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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Monday, March 30, 2015

Trader Joe's Raw Shelled Hemp Seed

How many substances are there in the world you can eat, wear, and smoke? Not many, that's for sure. But hemp is one of them. As of the time I wrote this post, I've done exactly two out of the three. That's right, I've never smoked weed. Not that I'm judging you if you have. But I used to wear a hemp necklace made by a friend, because I liked the hippy look...and just recently, I started eating a bag of hemp seed from TJ's. To be fair, I think the smokin' kind of hemp comes from a different variety of cannabis plant, but still, that's one multi-talented weed.

At $5.49 per package, it's not cheap. You could probably buy an ounce or two of the smokable stuff for that price. Well, not quite...but still these hemp hearts are pricey little devils. We probably wouldn't have checked them out if it weren't for the fact that they were Spotted on Shelves last week and our ever-present desire to please our loyal readers. Russ, Sandy, Sonia, and I would try anything for you guys. If you don't believe us, just stay tuned for even more outrageous products this week.

But back to the hemp seed. It's nutty. Tastes like other seeds I've had...unsalted sunflower, in particular, but perhaps a bit more planty—a bit more "green," if you will. The texture is softer than a normal seed. It's almost like a cross between a sprout and a seed. And they're very, very tiny—about the size of an average bread crumb. Holding a handful, they kind of feel like silky, supple grains of sand.

The back of the packaging suggests eating them with yogurt. I tried that, but I wasn't particularly enthused with the outcome. The subtle nutty flavor was overpowered by the fruit flavor in the yogurt, and the combination of textures just didn't work for me. If you think you'd ever want to put sunflower
seeds in your yogurt, then maybe it's worth trying with hemp seeds, but I personally would stick to salads and hummus and more savory foods when it comes to mixing in hemp hearts.

They're healthy little buggers, with boatloads of omega 6 and protein in each serving, but be warned, they're chock full of fat, too. I'm pretty sure it's "good fat," and as one reader pointed out, carbs tend to make people fat more than fat itself does. They're very natural, with only one single solitary ingredient: raw shelled hemp seed. All in all, not a bad investment for adventurous eaters and health nuts. Have some floss on stand-by, because they do get stuck between one's teeth quite readily.

3 from me. 3.5 from Sonia.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Trader Joe's Chocolate Coconut Cream Cupcakes

After my review earlier this week of bacon-ated popcorn, a commenter asked me if I were fat. I gotta admit, the question made me pause for a minute to try and figure out what the motive was behind the question. Jest? Semi-anonymous Internet mockery? Something else? Meh, I answered honestly and straightforwardly: Nope. Well, my BMI says I am, slightly, but since August I've dropped sixty (as in six-zero) pounds by following a mostly Paleo diet, watching portions (usually - the bacon popcorn did not count!), and running every other morning (I'm training to run two legs of the Pittsburgh marathon relay in early May - anywhere from nine to twelve miles - at this time last year I could run/walk maybe a mile before wanting to pass out!). Feels so good to have found something that works for me after being of the chunky variety pretty much my entire existence thus far - my other health barometers besides weight are looking much, much better, too.

After some reflection and a polite exchange, I get where the question came from, though: We review a lot of junky food on this here blog. It probably gives the impression that I/we eat a lot of crap. The reason we do so is simple: a review on some healthyish juice, for example, will take all day to get the same number of hits that a review on whatever new-fangled cookie butter concoction* will get in a good hour. Supply and demand. While there's a lot of passion and love behind what we do, there's also a business side here.

All that to justify another junk item: Trader Joe's Chocolate Coconut Cream Cupcakes. We got these the other week, the same night as our ill-fated gamble sushi excursion. Perhaps in addition to being our allotted one treat for a week to string out over several desserts, I bought them as motivation to muster through whatever part of my dinner I could.

Well, they're decent. I wouldn't say great. But not bad. The real highlight of these cupcakes is the frosting and filling - I mean, go figure, right? On top there's a thick double layer of fudgy chocolate, with a little squirt of coconut cream, topped off with a chocolate covered almond. Imagine crossbreeding a Mounds bar with an Almond Joy, and that's pretty close to what we got going on here. Thick, rich, sugary and delicious. Texturally there wasn't too much of the typical coconut feel - indeed, pretty creamy.

And as you can see by the photo up above, in the middle of the cupcake there's a reservoir of even more coconut cream. Similar in taste but not consistency with the stuff on the summit, it's a good little touch, albeit a little ho-hum. I don't think that's the filling's fault, but rather the actual cake part. The cake itself is an average chocolate example at best - I think I've made better from a box mix. It's just kinda dull and dry and it mutes most bites instead of framing and balancing well.

Still, everything but the cupcake part of the cupcake was pretty tasty. They're not tempting enough to make me want to break my diet by any stretch, but the cupcakes did serve as a nice little cheat a few times - usually I split one with my daughter. At $3.99 for the set of the four, they're a decent enough value, I guess, but not astounding. Sandy liked the frosting and all a little more than me, giving these guys a four overall, while I counter with a three.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chocolate Coconut Cream Cupcakes: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

* Keep tuned for an exciting product announcement coming next week - can't say anything more than that right now!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Trader Joe's To the Power of Seven Organic Juice Blend

Has it really been five long months since our last beverage review? It's high time we checked out some of TJ's luscious new liquids. I'm gonna skip a lengthy list of links to our favorite drinks and just direct you here: our "beverages" label (always available, for your convenience, in the right side bar). By my quick count, it looks like we've collectively reviewed 70+ beverages right here on this blog. With only a handful of exceptions, I would venture to say TJ's brand juices generally receive favorable reviews from us, with their price tag often being the biggest reason we don't make repeat purchases.

But you get what you pay for. This juice blend is no exception. $4 for 33.8 ounces isn't the highest cost:juice ratio we've ever seen, but this is darn close to the best-tasting, highest quality juice I've ever had. Every one of the seven juices is certified organic: everything from the good old-fashioned grape juice to the intriguing "purple carrot" juice.

Most juice blends like this wind up tasting like some variety of Juicy Juice or an Ocean Spray concoction that I've already had. Not this. It tastes unique to my tongue. I assume, like many other products, that there's a third party that produces this blend and most likely markets it under some different label in other stores, but I couldn't tell you who that is (Perhaps some kind reader will enlighten us in the comments).

It's refreshing, sweet, and fruity, but not syrupy. If I had to nail down one predominant flavor, I guess I'd say cherry, but it's much more complex than the other cherry juice products we've seen from TJ's. One can't readily taste the carrot juice, in the manner of a V8 Splash beverage—don't get me wrong, I think the vegetable juices in those V8 blends work, I just think they blend a little more seamlessly in this case.
The texture is medium-thin, smooth, and not at all pulpy or gritty. It's not from concentrate. Even the deep dark red color is beautiful and mesmerizing like a fine wine. There's minimal residue and aftertaste, and it goes down nice and easy. Sonia gives it four stars. I'm giving it four and a half—and an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.