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, March 28, 2012

Trader Joe's Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds

It's hard to really, truly, live up to the hype sometimes. Take, for instance, the new Hunger Games movie. Pretty much everyone I know has seen it and I've heard it talked about so much, including by our most recent TJ's cashier who was gushing over it. General consensus: OMG!!! Now, Sandy and I have both read the whole trilogy, and had plans for a Sunday afternoon matinee with some good friends of ours, who've also read all three books. I tell ya what: it wasn't bad. I actually thoroughly enjoyed it, although the scene with the trackerjackers made me wince. I'd actually say it's the rare movie that, to me, can make the claim that it's better than the book*, mostly because I don't have to wade through all of Katniss' teenage girly emotional junk. I hated that part of the books. But yeah, the movie...pretty darn good. I wouldn't go say it's my favorite, or the best one ever, or even give it a thought come awards season time, but in the end, I got my money's worth and I liked it. Not bad for the first movie I've seen on opening weekend since Snakes on a Plane**.

In the end, that's kinda how I feel about the Trader Joe's Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds. These have been so highly recommended over and over and over again by so many of our readers. Truthfully, I've never seen them before our aforementioned most recent trip, and so have never had them before Sunday. These have been so hyped up, and so highly recommended, that Sandy and I are the last people on earth to try these, probably.

Don't get me wrong, I like them. There's absolutely nothing in the world wrong with a big tasty roasted almond coated in smooth, rich, dark chocolate. Nothing at all. Add in a good healthy pinch of sea salt to punctuate each bite, and that makes them even better. I'll admit that before these, I've never heard of "turbinado sugar", which in case you're as uncool as I was, is natural brown sugar partially refined right from sugar cane. Look close enough at these nuts and you'll see the big ol' crystals of it, which do add a little extra sweetness here and there, but overall I don't see anythng too special about the sugar - it's like, hey, let's make up a fancy name for it. Really, though, I like these choco-almonds, especially the ones with just a bit more salt than the others.

In the end, though, they just don't blow me away. I mean, TJ's makes them sound all super-fancy, and these nuts apparently have a huge following, but to me, they're better than the the typical chocolate covered nut but not by all that much. I can happily just eat a couple of these and be done with them, which my wife is proud of me for. Maybe. As for her, well, let's use her own words here. As you can see on the picture there, we ripped these open before getting one of the necessary shots. "Just tell them that the pregnant lady couldn't wait long enough for you to fiddle with your camera to start munching on them," Sandy said. She's so cute when she's impatient. Yet she's not so up on them either. When I asked her what she thought about them, she gave me a "meh" while admitting she wanted to sneak some when she got home from work on Monday but didn't with it being Lent and all still. I'm thinking that between the two of us we'd give them a 3.5 or a 4 each, so let's go with one of each. Now may the odds be ever in your favor.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
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* The only slam dunk "movie that was better than the book" has to be The Princess Bride.
**
Not my all-time favorite movie, but it was my all-time favorite "time going to a movie." It was a late night showing, with the theater maybe about half-full, but with everyone openly mocking it throughout the whole movie...man, it was awesome.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Trader Joe's Vanilla Coconut Milk

After one sip, my initial reaction was: anything with so much fat should taste way better than this. That said, I want you to know that I was, and am still, a huge fan of coconut milk. When I was a kid, my dad would, on occasion, bring home a whole coconut from the grocery store. I thoroughly enjoyed draining the juice out of the coconut and drinking it fresh out of a glass. Somehow I figured that coconut milk with the word "vanilla" before it would be sweeter and even more drinkable than the fresh coconut juice I remember from my childhood. But if you ask me, it wasn't. The vanilla flavoring did little to enhance the natural flavor of the coconut milk, and there just simply wasn't enough flavor to justify putting 5 grams of fat per serving into my body, as my body has just plenty of fat to contend with as it is. Although, I must admit that natural, nut-fruit-or-whatever-a-coconut-is-type-fat is always way better for me than most of the actual sources of fat in my current diet. Also, I might have been wanting it to taste like the Goya Cream of Coconut that we used in our piña coladas a while back. That stuff is tasty. But, it's massively fattening and I'm pretty sure there's more sugar in it than actual coconut. So, for health reasons, it's probably good that TJ's coconut milk tastes nothing like that Goya nonsense.

On the plus side, this stuff is totally dairy-free (like regular coconut milk, which I would hope goes without saying). It is soy-free as well, and totally vegan friendly. Sonia loved it. She enjoyed its light taste. She put it on her cereal, and loved it that way, too. It was Cookie Crisp cereal—which pretty well offset any healthiness that might be in the coconut milk, but whatever. It comes in a convenient, attractive package, and it's fortified with calcium and vitamins. It sounds like they're setting it up against dairy milk and soy milk for those who are lactose intolerant and/or don't want lower sperm counts.
It's probably a pretty viable alternative to other milks. To be fair, I should mention that I really don't like drinking plain dairy milk or soy milk at all either. On cereal is about the only way I have milk. And maybe a chocolate milk once in a while. I was just hoping that this stuff was gonna be fairly chuggable just by itself. But...not so much, in my opinion. It's not nasty, it's just kind of bland. If it had been called "coconut water," I might not have been so disappointed.

But I can't be too hard on it, because it's not a dessert item, and it's not meant to be. It's unique. And for the lactose intolerant, it could really become an item that shows up on the grocery list frequently. I give it a 2.5. Sonia will be the reasonable one yet again and give it a good score despite the fact that it doesn't taste like candy. 4 from her. This is one you'll probably just have to try for yourself to see whether it's worth it or not. Tell us what you think below.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10 stars.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Trader Joe's Turkey Corn Dogs

My friend Trader Joe is the corn dog king. He did Veggie Corn Dogs right. He even did some kick-butt Shrimp Corn Dogs. And slightly less weird than Shrimp Corn Dogs—he went and made some scrump-dilly Turkey Corn Dogs, too.

TJ's is batting a thousand with corn dogs if you ask me. My scores have been slightly higher than Sonia's, but she's more or less in agreement. She was never a fan of corn dogs before Trader Joe showed up on the scene. I've always liked corn dogs—even the kind from the scary, greasy lunch trucks that don't publish their ingredients and are more than likely made at least partially of pig snouts, hooves, and other kinds of scrapple-type stuff. I know it's not necessarily your forté, Trader Joe, but I certainly wouldn't mind an all-beef corn dog. I'm not much of a pig-eater anymore, but if you made an oldschool pork corn dog, I'd totally try it.

But, ah, the good people reading this post would like to know about these Turkey Corn Dogs. I think these could be the best TJ's corn dogs yet - the best TJ's food I've eaten in a while. No complaints. Had 'em with ketchup, but they were more than fine just plain. Perfect balance of cornbread outside and yummy turkey poultry meatiness inside. And it didn't taste like regular turkey...it totally tasted like a turkey dog. Not that regular turkey would have been a bad taste—just kind of strange, maybe? There's a certain consistency to a good turkey dog that just rocks when served within a cornbread shell. And the wooden stick never hurts. I don't know what it is, but food always tastes better on a stick: think lollipops, cotton candy, shish kabobs, and that corn-on-the-cob that Latinos eat with butter, mayo, chili powder, and lime. Mmmm.

Sonia gives these a 4. That's a really good score for Sonia for a corn dog. And...I...think...I'm totally gonna go out on a limb and give these the first perfect score I've given anything in a long time. 5. Boom. There it is.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Trader Joe's Quinoa and Black Bean Infused Tortilla Chips and Trader Joe's Edamame Hummus

Sometimes, I'll admit, I get a little tired of some of Trader Joe's offerings. Take, for example, these pretzels. I definitely think they're good and all, but I feel like I pick them up every week for work lunches along with some of the same Mexi-knockoff fare. A big part of it is, I just don't see a great alternative most of the time, so I go to what I know what I can rely on. But still, I want to try something new if TJ's could just be bothered to go put something new on the shelves. By in large, I've felt the same about a lot of their chip and dip offerings. Granted, some combos are great, but when a few months go by and it's still the same old same old, well, I begin to get antsy for something new.

Sandy and I found ourselves in this boat on our most recent trip. We had plans to have some friends and family over for some homemade calzones later that night, so dangit, we needed a great, easy appetizer. The Falafel Chips (which we've had and chomped down before we thought about snapping a decent picture of them) were out of stock yet again* so we were down one tasty (and out of consideration for one guest, gluten-free) alternative. It wasn't looking good until...

Boom! Trader Joe's Quinoa and Black Bean Infused Tortilla Chips practically rose from the dusty bin like some cheesy glowing sitcom deus ex machina. Okay, well, not quite, but you get what I mean. It wasn't even a question, especially when considering some past tremendous experiences with some other bean-and-grain chips. Man, these chips are amazing. Each chip is thick and crunchy like any good stoneground corn tortilla chip should be, but have the added texture of quinoa coating sprinkled on each "bean-wah" chip (as I've caught myself calling them). Every bite definitely delivered not only that, but also a full tasty flavor coming from the beans with just the right amount of garlic and onion salt. Some might say they're a little salty, but to me, they're just right, as each chip is fully flavored on its own, but the taste won't interfere with your dip of choice. These were a great option with some leftover chipotle hummus we had from the week before, as well as...

...some Trader Joe's Edamame Hummus we picked up at the same time. Granted, this hummus isn't exactly a new product as we've seen it a few times, but haven't really tried it out, so let's just call it "new for us," mmmkay? Kinda like our recent vehicle purchase in that regard. Anyways, as we try to coach our two-and-a-half year old nephew to say, "hummus is yummus" and this one is no exception. Edamame is the rare veggie for Sandy in that it's acceptable in pretty much any fashon at any time. To call this a "hummus" seems a little off to me. Sure, it has all the good ingredients like tahini and garlic, etc, in it, but texture-wise it seems closer to a smooth guacamole rather than the usual smushed semi-grainy chickpea-ness of typical hummus. I'd say that it doesn't have an overly strong flavor - a little garlic, a little pepper, and a little, well, edamame - but paired together with these chips, I think it was perfect. Literally. No complaints at all.

I'll switch it up and do my ratings first this time. I might just be a little excited about some new flavors, but the quinoa/black bean chips are a rock solid perfect 5, while the edamame hummus...oh, what the heck, a 5 as well. Put the two together, and it's a personal pantheon level snack. While I didn't poll our dinner guests, judging by how everyone was scrambling for the chips and digging into the hummus, I'd say they weren't far behind. Sandy, though? Maybe she's returning the favor of me keeping these ridiculously good cookies from getting perfect marks, because I know she really liked them but she won't go with full fives. "Oh, something like a four for the beany chips, and something good for the humus, like a 3 or 3.5 or something," she said. I wanted to ask for a fuller explanation but she gave me a look that indicated that wouldn't be the best of ideas, so let's leave it at that. Eh well, For me personally, I can't wait to get tired of this snackalicious combo.

Bottom lines:
Trader Joe's Quinoa and Black Bean Infused Tortilla Chips: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Edamame Hummus: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
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* Yet another First World Problem.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Trader Joe's Journey to the Center of the Cookie

Sandy and I gave up sweets for Lent this year, and let me tell you: it sucks. It's way more difficult than I imagined it'd be. A couple years ago, I gave up beer and alcohol. It really wasn't that bad, aside from a night or two when I had a passing hankerin' for a Yuengling. Last year, we gave up meat. Now, that was a little tougher, but it led me to discover all sorts of vegetarian goodies, so all good. But sweets? Man, I never realized it, but I count on those to get me through the day. It's easily the toughest of the three things I mentioned to give up. I think it's because of where and when all of them are socially acceptable. Drinking in a bar's okay, while it's not while working or driving. Meat's okay in your cubicle if your workplace has a lenient "food-at-desk" policy and in your vehicle if you don't mind dripping a turkey leg around everywhere, but it's not like you would keep a bag of bacon stashed away somewhere for constant snacking (unless you're more awesome than I am). Sweet sugary stuff? Acceptable everywhere except maybe the dentist chair or a diabetic convention. Candies and cookies and all that are just everywhere - you can't avoid them. I never thought it'd be so tough.

Fortunately, we ascribe to the practice that on Sundays you can take a break from your Lenten fast. Count the days up from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday and subtract the Sundays - it equals 40 days. That's why on Sunday, Sandy and I had peanut butter Oreos not once but twice before lunch, plotted a late night Rita's Italian Ice trip, and in between, when we stopped at Trader Joe's for our weekly grocery haul, we just knew we had to get these Journey to the Center of the Cookie(s) to get our chocolate fix in while we could.

Yeah, we're bad, but these cookies certainly aren't. In fact, they're pretty fantastic despite being such a basic product in the freezer section. All it takes is about 10 minutes in the oven to turn these tundrafied cookie pucks into warm, soft, chewy, gooey, oozey chocolate chip cookies with a lake of milk chocolate in the middle spilling all over the cookie and into your mouth. Oh goodness - so good. If you're familiar with the Nestle Tollhouse recipe for chocolate chip cookies (the best in my opinion), the cookie portion is a dead ringer for them. Sandy and I ate at least the first few bites of ours with a fork (calling to mind a classic Seinfeld episode) since they were so gooey and melty. These would be perfect with a scoop of vanilla ice ream, which we unfortunately didn't have. These cookies are large, soft, delicious, and after a week of being self-deprive of chocolate, simply hit the spot.

"I really can't think of any way these could be any better," Sandy said. I agree. The only negative I can think of are the nutritional facts (avert your eyes! - sorry it's so blurry, that's not intentional), which let's face it, these are certainly not an everyday kinda treat anyways. If you're gonna spoil yourself for a day, you gotta go whole hog. Also, at $2.99 a pair, they're not exactly overpriced, but not cheap either. With a little ice cream, though, just one of these cookies makes a good shareable dessert for two, I'd think. unless you and your dessert buddy are chocaholics. That may become an issue. Perhaps it's because of the lack of sweets from much of the week, but Sandy went ahead and gave these bad boys a perfect five? Me? I'm tempted but objectively, to me, they're not quite pantheon level. That doesn't mean I can't put these journey cookies on the doorstep of greatness.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Journey to the Center of the Cookie: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, March 19, 2012

Trader Joe's Shredded Hash Browns

Irish people are into potatoes, right? Or at least they grow potatoes in Ireland I think. So it's kinda fitting that we review some kind of potato item around St. Patrick's Day weekend, right?

I've never been into hash browns or potato tots or anything super potatoey—except fries. (Although I must admit TJ's potato snacks are tasty). Even chips aren't my favorite...unless they're super saturated with sour cream and onion or barbecue sauce flavor. I'll eat a baked potato now and again because they're sorta good for you (until you slather them with sour cream, butter, and salt) but overall, I'm rarely in the mood for actual potato flavor.

For breakfast yesterday morning, Sonia cooked up a nice, tasty omelette and these hash browns. Just as I was about to dump salt, pepper, and hot sauce on them, I hesitated for a moment. Perhaps one of my Scotch-Irish ancestors whispered in my ear..."taaaaste the potatoes..." So I did. I ate them plain. Although, my Scotch-Irish ancestors would have been Protestant and loyal to Britain, not Catholic and loyal to Ireland, and would probably not have celebrated St. Patrick's Day nor held any sort of national pride associated with potatoes or potato products. But who cares, anyway? Irish people are cool and potatoes are a staple here in the States, too.

The only ingredients in this bag are potatoes and dextrose. Apparently dextrose is basically the same thing as glucose. Personally, I'd rather see "glucose" on the ingredients list, because I have a pretty decent idea what that is. Why we need dextrose or glucose in our hash browns, I'm not quite sure. But considering those are the ONLY two ingredients, I'm not going to complain a whole lot. They tasted very natural to me...and surprisingly flavorful even without salt or anything. (I did eventually put some hot sauce on them. Hot sauce makes everything better). But I could have eaten the whole serving plain.

Sonia said the opposite. She thinks the Crystal Farms Simply Potatoes that we get from Target on occasion taste more fresh and natural than these. To tell you the truth, I think I like TJ's a bit better, even though they come frozen, and Crystal Farms just come refrigerated. But anyway, I think it's time for last looks. I'm gonna give 'em a 3.5 out of 5. Not bad for someone who's not into plain potato products. Sonia gives them a 2.5. She thinks if Target can beat TJ's, that TJ's just has to work a little harder. But what are they going to do? Add more dextrose?

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Trader Joe's Organic Split Pea Soup

When I was a kid, I loved pea soup. I'm not sure why really. For those of you who have been reading for a while...or even if you've only read one or two other posts of mine and just happen to be really perceptive, you've probably noticed that I have a sweet tooth, I love the same things kids love, and I'm not totally into healthy things unless they taste really good. I was even more that way as a wee one. I really didn't like healthy stuff.

But for some reason pea soup was an exception. Maybe it was because I crumbled about 20 Ritz crackers into the mix and was actually eating nothing but salt and bleached flour with maybe a hint of vegetable matter. Or maybe it was because I was eating Campbell's brand pea soup—which I haven't had in years, so I can't really do a direct comparison...but I have a feeling it would still taste a bit better than TJ's brand. Who knows?

All I know now is that after a very long hiatus without pea soup, coming back to it was not the joyous occasion I had anticipated. This soup tasted like what I would have thought pea soup would have tasted like before I ever tried pea soup as a kid. That is to say: it was bland, gritty, pasty, vegetabley health glop. Sure, organic, vegan, pea-based anything is going to lack a certain...excitement...but we've seen Trader Joe's do incredible things with organic, vegan soups before...I'm thinking Organic Tomato Bisque...and I really don't like tomatoes. At all. Cooked tomatoes and ketchup and that sort of thing, yes. Tomatoes, no. But that bisque...I could eat it everyday.

But I do like peas. So why didn't this very natural, untarnished pea-based soup do it for me? I don't know. It was just bland. It was pea-mush—and not much more.

Sonia liked it because it was so natural. She says it was filling, too. I suppose it might have been if I had been so inclined to eat a bowl and a half like she did. She says it's easy to prepare and highly portable. Aren't most soups easy to prepare and portable? I just don't think those are reasons to praise this soup beyond its due.

Now before you slather me with comments insinuating that I'm a big fat jerk that only likes junk food and is ungrateful for the earth's great and bountiful pea harvest, please take a moment to remember that I did indeed enjoy other varieties of pea soup in the past, and that just because I can see room for improvement with this one doesn't mean that I'm not extremely grateful that such sources of nourishment and sustenance are so extraordinarily affordable and plentiful in my 21st century western world.

That being said, with a clear conscience, I can give this item 2 out of 5 stars. Sonia gives it a 3.5.

Bottom line 5.5 out of 10.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Trader Joe's Chickenless Crispy Tenders

One thing I love/hate about the Internet is all the comments people leave at the end of articles. Like, I love all the ones you, our faithful readers, leave on ours, so keep 'em coming, we do read 'em! Conversely, see the comment section of pretty much any CNN article, and yeah...not a fan. I bring this up because occasionally over the past few months I've really enjoyed reading the comments people have left on the article written about this blog on The Daily Meal and Shine! from Yahoo (same article). Chances are, it's how you found our blog as it's gotten a lot of play since last summer. But man, the comments....some are kind, some like to rip on me because I admitted to not really liking sushi and so I *cannot* be a legitimate foodie reviewer (which I've made no claim to ever being), but one in particular got my attention, and gets me rolling on the floor. Whoever left it said, because we feature vegetarian and meatless options so much, and fake meat products in particular, Nathan and I must be undercover rogue vegetarians trying to brainwash society into giving up meat. Listen, you're talking about a guy who keeps thinking about keeping a spreadsheet of all the different kinds of animal he's eaten (I really should, I could think of a couple dozen if I tried, I'm sure, and all of them delicious) and loves bacon, meatloaf, medium raw steak, and even scrapple. Listen, you have to really like animally stuff to like scrapple. If you don't know what it is, a friend of mine best sums it up as "Eastern PA haggis," so use your imagination. And I remember hanging out with Nathan just enough back in college to more or less recall his diet, and let's just say there weren't too many veggie and quinoa nights.


But yeah...I do like a lot of Trader Joe's meatless/fake meat products. I've run through them enough times that I'm not going to do it again. I asked Sandy why we eat so much soy/grain based fake meat, when we both like the real thing just as much. Her answer: "Because we haven't had a bad experience yet." That's true enough, so when we saw a new shiny bag of Chickenless Crispy Tenders in the freezer aisle, we knew it was time again to give it the ol' college try.



It's not a bad product. For $2.99, you get about nine two-or-three bite sized tenders, so it's more than enough for a couple hungry adults for dinner. We baked them up alongside some tasty Trader Tots for a quick and easy meal. The "meat" is a little different from some other of their fake chicken products, where it tastes and feel like the intention is to assimilate an actual chicken chunk a little more closely. In these crispy tenders, it still tastes pretty darn and close to the real thing, but seems in texture and bite to be more like the stuff that goes inside a chicken patty or nugget. Does that make sense? Anyways, no real complaints there. The breading isn't bad either. I kinda like how they tried to do something a little different and put some oats and some crunchy bits of not-sure-what in. I don't like how a lot of it stuck to the baking sheet and by and large seemed to lack a little flavor. That's not awful if you view things like chicken strips as dipping sauce delivery devices (indeed, they went well with the sweet chili sauce and hot sauce we had on hand), but still, a little shake of black pepper or a little more paprika would've made a difference for them.

Regardless, both Sandy and I liked them. If there's anyone on the blog team that'd try to convince you to go vegetarian, it'd be her as she's talked about it once or twice. Whenever she does, I start sizzling up the bacon, and it's amazing how quickly that thought train derails. "Yeah, we'd get these again," she said. I think we would, too. They're not the best fake meat product that Trader Joe's offers, but they're not the worst (not like there's really bad ones we've stumbled across). Based primarily on breading issues, Sandy's going with a 3.5, whereas I see those concerns, quibble slightly about the price, and settle on a 3.5 as well.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chickenless Crispy Tenders: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Trader Joe's 100% Pineapple Juice

I could not believe it. Last Labor Day, while on vacation at Disneyland, just as it got to be mid-afternoon with the sun high up and in sweltering heat, Sandy starts pleading with me that we go in and see the Enchanted Tiki Room. You know what I'm talking about - all those stupid animatronic birds singing some stupid song that gets lodged in your brain for thirteen years. I know it's thirteen years, because in 1998, I was at the one at Disneyworld, and had finally forgotten it existed until we got inside Disneyland. If you don't know what I'm talking about, do yourself a favor and never watch this YouTube video. "Come on, it's part of the experience, we gotta do it!!," she said. Well, fine, I said, mostly to have a seat in the shade and cool down for a bit. That's not the unbelievable part. The crazy part - the line. Oh gracious. It wrapped around the building and halfway to Albuquerque. I thought we were doomed to spend an hour in line just to have our ear drums and sensibilities assaulted by a chorus of robotic parrots.

Well, it's a good thing I made some offhand comment to Mr Mustache and Fannypack in front of us about the absurdity of it all, as he said, "Tiki Room? Seriously? This is the line for fresh-squeezed pineapple juice. The Tiki Room line is over there!" Indeed, we zipped right in and the show was barely half-full. That goes to prove two things: 1. Reasonable people will go to absurd lengths to get (presumably) good, quality pineapple juice. 2. Most reasonable people will avoid the Enchanted Tiki Room at all costs. I personally think the whole experience in there (and also on the "Its a Small World" ride) would be greatly improved if they gave you a BB gun as you entered.

Anyways, it's a lot easier to get Trader Joe's 100% Pineapple Juice. It's just there sitting on a shelf, a fourpack for $2.99, just waiting to be bought. As the name implies, it's all pineapple, no more, no less. I think when purchasing it I had in mind it'd be kinda like the leftover juice from canned pineapple (which I'll admit, I like) or at the very least, some pulpy/clumpy sugary bonanza. It's kinda sad that's how I anticipated this pineapple juice will taste, because of course pineapple is one of nature's tastiest fruits, and the canned version does it no justice. Instead of what I assumed it'd be inside, the TJ juice turned out to be a light, slightly sweet, pulp free juice. There's definitely not anything extra they're trying to sneak in. It's just simple, clean, delicious juice. It's as if Gallagher used his Sledge-O-Matic to smash pineapples and then filtered and funneled all the juice into these cans. You gotta do what you gotta do in this economy, and, well, when's the last time you saw Gallagher anywhere?

Anyways, yeah, both Sandy and I liked it. The can size (8.5 ounceish) seems more conducive to a quick grab on the way out the door then lounging around the house, but, well, that's what we did anyways. Unlike most of our juice purchases, I will attempt to share the remaining two cans equally with her; however I make no guarantees. Also I will resist the urge to gulp this down in about 5 seconds as I easily could, and instead try to actually taste it. Really, I have no real complaints about it, except I was still a little thirsty after I finished mine. Sandy didn't have much to say about it except to give it a good solid four, which sounds just about right to me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's 100% Pineapple Juice: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, March 12, 2012

Trader Joe's Santa Fe Style Chicken Flatbread Wrap

It's dangerous to go to Trader Joe's while hungry. I mean, really, it is. I picked up Sandy from work a few nights ago and as we made our way over to TJ's (it's literally halfway between her job and our house). we discussed what we'd like for dinner. When hungry, I tend to go by power of suggestion, and since she's expecting* and all, I asked her what she wanted for dinner. "Hmm...hot dogs and tater tots," she says. I can go for that, and before y'all freak out, we were talking about these nitrate free chicken beauties that TJ's has, so chill, it's cool. We get there, and the front display is all about their Wisconsin cheddar mac 'n cheese. She's already inside with a box in her hand as I pull the cart in. "Ooooh, I meant hot dogs and mac 'n cheese!," she exclaims. Okay, yes dear, we can do that instead. A few more steps in, and we stop and take a look at one or two of our fresh pizza top choices, and as we debate them, I see these new-fangled Santa Fe Style Chicken Flatbread Wraps. Instinctively, I think to myself, "Hmm, lunch?" But the gleam in Sandy's eyes tell me differently. "Dinner! Right here!" Yes, love. I wagered they'd be good with some chips and salsa or something of the sort, but as we walk by the produce, Sandy changes her mind to baked potatoes. So yes, that's what we had for dinner...a prepackaged ready-to-eat convenience item paired with something that takes nearly an hour in the oven so she can take a warm bath before dinner. Somehow, this is normal for us. God, I love her, even though she causes a case of some good ol' non-lice-related headscratchin' every once in a while.

So, here we go, TJ's Santa Fe Style Chicken Flatbread Wrap. It actually should be Wraps as it's a two pack with a cup of salsa verde for your $3.99. I'll start with the not so good, as it's obvious with the accompanying photo here: our wraps came prebusted. Both flatbreads were broken in half when we opened the package, causing some innards to spill out. It's not the first time something got mishandled that we bought, but it was off to a bad start. My theory is the flatbread itself is a little too thick to be flexible enough to roll with the S & H punches. Despite that, the flatbread is pretty decent tasting. as it's all nice and pillowy. There's a bit too much of it, though, especially because there's just not quite enough filling to go around in each wrap. The picture's a little misleading, I think, because if there's one thing it doesn't lack, it's the cheddar. Predictably, it's scroogey in the meat department (between the two, there *might* have been one reputable serving) and there's not enough black beans and corn to fill the void. I mean it all tastes good, there's just not quite enough in it. I think twice as much filling could fit in the wrapper, not that that much more would be necessary. As an added bonus for spice addicts like me, when the packaging just said "peppers" they really meant "jalapeños" and the salsa verde is legitimately hot for a salsa verde. I had mine cold as is, which I thought was pretty decent, while Sandy preferred to heat hers up a little, which she said made a big difference to her.

"I wouldn't go out of my way to get this again, but I wouldn't not get it again," Sandy said. Man, her double negatives sometimes...she's as bad with those as I can be with my ellipses while writing..."Maybe if we were on our way to a ballgame or something," she said. Well, I wouldn't recommend trying to eat this while driving, but I got her point, and I agree. I think we both wanted to like it more than we did, because chicken, black beans, corn, salsa, cheese and all, that's our style. It wasn't quite a dinner time fail, but it wasn't all that impressive, though with some tweaks, I think it could be a legitimate star. Eh well. I can't recall if she said a 2.5 or 3 for her rating, so I'm saying whichever one she didn't.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Santa Fe Style Chicken Flatbread Wrap: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
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* "What? A velociraptor?" as one of our friends likes to say when she hears the phrase "I'm/we're expecting." Cracks me up every time.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Trader Joe's Super Nutty Toffee Clusters

Ah...remember the 80's? (cue Goat Boy's baa-ing). Sonia and I got into an epic conversation the other day about how great it was growing up in the 80's. Two of the prime components of those glorious youthful days were Saturday morning cartoons and the breakfast cereals we'd inhale as we consumed those primitive animated TV shows—or "30 minute-long toy commercials" as some have put it. A cynical, yet not inaccurate observation.

The conversation flowed over Masters of the Universe, She-Ra, and beyond. The Smurfs (before they were C.G.) and the Shirt Tales were mentioned. We disagreed a bit on cereals. I thoroughly enjoyed tooth-rotting rice and sugar based cereals like Fruity Pebbles, while Sonia preferred tooth-rotting corn and sugar based cereals like Froot Loops. (Mexicans are all about their maize). But we had some common ground on tooth-rotting oat and sugar based cereals like Lucky Charms, which we both thoroughly enjoyed.

Then we proceeded to talk about the "healthy" cereals we enjoy as adults, such as Basic 4, Raisin Nut Bran, and Cracklin' Oat Bran. All classics. And in my opinion, they all overshadow this Nutty Toffee nonsense. It's certainly not terrible, but it's not my favorite. As much of a sweet tooth as I may have, I'm not really into the whole "toffee" thing. I've eaten some Heath and Skor bars in my day, but they're just nothing compared to Zero or Snickers. It must be the nougat. (Note to self: invent cereal featuring massive amounts of nougat and market it as being sorta healthy).

But anyway, I do have to be almost kinda sort of slightly objective. My opinion isn't the only opinion. So I'm going to semi-objectively describe this cereal to you. It's similar to Honey Bunches of Oats or Honey Nut Clusters. The flakes are light and...well, flakey. And then there are little clustery things. (Hence the word "cluster" in the title). Only, in this cereal the clusters are full of mapley-nutty-toffee-matter instead of honey-oat-matter. They could have totally called this "Nutty Bunches of Toffee." Now don't get me wrong, I don't mind Honey Bunches of Oats or anything, I just don't think it's among the truly great cereals of our time like the ones mentioned in the paragraph above. It's a little overrated if you ask me. Also, you'll have to love toffee to love this cereal. And nuts. And not just good nuts like almonds and pecans, but also Brazil nuts—which, in my humble opinion, are nearly as revolting as pine nuts, which are, in my humble opinion, the worst nuts EVER. (Brazil nuts being the second to worst nuts EVER). Again, don't get me wrong. I love Brazil. Two of the nicest people I've ever met were from Brazil. I roomed with one of them for a while. And I absolutely admire that country's commitment to using biodiesel instead of ozone-depleting fossil fuels. And they produce good soccer players. It's just their nuts I'm not a big fan of.

Sonia gives Trader Joe's Toffee-ish Clusters of Nuts a 3.5. She likes it overall, but thinks it's too hearty. She's not crazy about Brazil nuts either. I give it a 2.5. But if you're a fan of Brazil nuts, toffee, Honey Bunches of Oats, and little clustery do-dads, then by all means, go for it.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Penne Pasta...and More

Sundays usually are my favorite day of the week. I really don't care that the day after Sunday is Monday, meaning a whole new work week. My take on Mondays is, they make up 1/7th of your life, so you may as well enjoy them. Thursday, though? If I had to say I didn't like one day of the week, I think I'd pick Thursdays. By then, I'm usually ready for it to be Friday, but it isn't yet. That's really not Thursday's fault, as I'm guessing it just drew the short stick in the days of the week rotation, but tough noogies. Anyways, Sundays. Love them. Like this past Sunday, it meant a little sleeping in, church, lunch with my folks who were visiting from out of town, a run out to get a crib on sale and to make a stop by the used bookstore before visiting a friend who just had a baby, and some Rita's before finally heading home to relax with some Netflix and our puppy. All in all, it was a good day, and despite some of the busy-ness, it was pretty relaxing, too. In fact, it was so relaxing that it took a couple episodes of "Bizarre foods" to realize how hungry we were. It was time for dinner, and both Sandy and I needed something good and easy.

I quickly thought to myself, "Okay, we have Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Penne Pasta.... a bag of his Party Size Mini Meatballs...and some of that Giotto fella's Three Cheese Pomodoro Pasta Sauce....voila!" Pasta and meatballs are such a good comfort food, yet so simple, so let's run thru these one at a time here.

First off, we have the whole wheat penne, which in the gluten world is the complete opposite of these a-maize-ing noodles. Both Sandy and I really like the corn pasta (pretty happy there's a widened selection at our usual shop!) and to be honest, we should have stuck to it. The corn pasta tastes pretty close to regular noodles, whereas these, not so much. Simply stated, these are too wheaty, in all the wrong ways. Appearancewise, these boil down to this very drab, unappetizing watery colorless grain tube. The penne itself is thicker and chewier (think of the difference between homemade bread made with and without wheat flour, and you got an idea), while tasting kinda grainy. I guess we should've expected that. I liked them a little bit, which is more than poor Sandy did. "Blah," she said. Yet, we plowed on thru them, because it's not only bad to waste food, but also we had...

...a good helping of Party Size Mini Meatballs to go on them! Whoo-hoo! Party on, Wayne! Well, okay, they're not so spectacular. But that doesn't mean they're not good. Each meatball is made of both beef and pork (two animals = bonus) with whatever the usual kinda meatbally spices are. They're pretty well seasoned, for sure. I also like them because, as opposed to regular-size frozen meatballs, these mini guys defrost all the way thru while cooking them. Unless I cut them in half, the bigger ones tend to scorch on the outside while remaining tundrified in the middle. I figure these are a good option if you're the type who likes to fancy-glop up some meatballs on a toothpick for a party hors d'oeuvres, too, but for the two of us, they work for a regular ol' dinner. Both of us, despite the shortcomings of the pasta, enjoyed pretty much every bite that had at least a little meatball action on t, particularly if also smothered by....

...some of Trader Giotto's Three Cheese Pomodoro Pasta Sauce! To be honest, I'm not a fan of most of TJ's pasta sauces as they come in a jar. I find I have to doctor them a little bit to make them palatable to me. Not this. There's not a thing I would either add to or subtract from this sauce. It's light and mild, certainly not acidic, and has plenty of cheesy goodness to it between the romano, Parmesan and asiago cheese. I'd venture to say that unless you're a shaker cheese addict, it's fairly unnecessary for this sauce. There's also little bits of diced onion and garlic in there. It's just good. The only thing is, there's occasionally a medium-ish chunk of onion or cheese or some other ingredient that get's mixed in. I've noticed that in a few different jars we've bought, and poor Sandy (who's chunky-cooked-veggie adverse enough as is) pulled one out of her bowl much to her displeasure, and looked at me quite incredulously as I first inspected then ingested it. "Weirdo," she said. She certainly got that part right.

Anyways, so that's that, except for ratings. I don't recall the exact prices on these, but think the pasta was around $2 for the package, whereas the meatballs and sauce were more in the general $2.50-$3 range. Put us down for low marks each for the wheat pasta (say, a 1 for the Mrs. and a 2.5 for me? Not gonna argue.). For the meatballs, let's say a 4 each, and for the sauce, a 5 for me and 3.5 for my beautiful wife. I'm guesstimating her marks based on reaction and a couple things she said. Clearly, her favorite part of our dinner was the meatballs. I should have been more of a gentleman and offered her some more of mine, and even pull out the whole "Lady and the Tramp" routine, but I liked them too much myself, especially with my favorite TJ pasta sauce so far. I'll save the wheat pasta for a night when I can choke them down as she babysits...like she usually does on Thursday nights when I rarely see her much...hmm, coincidence?

Bottom lines:
Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Penne Pasta: 3.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Party Size Mini Meatballs: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Giotto's Three Cheese Pomodoro Pasta Sauce: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Trader Joe's Mini Chicken Tamalitos

If you've read this blog for any amount of time, you know how I feel about lunch, particularly at work: a necessary evil. I'm just not a fan. Part of it is, if there's any general selection of anything that Trader Joe's fails to impress me with, it's decent lunch options, in at least the price range I'm willing to pay (about $2 for an entree). Yeah, I'm cheap, but got a kid on the way, and my Subaru just crapped out after a rough 18 years of life (I knew I shouldn't have said anything about its cupholders a couple weeks ago), so, I'm justified. At least to myself. Anyways, there are some options, like this, that, and that other thing, but it's the same, week after week after week. I need something new, dangit, and it's an added bonus if it's something that will make my fastfood-baggin' coworkers look at me funny. I cannot tell you how shocked I was to see this package discarded in the trash at work the other day, and not by me, so there's hope for them yet.

I guess that's why I picked up the Mini Chicken Tamalitos last week. They're a little pricier than I would have usually liked at $3.99, but I figured I could make two lunches from them, so it works. I know what you're thinking: "Hmm, frozen microwavable tamales. Yeah right." Well, if the bigger version works according to our resident tamale expert, I had hope for these pequeño pieces, too.

A little water in the bottom of some Tupperware, a damp paper towel over, a little plastic wrap and a couple minutes in the microwave are what you need for these. The result is a steamy hot little tamale to unhusk for your dining pleasure. These work. No, seriously. Take a look at the picture I took of one I intentionally sliced in half: soft warm corn masa wrap, a respectable amount of decent white meat chicken, and lots of glowing red spices that actually have a little kick to them. Si, delicioso. Each tamale is about two or three bites, so four or five of them is plenty for lunch, especially if you have some of your favorite sidekick pretzels. I've had fresh homemade tamales in Mexico, and while these TJ creations certainly can't hold a candle to them, they're respectable enough in their own way for both taste and texture. I really don't have much of an issue with them.

There is, of course, one goofy thing about them. In Spanish, if you put an -ito or -ita on the end of the word, the word then means "little ___." That's why "burrito" means "little donkey" and "Judge Ito" means "little judge." Likewise, "tamalito" equates to "little tamale." Not a problem, except there's also the word "mini" in the product name, which either makes the name redundant ("mini chicken little tamales"), or there's the implication that Trader Joe's has cultivated and harvested an entire race of micro-chickens for the sole purpose of creating these tamales and just maybe these tacos. I wouldn't put it beyond them, but man, that's a lot of unnecessary effort.

Anyways, as with most of my lunch escapades, it's just me grading these. Sandy's a little adverse to most tamales anyways as the texture of the masa dough usually gets to her, so I'm not sure she'd be a willing participant this time around anyways. Anyways, like I said, I really like these, perhaps a little more than I really should. Probably some of it has to do with when a random coworker asked me if you eat the husks, too. My only semi-valid complaint is, although they remain mostly intact, each teeny tamale I scarfed down had some of the stuff stick to the corn husk. Even though I used them for lunch, think of any time or situation where you could use a handful of tasty little tamales, and yeah, they'll work. Other than the sticking issue, I find myself swaying between a four and a four and a half for them, so let's just say a little of Column A and a little of Column B.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mini Chicken Tamalitos: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Trader Joe's Tofu Edamame Nuggets


Prior to this, the only time I've ever eaten edamame was straight out of the pea-pod at sushi restaurants. I'd dip them in the soy sauce bowl, slurp the beans out one by one, and then discard the pod in a nearby bowl and try as hard as I could not to confuse the already-eaten bowl with the non-eaten one. (It's totally gross when you stick an empty pea-pod in your mouth that's just recently been in someone else's mouth).

Aside from the misleading photo on the packaging, featuring some exotic, delicious Asian sauce that totally doesn't come with this product, I was quite delighted with these snacktacular hors d'oeuvres. They're different. We've seen plenty of veggie dishes that blatantly try to rip off the real thing, such as chickenless orange chicken. But these don't seem to be imitating something with meat. They just are what they are. Delicious. And they happen to be meat-free.

There's a crispy outer-shell that's kind of reminiscent of the breading on a normal nugget...yet somehow better. Inside, there are whole edamame beans and...well, some other meatless stuff. There are bits of thinly-sliced carrots. There's tofu. It's a great balance of nuggetiness and bean/carrot/veggie-ness.

We ate them with a sauce that Sonia made out of mayo, lime juice, hot sauce, garlic powder, and onion powder. And also, in a separate bowl, we dipped them in soy sauce. Both sauces = yumtastic.

These nuggets were quite foreign to my tastebuds' experience up to this point, and yet, their essence was undeniably Asian. They went well with the soy sauce—also Asian, but they could have been eaten with any number of dips, too. If you dare, try them with ketchup or honey mustard or something American. But I'm pretty sure most Asian-inspired dipping sauces would totally rock with these bad boys. Sesame sauce, sweet and sour sauce, orange sauce, teriyaki sauce...and if you're really brave, try them with a thai peanut sauce or maybe even wasabi...? (Though not necessarily all together).

Definitely prepare these nuggets in the oven. Makes them happy, crispy critters. Sonia gives them a 4. I agree. Although, they totally would have gotten a 4.5 if they had come with that Asian-looking sauce in the picture. Maybe even a 5 if the sauce were any good...

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Trader Joe's Tuscan Italian Dressing

Considering Russ's last post was an Italian item—or at least an item with an Italian-sounding name, I figured I should go ahead and do this Tuscan Italian dressing and keep the theme going for a bit. I'll just start off by saying this is one of the best salad dressings I've had in a long time.

We had it with spinach and lettuce and onions and...well, you know...salad stuff. And really, just a very simple salad and this dressing is all you need for a tasty side dish. I was quite impressed.

Lately, I've come to develop quite a taste for balsamic vinaigrette, and also raspberry vinaigrette. And I've always had a thing for creamy Italian. This delectable dressing tastes like a combination of creamy Italian and raspberry vinaigrette. There's no mention of raspberry on the label or the ingredients, but to me, there's some kind of berry-esque-ness implicit in every bite. It's subtle, but I could swear it's there. Sonia agrees.

Sonia likes it because "it's not too oily or salty." She also likes it because she's obsessed with Tuscany and insists we need to go there someday. And, ah, perhaps someday we will...on our massive year-long backpacking through Europe journey that we've dreamed of since we met. And, hey, if all of the dressing there is as good as this one, I'll be a happy camper. Way to go, Trader Joe. Shoulda gone with "Trader Giotto" for this one. It's that good.

We totally dropped the ball and didn't take a pic of the nutrition information for this one. But we can tell you that there's 10g of fat in a 2 tablespoon serving, which is actually pretty average for a salad dressing of this kind.

Sonia gives it 4 out of 5 stars. I'm gonna go ahead and give it a 4.5. Imagine that: candy-craving, junkfood-loving me giving a salad accessory a near-perfect score...

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.