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, May 30, 2012

Trader Joe's Coconut Water Fruit Floes


An apartment in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania isn't supposed to be ninety-five degrees in May. And yet, thanks to Climate Change, a broken air conditioner, and living on the top floor of a six-story building, here we are—my wife and I, basking in our underpants on the day after Memorial Day (God bless those who paid the ultimate price for our country) sweating our butts off, crowding next to our brand new tall, skinny fan (didn't fans used to be round?) and wishing it were January again, pining for some relief from the heat.

Thank goodness for Trader Joe's. In the past, we've reviewed a few other fruit floes, discussed the meaning of the term "floe" and sang the praises of TJ's other frozen delights. Today, it's all about the coconut.

These frozen treats taste like Goya's Coconut Cream. Which, if you're familiar with it, is the nectar of the gods. A fattening nectar of the gods, to be sure, but absolutely worthy of the term. And if you're like me, you're fine eating the coconut cream plain, straight out of the can. But most people would consider that weird, desperate, and /or socially unacceptable. I consider it delicious.

And now, thanks to the wonders of hippie, underground, independent grocery store magic, that same taste can be found in a widely-acceptable bar/floe thingy. It tastes like real coconut. It has real coconut in it. It's not totally bad for you. It's highly refreshing when you're on the verge of heat-stroke (as I am right now).

Probably mostly due to the excessive heat and delirium that comes with it, Sonia gives it a 4.5 star rating. I'll go ahead with a 4 star rating, because it's such a beautiful balance of coconut-milkiness and coconut-wateriness. Trader Joe's Coconut Water Fruit Floes are magical coldness in a world of red hot death and sixth-story "hot-air-rises" in a "science sucks when applied to reality" kind of way. I love you. It's too hot here. It's only May. Abandon all hope, ye who plan to be alive in July '12. Eat lots of these.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Trader Joe's S'mashing S'mores

Hope y'all had a good Memorial Day Weekend! Obviously, there's some deeper meanings to the holiday, but probably like a lot of you, I was flat out busy doing stuff around the house for the bulk of the weekend. How busy? Well, let's just say that if such a thing as a human male nesting instinct is ever discovered, I might be considered Patient Zero for it. It's a just a few more weeks before our kiddo arrives, so it was clean the oven, stain and assemble the baby furniture, do this and that and this and...you get the point. I spent entirely too much time (and too many dollars) at Home Depot. I'm just glad I had the chance for some quality time with the wifey, a couple cookouts with friends and family, and also, finally, got the grill working again in time for some tasty grilled mahi mahi the other night. All in all, I can't really complain about the weekend, especially since I also have today (Tuesday) off, and plan to mainly kick back and relax.

Anyways, maybe some of you went camping this weekend. I'm not jealous of you either. I got my camping fix out of the way a few weekends ago with my dad and brothers. Plus, as we all know, one of the best parts of camping is making s'mores, and if I wanted to get a reasonable facsimile of a s'more, all I had to do was run over to Trader Joe's, pick up a carton of his S'mashing S'mores, and stick them in the microwave...

Yeah, okay, I'm a little jealous, and all that mularkey about nuking a S'mashing S'more was definitely an overstatement. There's always something about a pre-fab s'more-related product that just doesn't hold up against the real thing. These were no exception, except I can't quite place my finger on it. My best guess would be the marshmallowy part - I've never been a fan of marshmallow fluff or Mallo-Cups as they've tasted "too fake" to me. I kinda feel that way about the mallowy parts of these guys, and they definitely lack the toasted taste the every good s'more needs. I guess the marshmallow's okay but just not quite good enough. The chocolate's good, and the graham cracker part is decent, and I like how both parts are layered in there. As a whole, I certainly don't mind eating them, but they just don't cut it fully for me. And microwaving them, as the package suggests? For me, that basically just made another small mess to clean up and improved them only marginally.

Sandy, though? She loves them! I had to tell her on more than one occasion that the s'more bites were not an acceptable breakfast alternative. These turned out to be one TJ treat that she undoubtedly ate more of than I did, which is kinda rare. Sandy gives them a good solid thumbs up with a "3.5 to 4" Golden Spoon rating, only saying she wished there were more of them. As for me, well, if they make her happy, I'll continue to buy them and sneak a couple here and there, but all in all, I'm not nearly as enthused. I kinda wish I liked them more, as they're something that I should devour, but as is I'm sticking with a 2, maybe a 2.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's S'mashing S'mores: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Trader Joe's Valencia Peanut Butter with Roasted Flaxseeds

Last summer, I posited the question of what a truly American food might be. Looking back, I wonder how I could have overlooked the obvious answer: peanut butter! Granted, my international travel experience barely challenges Sarah Palin's, but I've never seen peanut butter anywhere else. Going to Peru with about 40 fellow college students back in the day, we literally packed an entire suitcase or two full of big ol' Sam's Club PB jars to last us for the week. You don't get much more American than that. Even in the remote mountain villages of Mexico I can guarantee there'll be at least two or three shops where you can buy glass-bottle sugary Coca-Cola for barely a few pesos (I know because been there, done that), but never saw PB in even a large Mexico City groceria. When Sandy and I were in Portugal for our honeymoon, there'd be a wide assortment of Nutella-esque spreads but no peanut butter anywhere to be seen. And I've been to my fair share of ethnic groceries, and never once seen Polish, Italian or Chinese peanut butter. I kinda wonder why the US has the market cornered on peanut butter, but honestly I don't mind. It's kinda like a good secret we're in on that no one else is, and as long as I can get my fix, I'm good.

So, yeah, like pretty much any good redblooded American, I love me my PB. I've kinda evolved with it over the years, though. As a young ginger kiddo, Jif or Skippy or whatever was just fine. Not so much anymore. I mean, not that those brands are horrible, but peanut butter is capable of so, so much more than those.

Like Trader Joe's Valencia Peanut Butter with Roasted Flaxseeds, for example. It's such a simple product, with literally three ingredients - valencia peanuts, flaxseeds, and sea salt. That's all there is, folks. It's so basic it reminds me somewhat of the grind-your-own PB you can do at some health food stores/co-ops. But man, what a combo it is. Each bite is full of roasted flavor from the nuts, and there's some little bits and pieces here and there for a little crunch action. The flaxseeds and sea salt do their job, too, though they can be a little heavy without a good stir beforehand. Texturally, it's a marvel of sorts: it's crispy, and no, not in that "crispy PB in a candy bar" kinda way. Those flaxseeds in there, aside from helping me hit homeruns like Barry Bonds, are all roasted and toasted and cannot help but be all crispied up, in every bite. Yet the main peanut portion is that deliciously stubborn kinda goop that sticks everywhere it can on the roof of your mouth. I cannot think of a single wrong thing to say, and I would use this in anything I'd put peanut butter in.

This isn't Sandy's kinda thing, though. She still likes the aforementioned basic brands enough to not move on from them. That's okay, we all got our hang-ups and guilty pleasures. For me, I have an unnatural affinity for anything resembling a fastfood breakfast sandwich, which I'd be getting much more often if I didn't smash together a PB sandwich almost every morning for the drive in. Anyways, she's giving it a pass. More for me, so I win. Like I said, I can't think of anything I'd change, but I'm not giving it a perfect score. I don't want to make too much of a habit of unilaterally granting something Pantheon-level status, and the one time I did, the product in question was promptly discontinued, so I'm not gonna tempt the powers-that-be in the deep, dark world of TJ's here. Let's just "say" I'll give it a nine, but, well, interpret as you will.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Valencia Peanut Butter with Roasted Flaxseeds: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Trader Joe's Falafel Chips


I didn't know what to expect from falafel made into a chip. Trader Joe's Heat and Eat Falafel was a big hit here on WG@TJ's back in our heyday, May of '11. Tasty stuff. So we knew TJ's could do falafel right.

And we've encountered multiple kinds of successful chips from Trader Joe's. True, they're not batting 1.000, but they've done more right than wrong. So we had reasons to be hopeful.

And I must say, these are among the better Trader Joe's chips I've had. Unique. The kind of product that makes you question things. Things like: why do Americans only eat potato chips and tortilla chips, with very few exceptions? Well, because those are the only things that are on the shelf. But really, if every shelf in America were stocked to the brim with falafel chips, wouldn't they catch on just as well? Wouldn't brands of falafel chips be airing big-budget commercials during NBA playoffs and Stanley Cup Finals, too? If you eat them, will they not crunch? If you snack on them, will they not produce deliciousness?

I don't mean to wax philosophical on you when you're reading this to find out my opinion of these chips. I'm just trying to point out the fact that the type of chips we eat is really arbitrary—as life itself can be, sometimes. I'm just tryna' say get over your chip-prejudices, erase your preconceptions, and open your minds. The falafel chip is the brother of the tortilla chip, akin, yes—even to the potato.

I actually think these remind me most of the new Tostitos Artisan Recipes Roasted Garlic and Black Bean Chips, which are also very good and worth trying. They're both nutty, crispy, and lightly spicy. One can totally tell these TJ's chips are made of falafel—but only if you're really thinking about falafel right when you're chewing them. If you dressed them up differently and called them "Crunchtastic Critters" and made no mention of ground-up garbanzo beans from the middle east, I highly doubt many people would go, "Oh my goodness, these chips taste just like falafel!"

We ate the chips with TJ's Spicy Hummus, but I think they might be equally snacktastic with salsa, bean dip, or cheese sauce. They're firm enough to plow through a vat of hummus, but delicate enough for a sensitive mouth (like mine). Both taste and texture are very good, high-quality.

Sonia's going to give them a 4.5 star rating. I can't go much lower than that. 4 stars from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Trader Joe's Habenero Hot Sauce

The following is a true story: I was probably somewhere around 4, maybe 5 years old one night as my family had a movie night. It probably wasn't the best choice of movies - I don't recall if it was something like King Kong, Godzilla, or maybe Jaws - I truly don't remember - but there was some type of monster in it. I'm naturally a little squeamish about such things, and I'm guessing perhaps a little more so when I was so young, but there was some type of scene with a fair amount of blood in it. As it was a black and white film, it wasn't particularly gruesome, but it was enough for to get pretty darn scared and upset, and so I collapsed into my mother's arms. It was then, in an effort to comfort me, that she uttered the seven words that have helped shape my life to this very day: "It's only ketchup, Rusty. It's only ketchup."

Yup, to this day, that's the reason why I don't like ketchup. At least, it's the reason I tell myself why. It's convenient enough and makes a neat little story. It's kind of ironic, seeing that I live in Pittsburgh literally just a few miles upriver from the original Heinz factory. But the truth is, I don't like most condiments. Not ketchup. Not mayo. Mustard, only occasionally. I don't even like most salad dressings. I think some of it has to do with the farty sounds they sometimes make when squeezed out of the bottle. But, mostly, I just flat out don't like them.

Except hot sauce. I will always make an exception for hot sauce. As evidence, you could see my recently polished off glass gallon jug of Trappey's Red Devil. Or instead of traipsing all the way over to my house (the last thing I need right now is a stalker or two), you can see the picture above of my recent purchase, Trader Joe's Habenero Hot Sauce. This is a serious hot sauce. As a lover of many hot 'n spicy things, I have a natural inclination to discount most things that say they're hot - I figure most products manufactured for mass distribution will not be enough to satisfy my capsaicin cravings, and so I severely underestimated this when dousing some chicken breasts with this sauce as I was about to sample it for the first time. That was an awful, awful mistake. "Liquid fire" isn't adequate enough description. Nor is David Letterman's old saying of "Hotter than a dancing bobcat with its ass on fire," whatever that means. It's freakin' hot. Sandy was in the kitchen with me, and I think gasped out something along the lines of "Close your eyes!" - not because I didn't want her to see me tear up (which I was), but for a moment or two I wasn't sure if the Ark of the Covenant somehow got cracked open in our kitchen. The hot sauce was so hot, and my mouth in so much pain, that if it were a reasonable solution to remove my head and put it in the freezer for a while, I would have. As you can tell by perusing the ingredients list, it's water and some habeneros that have had the heck Slapchopped out of them, and that's about it. It's thick, a little gloppy, orangish, and flat out hot. Respect it.

And you know what? I genuinely like it. Just trust me when I say a little bit goes a long way. I've dripped some a couple times since while making myself a quick quesadilla, and it's much more tolerable then. One thing I definitely like is, although it's face-meltingly hot, it doesn't cover up the flavor of food as the heat builds and builds in the back of your throat. I know it'll take me a while to work through the bottle, and I'll probably dabble with some other hot sauce in the meantime, but the habenero hot sauce has itself a new fan. Sandy's not as crazy as I am, and seeing that she's had some heartburn, etc, recently, she hasn't given it a try and I kinda have some doubts that she ever will -truthfully, this is out of the league for most folks. Not me, though. Although it's almost enough to make me go all Homer Simpson on*, it's a winner in my book.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Habenero Hot Sauce: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
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*I'm completely divided as to whether or not the hot sauce making me having a hallucination that consists of Johnny Cash speaking in cartoon coyote form would make me like it more or less. On one hand, it's Johnny Cash as a cartoon coyote. On the other, well, I'd probably need to be checked out afterwards.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Trader Jose's Chicken in Red Mole

It hasn't been the most fun of weeks here at the Western Pennsylvania wing of the What's Good at Trader Joe's team. Work's been getting crazy for the two of us, and when we're not there we've been dealing with trying to get the home ready for our forthcoming little bundle of joy in, oh, a month and a half or so. Two of the non-negotiable things we've wanted to do was getting our carpets cleaned and installing a new kitchen floor. In perhaps a flash of madness or brilliance, we decided to do both this past weekend. That made for a lot of prep work and clean-up last week. Carpets look great (well, until our dog threw up in the middle of the hallway, at least) and I'm eternally thankful for all the help from both my dad and older brother gave me with the floor. I may owe them a new set of knees each. Laminate's not all that easy when you live in a city that has no such thing as a square room in any of its houses.

Anyways, between being so busy and trying to not buy more food that we'd just have to move somewhere, it had been at least two, maybe three weeks since our last Trader Joe's trip. I'm not even sure what I ate except too much of my emergency stash of Chef Boyardee at work. Blahh. I tell ya what: it felt good to finally go back the other night. Damn good.

I felt even better once we spotted the Trader Jose's Chicken in Red Mole. Apparently it's new, or at least new to us. We're both a big fan of most of the Trader Jose line with just an exception or two, and we've had some pretty good mole in Mexico, so we were both pretty hopeful. This is pretty darn good, if I may say so. For starters, unlike a lot of TJ products, there was plenty of meat. And I mean plenty - it was almost half the package. That's a great start. Plus, the mole...I don't think one could reasonably ask for any better from a frozen grocery store commodity. It coated every single chicken chunk (and mingled down into the rice) with a rich, deep, very smoky flavor. Loved it. You ever look up how to make mole? It's fairly involved, and if I were to attempt it, I would hope it'd turn out nearly as good. It did seem a little drier and perhaps slightly gummier then most mole I remember, but that could've a result of possible inadvertent overcooking in the oven on my part. I was pretty occupied fighting an eventual winning battle as I reassembled our IKEA kitchen shelving (its name? I can't remember if it's Falsapart or Screwmenoscrewyou). The chicken was pretty decent, though, while the rice left a little to be desired. It probably would've been better if it were all meat then have you cook your own rice on the side. I guess the plus side is, since it's microwavable, the fact that it includes rice makes this a full lunch option, but that's be one meal that's too big even for me.

For a $5.99 deal, it's way too big for one person but was pretty amply sized for two, unless you have a way bigger appetite than me, which probably isn't possible. I really don't have all that many complaints about it - maybe that's the recent lack of TJ goodness in my diet talking, but no matter. This will definitely be a repeat purchase for us. Sandy's a fan as well. She didn't give me an exact Golden Spoon rating (too busy with take-home work, which is the absolute worst kind, the poor girl), but I'll assume we're about on the same wavelength and go ahead and assume it'd be a four from her. That's mostly because that's exactly what I'll give it.

Bottom line: Trader Jose's Chicken in Red Mole: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Trader Joe's Vegetable Masala Burgers

Last night, quite accidentally, Sonia and I participated in our first Meatless Monday. Have you heard of Meatless Mondays? The theory is that if we cut meat out of our diet—even just one day a week—that we'll not only be healthier, but we'll help save the planet, too. Supposedly cows, pigs and other tasty, meaty animals use up way more resources to produce a comparable amount of food than a simple vegetarian meal. I guess it cuts out the middle man—or middle beast, as it were. Instead of growing grains and then feeding them to animals and then eating the animals, you just grow vegetables and such and eat those. Much simpler. Also, cow farts deplete the ozone.

So, the less demand for meat there is, the better off we'll be. And each day, Trader Joe whips up some new vegetarian delight to make Meatless Monday that much more enjoyable, affordable, and accessible. These masala burgers are certainly worth a try, especially if you're craving Indian on Meatless Monday.

The patties look rich with exotic plant matter—and they are. They're dense and filling, but not excessively so. Their texture is not unlike that of a traditional veggie burger, but these feel even less like real meat somehow. In some cases, that's bad. But in this case, it's a good thing that these burgers aren't trying to be something that they're not. They are their own unique delicacy.

Flavor-wise, they capture a good bit of those happy East Indian spices that lovers of fine ethnic foods have come to know and cherish, but they can still be covered in mustard and mayo, dressed in lettuce and cheese, and served in the way of a classic American burger. It's Indian-American "fusion" food, although I'm quite certain you could dish them up with naan and chutney and make something a bit more authentically Indian if you wanted to.

I'm a fan. No major complaints. I'll throw out 4 stars for these puppies. Sonia will follow suit.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Don't ask me why, but I don't think was even cognizant of the existence of sweet potatoes until I took up a high school job slingin' chicken thighs 'n sides at Boston Market. I'm pretty darn sure that my mom was way too busy making so many other great dinners that she never got around to making them, and while I'm sure they were probably present in some form at family Thanksgiving, I'd be too busy stuffing my face with mashed potatoes and/or my Aunt Brenda's pecan pie (easily the best in the world, and way better than any TJ knockoff) to notice. I'd have to come up for air for that. Anyways, at the Market, I saw them one day with the marshmallows and brown sugar on top, and figured, well, why not. I now know that those aren't even all that close to being an actual real sweet potato, but man, I got hooked. I think I nearly got fired from there from trying to sneak bites here and there while I thought the manager was too busy smoking in the back to watch. Since then, I've come to like practically anything sweet potato-related - fries, chips, casserole, heck, even the sweet potato/meat/onion/green pepper foil packs my dad, my brothers and I made on our Man Weekend last weekend. In fact, I've come to think with just an exception or two here or there (say, mashed potatoes and gravy), sweet potatoes are by in large superior to their regular homefriable homeboys.

Well, let's make another exception with the Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Gnocchi. Let's just say this isn't TJ's finest effort. Let me explain. I haven't eaten a lion's share of tuber-based gnocchi in my day, but I've given it the ol' college try on enough occasions. Every single time, it's been firm, kinda chewy, doughy yet solid, tasty ball of goodness. Not these, and it's not even particularly close, either. Think mushballs. That's the best way I can think of describing the texture. Really, the gnocchi seem more stuffing-like than anything else. I began to have a feeling they'd be like this while cooking them up in my fry pan. Yep, fry pan. You don't boil these frozen guys, you heat them up in a lightly oiled pan, and as the gnocchi warmed up, they all began to fall apart, especially when I got the spatula involved. Texturewise, they just weren't there. Just look at the picture up above - that oughtta give you a pretty good idea of what I'm talking about.

As for taste...eh...I'm kinda split on it. I enjoyed the first couple bites well enough, but before too long, they just didn't taste quite as good. The law of diminishing returns shouldn't work so quickly. I mean, they taste alright, kinda mildly sweet potato-ey, with the included butter and subtle sage sauce, but after a while, it just wasn't too terribly interesting any more, at least not to me. Sandy was a little more blunt and blurted out, unprompted, "These just don't really taste like anything." I'd disagree, but I understood what she was saying, too.

"I don't know why Trader Joe's is calling these gnocchi, because they're not really close to any gnocchi I've ever had," Sandy said. I could tell my girl meant business because with each bite her face just showed more and more displeasure, and I'm pretty sure she pushed her plate away more than once, which honestly I'd never seen her do before. That's why I was kinda surprised when Sandy said she'd give 'em a two. Not that I'm one to question her judgment (that's straight to sleeping on the couch territory there), but, uh, since I assume she's rounding up I'll go ahead and round down my score. Make a firmer, boilable version of these sweet potato gnocchi, Trader Joe, and this score could definitely rise. 'Til then, you gotta settle for 1.5 from me, buddy.

Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Gnocchi: 3.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, May 7, 2012

Trader Joe's Vegetable Pakoras

Reminiscent of Trader Joe's Heat and Eat Falafel, these happy little balls of Indian food are nearly as unique as their name. I've been to a good number of Indian joints, but I don't believe I've ever heard of pakoras before.

Like falafel, they're made with chick peas, but these also have potatoes, peas, carrots, onions, and some Indian spices rolled up and fried to perfection. To heat, you just pop these frozen puppies in the oven for 15 minutes. They come with a sweet tamarind sauce—which became a topic of hot debate in our household.

This tamarind sauce not only defied our expectations, but apparently defied several universal laws of nature as well. First of all, when something from Trader Joe's is supposed to be sweet, it's a universal law that I'll be the one complaining that it's not sweet enough, and Sonia will say that it's either perfect or maybe even too sweet. Of this sauce, she said the opposite. And I was quite happy with it's sweetness-level—but then, I was expecting sweet as in tangy, spicy, Indian sweet; not sweet as in fresh orange marmalade sweet. Not that Sonia was expecting the latter, but she did somehow seem very disappointed, and said "I wasn't expecting it to be so bitter." Bitter is one of the last words I would use to describe it. She also called it sour. It was tangy, but I certainly wouldn't call it "sour" exactly. It was good if you ask me, and including it in this package definitely impacted my score of this product for the better. Also, strangely enough, Sonia loves everything made with tamarind. Maybe she thought the sauce would be sweet because "tamarind" to her means a flavor of Mexican candy or the Jarritos brand Tamarindo flavored soda. That particular flavor of "refresca" is the only Jarritos I can't stand, and I think the candy is even worse.

As for the pakoras themselves, we were both fans. I personally think the heat and eat falafel is just a tad tastier. I can't put my finger on why exactly—I think the falafel just seems richer and nuttier somehow. The texture of a falafel ball is denser; thicker than these pakora snacks. More filling in a way—but not by much. Although with significantly more ingredients, the taste of these pakora balls is a bit more complex, and perhaps just a little lighter. I felt the sauce complemented their flavor and added a welcomed flair, but Sonia preferred them dry.

Sauceless or not, we both came to the same conclusion. These pakoras are worthy of 4 stars from each of us. Vegans, go nuts. Fans of cheap foreign foods, rejoice. Trader Joe's adventurers, dive in.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Trader Joe's Gummy Tummies

My wife told me something just a few days ago that may have literally changed everything ever: I, Russ Shelly, in my house, in my kitchen, on my IKEA-bought kitchen shelf, own my own candy jar, all for me. You see, up to that point, I knew we had three apothecary jar-type things up there above the microwave. One was for granola bars and the like, one for little hard candy things which are pretty easy for me to ignore, and one for all sorts of tasty looking treats that I have been told in no uncertain terms are absolutely off limits to me at all times. You can guess which one is mine, and I presume the reason why there's no little tasty-tasties in it is because I ate them all already. As I've alluded to before, Sandy's a lot more patient with her stash and even hides candy from me at times so she can enjoy them over days or weeks or even months. Relatedly, dear, that box of Girl Scout Tagalongs we have in the pantry? I haven't touched it but it's officially on notice - it's way past the statute of limitations of any claim of spousal ownership. Still, I think of all of the ramifications of this discovery - no more arguments over whose candy is whose, who ate it all, and so on -it's either in my jar or it isn't. I didn't know that's what the system was, and as long as I can fill it with tastier stuff than these nastastic chunks (which we still have half a bag of), I'm good.

Although, I'd like to point out that I sometimes buy candy for the express purpose of us sharing it and not me hording it. Case in point: Trader Joe's Gummy Tummies. I got them especially with Sandy in mind, as she loves gummy candies and is obsessed with anything penguin-related. Seriously, you should have seen her at the New England Aquarium a few summers ago - I'm just happy she didn't jump over the rail and start swimming along. So even though we had them a few weeks, and even though it crossed my mind multiple times to just take them into work for a snack one day, no, I held off until we needed an after-work snack to get us through our baby furniture shopping run (at IKEA, coincidentally or not. I feel like our house is like that scene in Fight Club sometimes).

Anyways, the gummies. Not bad at all, friends. Definitely good. Each bag has three flavors - cherry, lime and strawberry - and each "penguin" piece has two facets. The firmer main gummy body and the squishier, kinda liquidy tummy that kinda splash out as you bite them. That might bring to mind those Gusher thingies from back in the day, but these TJ gummies have more of a splash while being more gummy bear like overall. None of the individual flavors really stick out as being better than the others. They're all just good, and are just sweet and sugary enough without going overboard.

The only somewhat negative thing I can say about them is, for being advertised as penguins, the gummies sure look a lot more like a slightly frumpy Grimace than any type of aquatic arctic bird. In fact, I'd say they really don't resemble penguins at all. Although, I guess that can be positive, in that you're less likely to equate chowing down on them with spilling the blood of some poor penguin across your molars. Those soft tummies can really add that illusion if you allow it...sorry if that ruined these for anyone....

Other than that, these TJ Gummy Tummies work pretty darn well. Sandy and I plowed through the bag we had, even though there were plenty in there for the $1.99 we paid for the sack. I could tell we both liked them, even though when I asked Sandy for her expert opinion, she just kinda said, "It was there. It was candy. I ate it." Strangely enough, that's how I approach most candy, and that's why Sandy has all the goodies and I'm currently stuck with stale breath mints. Anyways, she didn't give an exact score, but I figure these are worth at least an 8 out of 10, and however you'd like to split our spoons from there, you're probably right.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gummy Tummies: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Trader Ming's Citrus Glazed Chicken

We've all had one of those weeks. You know the kind I'm talking about. The ones where you (and perhaps your spouse or partner) look around in the fridge and pantry, kinda say "meh", then think of the all the busy nights and things you gotta do, and say "Screw it, I'm not going grocery shopping this week." It doesn't matter that you don't even remember buying half the things, or that saltines and peanut butter would have to be a viable meal option to make it all work, it's your decision and you're sticking to it.

Sandy and I had one of those weeks last week. We were literally busy with something every single night then we were going out of town for the weekend, so it seemed kinda pointless to make our weekly TJ trek. While we weren't quite scraping the pantry enough to unearth some garlic bread sprinkle that expired in 1977, there still were few enough options that it took a little planning so we could talk ourselves into it. Dinners seemed to be doable enough if we relied heavily on our staple foods, but then my lunches came up - gotta eat, and no way in h-e-double bendy straw I'm gonna turn myself into a dollar menuaire for a week. That's just nasty.

That's when Sandy spotted the bag of Trader Ming's Citrus Glazed Chicken and gave me the look that said "There's a couple lunches for you right there, buster. I'm not gonna touch it, no matter what." We first picked it up months and months ago, hoping it'd be another Trader Ming orange-tinged classic, but were kinda disappointed by it, so naturally I bought it again soon thereafter if for no other reason to remind myself of why we didn't like it so I could warn all of you. That's what I do for you, readers. Anyways, naturally, since we remembered not liking the dish, we avoided it...and avoided it....avoided it some more...hid it in the back and covered it up...forgot about it...ate everything else...and now its time had come. There's only so many microwave quesadillas I can eat in one week, anyways.

The citrus chicken wasn't as bad as I remembered, but that's not to say it was all that good, either. Let's go with some positives first. First, it's ridiculously easy to make, to the point where Trader Joe's has taken the trouble of even cooking rice and including it for you, if you'd just be bothered enough to cook it up in a few tablespoons of water while you're sauteing up the chicken and veggies. Also, the chicken tastes about as reasonably good as some frozen white chunkified chicken can, unlike some other TJ's we call fowl play on. And the glaze, well, it's not overly citrusy, so it tastes alright, but you won't be scraping up every bit of it, either. Plus, you get a little baggy of cashews, kinda like how you get a little prize or sticker with your Cracker Jack.

The big problem is the veggies. I remember this being true the first time Sandy and I had it, and it was true this time around, too, so I'm thinking it's not a fluke. By the time they're stirfried up, they're just kinda mushy and bland. That's true for the green beans, red peppers, broccoli, carrots, and whatever else is in there. It's a shame, because I like each one of those, but was impartial to slightly repulsed by many a bite. For me, a good stirfry has veggies that are firm, with a little snap to them, and still have a lot of natural flavor to them. Not true here. Also, because there was so little chicken, it seemed like the bag was over 90% suboptimal vegetable matter.

Sandy has a lot of "food rules," and the biggest one is "no wimpy veggies - fresh is best." So yeah, she was only too willing to pass up a second round. Kinda like the Pittsburgh Penguins and the playoffs recently.* I can't really ask her for a grade, but I'll go out on a limb and assume. Really, knowing her, if she couldn't just pick out all the chicken and leave the rest to me, I'd doubt she'd give it more than a one. Me? Eh...I don't know. Part of me wants to give it the benefit of the doubt for being in the freezer for a while then eating it only reheated, but to my memory it tasted about the same both times. My general impression is, it's not all that great, so let's go with a 2.

Bottom line: Trader Ming's Citrus Glazed Chicken: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons
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* I live in Pittsburgh so I can say that. If you don't, you can't.