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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Monday, April 30, 2012

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter

If you're like me, or rather like I was just several short minutes ago, you haven't the foggiest clue what speculoos are. But now that you've checked out that wikipedia link, you feel somewhat enlightened. The first time I had ever seen or heard this word was right there on the jar of this product.

But a bigger - and perhaps slightly more revealing clue to the taste of this Cookie Butter is also right there on the jar, but closer to the bottom: "gingerbread." Ah, now you're speaking my language, Trader Joe. I know what gingerbread is. I know what gingerbread cookies are. I know what gingerbread men are. I think most of us have seen Shrek.





And the part about being "deliciously unusual" kind of made me raise an eyebrow the first time I read it. Any time you use a word like "unusual" on the label of a food product, you had better add something about deliciousness, or you simply won't sell your product. It's just kind of a marketing no-brainer.

But at any rate, marketing gimmick or not, the phrase "deliciously unusual" pretty much nails this TJ's Cookie Butter in my opinion. "A deliciously unusual spread reminiscent of gingerbread and made with crushed biscuits." That whole spiel is pretty darn accurate, if you ask me, except for maybe the very last part.

Oh—and for those of you who don't speak British, "biscuit" is what they call a cookie in the UK. However, I find no evidence of any cookie texture at all. If this stuff ever came in the form of a biscuit or cookie or whatever, it has been pulverized well beyond recognition. The phrase "crushed biscuits" makes me think of chunkiness. But this stuff is smoooth. Aww yeeeah. Smooth like you should be imagining Isaac Hayes saying "smooth" instead of a nerdy foodie-hack white boy—which, incidentally, is how you should be imagining the rest of this article being spoken—if, in fact, you imagine food reviews being spoken out loud as you read them at all.

This stuff is...just...good. We tried it on pancakes and toast. Win. Win. Tried it just off the spoon. Win. It's not at all oily. It's smooth like butter, but it's actually better than butter.

"Better than butter, baby," interjected Isaac Hayes.

That's right. If you like - or really even just tolerate gingerbread, I can't imagine you not liking this product. It's in the upper echelon of spreads. It's right up there with Peanut Butter, Nutella, and Marshmallow Fluff. Really probably better than Marshmallow Fluff. And I like Marshmallow Fluff.

Sonia agrees that it's a winner. This is exactly what we expect from Trader Joe. A weird product that's actually good. Uniqueness done right. TJ's takes risks—and while many of those experiments fall flat on their faces, this Cookie Butter is case in point for why this blog exists.

4.5 stars from Sonia. 5 stars from me.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10 stars.




Thursday, April 26, 2012

Trader Joe's Chicken Breast in Poblano Sauce

A poblano is a type of pepper. Beyond that, my wife and I aren't sure if the word means anything—and Sonia is fluent in Spanish. If we had to take a guess just based on the sauce on this TJ's dish, we'd probably guess that "poblano" means "bland." If we had to take a guess based on the dish as a whole, we'd probably go with "nasty."

At some point not too long ago, we had a TJ's fan write on our Facebook page that this particular Chicken Poblano item was excellent. Now, mind you, we know that from time to time there are extreme discrepancies between regions when it comes to people's experiences with Trader Joe's products. The Sockeye Salmon comes to mind. Apparently, in most places, the salmon Trader Joe uses in that product is barely fit for consumption by your cat, let alone yourself. But here and there, you'll find a batch fresh enough that it's not only passable, but relatively tasty.

So I'm not going to call that person out there who claims that this Chicken Poblano is delicious a liar. I'm merely going to state matter-of-factly that our experience was something entirely different—and Sonia and I are 100% on the same page about this one. We were both thoroughly disappointed.

The chicken itself was barely enjoyable. It was fatty and gristly. Both Sonia and I got at least one bite that we had to spit into our napkins because of an excess of...??...something unchewable. Overall the chicken lacked flavor, and the bites of tender, juicy white meat were far and few between.

The sauce was even worse. It was virtually flavorless. With so many ingredients, we both hoped that at least one of them would come through to spice up the dish. But nothing. Just a bland mush. We were both independently shocked by the lack of flavor. We both expect more from TJ's.

I never want readers to think we're taking a cheap shot at Trader Joe's. We're fans and always have been. But once in a while, we come across a product that is so sorely disappointing that if it had been our first experience with TJ's, it may have also been our last. This was one of those meals. I'm not saying that someone else couldn't have had a very different experience...because I know at least one person out there is somehow a fan of this product. I'm interested to see what kind of comments we get with this one. Whose dish was the anomaly? The person who loved it? Or Sonia and I?

Sonia gives it 1 star, stating simply, "terrible." That sounds about right to me. We'll never buy it again.

Bottom line: 2 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Trader Joe's Mini Cheddar Chipotle Potato Bites

Okay, for once, I don't have any long, drawn-out cutesy tales about potatoes or whatever. I can't even think of a decent way I can use these Trader Joe's Mini Cheddar Chipotle Potato Bites to poke some fun at my wife. I mean, a potato is a potato, right? There's really not anything that can be said for it, except, dangit, they're good in nearly every incarnation. I cannot think of a single bad thing to say about potatoes, which is really kinda the best thing one can say about something. Potatoes are even better when you use them as base for all sorts of toppings and goodies. For me, it's tough to beat a little butter and some cheese, but if there's bacon, some sour cream, and something spicy available, well, hey, they're all welcome to the party, too. I don't discriminate.

That's pretty much exactly what you get with these potato bites. For $3.99 a box, you get a bunch of the little Lilliputian hors d'oeuvres which are a reasonable knock-off of one of those 37 pieces of flair-type restaurant appetizers. They're kinda better in some ways while not as good in others. Let me explain. First and foremost, when's the last time you actually tasted any potato in a loaded potato skin-type dish? For me, I'd have to say...never. There's all the stuff glopped on top that keeps your tastebuds way too otherwise occupied. Not these Trader Joe's tasty taters. Every single bite had plenty of warm, soft, baked potato to it. Absolutely delicious in that regard.

The issue is, aside from the potato, the predominant tastes are cheddar cheese and sour cream, both of which are pretty mild. Now that's not a bad thing, but both the box and my eyes tell me there's also supposed to be chipotle peppers and bacon in here. Can't taste either, though, and I really wish I could. There's maybe a vague hint of smokiness but that's as close as it gets. That's kinda disappointing, because dangit, I know how good potatoes and cheese and bacon and hot peppers taste together. That's what I like to fill my own homemade pierogis with, and with a little sour cream to top them off, they're perfect. These could be almost as good...oh great...I just made myself hungry for homemade pierogis...do you have any idea how much work those are?...dangit...I digress...

Anyways, Sandy loves these potato bites. Loves them. From what I've heard she's been yapping to a bunch of her coworkers how good they are, and in the few days since we've polished them off, she's said more than once about how much she wishes we still had some around the house to munch on down. The only slightly negative thing I've heard her say about them is how she wishes they had just a little kick to them. Anyways, they're a 4.5 in her book, and I imagine next tme we go to TJ's she'll pick these up and give me the puppy dog eyes to convince me to get them again. She won't have to try too hard, because overall I like them too, despite how much better the mini spuds could be. Let's say I like them 3.5 Golden Spoons worth.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mini Cheddar Chipotle Potato Bites: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Trader Joe's Reduced Fat Battered Shrimp

It can be ridiculous, what you have to go through sometimes for some good, relatively inexpensive seafood. Take Sandy's and my recent stop by in Baltimore to see the National Aquarium after spending a couple days in DC and before seeing my folks for the night a little outside Philly. Baltimore's Inner Harbor is one teeming tourist-trap central, and the town's known for their crabcakes, so hey, that's a tasty sounding lunch idea that firmly lodged itself into my beautiful wife's noggin. So, after oohing at the puffins and ogling all the sharks, we exited the aquarium in search of lunch. All the fancy-schmancy, $25-a-crabcake, places were open, but, uh, that's just a little steep for us. So we went out in search of other places around the harbor, looking them up on Yelp and whatnot, just to find every seafood joint was closed for renovations. Seriously? it's April, prime tourist season, and you're closed? That's not so bright. Anyways, it became obvious to find some affordable lunch, we'd have to leave the Inner Harbor, but we also wanted to go up and see Camden Yards and the Babe Ruth Museum that's only two blocks away from there, and our car was already parked as close as it was gonna get for something like $25 for the day, so I guess somehow or other we figured it was alright enough of an idea to go scope out those places, growling tummies be darned. Like pretty much every other walk we planned that weekend, it turned out to be a a lot farther than we thought (keep in mind, my wife's 30ish weeks pregnant, so that doesn't help matters) so by the time we were done there, I left Sandy at a place where she could sit and get a cold drink as I ran back towards the Harbor to get our car. In that time, she found a great, local, hole-in-the-wall kinda place (our favorite kind of restaurant) just a few miles away, right off I-95, called LP Steamers where the two of us got a delicious seafood feast for the price of a crabcake and maybe a Sprite at one of the supertouristymucketymuck places. Great find.

Fortunately it's not always that tough, thank goodness. Take these Trader Joe's Reduced Fat Battered Shrimp. On my recent one man hunt-and-gather trip, all I had to do was spot them, think how tasty they looked, figure out if the price was right ($6.99, high potential for two dinners each for the two of us, so yup), then swipe my debit card at the checkout for them. Come home, fire up the oven, slide some on a cookie tray, go annoy the wife for a bit as they bake, then whip them out of the oven. Now that's what I call easy.

And these shrimp deliver, too. I mean, usualy I hear the words "reduced fat" and think "reduced taste," but these shellfishy bites are really pretty darn good. The batter is a little thicker than I expected - it's cornmeal-based, so kinda corn-dog-like - but it's definitely good and helps add a little more to each bite. The shrimp inside is warm, fleshy, a little moist and certainly tailless, so no worries about choking on that. It's also firm and not salty or mushy, like I've had way too many times with other store brands. Altogether, each piece hits home with a little comfort food-esque vibe, and are actually filling enough that I feel like I'm satisfied after "only" a regular serving size. That's a rarity for me.

We're both fans of the shrimp and we'll be getting it again for sure. The second time we had it, as I brought out her dinner plate to her, I think Sandy said something to the general effect of "Yaaaaaaaay it's shrimp time!!!" At the very least, she said "mmm" a whole bunch and that these were "much better than those coconut guys." Yeah, I concur with that. Those were kinda weird while these reduced fat battery bites are good on their own and would go well with whatever kinda sauce you like to drench your seafood in. I don't think I could be much happier with them, except the name leaves me wondering what they're a "reduced fat" version of, as to my recollection I haven't seen just "regular" battered shrimp at TJ's, and I can't help but think those just might be a smidge or two tastier. No matter. Matching 4.5s.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Reduced Fat Battered Shrimp: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, April 20, 2012

Trader Joe's Uncrystallized Candied Ginger

There's definitely some foods in the world that can be easily filed under "acquired taste." I think that drinks like coffee and beer are pretty common ones. Indeed, I hated both beverages for probably the first couple dozen times I had them, and now I've gotten to the point where they bookend my day at least half the time. All in moderaton, of course. Also, as a kid, I hated burgers, which is definitely not the case now. I'm not sure, but there might be such a thing as an "un-acquired taste." Case in point: I used to thrive on spicy foods to the point where a semi-bashful waitress at a Thai restaurant once told me she'd never seen a white person eat as spicy food as I did. I took that as a huge compliment. Now, I haven't completely taken up a full time BRAT diet by any means, but there's times I catch myself checking how many shakes of hot sauce I pour on my food. Me from 10 years ago would be mocking me now. I guess that's just part of getting older, along with mortgages and emerging bald spots.

What does this have to do with Trader Joe's Uncrystallized Candied Ginger? Admittedly, not that much. C'mon, you've learned to expect that from us now. But, I guess that ginger is one of those other acquired tastes as well. I thought I knew more or less what ginger tasted like growing up before knowing much better - ginger ale, gingerbread cookies, the occasional ginger snap, other ginger-tinged goodies. Ginger candy is something newer for me, but I got some that I really liked at the 99 Ranch in San Diego, and those were much more intense than what I was used to.

These TJ guys, though? Like Tufnel Marshall's amp, these go to eleven. Seriously. Short of hacking off a chunk of actual ginger root and chomping directly down on it, I can't imagine a more intense ginger flavor. Each piece is soft and chewy, kinda like dried pineapple except a little softer in that regard. If you bite a piece in half you'll see there's still some fiber-y stringy insides, but they're not noticeable otherwise. For flavor, each candied ginger piece starts off kinda mild and sorta sweet taste from the light dusty sugar coating, but quickly morphs into an all out ginger blitz that sets the back of your throat aflame. That's even after just one piece. That "sweet and smooth" tagline TJ's puts under the product name? I think that's their attempt to generally describe most gingers like myself and Nathan (both of us redheads, and we're both definitely sweet and smooth - just ask our wives! *cough*) and certainly not these candies - I couldn't think of two words that I'd wouldn't use more than those. Overzealous and napalm-esque? Sure. Sweet and smooth? Heck no.

Sandy absolutely hated these. We cracked a bag open on our recent road trip. After one bite, in my peripheral vision, I saw her make a face like I just forcefed her a meatloaf muffin. "Blahhh," she said. "Enjoy your ginger candy, ginger boy." She slightly changed her tune later and said she could imagine having some of these if she were feeling a little ill in the tummy, and for that reason only, she'll grace them with a one. To me, it's kinda funny she said that, because I swear each time I try them, my stomach feels a little off afterwards. Not sick, but not all that happy either. Yet, kinda like something that hurts only when you poke it, I keep trying them. I don't completely hate them, but it'll be a struggle to finish the bag nonetheless. I might try to return them, but seeing as though they cost only about $2 and I've had about half of them, I might not. I can imagine some of y'all like them, but for me, not so much. I think I'll go with a one as well. All out ginger assault is one taste that's far beyond me at this point.


Bottom line: Trader Joe's Uncrystallized Candied Ginger: 2 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Trader Joe's Rolled Oats & Peanut Butter Fiberful Granola Bars

Chocolate. Peanut butter. I'm firmly convinced that there's nothing that this combo can't do. Every year, right around Easter time, I'm reminded how good it is because of all the Reese's eggs and other choco/pb candies that float around. There's this flea market that, growing up, my family almost always went to the Saturday of Easter weekend that had this dirt cheap candy stand that overflowed with every type of candy imaginable. My dad would give each of us $5 and whatever I didn't spend on a bag of all black jelly beans (my absolute favorite) I spent on the little foil-wrapped chocolate p.b filled bunny rabbits, and I'd get handfuls and handfuls of them. It's a combo I'm still not sick of to this very day, as evidenced by my Hoover impersonation everytime I raid my mother-in-law's candy dish when we visit her. Man, I just love it.

Well, these Trader Joe's Rolled Oats & Peanut Butter Fiberful Granola Bars didn't come from a candy store or the Easter bunny, but really, they could have. The wifey and I got these for easily portable for a long weekend trek we just made to Washington DC to see some of the museums and sites. If you haven't been, it's a lot more walking than it looks like on the maps, and I mean a lot, especially when you're six-plus months pregnant like my dear, beautiful wife. It was so much walking that at one point I nearly considered getting us Segways before remembering their inventor died from driving one off a cliff or something crazy like that.

Anyways, these granola bars. These don't disappoint me one bit. I somehow missed the fact that there's chocolate in them until I ripped the package off one of these in a ravenous rage, but there's lots of milk chocolate, from a full bottom coating to the stripes up top, just as they appear on the package. Know what else isn't in short supply? The peanut butter chips. There's tons of them, enough that the whole bar is a dead ringer for a Reese's candy bar, except there's rolled oats holding it all together. Now, I haven't been keeping on my reading of the latest rolled oat technology, but TJ's figured out a way to fortify the bars with some extra fiber (9 grams per bar!). To me, I hear about something having that kinda fiber and expect it to taste funny or be texturally stiff, or have some less-than-desirable side effects, but not one of those was true for these oats and p.b. bars. Each bar was about four or five decent bites, and were a little more filling than regular granola bars, making them a perfect snack to mush into a camera bag for the day, and for something like $3 for a box of five, were way cheaper than any snack options at museum cafes. Those places are freakin' rip-offs.

Chocolate and peanut butter combo products, like these cupcakes and cookies, typically do pretty well on the blog. These granola bars will not be an exception. I cannot think of a single way to knock them, and I will be getting these again the next time I need a reliable, easily-portable snack. I mean, they didn't even get remotely melty and mushy. Just perfect. I'm going with a five. Sandy wasn't as enthused with them as me, but still really liked them. "Eh, I've had better granola bars," she said without much further explanation. In my opinion, if she had, she's holding out on me. She's going with a four.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Rolled Oats & Peanut Butter Fiberful Granola Bars: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Trader Joe's Crunchy Curls

Lentil and potato snacks? Sounds like hippie food to me. Luckily, I'm pretty well in touch with my inner-hippie. No, I'm not really into free love or smoking pot or anything like that, but I'm all about recycling and peace and unique gluten-free snack foods.

As some of you may be aware, I am also a junk food cowboy of sorts, and I'll eat anything that's overly sweet or salty or bad for me. However, that's not the end of the story. I'm pretty open to new things, and some healthy stuff really grabs me for reasons I can't quite always explain. Like these.

Lentils are the unsung heroes of the legume world. Rich with fiber, minerals, and protein, they make good soup, and apparently, pretty decent crunchable snacky things. I've always liked the taste of lentils. So earthy and hearty...they're like meaty little vegetables. As healthy things go, lentils have just about as good a flavor as anything I've tried. Sonia is amazed that they're so filling and yet have so few calories. Good job, nature. The lentil has our seal of approval. Now...if you could do something about the taste of cauliflower...

And these lentils are spirals. They're really, really curly. There's a certain novelty to the heavily-curled nature of these snacks. Curly-fries are curled, and so are Fritos. But they're not as curly as these little curlicues. Curl-o-rama. And they're really, really crunchy. If there's one thing I'm a fan of, it's when a product lives up to its name. I don't like to be tricked. If the bag says "crunchy" and "curly," then the crunchiness and curliness factors better be well above average. And in this case, they are. I'm thinking the potatoes may be mostly responsible for the crunchiness, a la Trader Joe's Veggie Sticks.

I'm not sure why I like these so much. They aren't bursting with sweetness or saltiness or anything like that...they're just wholesome and rich—and yet somehow still light. I give them a 3.5. Sonia gives them a 4. Really darn good all the way.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Ginger Snaps

Oh SNAP! These ginger cookies are gluten free!

Once again we have a Trader Joe's victory in gluten free-flavor, and uh...a Trader Joe's...valiant effort in gluten-free texture.

There's an unexpected lemoniness to these cookies that makes them delightful at first bite. There's also a gingeriness, but...that's to be expected. I have mixed feelings about ginger. It's good for you. That's good. In cookies, it can add flavor. That's good. Sometimes it adds too much flavor. That's bad. There's ginger beer. That's good. There's ginger tea. That's bad. Ginger by itself is nasty as heck. That's bad.

And ginger snaps? Well, they're hit or miss. They're generally a bit dry and snappy, which would kind of seem to lend them to a gluten-free form. But, unfortunately, in my humble opinion, these were a bit too dry and snappy. Like tear-up-your-mouth-by-the-second-cookie kind of dry and snappy. Like "Is the blood in my mouth adding or detracting from the taste of these delightful snacks?" kind of dry and snappy.

Sonia, on the other hand, liked them a lot. She sees where I'm coming from in the rips-your-mouth-to-shreds-worse-than-six-bowls-of-Captain-Crunch department. But I think her mouth is a little more resilient than mine, what with three-plus decades of real Mexican spices and L.A. food truck cuisine to build up her resistance to oral battery such as these weaponized cookies.

Seldom in life will you come across such a tasty food that has such a ridiculously inhospitable texture. I really wanted to eat more...but I could not bear the pain. It's something like drinking a Slurpee and getting a brain freeze, but instead of it being cold liquid, it's just ultra-crispy cookies. If I were to break down my 5 potential stars into 2.5 stars for taste and 2.5 stars for texture, these get all 2.5 stars in the flavor arena, and none of the stars in the texture arena. That might be a little harsh, but I'm still compulsively tonguing the roof of my mouth to see if it's healed yet. I say if you've got a mouth of steel—or if you're on a gluten-free diet and you need a tasty cookie, try them. Otherwise, steer clear.

Sonia gives them a 4. She's one tough cookie...just like these Ginger Snaps.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Trader Joe's Organic Green Tea & Lemonade

"Herbaceous."

There's many words I've stumbled across in my day. Up until now, this hasn't been one of them. I wonder why. I mean, it's a pretty great word. It's straight to the point, and you know exactly what it means once you hear it: vibrant, full of herbs and not much else. If you're botanically inclined, you can add in stuff like "lacking woody stems." That can be a good thing, especially for tea, which we'll get to in a moment. Also, it's kinda fun to say. Try it out for yourselves, nice and slow...See? First time I said it, I immediately thought of Buddy the Elf saying "Fransisco." So, straight to the point yet fun to say, and kinda fun to read, too. Perhaps I haven't paid enough attention in my seventh grade biology classes, or somehow skimmed over the word if it's appeared on the menu at a coffee shop or tea house. At the very least, I would've thought that one of the stoners in "Dazed and Confused" would have said it, like the guy who went on to CSI: Miami, because, well, let's face it, it sounds like something a stoner would say. I'd also thing that either Dr. Dre or Snoop Dogg would be clever enough to rhyme something with it, which I'm definitely not. The furthest I get is "Yer face" then...nothing.

Anyways, the first time I've encountered the word "herbaceous" was on the side panel of Trader Joe's Organic Green Tea & Lemonade. Herbaceous. Even without doing too much further research on the word, I knew that was a pretty apt way to describe green tea. Green tea is one of those things that I *try* to like. Really, I do. It's supposed to be healthy (or "healthier", at least) and may or may not have super heart-beatin' and cancer-whuppin' powers. I'm behind that. It's just...the taste. To me, green tea tastes like rain water that's comingled with lawn clippings for too long. That's perhaps a bit harsh, but you know what it feels like on the side of your lower gums after swallowing a straight shot of green tea? Ugh. That's a bit harsh to me, too and it's what I dislike the most about green tea in general.

Trader Joe's Organic Green Tea & Lemonade is decent, though. I'm a big fan of their Arnold Palmer, and while I can't think of a golfer to name this drink after, I'll admit this has a lighter, crisper taste overall. There's also enough lemonade in there to almost cover up the parts of green tea taste that I don't like as much, without being too sugary or citrusy or anything like that. It works, except for when I neglect to shake it up before drinking. That's when all the green tea parts float into my cup and down my throat, which even then, doesn't bother me as much as green tea usually does. Perhaps it's just a little milder than what I'm used to. Still, this isn't a drink that I can just gulp and gulp down, so I'm not overly wild about it like I am about some of their other juices. Yet I've bought it the last two times I've gone shopping at TJ's, and have been able to more or less enjoy it over the course of nearly the whole week. My wife's pretty impressed by that, as she's used to seeing the empties in the recycle bin after only a day or so.

Sandy's been semi-busy enjoying the TJ Tropical Carrot Juice over the past week or so to give this tea much of a try. We still haven't figured out what a tropical carrot is, but man, that's good stuff. She also may be slightly avoiding the green tea/lemonade because of the some of the unknown stuff with teas and pregnancies. We both know it's probably fine for mama and baby, but figure not to chance it, and plus that way I get my drink, and she gets hers without me guzzling all of it, so it's win/win/possible win. That works well enough for us. As for this particular drink...eh...I'm kinda split on it. I neither love nor hate it, yet have bought it a couple times. Maybe that has to do with the price. At $2.69, it's one of the cheaper half-gallons of juicy beverage, and I know that'll last me a week while being satisfied enough. Sounds like something a smidge or two above average to me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Green Tea & Lemonade: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, April 6, 2012

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Wafer Cookies

Are they wafers? Or are they cookies? Come on, Trader Joe, make up your mind. I think you could have just dropped the "cookies" from the already lengthy title of these delectable snacks. The term "wafers" would adequately describe them.

By now, if you've been reading this blog for a while, you should know that if we start off by critiquing the artwork on the bag or the name of the food itself, that there's not a whole lot else to complain about. It's always fun to start off an entry with a complaint. It grabs the reader's attention and gets them thinking about what kind of shallow, horrible people we are to tear apart their favorite grocery store chain's products on the highly subjective basis of flawed packaging, and it allows the reader to feel better about him or herself, knowing that he or she does not succumb to such trivialities, thus inflating the ego, generating a sense of well-being, and subconsciously inviting the reader to proceed into the rest of the semi-informative blog entry written by someone of questionable moral fiber.

Having purged myself of negativity in the preceding paragraph, I shall now go on to sing the praises of these snacksational wafers. Dark chocolate? Not even really a fan in general. I prefer white chocolate because it has more sugar. But as was the case with the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Filled Cupcakes, there's a great balance of sweetness and richness. Sonia loves dark chocolate desserts as a rule, and these wafers were no exception.

As for the waferage, I was skeptical at first. The only dessert wafers I've ever had, prior to these, were those cheap, nasty artificial cream-filled deals that you get from vending machines. For some reason, those always taste stale to me, even when they're supposedly fresh. But the crispy, wafery part in Trader Joe's product was decidedly crunchable and happy, nestled among layers of creamy peanut butter.

They're the perfect size, too. They really are "bite-size," in my opinion. There are so many products out there that try to get away with that "bite-size" label, but really, bite-sized mini-wheats, who do you think you're fooling? I can easily fit 3 or 4 of those guys in my mouth in one bite. And what's up with sushi? I don't know if they cut the rolls into smaller bites in Asian countries, but every time I have a piece here, I feel like I've eaten an entire fish in one bite. I wind up chewing for ages. Way too big. But these wafers, er cookies, er wafer cookies...their size is spot on. Bite-freaking-sized. All other so-called "bite-sized" foodstuffs in existence should be produced with the exact dimensions of these wafers.

To summarize, we've got a great, crispy snack on our hands here. Sonia and I are both big fans. She's going with a 4.5. I'm a big fan, too, but I think I'll stick with 4 stars. But Trader Joe, if you're listening to me out there, if you ever make a white chocolate version, I promise I'll give 'em at least a 4.5...

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Trader Joe's Raspberry Tarte

There were a few semi-related thoughts going through my head as I made a solo trek to the local Trader Joe's on Sunday afternoon. First, the wifey instructed me to find a tasty dessert for the usual family dinner that night as she was busy getting a mama-massage off somewhere with some of her other pregnant lady friends. Two, not like we're dietarily perfect otherwise, but if there's one thing that Sandy and I stink at when it comes to food, it's eating enough fruits and veggies. We like them and like the idea of eating them, and indeed we did pretty well last summer between growing our veggie garden and hitting up the local farmer's markets, but I had just cleaned out the fridge and ended throwing out too many veggies that were bought on a mild splurge the week or so before at a farm stand. The winter's a little tougher as we haven't canned and well, we're both not fans of the TJ selection with an exception or two here and there. That's on both of us, and we both need to do a better job. And third, well....Sandy and I decided we'd give up sweets for Lent. As I've written before, that's been much tougher than what either of us thought. Well, on Friday, Sandy admitted to me that she caved in when some donuts were brought to her work, and, well, I've been sneaking a non-sanctioned sugary snack or two here or there, which I finally 'fessed up to, too. We both kinda looked at each other then, and remembered where we hid away some cookies, and had at it. I figured, well, if we're back into eating sweets again (tsktsk on us! Don't tell the Pope!), we might as well find quasi-healthyish ones, right? Right?

All these factors led to my purchase of Trader Joe's Raspberry Tarte. Yeah, I know what you're thinking. The dumb-dumb blogger saw the big ol' raspberries on top and figured it'd be a dessert that even Jamie Oliver would sign off on. That's...not so far from the truth, I'll admit. But hey, at least it's not like some other desserts we've recently tried, so baby steps, okay? Baby steps.

As for taste, yeah...it's not bad. As one would probably figure, the raspberries are pretty sweet yet deliciously kinda tart, and are semi-coated with a raspberry/apple compote-type gloop. The crust kinda reminds me of a mix between graham cracker crumb and shortbread, which also means it's delicious. There's also a layer of something or other between the raspberries and the crust, but I forget what the box said it was, but it really doesn't matter to me because whatever it was, I didn't taste it anyways. Of course, there's the big drawback that this comes frozen and it's supposed to thaw for an hour before serving. Like some other TJ desserts, that didn't work out so well. It thawed for at least two hours at room temp and still there were icy bits while the rest tasted like it came from a freezer. I don't know if following some of the baking instructions would help. All I know is, overall I wasn't blown away or disappointed by the tarte, and vanilla ice cream was definitely a major plus for a slice.

Sandy wasn't a huge fan of the raspberry tarte, either. "I kinda like the berries, except when they were still frozen," she said. "But overall...meh." That's a pretty accurate statement. For the $6.49 I plopped down for it, I was hoping for more. That being said, when it came time to munch down the last couple bites left, I was a fairly willing volunteer, if even just because I figured the fruit made it a better option than the brownies that were also available. Eh well. I'm a little more enthusiastic about it than Sandy is, so I'll go a spoon up from her 2.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Raspberry Tarte: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Trader Joe's Macaroni and Cheese

Based on either past employment or college eating habits, there's still a lot of foods I'm loathe to have again. For instance, I have nothing against either Papa John's or Domino's Pizza, but as I worked for both (and ate way too much of their respective pies), I'm not going to be ordering from them any time soon. Neither will I stop by a Boston Market...I worked for one in high school, and I've seen how things are made, and smelled how nasty the chicken skewer-soaking vat o' acid is..no thanks. In December, it will be nine years since I graduated from Penn State, and I think since then I've had about ten packs of Ramen noodles, which is about what I consumed every three days in Happy Valley.

For a long time, mac and cheese was in the same boat. I'm not talking about the homemade stuff, of course. That's nearly always delicious, especially when made by my sister-in-law Megan, and occasionally by my mom when she isn't trying to sneak canned tuna into it (I HATE tuna - blahhh). I'm talking the from-a-box, ten-minutes-on-a-stovetop-type stuff. I could never bring myself to go the Easy Mac route. But yeah, when it wasn't pizza or Ramen in college, it was a box of Kraft. Occasionally I got fancy and got the shells and cheese version, but that got old, too.

Anyways, we're here to talk about Trader Joe's Macaroni and Cheese, with (allegedly) Wisconsin cheddar. For whatever reason, probably partially because we've been crazily busy, Sandy and I have gone on a kick with it. At first, yeah, I wasn't so excited about it, but I'll admit, it's growing on me. It's the typical elbow macaroni in a box with some cheesy powder to mix in with some milk and butter, of which I usually put in just a little extra to make the sauce a little creamier. The macaroni is just about right (which, let's be honest, would be hard to screw up) while the cheese, well...it's been so long since I've had the famous blue box brand that I don't recall exactly how that tastes to make a direct comparison, but the TJ's strikes me as being just better. I doubt that the cheese flavor is so authentically Wisconsinite that it matches perfectly with a Spotted Cow, but hey, it is kinda cheddary and tasty enough on its own. It's even better with some hot sauce mixed in (haven't tried the TJ's yet, but just finally kicked a gallon jug of Red Devil, so I will soon!) to make what I, for whatever reason, call "schmac 'n cheese." Hmm, that sounds even dumber when I type it...anyways....

For a buck a box, the mac 'n cheese does its job. It's not the best mac 'n cheese product that TJ's offers (there's a competitor or two), but for a quick, reliable, chewing-optional bite, I think it's good. No, it won't beat out your Aunt Millie's, but nothing from a box ever will. As the one who initially semi-twisted my arm into buying it, Sandy is definitely a fan. "Much better than Kraft, and so good with hot sauce," she said before slapping a four on it. Me? It's helping restore my faith in a boxed convenience American classic. That's worth at least something like a four as well.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Macaroni and Cheese: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, April 2, 2012

Trader Joe's Mini Mint Ice Cream Mouthfuls

Well, I'll start off by telling you that these ice cream sandwiches are barely a mouthful. I expected them to be just slightly smaller than a traditional ice cream sandwich...but they're just a tad larger than an oreo in reality—like a regular oreo cookie. They're just one or two bites a piece. It works as portion control, which is good for people like me, who tend to overeat every chance they get. If I'm sitting there thinking "Wow, I've already had three ice cream sandwiches," I'm going to go ahead and stop eating. What kind of pig eats four ice cream sandwiches in one sitting?
So it's a good, built-in reason to not snarf down too many at once.

Another good reason to not snarf down too many: they're just not that good.

It's really hard to screw up mint chocolate chip ice cream. And while it's not a total failure in this case, it does leave a bit to be desired. Sonia was thoroughly disappointed that it wasn't even green. I thought it had a green hue in certain lighting, but Sonia claims that it was stark white. Furthermore, there were very few chocolate chips. And finally, it wasn't really even that minty. It was a very subtly-flavored mint chocolate chip ice cream. Which wouldn't have been that bad, except that the flavor of the cookies completely overpowered the flavor of the ice cream.

The cookies had a decent, natural kind of chocolate taste. Sonia thinks their flavor was similar to carob. I disagree. I don't like carob at all, but I didn't have a problem with the flavor of the cookie part of these sandwiches. What I did have a major problem with, however, was the texture of the cookies. Sonia wholeheartedly agrees. It's something that neither of us could put our fingers on exactly. We wanted to call them dry, but they're not really dry...we wanted to call them gritty, but that's not quite it either. There was just something about the cookies' texture that completely overwhelmed—and to a degree, ruined—all of the pleasant aspects of these little snacks.

We both decided that the ice cream by itself with, perhaps, a few extra chocolate chips and some good old fashioned green #3 would have made a better treat. While the flavor of the chocolate cookies was acceptable, it totally overpowered the taste of the ice cream, and their texture was simply not pleasant. All in all, this is one of the more disappointing frozen snacks we've had from Trader Joe's. There's a novelty to their diminutive size, and the ice cream by itself would have had some potential, but neither of us are going to give these moderately-minty mouthfuls a stellar score.

Sonia thinks they deserve no better than two and a half stars. I agree.

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.