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, April 20, 2011

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Brownie Baking Mix

Over the past 4 months or so, Sonia and I have been slowly trying to phase gluten out of our diets. We noticed that eating normal wheat products makes us feel nasty and bloated. I know from having food allergies as a kid that eating the same things over and over every day can actually cause sensitivity to those foods, and wheat is one of those ubiquitous ingredients that just seems impossible to avoid completely.

We still have some wheat and gluten in our diet as of now, but we've been on a mission to figure out what foods, if any, we can find legitimate gluten-free substitutes for. We both agree that we feel better when we don't eat gluten, so we're hoping to have as little as possible.

Anyway, it's not like we have brownies a lot to begin with, but we thought we'd try a gluten-free dessert. This bag o' brownie seemed like it was worth a shot.

Sonia added an egg, oil, and water, as per the instructions on  the bag. She also got adventurous and threw in some Trader Joe's Sliced Almonds. She wound up baking it for 40 minutes (10 minutes more than the package recommends) and then we sliced it up and ate it with some Trader Joe's Vanilla Ice Cream.

My first impression was that these were the funkiest brownies I had ever eaten. Not too shabby in the flavor department, but the texture was ... hmmm ... just a little abnormal. The words "chewy" and "gummy" came to mind. The almonds added a familiar crunchiness that really helped the overall consistency of the product. I highly recommend adding nuts if you ever try making these.

But still, squeezing the brownies with my fingers, cutting through them with a fork, or biting into them all pointed to the same conclusion: that these brownies wanted to be something other than brownies. I wasn't sure what they wanted to be...little brown sponges? tiny sections of weird skin for monster makeup? big chocolatey marshmallows?

In the end, I decided that they felt like marshmallows. Partly because the other people partaking of them with me at the time agreed with that assessment, and partly because that mode of thinking still allowed me to mentally file these brownies under "appetizing."

Sonia didn't mind the funkiness as much as I did. She certainly noticed it, but it didn't ruin the experience for her. And, as I mentioned before, they came pretty close to nailing the flavor of a good non-gluten-free brownie (or "glutenful" brownie, if you prefer) and Sonia agrees. She gives them a 4. I gotta go a little lower and give them a 3. These brownies are a respectable accomplishment in gluten-free science, but they've got a ways to go before I'd ever recommend them to someone over a normal brownie. Bottom line: 7 out of 10.


  1. Editor's note: The timing of today's brownie review is purely coincidental. There are plenty of other days of the year to enjoy good, wholesome brownies (not just 4/20), and we advocate only adding ingredients that are readily available on Trader Joe's shelves.

  2. Or, if you have the right prescription, and ONLY IF you have a prescription, you might want to whip up a batch of Trader Joe's Gluten Free "Special" Brownies to help you out with your glaucoma or whatever.

    Seriously though, I've never smoked weed in my life. Or eaten it...at least not that I'm aware of. And yes, the timing of this review was a total coincidence.

  3. I wonder if the instructions have the quantities of water and oil swapped. I wondered it before I baked them and even more after I baked them. They're good though.

  4. I just made these. I changed some things based on stuff I read around the web...I used 1/3 cup oil, 1/2 cup of strong brewed coffee in place of water, and added 1/2 tsp vanilla. I took them out of the oven when the thing I poked in the center was almost but not quite cleanand they came out delicious.

    1. Coffee instead of water sounds really interesting. We'll have to try that sometime.