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, October 31, 2012

Trader Joe's Roasted Coconut Chips

Since Hurricane Sandy paid us a visit this week, knocked over some trees in our neighborhood here in the Philly suburbs, and took away our power from Monday night into Tuesday morning, we've been thinking a lot about her Caribbean origins. Her Caribbean origins made us think about coconut. And our thoughts of coconut led to our purchase of a bag of Trader Joe's Roasted Coconut Chips.

It's mature coconuts soaked in young coconut juice. The best of both worlds. No need to choose experience over youth or vice versa. I'm pretty sure young coconuts are greenish and old coconuts are brownish, but other than that, I don't think I could tell you much about them. But I've always liked coconuts and coconut-flavored things, and this bag of snackaliciousness is no exception.

They're satisfyingly sweet, and they're big enough to treat them like bite-size snack chips, yet small enough to use them as toppings on cakes, ice cream, pudding, or what have you. At $1.99 for a bag, I'd say they were a pretty good value. If you're a fan of coconut, go ahead and shell out the 2 bones for something that I think could very well find itself appearing regularly on your TJ's shopping list.

They have a similar texture to that of the shredded coconut bits that we all know and love—the kind that are used as toppings on cakes and other desserts, but these "chips" have properties similar to other chips. They're flat and extremely crispy. They crunch when you eat them, and they have significantly more surface area than a bit of shredded coconut. 

Sonia gives them a score of 4 stars. She wishes the bag were larger, but other than that, she was quite pleased. I agree that in this case, more would have been better, but this relatively healthy snack was tasty enough to garner 4 and a half stars from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The I Love Trader Joe's Vegetarian Cookbook


A while back, we took a look at The I Love Trader Joe's College Cookbook. And this year, we were able to take a look at another book in the same series from Ulysses Press, The I Love Trader Joes Vegetarian Cookbook By Holechek, Kris.

Although Sonia and I have often flirted with the idea of going vegetarian, we've never fully committed to the conversion. But we still do an occasional "Meatless Monday" and often enjoy vegetarian dishes, especially from Trader Joe's. As most of you know, TJ's has a pretty good selection of vegetarian items, some of which are very unique and difficult to find elsewhere.

This cookbook not only takes full advantage of the wide spectrum of vegetarian options from Trader Joe's and Ms. Peters' extensive knowledge of them, but it offers 150 ways of combining them that I wouldn't have thought of in a million years—and each recipe, if not already vegan, has a fully-vegan alternate version included.

This cookbook gets creative. One of the recipes takes Trader Joe's Potato Tots and turns them into Texas-style vegan nachos—er, excuse me, "Totchos." Even with limited time and money, there are plenty of simple recipes in here. The three bean salad, pictured right, is delicious! (Though, I must admit, we didn't pickle our onions). But had we chosen to pickle them, there's a recipe for that in the book, too!

Featuring casseroles, beverages, soups, desserts, and more, The I Love Trader Joe's Vegetarian Cookbook flaunts dishes for every occasion—dishes tasty enough not just for vegans and vegetarians, but for your average, everyday omnivores as well.

To learn about the author, to see more mouthwatering pics of her fantastic vegetarian fare, or for some sneak-peek recipes from the book, check out her blog, Nom! Nom! Nom! To order the book from amazon.com, just click here! It's the perfect gift for all of the vegetarians, vegans, and fans of Trader Joe's in your life.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Trader Joe's Firecracker Shrimp

In a recent post, I described the new morning routine that Sandy, Baby M and I are now have now that we're both back to work while M's off at baby school (fairly conveniently at Sandy's jarb). Those can be a little rough. Know what else is tough? Evenings. For those of you with kids, you probably know that already, and I don't want to sound whiny, but we're just trying to get settled into the "new normal." Finish up a long day of work, get home, feed the baby, take care of the dog, feed the baby again, be tired, be hungry, deal with a crying baby who apparently cannot stand the mere thought of both of us eating at the same time, do chores...the list doesn't end. Add in the occasional run to the chiropractic office not only for Sandy's back, but also for my elbows and arms to stop hurting after sneezing (true story), and it can only make things more hectic.

No wonder convenient meals-in-a-bag are so popular. There's barely time to do much else some nights, especially when your belly just needs some grub before moving on to the next thing. While we definitely got a preference for homemade dinners and have maintained a good habit of those whenever possible, there's some nights we just kinda cave in and grab something quick 'n easy.

Recently we nabbed ourselves the Trader Joe's Firecracker Shrimp. Most TJ shrimp products have done well for us - routinely, it's high-quality, fresh-tasting crustaceany critters that's not salty or gritty or mushy like too many other store brands I've had. Mostly our quibbles have only been with whatever gets slopped on them, or what they come packaged with. History holds true here. Excellent, excellent shrimp itself - fresh, roughly quarter-sized, firm, with a little light coating on them that crisped up in the oven well enough. Absolutely no complaints. It's just the sauce again. Exactly as you do with other products like the Mandarin Orange Chicken, after you bake the bites you swirl them in a bowl of the sauce. For something that's marketed under "Firecracker," I'd expect some heat, except TJ's repeats its classic error and confuses vinegar with spice, which is not that nice. Combine that with the lemon and sugar and whatnot tossed in, and the sauce tastes almost downright citrusy with nary a hint of the sriracha that it purportedly contains. I'm thinking the sauce would be greatly enhanced by adding some of my own chili powder or some crushed red pepper, but as it comes, it's lacking in our book.

That's not to write the dish off completely. But it's kinda disappointing, knowing just how much better it could actually be with a few small tweaks. Aside from the sauce, Sandy said the shrimp could do with either more breading, or none whatsoever. It probably didn't help that half the coating stuck on our foil-covered baking sheet. Also, say, if I were to buy this at a restaurant, I'd be happy with the quantity of shrimp for our $6.99, but for a make-at-home dinner, even a low effort one like this, either the price could stand to go down, or there could be an extra handful of shrimp included. No matter. It did well enough for a busy Monday night, and it reconfirmed that homemade dinners almost always win in our book. However you want to split our score, you're probably right.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Firecracker Shrimp: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons         

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Chunky Guacamole

If you're familiar with our blog, you might be familiar with some of my wife Sandy's "food rules". If not, check out this corny post for a quick primer, cuz I'm running thru all them again. Anyways, guacamole is just something that she has decided she doesn't like. I have no idea whether or not it's something she's ever actually tried, but that's her. I don't think I could pay her to ever try it - too mushy, too mashy, too chunky, too avocado-ey. It's too bad, because, man, I love me some guac, but it spoils too quickly for me to justify buying a purchase a container just for myself, and truth be told, I'm positive she'd be a fan if only she were to try a little sample.

Anyways, lest you think this will be a one-sided review (I've sworn those off), fear not! For only the second time in our history that I can recall, we have a celebrity guest reviewer today. Ladies and gents, let's please welcome Tanya Novotny to the floor! By day she is a pharmacist extraordinaire, but while she's not busy saving the world one prescription at a time, she is an official TJ's nut who's not only tipped us off to some incredible breakfast treats, but also gave towards my Bike MS fundraising event a few weeks back, winning our reader contest to nominate a TJ's product to be reviewed with her two cents tossed in. Thanks again, Tanya!

As far as Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Chunky Guacamole goes, it's another winner. I respect what TJ's is trying to do here by taking a kinda-unhealthy dip and turning it into something that's at least somewhat better for you. Basically, think of blending an avocado with a bunch of Greek yogurt and add in some onion and pepper and spices and whatnot, and that's what we got here. Texturewise, it's almost exactly halfway between regular guacamole and Greek yogurt, perhaps erring on the side of creaminess, except for the occasional lil' chunky of avocado or onion, of course. As for taste, if eaten kinda piled on top of taco salad (as I recently ate it), the flavor kinda melds in with everything else, with only the Greek yogurt and lime finishing bite really sticking out. Stick a chip in and have some unencumbered by too many other flavors, and it tastes pretty close to how guacamole should, save for the Greek yogurty part. And that's not a complaint either. I've been on a Greek yogurt kick recently, and using it as a base for a tasty dip is a pretty ingenious idea.  I'd even say, if you partake of this particular guac, you can skimp on additional sour cream or yogurt altogether, which only adds to its healthiness quotient. A little less salt, though would be appreciated - I mean, with everything else, why add the sea salt? Eh well.

Tanya's a fan, as am I. "Almost as good as the real stuff," she said. She's had it a few more times than I have, and has noted she can taste a difference in the level of spiciness from batch to batch sometimes. If that's the case, Trader Joe's, make mine a little hotter next time, please! The ingredients say there's jalapenos in there, and I want to taste 'em a little. I'll add in her only negative statement here: "I know it’s “Chunky” but yesterday, I got a huge chunk of avocado and happily bit into it, only to find that it was an unripe chunk of avocado, and thus, was quite tough and bitter. YUK!" Ewww, glad I avoided that! Still, it's good enough for her to give it the equivalent of about a four. That, too, sounds just about right to me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Chunky Guacamole: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, October 19, 2012

Trader Joe's Mexicaine Quiche

I'm not sure why TJ's decided to spell "Mexican" with a built-in homage to the cocaine cartels in Juarez. Neither Sonia (who is Mexican-American) nor I are familiar with this bizarre spelling. I guess it makes the product fancier. I'm also fond of mispronouncing "quiche" on purpose, like "kwitch-y." So, at our house, this product became "TJ's Mexi-Cocaine Kwitchy" because I'm weird like that. At any rate, we decided to sample this product and review it for you.

We followed the instructions for a conventional oven. Everything came out cooked to perfection except for the egginess in the middle. It was still too wet. The outer-crust was beginning to blacken and char, and yet the middle was a little too raw—but not to the point that we couldn't eat it.

The product has a fair amount of egg-omelette flavor and there's a hint of mild Mexican peppers. The crust was great. It reminded me of a homemade pie crust. But overall, this quiche is on the bland side. Have salt, pepper, and the hot sauce of your choice on stand-by when and if you decide to cook up this dish.

It's in the ballpark of $3. I don't remember the exact price, I can't find our receipt, and anyway, prices may vary from region to region. It strikes me as being pretty small for a $3 quiche. A grown man could easily eat the whole thing and still be a bit hungry...and holy crap! Just as I'm writing this I glanced at the nutrition information. I don't think a full day's worth of saturated fat is something that most of us are looking for in a small treat from Trader Joe's.

Originally, as I ate it, it was just yummy enough to garner 3.5 stars from me. After thinking about its economic value and its fat content, I think I'll downgrade that to an even 3 stars. Sonia gives it 3 as well, adding "That is a little bland for a Mexican dish. It should have more pepper flavor and more kick."

But don't get me wrong, if you're looking for a breakfasty comfort food omelette-thing, I'd still say it's better than most greasy-spoon diner egg-based dishes. This one's definitely not a must-buy...more like a "might-try."

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Trader Joe's Contemplates...Inner Peas

I'll admit it, I wasn't eager to try out Trader Joe's Contemplates...Inner Peas. It has nothing to do with the terrible reach for a pun for the name, either. It's just that, normally speaking, if I were to be in the mood for something crispy and vegetably-inspired, why not eat, I don't know, any actual vegetable?  I mean, that's an ideal to strive for, to hunger for fresh produce instead of some pseudo-wanna be-potato chip-type thing, and one I'll freely admit to falling short of quite often. That doesn't change my position, though. Not only that, but with just an exception or two, I have not been a fan of most of TJ's crunchy vegetable snackies - I mean, one of them tastes like a stale McDonald's fry, for goodness' sake. Semirelatedly, I flat out refuse to try their seaweed snacks (wasabified or not) because just the name brings back some bad memories of Japanese rice cracker/seaweed snack my dad liked when I was growing up. Nearly made me upchuck every time.

Sandy, though? I'm not sure how artfully my photo hides the large gaping gash at the top of the package where she eagerly and ravenously ripped it open in anticipation of all the little munchy green pea sticks inside. I mean, girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do, I guess, but let me take a proper picture first. I guess by that, she's just demonstrating how far up her alley a snack like this is. Maybe she just couldn't have her inner peace until she had her Inner Peas. Great, now I'm making bad puns, too.

As far as the snackety snack goes, I am neither appalled by them, nor am I overly enamored, either. To me, an Inner Pea just tastes like a crunchy, semi-Styrofoamy stick that tastes a little salty, slightly oily, and however slightly reminiscent of a pea. And believe me, I can definitely tell when something's made from rice flour, as it usually tastes a little off to me. There's no mistake here - they're ricey, and for all that, gluten still sneaks in somewhere. Aside from that, if you told me these were mummified green beans, I'd probably believe it. Maybe that's your kinda thing. Maybe you use them as a dipstick for some good hummus, and that's probably a half-decent idea I wish I would have considered before these al disappeared. By themselves, though, they're kinda nondescript and while "bland" is not the right word, "flavorful" certainly isn't, either. They're just kinda...there. Maybe, for my palate they're just too contemplative and peasfull...dang, another one...sorry!

Sandy might like them a little more, but she's not exactly bowled over, either. "They're not great, but they're not bad either," she said. Based on her aforementioned eagerness, that almost sounded like a slight indictment to me, so I was a little surprised when she gave them a 3.5 rating. Sandy did, however, add that she'd probably like them more if they were in a salad or something of the sort. Me? I'm willing to allow for the fact that the pea sticks just aren't my kinda thing, so I'd be willing to be slightly more generous if not for my wife's rather muted reaction. I don't know, I'll say a 2.5 from me. I'm at peas with that.

Okay, I'm just gonna leave now.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Contemplates...Inner Peas: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Filled with Speculoos Cookie Spread

In a recent post, I mentioned that Sonia and I aren't in the habit of purchasing random chocolate bars from the checkout at TJ's. That was a big lie. On our last Trader Joe's run, we did just that. After the success of such items as the Speculoos Cookie Butter and other dark chocolate candy bars like this one, we decided this little snack might be worth a purchase.

This chocolate bar was tasty. But the two main ingredients didn't blend together quite like I had hoped they would. For those of you who've tried the Cookie Butter, you know that it's pretty sweet and has a good bit of taste, but the rich, bitter tang of the dark chocolate was enough to virtually drown out the speculoos' flavor. It's not that they skimped on the Cookie Butter here. Just looking at each chocolate square, you'd think the gingerbread sweetness of the speculoos would be the dominant flavor...but sadly, it isn't. There was a hint of creaminess in each little chocolate square, but it still felt and tasted basically like a regular dark chocolate bar—not unlike this one

So really, it's a pretty safe purchase as long as you're a fan of dark chocolate. Even if you don't like gingersnap type flavors, I don't think there's enough in there to ruin the chocolatiness. But if you're hoping for big bursts of that TJ's Speculoos Cookie Butter that you've come to know and love, you might find this chocolate bar falls short of its potential. I'd really like to try the same thing with white chocolate or milk chocolate instead of dark. I think the flavors might blend a little better. And a bit more cookie butter couldn't hurt, either.

Sonia gives this little treat a 3.5. Me too.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Trader Joe's Organic Frosted Toaster Pastries

Mornings sure have been a lot different over the past week or so here at the Pittsburgh WGaTJ homestead. Sandy's back to work with Baby M tagging along, which is a nice perk of working at a daycare, ahem, early childhood education center.* Since we try to carpool as much as possible, that makes for one busy busy morning of waking up, getting myself ready, getting a baby who doesn't want to be awake yet ready, while gently nagging/slightly hollering at the wife who REALLY doesn't want to be awake yet to get moving as well. We're both far from morning people, so add in the extra tiredness of waking up at 4 a.m. to change the diaper (my job) and feed the baby (Sandy's) and falling asleep for whatever winks we can get after that to get up and running, well, it barely leaves time to do much else besides the bare minimum. Not that I'm complaining. Wouldn't change daddyhood for the world, and I certainly wouldn't change diapers for anyone else, either.

Naturally, a good, quick munchie on the go is in order to help get the engines fired. While I can wait for my French press at work for coffee (why did you discontinue my favorite, TJ's?), I need something to head off the rumbly in my tumbly right away. For a long while, my fuel of choice has been a quick pb sandwich but my favorite one is recalled right now, leaving me in search of other options. I guess being my favorite comes with a heavy, heavy price.

Well, nothing bad ought to ever, ever happen to Trader Joe's Organic Frosted Toaster Pastries. At least,  sure as all heck hope not. The obvious comparison is, well, pretty obvious. Listen, this ain't no Pop Tart. TJ's got themselves a product markedly better. Let me count the ways. First, the pastry shell is made with whole wheat. Sorry for the gluten-free crowd, but that's a win over whatever overly refined stuff the competition uses. It tastes wheatier and better and healthier, plus I think that's why these seem a little more filling/satisfying than the regular fare. Of course, I have no idea if they're actually really any healthier, but I'm just assuming so, because that's what the word "organic" means to me. Second, the filling itself - we've tried just the cherry pomegranate variety, and the filling tastes like real, actual fruit instead of glucosey/corn syrupy colored sugary gunk. Okay, hmm, on that point, they probably are healthier. Works for me. Add on enough purplish frosting and sparkly sugar on top that it'd make Prince blush for a little added taste, and these will more than hold me over for the 10 a.m test.

 We both like them quite a bit and I know we'll be buying them again our next go-around. I had to talk Sandy out of eating a pack on a Sunday morning when we had a lot more time AND leftover carrot cake for a sweet breakfast treat. She said something silly about really really really really liking them, but I fail to remember what that was. We also failed to try them out after toasting them, because, well, who has time for that when there's a screaming hungry baby to drive across town during rush hour before feeding her? Not us. No matter. Sandy gives them a solid four, while I'll up that a notch. They're not our favorite breakfast pastry from TJ's, but on a busy morning, they'll more than suffice.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Frosted Toaster Pastries: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
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*That's not to disparage my wife's workplace one bit. In all honesty, it's a pretty topnotch place, and even that's a bit of an understatement. I just like to see her reaction when I slip up and call it daycare. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Trader Joe's Cinnamon Apple Snack Sticks

From what I can gather, unlike most of you, I don't get all that much into the pumpkin-everything craze every fall. Sure, I'll enjoy a slice of pumpkin pie or the occasional pumpkin beer, but yeah, pumpkin this, pumpkin that, pumpkin this-other-thing and pumpkin-that-other thing? Meh. I guess I'm the anti-Linus, not in search of the Great Pumpkin. In the autumn I get much more excited about crockpot goodies like potato soup and chili and pretty much anything on my second favorite blog ever.

For the fall time, if I had to say I'm excited about any seasonal fruit or vegetable, I'd choose apples. Yeah, I know, they're not "seasonal" in the traditional sense like pumpkins, but you know what I mean. Going apple picking. Apple sauce. Apple cider (or as my four year old nephew calls it, "apple-spider juice"). Apple crisp. Apple pie. Now, that I can get behind.

As for Trader Joe's Cinnamon Apple Snack Sticks, I can get behind them too. Don't get me wrong - they're not nearly as good as any of those aforementioned tasty treats. But, like anything else, they have a time and a place. And get this: they're made from real apples, too. Sure, they're all pureed up and tossed into a multigrain mix, but they're in there, with the sweet, slightly tart taste poking through here and there. Tastewise, using Apple Jacks as a base comparison, these snack sticks are probably at least ten times more actually apple-y. Add in the cinnamon that's liberally blasted on each stick, and the end result is a pretty munchable treat that's a much welcome break from the norm.

Count me as a fan. These will be making my list as a repeat buy, even if Sandy's not as big a fan as I am. "They could be a lot more apple-y," she says. I'm not sure if that's completely accurate for a snack food that's in a similar vein as Funyuns, except, well, better. She does note they'd go well with a bowl of vanilla ice cream or a mug of hot cider. Now you're talking, sweetie. Her score's a measly 2.5. For me, I like the well-balanced taste between the apples and the grains and the cinnamon, yet they're not addictive enough I feel like I have to eat them handful after handful. They're not a bad treat at all.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cinnamon Apple Snack Sticks: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons        

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Butter

We both eyed the pumpkin butter from the middle of the aisle, peering over a number of other TJ's shoppers scurrying by. One other woman did a double take as she perused the jellies and syrups. It seemed the pumpkin butter aroused curiosity more than anything else. As Sonia and I debated whether to buy and review the item, one question rose up in our minds, "What would go well with pumpkin butter?"

For that reason, the jar has no fewer than 6 different suggestions for how to serve the product within. They recommend using it in soup, on ice cream, or as a poultry glaze, among others. Its uniqueness is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, TJ's Pumpkin Butter is versatile enough that you can use it to make almost anything taste like pumpkin. On the other hand, even if you find a bunch of different foods that you want to make taste like pumpkin, you find yourself doing little more than experimenting with a culinary tool that you're barely familiar with and don't fully understand. It's kind of like the Twitter of the kitchen-world: obviously there's a lot of potential there...but ultimately, what's the point?

Furthermore, if you wanted something like pumpkin ice cream, for example, it would probably be best to just buy Pilgrim Joe's Pumpkin Ice Cream—a product whose pumpkin-properties have been balanced and blended by professional ice cream folks, rather than creating your own haphazard version using Pumpkin Butter and whatever you've got kicking around in your freezer. Although some people might prefer creating their own ice cream so they can tailor the mixture to suit their own tastes...

Texture-wise, the product is not unlike apple butter. There's pureed pumpkin, sugar, and honey. It's very sweet, but traditional pumpkin spices are definitely there. We tried it on toast. It's okay by itself, but we found that the most palatable way to eat it was with some cream cheese. Not wanting to waste time, energy...and potentially food, we steered clear of creating things like Pumpkin Butter and sour cream soup. And I'm pretty sure our Thanksgiving turkey this year will not be basted in this stuff.

I can't deny that there's something fascinating about it. It's good to try something new once in a while. But I just can't figure out what niche this product should fill in my diet. It's certainly no replacement for apple butter, jams, or jellies. It's just a bit of novelty. Three stars.

Sonia feels the same way, but because all things pumpkin remind her of autumn, her favorite season, she couldn't help but enjoy it. She almost gave it four stars, but decided on three and a half.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Rice Pasta & Cheddar

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

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

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

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

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