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, November 25, 2015

Trader Joe's Peppermint Joe-Joe's Ice Cream

Yes, I have ventured back into the dangerous realm of reviewing frozen peppermint products just before Thanksgiving. Why exactly is it dangerous? I'm glad you asked.

It's "dangerous" because I risk being lynched by the huge, uncompromising camp that will insist this is a Christmas product and should not be reviewed until after Turkey Day. While I understand where these folks are coming from, I must argue that it's not me that should bear the brunt of their indignation, but Trader Joe himself for offering this product so far ahead of the official Yuletide season. Furthermore, one should consider why, in the first place, peppermint must be associated solely with Noel and not any other holidays or seasons. I think at this point in our culture, Thanksgiving has been inextricably woven into the beginning of the Christmas season and should begin to reflect its standing as the kickoff of Pre-Advent and the full-contact shopping season. But that doesn't give us an excuse to skip over the giving thanks part. We should be thankful in all circumstances. And trust me, there is always something to be thankful for.

So..there's that. Aaand there was also this incident...er, I mean post, two years ago about another peppermint product, the name of which I shan't even utter on here. It's a "please don't click that link" type of situation, indeed. But I know the more I tell you not to click it, the more you'll be inclined to do so anyway. The post was declared "immature," "particularly gratingly snarky," and "far from your best writing." One reader even stopped reading our blog because of it and stopped listening to the podcast at the mere mention of this most-horrific post! Well, Karen, I encourage you to come back and give us another chance—for Russ's posts, if not for mine.

But, thankfully, history did not repeat itself. Here, we find a perfectly pleasant peppermint product completely free of gelatin and made with milk from cows not treated with rBST. Sound delicious already? It is. It's got swirls of pork-free pink peppermint ice cream and good old, classic cookies n' cream ice cream. And it's chock-full of large chunks of actual Candy Cane Joe-Joe's, a product so popular, it has its own Facebook fan page. I really like the blend they put together here. It's one of the best mint ice creams I've ever had—right up there with Bittersweet Mint from the dear old PSU creamery.

Both Sonia and I are huge fanatics of cookies n' cream, and both of us agree that's the best part of this ice cream. Sonia thinks there's a little too much peppermint ice cream. I kind of agree, although I don't think the peppermint ice cream ruins the mix by any means, particularly if you're in the mood for mint. I wouldn't have been completely heartbroken had it been Candy Cane Joe-Joe's in cookies n' cream ice cream, with no peppermint ice cream up in there, but that's probably because I'm such a big fan of cookies n' cream. 

The only other negative I can think of is that they did sneak some carrageenan into this ice cream, unfortunately. I realize there's a debate about just how harmful carrageenan is, if at all, but if I don't point it out, someone will call me out on it in the comments section below. It's something I'd just as soon avoid if there were a carrageenan-free option readily available.

But whether you save it for December or have it for dessert over Thanksgiving weekend, if you're into mint ice creams at all, I think this is a worthy purchase. I give it four stars. Sonia's gonna go with three and a half again. Happy Thanksgiving, and THANK YOU all for reading.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Trader Joe's Sriracha Potato Chips

Over the past year or so, Trader Joe's has been releasing a steady stream of sriracha products, starting, of course, with Sriracha Sauce. We've also seen Sriracha Ranch DressingSriracha Garlic BBQ Sauce, and even Sriracha Bacon

On parallel, yet completely unrelated lines, TJ's has offered us a line of fancy potato chip flavors, including Turkey and StuffingGhost Pepper, and South African Style Seasoning varieties. I guess it's inevitable that the two would eventually meet, join forces, and yield the sweet love child of sriracha and potato in the form of these delicious, spicy chips.

The bold red packaging features a familiar, menacing dragon that some TJ's fans think resembles a cat. Sure, I can see where they're coming from. If the lion is the king of the jungle and the housecat is the king of the internet, then perhaps Trader Joe's just latched on to those concepts of royalty in an attempt to create the "king of the cupboard." And they put forth a brilliant effort in this foodie-hack's humble opinion.

The attack is salty and sweet, and a moment later, a big, fearless wave of tangy sriracha flavor bowls your tongue right off its feet. I mean, tongues don't have feet...but if they did, boy. The spice level is nice and strong, as someone who likes a little heat. As mentioned in a recent podcast episode, the only weakness I, personally, saw with the Turkey and Stuffing chips (reviewed here by my courageous culinary compatriot, Russ) was that they were flat, kettle-style chips rather than firm, ridged or lattice-style chips. The potato chip gods heard my cries and graciously lavished me with some super-crunchtastic, ridgey, lattice-cut chips. I think the texture of these chips is just about perfect. Not too long ago, I reviewed some other very decent sriracha potato chips. But as good as they were, these Trader Joe's chips are most definitely superior.

The first chip or two out of the bag doesn't blast your tongue with pain, but after snacking for a while, the spiciness builds up and—while not anywhere close to the realm of "I'm in pain, I can't eat anymore!" —one might find him or herself craving a glass of water or milk. People with particular sensitivity to spicy foods may want to steer clear completely. I can't compare these to the Ghost Pepper chips because, once again, Russ beat me to the review, and they're currently not available at any of our local TJ's. (Nor are the Turkey and Stuffing chips, FYI.) My friendly Trader Joe's checkout clerk today said that every month or two, a new chip flavor would appear on TJ's shelves—and she didn't come right out and say it, but she implied that an old flavor would disappear just as frequently. Well, Big Joe, my vote is that these particular chips stay. Year round. Please. They're not Thanksgivingy or Christmassy at all...so maybe keep them around just to see how they do in other seasons, hmm?

Sonia wasn't as impressed as I was. Her comments: "They remind me of Chinese food, but they're not spicy." Three and a half stars from her. Four and a half stars from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Trader Joe's Apple Bourbon BBQ Sauce

Let's see...Nathan has had some very favorable reviews recently on products that predominantly feature apples or bourbon, so how about something that has both apples and bourbon?

Indeed, there just may be a small revolution or passing trend going on with TJ's products: bourbon. First, there's that pecan pie filling (which of the many things my Aunt Brenda puts in hers, I am quite sure that bourbon is not one of them). I've also seen a bourbon barrel aged maple syrup which I haven't had the occasion to pick up yet, but really, I should (here's a quickie review here). And for those fortunate few who live in the right areas that fully recognize the 21st Amendment, TJ's actually has a pretty decent housebrand bourbon as well.

Now, there's Trader Joe's Apple Bourbon BBQ Sauce. You can't tell me that doesn't sound gooooood. I'm not  huge condiment guy - I like food to taste how it "should" taste - but I'll admit to a little puddle of drool when I first heard the word. I was due for a good mix up from my go-to barbecue sauce of choice anyways.

Gotta say I'm pretty well pleased overall. This is some thick, goopy, slow-movin' sauce, which is how it oughtta be. "Pretend there's a 57 on it and tap it!!!" Sandy cried out when I was trying to pour the first load onto my plate one night. If you have no idea what that means: here. I hate ketchip, but yeah, that method got the proper flow going. This was also when I first noticed little apple tidbits flinking around here and there - not enough to add any crunch, but a slightly noticeable textural variant.

And there's definitely more apple than bourbon going on here. In a lot of ways, this sauce tastes mostly like a pretty solid, decent barbeque baste with a hefty dose of added appley awesomeness. There is a soft bourbony undercurrent, but there's certainly not enough to make it terribly boozy by any stretch - it's possible I would have missed it if I knew not to try and find it. Sandy said she didn't really taste any, but then again, she's pretty much never had bourbon. There is a little added acidity to it, which looking over the ingredients, could be the somewhat curious inclusion of both apple cider vinegar and pineapple juice. Regardless, the emphasis should be on sweet and apple more than bourbon or smoky if doing it straight up.

Just wish we gave ourselves the chance to really try it out with some good pork. Not like the sauce didn't make our grilled chicken and fries taste fairly delish, but after first taste, my immediate thought was ribs followed quickly by pulled pork. I then wondered about the best way to try to incorporate it with some bacon. But alas. We also enjoyed it in place of ketchup in some homemade meatloaf (although Sandy's mom hated it, probably because it had actual flavor), and with some meatballs as well. Cooking with it certainly mellowed out the sweetness a touch while bringing other flavors to the surface.

No real complaints - it's a worthy pickup, for sure. Not the best out there, but pretty decent, so here's to hoping it'll stick around for a while.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Apple Bourbon BBQ Sauce: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons