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 2, 2015

Trader Joe's Burrata, Prosciutto & Arugula Flatbread

In theory, a guy like me should like hockey. Preseason is only a couple weeks away, I should be stoked like all the other XY-chromosomed humanoids (and half the XX ones too, at least around here in the 'burgh). Yet....I'm not. I've tried to like hockey, and in fact I like the theory of it. I've been to a couple Penguins in person, and no sport translates better to the in-person experience than hockey (worst, by far: football). But when it comes to actually truly liking and embracing hockey....I just can't. I'm not sure what it is, and maybe I'm just missing out on something that everyone else is picking up on, but it just doesn't do it for me.

It's kinda the same with Trader Joe's Burrata, Prosciutto & Arugula Flatbread. In theory, this should be a no doubt winner, a hat trick, a biscuit in the basket. As our local hockey announcer would say, get in the fast lane, grandma, this bingo game's ready to roll.  But in the end.....meh.

Let's start with the positives. This is one exceptional flat thin crust for the pizza base. It's light and airy, yet crispy and crackery, with a little added bite. I could eat crust like this all day then wonder what happened to my waistline. And the arugula makes a nice little touch, too - I like leafy greens as much if not more than anyone (my coworkers stare in disbelief at the amount of raw, undressed spinach I eat almost every day for an afternoon snack) and there's plenty enough to go around to add a good little touch of greenery in most every bite.

This leaves the prosciutto and the burrata and other assorted cheeses. Anything cured meat related is usually right up my alley, but this meat just doesn't cut it. It comes packaged separately in some frozen thin sheets (think Steak-Umm style) which thaw out on your counter as the pizza bakes, waiting to be torn up and placed on top when ready to serve. That method works, but any prosciutto flavor just doesn't really come through except a thin trace of saltiness. I'll blame the cheese(s) - according to the ingredients list (which I'll link to, my pictures came out awful), there's six here: burrata, mozzarella, mascarpone, pecorino romano, parmigiano reggiano, and fontal. It sounds like a nice and fancy blend - I'd butcher half the names - but the outcome just isn't that great. It just tastes kinda flat, without too much flavor except a little olive-oily and salt, with some faint garlic, and more or less feels spongy on most bites. Once again, perhaps my tongue isn't sophisticated enough to enjoy the complexities of a fine cheese meld like the stuff on here, but, once again, meh.

But I guess I'd understand people liking this a lot. Like Sandy, for instance. The fact this was a fairly acceptable white pizza-esque consumable good was a big plus for her- no tomato sauce! Not like that dissuades her from enjoying regular pizza, but, anyways. The arugula and crispy crust were also a hit with her, enough to make this a desired repeat buy for the $4.99 it cost, though she'll admit there wasn't much memorable about the cheese mix except how fancy it sounded. Sandy went ahead and gave it a four. That's just too high for me - not enough flavor to really compel me, and when the absolute highlight of a pizza is the crust, I think it says more about the pizza as a whole than the crust. I just can't muster much more than a perfectly middlin' 2.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Burrata, Prosciutto & Arugula Flatbread: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Sriracha Ranch Dressing

RoostersDragonsBBQ SauceJerkyPotato ChipsWontons...

The sriracha craze is still going strong, and I'm still learning new things about the mysterious Thai hot sauce. Like...you don't pronounce the first "r" in "sriracha" (Thanks, Marvo!) and that there's a heated East Coast/West Coast debate about whether to always capitalize the "s" at the beginning of the word or not. Since I'm blogging from the East Coast, I'll go ahead and follow the example set for me by The New York Times and not capitalize it in this review. Not that anyone cares or that it at all matters.

What does matter is that this dressing rocks. Finally, good old 'Murican ranch dressing has found its true calling in the form of a sriracha derivative. And I don't even like traditional ranch all that much.

But I do like sriracha...in fact, I LOVE sriracha. "Well, why don't you marry it?" you ask..? Because our country isn't that progressive yet. And as a political moderate, I only support civil unions between man and food.

Plus, I'm already married. Sonia might get jealous. In spite of that, I do have a pet nickname for this salad dressing. I call it "Srirancha." See what I did there? And like Russ, I'll be demanding royalties if that word ever winds up on the label of a future sriracha ranch product.

It's spicy more than it's ranchy or creamy, taste-wise. Although the texture is nice and smooth, like a good quality, traditional, non-sriracha ranch. It was actually hot enough that Sonia had to slow down from time to time and let her mouth recover. I didn't think it was quite that hot—it was just about perfect for me. It had a nice strong kick, but it wasn't overwhelming. It went great with those Portobello Mushroom Fries and even made them quite pleasing to my anti-mushroom palate. It's absolutely perfect with carrots and other dippable veggies, and it even goes great on...you guessed it! Salads!

Sonia loves this product almost as much as I do. It's one of the best dressings I've had in a long time. It's organic, delicious, and reasonably-priced at $2.99. We're gonna go with double 4.5's on this one. Sriracha + ranch = scrump dilly.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Trader Joe's Green Dragon Hot Sauce

The 1972 martial arts classic Return of the Dragon used to be in heavy rotation in my DVD player back in college whenever me and the roomies needed a "brews and Bruce" night. I mean, the climactic fight scene between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris? Invest nine minutes of your life and watch it here. The cacophony of joint crackage, the random cat, the chest hair grab....not to mention plenty of roundhouse kicks and a couple masters going at it in their prime, even if scripted. Great stuff, I love it.

Admittedly, high level martial arts flicks have little to nothing to do with Trader Joe's Green Dragon Hot Sauce, but I thought of the movie title when I first saw this sauce for sale. "Return of the Dragon." We've seen this particular scaly scary hombre before, not too long ago - namely, on TJ's branded sriracha, which I recommended calling dragon sauce - hey, I think some royalties are due here, Big Joe.

Regardless, I thought that this green glop wouldn't be that unlike a salsa verde or the Hatch Valley Salsa, except in saucier form. That's a mistake, as there's a little bit more going on here, despite some similarities. The first ingredient with any real substance to this dragon drool is pureed jalapenos and the last is habeneros, so there's some seriously spicy bookends. The habeneros don't come thru too strongly, though, which is appreciated, but they're still there, even if just slightly. But it's not just heat and nothing else. There's plenty of roasted sweetness from tomatillos with some added flavor depth from lime juice and garlic to add a bite, and cilantro to add a herby twist. All of these flavors seem present and proportionately balanced for a strong but not overbearing spicy sauce with some character to it. There's also "spinach powder" in there....I guess that's present for greenery insurance. Or maybe they're just trying to sneak us some extra veggies. Who knows.

It's all a pretty smooth consistency too, all things considered - not too watery, and certainly not chunky. The sauce definitely pours more than plops, making it ideal to use in most anyway one can enjoy a hot sauce - I've used over various meats, in sandwiches, on eggs, in tacos and so on. I've yet to find something that didn't mesh well with the flavor profile - even with the spiciness (which I'd rate as moderate) and other flavors present, none seem to completely overpower whatever I'm putting it on. Good sauce.

Both Sandy and I seem to be pouring it over any meal we can the past week or so. My mother-in-law who's been staying with us the past few weeks just kind of looks on in amazement. Eh well. The dragon sauce might not be for everyone, but I think it'll be a staple for us going forward because of its tastiness and versatility. Like that Lee-Norris fight scene, this sauce just might be pretty tough to beat.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Green Dragon Hot Sauce: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons