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, August 29, 2014

Trader Joe's Polenta Provencale

One thing I love about Trader Joe's is that they've exposed me to dozens of new dishes that I wouldn't have tried otherwise. Polenta is definitely one of those dishes. To the best of my recollection, I had never even heard of it before this. Sonia, who's even more widely traveled than I am, has not only tried polenta in her native Los Angeles, but also in Italy, where the dish apparently originates from. But despite her adventurous efforts, she's never been able to cultivate a deep appreciation for this corn-based dish.

The presence of corn (and absence of wheat) is great news for all you gluten-free folks. But for people like Sonia, it means an unusual texture that, in her own words, "feels like eating soap." I certainly see where she's coming from with that observation. The texture of the actual polenta balls is a little strange, especially if you're expecting it to feel just like traditional pasta. Now you've got me talking about balls and Russ chuckling about nut butter. I swear, people, this is a family-friendly blog.

Other than its lack of gluten and its vegetarian-ness, this product's other great strength lies in its vegetable medley, which includes peas, spinach, and tomato bits. The cream sauce is moderately spicy and lends a nice mixture of herbs to the dish, but its flavor certainly doesn't overpower that of the vegetables.

Flavor-wise, the polenta adds little. I found it to be very neutral in taste. There's a melodramatic spiel on the back of the bag describing Trader Joe's efforts to "liberate" polenta from its traditional Italian niche. So...if this isn't the way traditional polenta is served, then perhaps this entree would have been more successful as something entirely different? Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it. But Sonia and I both agree the least appetizing part of this dish is the polenta itself.

Another surprise was the overwhelming soupiness of the product, as pictured above. The photo on the bag depicts a mostly-dry dish served on a plate. I'm not really complaining, but we wound up eating our "polenta stew" from a bowl.

Since it's something unique and new-to-me—and because it tastes good overall, I'm giving this polenta provencale a 3.5. Despite admitting that she really liked the veggies, Sonia can't get past the texture of the polenta balls. She gives it 2.5 stars.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Trader Joe's Creamy Salted Cashew Butter

Okay, so I can keep a straight face while writing most of this review, but I gotta admit, I really had to restrain my inner Beavis and Butthead every time I thought about using the phrase "nut butter." Uh huh, huh huh huh indeed.

Anyways, I've been interested in following a paleo (or at least paleo-esque) diet for quite some time, right after I finish my next quesadilla. Finally, a couple weeks back, I decided to give the cavemen cuisine more of an honest try, with almost immediate dividends: With a little exercise mixed in, I've dropped over 5 pounds in the past two-plus weeks. Now, I'm not a paleo diet expert by any means, so I cannot ascertain how closely Trader Joe's Creamy Slated Cashew Butter aligns with it, but I know it's much closer than regular old peanut butter, which I love. So, I figured, why not give it a try as I learn the ropes?

I've gone back and forth about my feelings about this particular nut butter (Stop it, Beavis!) several times. A minus: It's very oily and drippy when opened, closer to a sauce than an actual butter. No amount of stirring will resolve that. Just my preference talking, but me no likey. A plus: After being refrigerated for a good long time, the butter does solidify quite nicely. Another plus: Lots of good, honest cashew flavor. Another minus: Tastes pretty salty at points, especially while swallowing,, would be better without as much. What's good - reasonable price for a pound of cashew butter, $6.99 vs $10+ bucks I've seen elsewhere. But you can make your own, as I have, for cheaper as long as you have a decent food processor. A one pound back of busted up raw cashews cost $5 at TJ's, so the extra two bucks goes towards grinding (easy enough with some patience) and adding extra stuff which like the salt, sunflower oil, and, of all things, almonds for who knows what reason. There's always a price for convenience. The butter tastes about what you'd expect a handful of salted cashews to taste like, overall, so not a bad product, but I kinda like what I can grind myself better.

Initially I thought about retuning for a refund but have since changed my mind.I hate drippy nut butter that much, and what I can make out of my Oster is chunkier, heavier, less oily, less salty, and shows off the natural goodness of a cashew than this jar of TJ nuttiness. The jar's gotten better as I' ve come along, though, and now I've put some in smoothies or dipped some apples into or spread atop some banana slices. I'm not crazy in love all Beyonce-style about this cashew butter, but I don't hate it either. Sandy's in much the same boat - she stated she liked but a half-hearted "ehhhh" is about what she said. Using my spousal translation skills to use, I think that means a 2.5. For me, I think it's a better butter to not be bitter about - it stays in my kitchen with a 3.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Creamy Salted Cashew Butter: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Trader Joe's Organic Mango Lemonade

Several of our readers have suggested that this beverage is somehow "Disco Lemonade." Other than the line in the Marcy Playground song, I didn't think Disco Lemonade was a thing. Apparently, I am wrong yet again. There are two ways to make a Disco Lemonade cocktail, and though neither one involves this Trader Joe's beverage, I'm sure a little blue curacao and/or vodka mixed into this product would produce a tasty concoction—and an interesting version of the drink. But we didn't get a chance to find out with this bottle.

This is a highly chuggable, smooth, sweet, sassy lemonade right here. It's been around for quite a while in that TJ's beverage section. Not sure why we never checked it out until now. It has just the right amount of mangoiness. It's very sweet, but there's a hint of tanginess, too. Mango has a great flavor, but it can sometimes be overpowering and unpleasant. See Mango NectarMango Green Tea was similarly disappointing to Sandy and Russ. More successful were the Apocalypse Now Juice and the Orange Peach Mango mix.

This beverage is thin like lemonade, and it's ├╝ber-refreshing on a hot day. The flavor's a bit more interesting than plain old lemonade, but it has a similar calorie count and sugar content. I really can't think of a single complaint I have about this product. The price is reasonable at $3.49, considering it's "organic." I put quotes around "organic" to satisfy those grumpy people who want TJ's to spend millions of dollars to hire a third party to investigate all of their organic claims, effectively raising the price of every organic product in the store. I'm happy just to take their word for it and shell out less money, though I might pay for that cavalier attitude some decades hence.

On that cheerful note, we leave you with our final thoughts: this is some really good stuff. 4.5 stars from me. 4 stars from Sonia.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.