O'sFruity O's, and Super Colon Blow O's. And other cold pumpkin cereals found favor with Sonia, but little more than reluctant tolerance from me.

I felt like there was very little flavor at all. There wasn't even much of the grainy, oaty flavor you'd find in plain old Cheerios. These O's are apparently rice and oats-based. Could that have something to do with it? Sonia accurately pointed out that the O's taste more like pumpkin when eaten dry. I agree. It's almost as if the natural flavor of milk overshadows the tiny bit of taste in the O's. That should shed some light on just how "subtle" the flavor is here, folks. And some of you might be into that. That's good. You very well may like these. I hope you do.

They really don't look any different than regular O's, either. But to me, that's a good thing. I never felt the need for my pumpkin-flavored products to be bright orange, as if to scream "You're eating something VERY pumpkinny!!!" The festive pumpkin decor on the box is plenty autumn-riffic for me, and nobody really needs a bunch of artificial colors in their system. And on another positive note, the texture of the O's is pleasantly crunchy and sog-resistant.

They're nothing to complain about, unless you're a critical, grumpy pumpkin-Scrooge like I am. I'll throw out two and a half stars for these little bowl-bound breakfast bits. Sonia will pull their status up into the realm of respectability with fabulous four-star fall favor.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10
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Time for anther poll! I want to know what percentage of you like the pumpkin reviews and want us to do more!


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Joe-Joe's

After our third or fourth pumpkin product review each year, you'll start to see my scores drop dramatically from that first pumpkin product of the season. There are a couple of reasons I can think of for this phenomenon. First, I think we seek out the most-buzzed-about products first, and they tend to be the ones that taste the best. Second, I think our standard for pumpkin products goes up after having a few stellar pumpkin desserts and tasty pumpkin brews. And the third and least likely reason is that we might actually get just a little sick of pumpkin and/or pumpkin spices.

But then there are products that, in my opinion, are simply not that good. This happens to be one of them. I really don't think my low-ish score for this product is due to any of the reasons listed in the previous paragraph. I really just think they tasted weird. They certainly tasted like pumpkin spice, but the flavor struck me as being fake, even though the ingredients do actually list "pumpkin puree." The taste wasn't intolerable. It was just a little off—and not at all like the flavor of other Joe-Joe's. And I certainly couldn't feature myself snacking on these things at all if it weren't for it being fall and them being so seasonal and festive and all.

And that brings me to my next point: Sonia really liked them. She insists that they tasted great and that they had the most intense pumpkin flavor of anything we've looked at so far. But Sonia is a brilliant graphic designer. Is it possible her opinion was heavily influenced by the cute, creative packaging of the product? I say yes. She also swears by the combo of these cookies and pumpkin-flavored coffee. She's not wrong there. The earthy essences in a good cup of java tone down the unusual pumpkintasticality of the cookies. My score would have been much lower had I not tried these things with coffee.

And I must admit, these cookies had a nice texture. They felt fresh and had a nice sandwich cookie feel to them. They weren't at all stale or stiff. So...even though these cookies weren't really my thing flavor-wise, I think they're worthy of at least 2.5 stars. Sonia's gonna go with a solid 4.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.
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Although I haven't tried them yet, I've heard mixed reviews about the recently-released Pumpkin Spice Oreos. I assume they're a very similar concept. Comment below if you've tried those!