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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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Trader Joe's Cowgirl Bark

I had a hankerin' for some vittles, so I saddled up old Legacy and rode on over to the general store. While'n I perused their stock for something tasty, I came a across this here pink bag of Cowgirl Bark—my left eyebrow lifted up like one o' them there hot air balloons. I'd only ever heard of such a thing once before, in the classic western writings of a Mister Russell Shelly—a legend 'bout a man by the name of Cowboy Joe—a man so ruggedly adventuresome that the mud scraped off his boots made an unusual snack for regular folk like you and me. And while some say it ain't such tasty eatin', others say Cowboy Joe's mud is the stuff of dreams—more still say he's a lost man; a man with good intentions, yet a drifter with a broken compass. I had to find out if his cowgirl counterpart was just as unhinged, or if the bark from her boots were something just a little more special.

I sauntered over to the clerk, an impish young lass by the name of Josephine—Trader Jo, they called her—and placed my wares on the counter. She eyed me coolly. "You know they sell Cowboy Bark," she quipped. I stood there for a moment, eyeing her in return, taken slightly aback by the affront to my masculinity. "I've heard of it," I said. We stared each other down like gunslingers at high noon. She picked up the bag. "You like white chocolate?" she asked. Now, it's well-documented in these here electronic logs that I'm a huge fan of white chocolate. "It's for my wife," I lied. At least on most occasions, the little missus prefers dark chocolate to white. As Trader Jo shot me a look of disbelief, I went ahead and conceded "But I'll probably eat half the bag...and yeah, I do like white chocolate," as if the confession would offset my untruth. And with that, I quick-drew my wallet out of its holster, clicked the plastic action down through the reader, punched the green button, and laid that transaction down in no time flat. I snugged the card back in its sleeve as Jo handed me a receipt.

Impressed by my skills with the plastic, she waved me aside from the checkout, sat me down on a barstool, and took off one of her boots. It was covered in white mud, with a conglomeration of brown and red clay caked below her spurs. It was herShe was Cowgirl Jo. "Me 'n Cowboy Joe used to ride together," she said. "We'd rustle almondolopes as a team." She could tell I was impressed. "We both set out for the Big Rock Candy Mountains together, but...well, we both got a little lost along the way."  She continued, "I was with 'im through Pretzel Prairie, all the way past Peanut Pond..." she trailed off and got a little teary-eyed.

"And then?" I asked.
"And then, I—I just had to follow my own heart. We went our separate ways when he went up Joe-Joe's Mountain. I continued south through the Ginger Hills, and eventually I came upon a field of Cranberry Cattle. I wrangled them up and returned 'em to Rice Ranch." As she recounted each leg of her journey, she showed me the corresponding ingredient in her "bark." Triple ginger cookies, dried cranberries, and Rice Krispy-like grains were all tasty ingredients, but...where was she headed with all this?

"Finally, I wound up on the Great White Flats of Chocolate," she said. "I have sweet, sweet memories of that place." Glancing round her store at that point, she noted that it had filled up with locals and dudes, so she excused herself and sent me packin'. 

My encounter with Cowgirl Jo resonated with me for hours as Legacy and I lugged our goods back home to the missus—who surprisingly enjoyed the Cowgirl Bark more than I did! Sweet as Cowgirl Jo was, I still think she's just a-wanderin'...out there driftin' in the wilderness, just a bit lost like a tuft of tumbleweed. But if'n you like white chocolate—and ONLY if'n you like it a lot—then I say this Cowgirl Bark is worth a whirl. I give it three Sheriff Stars. The missus gives it four.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Trader Joe's Strawberry Chia 100% Juice Smoothie

A few months ago, I was whining and pining for my long lost Jamba Juice after being unimpressed and underwhelmed by a $5 juice product from TJ's. Looks like they've stopped stocking that pressed juice at our local store, at least for the time being. I certainly wouldn't miss it if it disappeared forever. But I'll be danged, believe it or not, this strawberry chia stuff is a product I can get behind. It's thick, sweet, tasty, filling, and each bottle has way more omega 3 alpha-linolenic acid than I ever knew I needed. $2.99 a bottle won't break the bank, either.
With 48% of your daily fiber and 340 calories per bottle, this is a beverage that "eats like a meal." I can make this work for lunch all by itself. Some of you weight watchers might be horrified by the calorie count and the presence of 8g of fat, but look at it this way: wouldn't you rather be taking in calories from good sources like fruit and chia seeds than most other snacks? 

There are exactly three ingredients in this drink: apple juice, strawberry puree, and chia seeds. None of those things are going to show up on my gut the way 340 calories worth of bad carbs would.

I'm certainly no nutrition expert, but circa 7 years ago, I was 25 pounds leaner because I had a smoothie every night for dinner. In truth, the bottle claims to have two full servings in it, but I just don't see it that way. By drinking the whole thing, I feel very full, and I honestly don't want to eat anything else for quite a while. By drinking half of it, I feel like I need a bit more food in my body, and the little devil sitting over my left shoulder whispers something along the lines of "Go ahead, you've already had your fruit today. Have a slice of pizza or a donut," and sucker that I am, I fall for it every time.

But anyway, in summary, this just might be the smoothie that I've been looking for. Strawberry is the dominant flavor, and it's pleasantly sweet. The puree and the seeds blend seamlessly, texutre-wise. And a nice little blend of vitamins and protein make this a must-try for smoothie-enthusiasts and health nuts. I'm torn between an 8 and a 9, so I'll go with 8.5 stars.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Jackfruit Chips

So these are like dorians, right?

Apparently, I don't know jackfruit.

Fortunately, this website seems to know the difference, and if you're really all that interested, take a read, this post will still be here when you come back. Good to know I'm not the only one who didn't know until my more botanically aware spouse shot me the stinkeye. They're pretty similar in appearance, and I remember holding a durian at a 99 Ranch out in California once - heavy, spiky sucker, looked to be more of a projectile load for a trebuchet than something that was actually somewhat edible. So while durians and jackfruits are not the same, it's the image I'll hold in my mind, and if it's not completely accurate, then blame my blissful 'merican ignorance.

As for these actual Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Jackfruit Chips....mehhhh. I've had a couple handfuls of them by now, and can't quite make up my mind. Sandy's in the same boat. They're just kinda there and otherwise not horrible but not all that great either. It's not the texture's fault - think dehydrated apples but not quite as sticky-dry with a little more girth and fluffier Styrofoam aspect, and it's about like that. It's not bad for a dried fruit snack (though dried banana chips are still my all time fave). Crispy and crunchy are adequate enough adjectives, not much more needs to be said there.

Really, it's more the taste. Or the lack thereof. Depends on who you ask. Sandy insists the chips taste like nothing. I don't think that's entirely true - there's a subtly sweet flavor, kinda lightly citrus-y and banana-y, which is fine enough until it morphs into some sort of bittersweet funk that grabs hold of the back of your tongue like a toddler in need of consolation. It just won't let go...it's there and it's there to stay, no matter what you do. Seriously, I ate one ten minutes ago, and I can still taste it swimming around in my saliva. Not a fan.

Yet there's something about these fruity chips that I feel like I should like - perhaps because they're fruit so they make a healthy snack and are a possible replacement for chips and Cheetos and the like. Could be true. But still, I'd much prefer just eating a regular ol' apple for a crispy crunchy snack on the go, and if I have the luxury of some cashew butter around to spread on a slice, even better. These just don't cut it for me.

Sandy debated her score a long time before settling on a two, standing by her "they taste like nothing" claims. A two sounds more than fair to me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Jackfruit Chips: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons