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, July 27, 2016

Trader Joe's Vegetable Spring Rolls

There I was, minding my own darn business at my usual TJ's, chillin' out in the frozen aisle, when Trader Joe's Vegetable Spring Rolls went flying through the air and right into my cart.

Nah, seriously, courtesy of Pam AKA the Frozen Queen. Must be payback from that one time I demanded she find me churros and find me churros NOW. I've nagged her every time I've seen her since about anything new and interesting, and I guess this time she skipped the small talk and got right down to some serious appetizer business. "You gotta try them!" was all she said with a wink and a smile. Yes, ma'am!

Sorry it took me so long to get around to them, Pam. You wouldn't think it'd take a guy like me so long to finally try them out. But turning on the oven in this heat in a 101 year old brick house with no AC...you can understand, right?

Well, as it turns out, you don't have to stick them in the oven. Once I actually looked at the box, a recommended cooking method is zapping them to defrost a little, then sizzling in a skillet for a few minutes. I really hoped this make a perfectly acceptable, semi-greasy, crispy, spring roll full of warm veggie material - Kale! Edamame! Forget all the salt, this is health food! - that would be worthy of a full stamp of approval.

Oh, so close.

Unfortunately, even after defrosting, and frying them for over twice as long as stated to - the centers were still cold and clammy. This was with significantly browned wrappers. I don't see how this is user error. Sigh.

Everything else seemed right, or close to it, at least. The veggie mix - kale, edamame, mushroom, carrots - were about on par for a frozen spring roll, and blended nicely with the little bits of tofu in there. Nothing seemed too chunk or stood out too strongly, which was welcome from a textural standpoint - even Sandy ate them without complaint, and normally mushrooms make her gag.  Those veggies were seasoned fairly liberally with soy sauce and salt, and probably would have been better if more restrained. A little bit of black pepper helps balance that out, though.

For a small handful of bucks (maybe $3 or $4) I can't say I was overly thrilled, but wasn't terribly disappointed either. Sometimes a spring roll is just a spring roll and that has to be okay. Such is the case here. Sandy liked them a little more than I did, and we'd buy again.

Just hope Pam doesn't throw anything else at me after this review.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Vegetable Spring Rolls: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Mini Cupcakes

We've already seen TJ's knock gluten-free cupcakes out of the park. And this review is here to confirm that, yes, they've absolutely done it again. In fact, I know they have other varieties of GF cupcakes, and I've never heard anyone complain about them at all. Ever.

I read an article not long ago that scientists have found a way to make better gluten free flour. I'm wondering if these cupcakes are the result of said scientific breakthrough. Because I didn't miss the gluten at all. Maybe we just got a super-freshly-baked batch, but if anything, the bread part of the cupcake was more moist and more delicious than a normal cupcake.

The frosting was on point, as well. Sonia absolutely raved about it. It was slightly more in the direction of traditional frosting than the frosting on the Buttercream Cupcakes we linked to in the first paragraph. But this stuff wasn't stiff like cupcakes from a traditional grocery store bakery. It felt and tasted fluffy and whipped, with a really nice sweet, creamy flavor.

As has been the case with a few TJ's products in the past, I was significantly more enamored with the vanilla flavor than I was with the chocolate, although the chocolate was nothing to complain about. I'm not a vanilla supremacist. I swear. I just really want sweetness without as much richness sometimes.

Two thumbs up from Sonia and I. Double fours.

If you're interested in the nutrition facts, just click here.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Trader Joe's Mango Taffy

Sonia and I have made it to campgrounds in the Jersey Shore area a couple times this year, but we haven't spent much time on the beach or on the boardwalk, and thus, we haven't really indulged in the official state candy of New Jersey recently. In lieu of said saltwater taffy, we picked up this mango stuff from TJ's. It's not bad. In fact, I think both of us would choose it over most brands of saltwater taffy we've tried. Granted, we're not huge into taffy in general, but we've had enough to know decent taffy when we taste it. 

The first thing that jumps out at me about this candy is how incredibly soft it is. Oh, wait. That's probably just the near 100 degree temperatures and ridiculous humidity making it extra squishy. Somehow, it works, though. It's still solid enough that you can slurp it off the wax paper wrapping in one piece. We cranked the AC for a while and found an unusually solid specimen for the pic on the right.

Now, I might be alone here, but I swear there's this moment while I'm eating the taffy where it feels like it's not going to dissolve properly in my mouth. It seems to display the physical properties of chewing gum for a few brief moments and my gag reflex wants to kick in. But before it does, the taffy finally thins and magically deliquesces down my throat and into my belly.

Flavor-wise, it's a sugary, yet natural-ish kind of mango flavor—not quite like the actual fruit, although there is "mango juice concentrate" listed in the ingredients—but similar to what you might expect from mango gummies or mango sorbet. It's a candied mango kind of taste—very pleasant if you enjoy mango-flavored things.

In most cases, this would not be my dessert of choice, just because I'm rarely in the mood for taffy. But as taffy goes, I must admit it meets, if not exceeds, my expectations. Three and a half from me. Sonia, also not really a taffy girl, was even more impressed. Four from her.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.