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, July 2, 2015

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds

Marriage is a great thing. Certainly, it can be challenging, but usually, for Sandy and me, at least, it can be pretty funny. Especially the things we squabble about. As of the night I am writing this, we have been married for 2049 days. This means that at least 2000 times, Sandy has glared and me and growled "You know, I WILL organize the pots and pans cupboard, and YOU WILL learn to put them away properly." The only days she hasn't said this: vacations, Christmas, anniversaries, one or two of my birthdays, the days our kids were born, and a random Tuesday in 2012. This morning, when I got the traditional stinkeye yet again for just tossing something in wherever, I can't help but look at her and smile as she got madder and madder. "It isn't funny!" she exclaimed as she walked across the room to give me a well-deserved peg in the arm. Of course this just made me laugh harder, which finally got her to crack. Love it.

Another thing I did that made her mad recently: I ate her baggie of Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds. Didn't matter it had been in the fridge for two weeks and I thought I made the safe assumption she had forgotten about it. Didn't matter that, when busted, I was hard at work patching up the plaster on our third floor so it'll soon be the TV/family room. She wanted her bath with her book, her iced water and her chocolate almonds, and HOW DARE I deprive her of that. Guilty.

Eh well. These are some pretty tasty little choco-nutties, well worth the spousal ire I drew. That being said, they're pretty straightforward, without any fancy little wrinkles. Chances are, if you're imagining a typical dark chocolate almond, that's exactly what these TJ offerings taste like. There's a thin soft coat of bittersweet chocolate enveloping each crunchy nut, presenting a smooth bite that's pretty palatably pleasing. To my taste, the chocolate seems a lot more sweet than bitter, but I've grown pretty accustomed to the super dark stuff, going as far as beginning to enjoy raw cocoa nibs, so my scale might be a little off from yours. Regardless, for a potent little snack that satisfies some candy craving with some protein oomph to keep you going, it's tough to beat these, especially for just 99 cents.

Quick word: Nuts + dark chocolate = lots of fat and calories. Including saturated. These are no exception. My take: I've lost significant weight in the past year on a Paleo diet, which these kinda almost fit into, sort of. It depends on what camp you put dark chocolate in - I give it a pass. Not once in the past year have I sat down and counted calories or doublechecked how much fat I'd eaten in one day, and there's been numerous times I've had more than the couple handfuls of almonds or more chocolate than what's covering these nuts in a day. If the fat and calories concern you, make note and choose consumption accordingly. But for me I don't consider them a dietbreaker, or even that much of a cheat, as long as (like anything else) I consume them in moderation.

Anyways, both Sandy and I love them, and to try and keep the peace, last shopping trip I bought four bags of them, two for me, two for her. So far, so good. I might even be nice and share my last bag with her, especially when she starts up about those pots and pans again. Distraction is key for survival. Double fours from us.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, June 29, 2015

Trader Joe's Mango & Cream Bars

Here's a question I found myself pondering the other night while chomping through a Trader Joe's Mango & Cream Bar: What, exactly, is the divining criteria used to determine whether or not a frozen summer treat will be served on a stick? Is it potential mess factor? Structural integrity? Ease and comfort? I'm not really sure. I get why ice cream sandwiches (whether cookie or wafer ones) are stickless - there's a built-in easy way to hold them that unless you're a toddler (or me) it won't create a mess. Also, Klondike bars with no wooden pole make sense - although the potential mess is through the roof, I think a stick would only exacerbate since it's a big ol' quickly melting rhombus. But, other than that, and excluding ice cream cones (duh) and the cheapie colored sugar water freezy pops, pretty much any ice cream bar or popsicle or anything is a perfect candidate to be plunked on a stick, right?

Except....these TJ mango cream bars don't have a stick. They're prop-less and pole-less. Instead, it's just the bar itself, lonely, in a little wrapper just waiting to get all sticky and melty in your little grubs, unless you actually take the care to try to eat it from the wrapper, which seems silly to me. Really, these should be plopped on a little post.

Thankfully, though, I won't let that skewer my perception too much. In all, these do make a tidy little treat. Each bar is about 75-80% typical frozen mango-esque popsicle, with the a little side section of smooth chilly cream that complements the rest of the bar pretty well. I'd personally like if the cream and fruit part were a little more intermingled so each could be present in each bite. Regardless, the mango tastes all summer-y and sugary and all that enough by itself to work, but the cream really adds a nice touch to tie it all together.

A small side note: Not liking the ingredient list, which I neglected to doublecheck before purchase, mostly because so many TJ's products don't have it that I take it for granted: glucose syrup, with corn in the parentheses. There's a lot of noise online clamoring about glucose vs high fructose corn syrup (here's one link I found - can't vouch for its truthiness) but...I don't know. It sounds too much the same to me, in that tt's added sugar, and in some sort of form that's different from the sugar already mentioned in the list. Seems like a lot of extra sugar, when I think God made mangoes taste the best, personally - nothing extra needed.

Anyways, both Sandy and I, and our almost three year old (time flies!) enjoy them enough as is. They're smallish enough to perfectly sized for the kiddo and to not feel like too guilty an indulgence for us big kids. There are other varieties of these bars out there, like raspberry or coffee ones, that I'm sure we'll try before the summer's up. The box of six desserts cost no more than a couple bucks, making it a relatively painless pick up. It'd just be nice if there were a little something that made them a little more special or unique, but alas, these bars are a pretty solid choice as is. Not bad at all.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mango & Cream Bars: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons