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, October 24, 2014

Trader Joe's Creamy Almond Butter

This probably isn't a surprising revelation, given that this review is now our 575th in our semi-long, somewhat illustrious history, but there are some reviews that I've written that upon further review I wish I could take back. A good recent example? My write-up re: cashew butter a couple months back. I seemed somewhat ambivalent about it at the time, but in the days or weeks that followed, I fell deeper and deeper in love. I'd eat a jar a week, easy, mostly by spreading on apple slices then dipping the knife back in a for extra licks. No one else was eating it, I don't think, so I didn't feel bad. Sure, the first go-around or two from each jar was drippy no matter what (which I dislike strongly) but after that, and a couple days in the fridge, it solidified perfectly. Lots of flavor. Given another chance, I'd be tempted to pantheon that. Too lazy though.

Also, now too knowledgeable: Not paleo.  It has sunflower oil, and the added salt is kinda frowned upon. Doh! I'm still defining how strict I want to be about those kinda things, but I guess if there's an alternative out there that might match those restraints closer, give them a try.

Thus, Trader Joe's Creamy Almond Butter making an appearance in my fridge over the past couple weeks. Ingredients are pretty straightforward here: Just almonds and a small smidge of cashews for whatever reason (less than 1%). No added oil. No added salt. Just nuts, glorious, glorious nuts.

And compared to the cashew butter, it ain't even close. Doh!

First off, no matter how close I get to the bottom of the jar, how much I stir, how long it chills in the fridge - this stuff is a drippy, runny mess. It's ridiculous. Try spreading some on an apple slice without dripping a drop - I bet you can't. I've tried multiple times and cannot. Persistently drippy nut butter annoys me to no end. Who knew almonds were so much more naturally oily than cashews? I sure didn't.

And the taste...well, that implies there is one. Sure, I can taste it if I eat some from a spoon straight, or as it magically transforms surface chemistry as it sticks to the roof off my mouth for ten minutes afterwards. But it just tastes like boring, plain, ordinary, non-jazzy almonds. Almonds are like the cornflower blue tie of the nut world - nothing wrong with them, they're reliable and a classic, but nothing stands out, either. Cashews though...my goodness, aren't they good? Even thinking about walnuts and pecans and hazelnuts accelerate my hungerometer, but almonds? Nope. And any almond taste gets easily overpowered by whatever's being eaten along with it - more than anything else, this butter makes my apples taste like they have funky residue on them.

I've heard the almond butter is one of the most popular TJ's products in terms of annual sales, so maybe I'm completely missing the boat here. Maybe this is a taste I will grow into and enjoy more as my tastebuds reprogram and refine themselves. Don't know though. Maybe me here, lonely on the dock, oar in hand, lifejacket on, will one day figure that out. Have fun without me 'til then.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Creamy Almond Butter: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Trader Joe's Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix

A couple weeks back, with my folks in town for the weekend, I made coconut flour pancakes for breakfast. Look at me, trying to be a fancy caveman on a diet (down close to 30 lbs now!). They weren't that hard to make - a little coconut flour, a banana or two, a henhouse worth of eggs in the blender - but to be honest, they weren't that great, in my opinion. There's a problem, I think, with trying to make one thing taste like something else while omitting a key ingredient or seven - if you know what it's "supposed" to taste like, chances are, you're not gonna be happy with an alternate outcome. Prime example: these not-so-great English muffin wannabes. Granted, perhaps I'm speaking from a position of privilege (no major food issues or allergies or conditions), but to me, given no health restraints, if you wanna eat a pancake, just go make some real pancakes, even if you're on a paleo diet. You'll live. Cavemen would probably still be around if there were a prehistoric IHOP or two. Just sayin'.

With this in mind, when I saw Trader Joe's Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix, I figured it'd be worth a try and a small dietary cheat. Admittedly, at first I was a little enticed with the presumptive hope that they'd be paleo-friendly with the ease of "just add water", but a quick scan of the ingredients revealed otherwise pretty quick. Eh well.

Tell ya what: as a guy who's always been much more eggs-and-bacon than breakfast-carb-centric, I enjoyed these quite a bit. There's not much that's real special, per se, about these flapjacks, except they work in a very simple, straightforward, satisfying way. While the batter is typical hotcake matter, there's ample coconut flakes interspersed throughout that while cooking get a little crispy and add a lot of coconut flavor that stands out. And like a good pancake, the edges got a little crispied themselves (my favorite part) that, despite my very limited pancake-making prowess, turned out pretty well. Making them was a cinch - I've had other pancake mixes that turned into clumpy disasters when aquafied, but not these. A double batch made twelve decent sized pancakes, which were devoured easily by the wife, the toddler, the teenager, and me with a little maple syrup. I'd imagine with the coconut, some tropical fruits or powdered sugar would make a great accompaniment as well.

Sandy enjoyed them right around the same amount I did. "Yummmm....I just wish you were better at making pancakes," she said. Fine, rub it in that I slightly blackened or squished one or two. Not every one can make the fantastic crepes like you can, dear. You should try that with the remaining mix, by the way. Regardless, this mix is a hit - can't go wrong for the couple bucks it'll set you back.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Trader Joe's Pumpkin O's

I really hate to snub yet another vegan-ish pumpkin product, because I know a good percentage of our readers are vegan or vegetarian, and a number of you have already expressed your fondness for this particular cereal. But I just couldn't get into it. It tastes really bland to me. Once again, Sonia enjoyed it—which, of course, makes me feel even more like a jerk. But in the end, I gotta stick to my guns. I bring you truth—truth about TJ's pumpkin flavored products. That's my high calling in life.

And honestly, I think the odds were stacked against this product from the beginning, at least as far as I'm concerned. With one notable exception, TJ's O's cereals have been "fails" for the WG@TJ's team: we've taken looks at Honey Nut O'sFruity O's, and Super Colon Blow O's. And other cold pumpkin cereals found favor with Sonia, but little more than reluctant tolerance from me.

I felt like there was very little flavor at all. There wasn't even much of the grainy, oaty flavor you'd find in plain old Cheerios. These O's are apparently rice and oats-based. Could that have something to do with it? Sonia accurately pointed out that the O's taste more like pumpkin when eaten dry. I agree. It's almost as if the natural flavor of milk overshadows the tiny bit of taste in the O's. That should shed some light on just how "subtle" the flavor is here, folks. And some of you might be into that. That's good. You very well may like these. I hope you do.

They really don't look any different than regular O's, either. But to me, that's a good thing. I never felt the need for my pumpkin-flavored products to be bright orange, as if to scream "You're eating something VERY pumpkinny!!!" The festive pumpkin decor on the box is plenty autumn-riffic for me, and nobody really needs a bunch of artificial colors in their system. And on another positive note, the texture of the O's is pleasantly crunchy and sog-resistant.

They're nothing to complain about, unless you're a critical, grumpy pumpkin-Scrooge like I am. I'll throw out two and a half stars for these little bowl-bound breakfast bits. Sonia will pull their status up into the realm of respectability with fabulous four-star fall favor.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10
Time for anther poll! I want to know what percentage of you like the pumpkin reviews and want us to do more!