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 30, 2015

Podcast Episode 5: Favorite Summer Products

In this episode we share the products that have helped us tolerate the Dog Days of Summer. Visit us on iTunes and Stitcher. And if you like this podcast, be sure to also check out The Nosh Show and Candyology 101

Download: MP3 (23.1 MB)

Show Notes: www.letstalktjs.com/5/

Opening Music: www.bensound.com

Thanks for listening!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Trader Joe's Brownie Crisp

It started off innocently enough last week, and devolved pretty quickly from there. Who knew the question of "Is a Fig Newton a cookie or not?" could be hotly debatable? Generally, we try to avoid controversy and be some lighthearted fun here, but...In my review last week of Trader Joe's Fig Bites (basically, Fig Newtons), I referred to them once or twice as "cookies" which a few readers didn't agree with that classification.  Now, granted, when I think of the word "cookie," Fig Newtons aren't the first thing that comes to mind....maybe it's something like these or these, but if the word "cookie" can encompass decadent treats like these, well, there's room for a Fig Newton or two, too. I was about to laugh about it with some coworkers when I found that there's nearly a 50/50 split at my workplace, with those disagreeing with cookie classification agreeing more towards "pastry bar" because they were akin to NutraGrain bars, just smaller. This was despite the fact that Fig Newton packages say they are "fruit chewy cookies" and the Nabisco website even states that Fig Newtons are, in fact, cookies. I'm glossing over a lot here. This is how we make it through our nearly 50 hour weeks every week. Just glad we weren't called into the principal's office for all the ruckus this caused.

Well, if a Fig Newton could cause so much controversy, what can be wrought by Trader Joe's Brownie Crisp? God only knows.

These can be classified easily as a brownie based solely on their taste. To be honest, it's fairly surprising how much rich flavor gets packed into each bite - these are some powerfully chocolatey bites, in both the batter and the chips that are fairly sprinkled throughout. In fact, Sandy and I though we'd be clever and spread a little knockoff Nutella on them, and the brownie flavor completely overpowered it. Fierce cocoa here. But isn't part of the brownie experience texturally based? Whether cakey and dry or a little wet and smushy (the way I prefer), there's a little somethin'-somethin' to make a brownie a brownie, which these dry, crunchy, crispy critters just don't have. They're not even like the slightly burned edges you invariably get in a brownie pans - it's more like every drip of anything moisture related got slurped off, leaving behind only a crunchy, hard shell. That makes them lean more towards cookie but I'm not quite comfortbale calling them that, nor would I called them "crisps", per se. Crisps imply to mean thin crispy-crunchy bites, like a potato chip, while these are decidedly thicker and crunchier.

So...I don't know what I'd call these brownie-ish bites, except good. Really darn good. There's some added bonuses which kick them a few notches on up. First, check out the nutritionals: That's not that bad for such a decadent treat! Just one or two crunchy cookie crumbles get me my chocolate fix. Plus, these are both vegan and gluten-free, meaning even more folks can enjoy them. Fairly inclusive, mostly guilt free, and pretty tasty? Yes please! These facts make me happy enough to rate them a little higher than I would otherwise.

We've gone to TJ's a few times a week, and thus far it seems like these fellas may have the nasty habit of mysteriously jumping into our cart. Sandy's enamored with them enough to give them a perfect five. I'm close to that. The chocolate, although pretty good, seems a little one note on repeated bites, so I wish these had a little more variation, or had some nuts or mint or sea salt or some other kind of flavor put on in. Also, the brownie flavor was enough to make me wish I were eating an actual slightly goopy moist brownie, and I just couldn't shake that.

So are these brownies? Or cookies? Or crisps? Something else? Let's discuss this below in the comments. Much like the second package we got this week, I'm open for a good time.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Brownie Crisp: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Monday, July 27, 2015

Trader Joe's 5 Cheese Greek Spiral

Every once in a while, someone makes the assertion that I am a talented writer. Even more every once in a while, that someone is not my mom. And then, yet even more every once in a while, I get the question of why I basically only write about Trader Joe's products, and not things like politics or social issues or other weighty, important muckity muck like that.

Easy. We all need a break from that. Just check your Facebook newsfeed. And just consider me pretty hesitant to add yet another clamoring voice to that festering noise pile of opinion, when really, at the end of the day, I'll either agree with you, or we'll balance each other out, so either way we're good in my opinion. Let's talk happy stuff like food instead.

That's why in this review of Trader Joe's 5 Cheese Greek Spiral, I'll avoid all that Greek/EU economic WTFery going on (that's a Greek spiral in its own way). Instead, revisit my classic 5 Cheese Frusta review here, because perfect segue...

Much like that frusta, all the cheeses in this spirally guy just kinda melt all together in an indistinguishable meld. And instead of cheesy, I'd say it tastes more salty and perhaps even gritty. I know for sure what gouda is supposed to taste like - not there. And I've been to enough Greek food festivals to be confident that I'd be able to identify the others, even if I'm not 100% sure what either "semi-hard" (flaccid?) or "blue" (not "bleu") cheese is...and no feta? Hrmmm.

That's not quite all, either. The phyllo roll seems to be one long, long section of dough sheets rolled up, but no base to hold them together, so cutting the pie-shaped section like the one picture on the box front results in multiple crescent-shaped sections. Plus, while baking in the oven, the whole thing was just kinda spewing out grease and stuff, which dampened my enthusiasm somewhat. It's not like that should have been unexpected, but still. The end result is a greasy, crispy, kinda bland, yet kinda salty dish that would be okay alongside some other, more successful Greek-inspired TJ's products, but don't make this one the star of a Greek feast.

 Not too much else to say. Sandy seemed indifferent when we ate this about a week ago, so I was surprised when she decided to give it a four. "Just so crispy!" she exclaimed. I'll give it that....but not much else.  It takes a little more to get my zorbas dancing.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's 5 Cheese Greek Spiral: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons