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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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Rice Pasta & Cheddar

I've gone on a whole diatribe about macaroni and cheese before, so I'm not going waste yours and my time rehashing it all. Let's just get down to business here.

Truth be told, Trader Joe's Gluten Free Rice Pasta & Cheddar was not a product I was particularly eager to buy, much less consume. I think it's the "rice" part. Now, I have nothing against rice, per se, as Sandy and I keep a sealed bucket in the kitchen full of it, and we eat rice probably at least twice a week. It's just that I've had rice step outside the realm from which it belongs and total ruin something. A prime example is some TJ's rice flour tortillas which really ought to be discontinued - I bought them once, nearly retched upon first bite, threw them out (this was before I knew about their awesome return policy), and have refused to buy since. Just keep away from them. Far, far away. So there's that, and there's the fact that TJ's has already made a perfectly good corn pasta for the gluten-free crowd. If I were in charge of the whole shebang, that would be the route we'd take here.

But I'm not in charge (not yet, at least), so here we are with ricey mac 'n cheese. Eh. I'll be honest, I'm not a huge fan. There's just something that tastes a little off. Maybe it's all the gluten that's not in it. Sandy made up the pot, and while admittedly she may have undercooked it by the tiniest bit, the noodles were a little too dense and chewy. For whatever reason, the thought that came to mind for me was thick newspaper. That's kinda also how the noodles seemed to taste. Also, in my experience, I've always mixed the powdered cheese, milk and butter right on top of the noodles in the pot. Not this box. It actually instructs you to mix all that together separately, then pour over. Sandy, as always being the directionally obedient chef, obliged without too much questioning. I could be completely making this up, but as a result I don't think the sauce clung to the noodles nearly as well, and yeah, seemed to taste a little off. Is there gluten in regular mac 'n cheese cheese sauce? Don't know. But that could be it. Fortunately, it was all something that a little hot sauce could fix.

For the record, Sandy thinks I'm full of it. "You made up your mind before even trying it that you weren't going to like it and now you're going to write a review nitpicking it left and right just because it's different," she said. Talk about being put in your place. She's probably at least partially right. Sandy deemed it worthy of a four, and has reiterated several times how much she likes it, as if the brand needed her personal, continual affirmation to make it thru each day. Me? I'm trying to be fair but it's just not that great. For the gluten-free folks, this simply isn't how boxed mac 'n cheese tastes. You don't deserve another not-so-great imitation of an American classic, especially when better glutenless noodle technology not only exists but lurks only a mere shelf or two over. I'll play nice with a 2.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gluten Free Rice Pasta & Cheddar: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons     


  1. I've always wanted to try this, now I have a reason to do so, but I'm a mac and cheese fanatic, so any excuse will do. :)

  2. i agree that the sauce doesn't stick on the pasta as well as the traditional mac & cheese we all grew up with, but they list an option to use plain yogurt which i tried once and it really helped make the sauce thicker and creamier.

    that being said, i still don't buy it. but if i did have a sudden mac & cheese craving i'd make sure to pick up some yogurt too. greek yogurt.

  3. The first time I made it I added a little extra cheese I had laying around to the sauce and let it cook a little longer. I liked it a lot. That being said, I always add Sriracha to any mac and cheese coming near me. I've made it per instruction (I won't lie, I work at TJ's and I work a lot of the sampling shifts) and you have to cook the noodles a lot longer than the recipe on the box calls for. It's still a staple in my house. We just use it as a base for however we're going to doctor it up that evening. There's always a few different cheeses to add and a little milk.

  4. The pasta usually used in mac and cheese is usually a wheat pasta (aka gluten).

  5. I find the chewiness of the rice pasta great actually. I cooked it for exactly 11 minutes (rice pasta cooks itself a bit after draining and I have turned it to mush by accident before). I like to add 1 can of TJ's canned crab and frozen pettite peas to the boiling water 2 minutes before it'd done. I mixed the cheese and butter just like kraft and it worked out fine--apparently I don't fully read directions ;) As sodium laden as mac n' cheese is, I actually think, with my recipe, I need to add more salt. I like to use the discontinued smoked salt--I don't know what I'm going to do when my grinder runs out =(

    If you havn't experimented with the small can of "15% leg" crab meat yet, you should!