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, December 2, 2016

Trader Joe's Soft Baked Drizzled Gingerbread Oat Bars

Must be bear season at Trader Joe's.

For the second time in scarcely over a week, here's another new, presumably seasonal product featuring a friendly, partially clothed bear offering some sort of treat. This time around it's Trader Joe's Soft Baked Drizzled Gingerbread Oat Bars. I mean, look at this bear - rosy cheeks, glasses, an ornament. Heck, (s)he's even holding a couple of the bars in a heart shape. I want this bear to be my friend. The fact (s)he's promoting a healthyish snack bar probably means I'm less likely to be eaten as well.

But that's not all that's on the box front. You'll have to look somewhat closely, but there's two, fairly often contradictory terms: "soft baked" and "gluten free." I'm not gluten-sensitive or anything by any stretch of the imagination, and I appreciate all the efforts that TJ makes to be celiac-friendly. That being said, whenever trying any product that's sans gluten, more times than not, to me, the texture leaves something to be desired. If this were truly a "soft baked" oat bar, it'd be quite a feat.

Unsurprisingly, the TJ's oat bars would not be what I'd describe as soft baked. Not at all. Dry, tough, and chewy? Yes, yes, and yes. It's a work out for the molars. Take a look at the ingredients - oats, almond butter, fig paste - there's no way it wouldn't be otherwise. The bite feels like a cross between a semi-stale Nutrigrain bar and my grandmother's molasses cookies (which I like by the way, Grandma!) that would be less disappointing if not promising to be "soft baked".

Aside from that, I like the bars quite a bit. Not a lot, if any of the almond butter or fig paste taste pop through - it's instead mostly oatty goodness with a heavy ginger bite. Seriously, the crystallized ginger in the bars are actually pretty close in potency to the Triple Ginger Snaps, so if a lot of ginger isn't your thing, stay the heck away. It's sugared over somewhat by the fair run-of-the-mill icing scratched over the top.

I think my kids liked them - which is odd, because if it's not mac n cheese or ice cream it takes them 45 minutes of begging to have them eat - but I wouldn't be surprised if that's not the norm. Between the chew factor for little teeth and the spicy ginger, it'd be hard to imagine them being a huge hit, cute polar bear be darned.

Anyways, for an on-the-go snack, or maybe even as a breakfast with an apple and coffee, you could do a lot worse. The price at $2.49 for a five piece box seems fair. Sandy didn't have much one way or another to say about them, so I'll assume that means a three. For me, I'll toss in a four - a lower score would be unfair to bear.


Bottom line: Trader Joe's Soft Baked Drizzled Gingerbread Oat Bar: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Trader Joe's Chicken & Sweet Potato Sausage Bites with Cranberries Jerky Dog Treats

Happy December, everyone! Alfred and Sadie have stepped in to give us another dog treat review. Is this even a holiday item? We're treating it as if it is. There are cranberries in there, after all. And what's more holiday-ish than a cranberry?

These things smelled like the Wild King Salmon Jerky, much to the dogs' delight. How TJ's can make chicken and sweet potato smell like salmon, I'm not sure. Sonia thought they smelled like bacon. Maybe some kind of goofy rancid bacon, but hey—dogs love stuff that smells kinda funky.

The video features antlered pets (Sadie better watch out she doesn't wind up in that Venison Burger!) ...as well as Sonia's take on the dog treats. They're still a little big and firm for our small dogs, but maybe not as bad as some of the treats we've seen in the past. Our dogs loved the taste.



Bottom line: 8 out of 10.



Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Trader Joe's Joyous Joe

Let's do some quick analysis here: Thanksgiving is a four day weekend. That means four days off, with a couple small kids. That equates to a lot of coffee consumption for us adults. Conveniently, there's four mini-cans of coffee that come in Trader Joe's Joyous Joe, so there'd be like a new flavor every day, right? How can this go wrong? Heck, it might even made a great little holiday gift for a white elephant-type deal, right, so it'd double as review fodder. Really, can't go wrong here....

Wrong.

There's four flavors here: Peppermint Mocha, Wintry Blend, Pumpkin Spice Coffee, and Gingerbread Coffee. Each variety comes in a canister that holds enough pre-ground coffee to make a large 10 to 12 cup pot o' joe.  I'll go through them in order we tried them...

Gingerbread Coffee: Thanksgiving Day. There's an issue here. Usually, we're French press folks, which requires course ground coffee. It's the standard grind for these beans, which means a regular drip pot is required. No matter, we have one of those, with the right size paper filters, let's fire it up...Cue catastrophe. the gingerbread coffee has ground ginger in it which apparently "blooms" a bit when wet. Because of this, somehow, some of those ginger bits Houdini'ed themselves out of the paper filter and lodged themselves under the rubber gasket of the dispenser drip nozzle thing of our coffee pot. So, right after Sandy filled her first cup, the coffee just kept flowing - nonstop - all over the counter and floor and everywhere. I was in the other room and I hear her yell for help and in our pre-caffeined state we have to figure out what in the heck is going on. I have to take the reservoir off and carry to the sink while Sandy holds a cup underneath it to catch all the drips, which sounds easy enough to do until you remember: no caffeine yet. Not easy or fun. This happen to anyone else? Please tell me this happened to someone else.

Tasted decent enough, with a strong ginger flavor. A little robust, and I'm not sure I'd make it my usual cup, but it worked for the day. Probably my favorite out of the bunch.

Peppermint Mocha: Friday. With the Exxon Valdez-ian coffee catastrophe of the previous day behind us, and coffee pot fixed via thorough dislodging of ginger chunks with a toothpick (fun times!), it's minty mocha time. Not great, not awful. Chocolate and mint work well in tea form but never coffee for me - not sure why. Decent amount of mint, meager amounts of chocolate, tasted kinda watery and a little sad. Still better than the peppermint mocha Sandy picked me up from McD's the other day. I'd rank third out of the group.

Pumpkin Spice: Saturday. Enough said. You know what I am by now. Last in my book. Go away, pumpkin spice. Blecch. Go away.

Wintry Blend: Sunday. We are a house divided on this coffee. I think it tastes fine, with a little extra bite. Out of any of the varieties, I could see getting a full can of it. Sandy says it tastes like it was stirred with a burned stick. Hrmm, there are "spices" listed: cloves, nutmeg...and cracked pepper? Pepper, in coffee? Now that's a new thing to me at least, and it does add an extra little slap that I could see would be offputting - I do get the burned stick sensation, but I just so happen to like it. Not Sandy.

So, there you have it. I'd prefer a full bean version so I could use a French press; however I know not everyone has their own bean grinder so I get why it's pre-ground as a default. If you need an inexpensive (less than $10) gift for someone who likes flavored coffees, or if you just want a little seasonal variety pack, I could see it the Joyous Joe being a worthwhile pick up. But we'll probably pass going forward. Sandy's in the spirit with giving it a three, I'm bah-humbuggin' it with a two overall.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Joyous Joe: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons