Hello. My name's Nathan, and I love Trader Joe's. My wife Sonia does too. She's a great shopper, has excellent taste and knows good value when she comes across it. As many of you know, Trader Joe's is unsurpassed in the world of good-value grocery stores, so we spend a lot of our time and money there. Although the store fairly consistently delivers great taste with its own unique line of food products, there are definitely some big-hits, and unfortunately, there are some misses...

After doing a couple of internet searches for reviews of TJ's food items, Sonia discerned an apparent dearth of good, quality reviews for the store's offerings. So, at her suggestion, we decided to embark on a journey of systematically reviewing every Trader Joe's product, resulting in the blog you are about to read...

A couple of months into our Trader Joe's rating adventure, an old college friend, Russ, who unbeknownst to me had been following our TJ's blog, decided that I had been slacking in my blogging duties (which, of course, I was) so he decided to contribute his own original TJ's reviews to the blog, thus enhancing it, making it more complete and adding to it a flavor of his own. He and his wife Sandy are also avid TJ's fans and, as you will soon discover, he is an excellent writer and is nearly as clever, witty and humble as I am.

Seriously though, Russ: You go, boy!

So here it is: "What's Good at Trader Joe's?"

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Trader Joe's Quick Cook Steel Cut Oats

In a change from my usual tack, I'm gonna be real upfront with you right off the bat: Trader Joe's Quick Cook Steel Cut Oats will be the very first product, in the nearly 400 reviews on this blog to date, to earn two different scores on the very same review. It is equally true that this particular oatmeal is very, extremely delicious (you know, as oatmeal goes) and yet....ugh. It all depends how you make it.

I've heard that "it all depends how you make it" statement made about many things, upto and including those gawd-awful turkey meatloaf muffins. Apparently, if you ignore the stated "preferred method" notes (as I didn't), bake them twice as long as need be, broil them, slather them in cheese, deepfry them, add gravy, wrap in a wonton then saute in some olive oil and hot sauce and top with a cherry while singing loudly to Justin Bieber, they're good. Or something like that. Why the heck they're still available, I have no idea.

But I digress. Back to the oatmeal. Here's the breakdown:

Trader Joe's Quick Cook Steel Cut Oatmeal is GOOD when: you make it on the stove top. Oh yes, very good, indeed. Sandy and I made up a couple bowlfuls (pictured) this past weekend to have for breakfast along with a fresh French press full o' coffee. I added some grade B maple syrup and toasted almond slivers to mine. Deeeeeee-lish. Extremely good, and very easy to make, taking roughly the eight minutes or so the package says it takes. It's kinda fun watching the little oatmeal granules take in the water and turn into mush. Which brings to mind: why the big deal about oatmeal being "steel cut"? I suppose, living in Pittsburgh and all, that ought to make me proud in a way, but what does it matter what oatmeal is cut with? What if it were cut with titanium? Or adamantium? Or if it were just repeatedly crushed by a Thwomp Brother? I just see those clever marketng buzz words "steel cut oatmeal" all the time. I guess if you can't make oatmeal sexy, make it sound exotic. Or something. Regardless, yes, stove top prep method = healthy nomnomnom.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons when cooked in a pot
Trader Joe's Quick Cook Steel Cut Oatmeal is NOT GOOD when: you use the microwave. Nope. Believe me, I've tried, three times, with three different methods, and they all have failed. The first time, and this was probably my underestimating of the matter, I had my quarter cup of steel cut oatty bittybits, three quarters cup of water from the hot water tap at work (you know, what you'd use to make tea), put it in roughly a container with a two cup volume, and nuked it for three minutes. My visual estimation was, after only three minutes, roughly 60% of the oatmeal and water boiled over, causing a huge mess. I took two dish towels to clean up. I didn't dare nuke it again, and so instead ate what was left with almonds and berries. Ugh. Definitely not cooked all the way - all grainy and mushy and kinda chewy. Okay, I said to myself, I need a bigger container. So the next morning, I used roughly a container with roughly a six cup volume. After three minutes, there was no boil over....instead, all the water evaporated and left a dry, crusty oatmeal reside layer. The word that comes to mind is bird suet. It was inedible. Okay, I said, maybe a smaller container, with a smaller surface area but still tall enough to handle the boil-over potential. So I got a Chinese delivery quart size container (like one for wonton soup) and tried that, and I guess a little mindful of the last round of squirrel bait I made, added just a the tiniest of smidges of extra water. Nope, it boiled over, again after just two and a half minutes, leaving me with halfcooked breakfast and a mess. This time I guess it was about 20 percent, and it took one dish towel. After that, I quit. Back to my usual Clif bar for a midmorning at work snack.

Bottom line: 1 out of 10 Golden Spoons when cooked in a microwave

So, there you have it. Stove = good. Microwave = blecch. When made right, it's good enough I'm willing to bump it into our semi-regular weekend breakfast rotation, as both Sandy and I enjoyed ours. I can also see this working well for something like a backpacking trip, as it makes a good, simple, stick-to-your-ribs meal. I just wish it'd be a viable solution for work. Maybe you're a microwave master and can tell me how to do it. No, I'm not going to cook it for realz at home then reheat at work. Tell me how to do it, and you'll be my hero. It's $2.49 for the can.

Bottom Bottom line: Use the stovetop!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  1. My husband makes TJ's steel cut oatmeal in the microwave almost every day and it turns out great. He uses milk, though. I'm not a big fan of oatmeal so I've not tried it, but he and my 6 year old daughter both love it! He does make it in an oversized pyrex bowl as he's had some "oatmeal explosion" events also!

  2. Never tried it in the micro.. As far as the timing, even w/the regular oatmeal I have to stick w/2 min.. other wise- explosion..Love the taste and I use fruit, some brown sugar and soy milk.... As far as my comment yesterday and yours about the cookie... I think TJ's cookies will never be like the commercial cookies your other reviewer seems to like... His description of how it would taste better shows that he definitely likes it gooey and sugary... TJ will always do an alternative to the commercial and to me the chocolate hazelnut ranks pretty high for tj and not for commercial type folk...He did get one comment that did like the cookie, tho.

  3. Use a large container (I use a 3-4 cup glass measuring cup) and cook it for a long time at a low microwave temp. It's been a while since I've done this, but I believe 8-9 minutes in the microwave at a low power (30%? 40%?) is what worked for me.

    1. Good suggestion! I may try that. Can't be much worse than my attempts. :)

  4. I didn't really like it hot but I used to to make museli and it's amazing!

  5. Steel cut just refers to the way the oats are processed. Steel cut oats are not as processed as the regular quick cooking oats you might buy. For some, this makes them heartier and generally more nutritious.

  6. Unlike regular rolled oats, cooked steel-cut oats reheat quite well in the microwave. Make a big batch (I cook one cup, four servings) and refrigerate. I reheat portions with a little bit of milk for about 2 minutes in the microwave. you have to "chop" the milk in a little bit because the oatmeal solidifies when cold. Give this a try if you can.

  7. In addition to cooking a big batch in advance you can soak it in milk or water overnight. Pick a container of your liking - > put a desired amount of oats - > cover with hot water - > put a lid on (if transferring to e.g. your office) and pop it in a fridge. The next day cook it for about 1 to 2 minutes in a microwave. It will keep in a fridge uncooked for up to 5 days.

  8. I've done regular oat meal (not quick oats) in the microwave like this:
    Regular bowl on a plate (Plate catches any spillage, although now I have this down).
    2 min on high. Oatmeal should be reaching critical mass and about to spill.
    30 sec on high with finger on the pause button.
    30 sec on high with finger on the pause button.
    The oatmeal will want to boil over after about 10 secs but pausing and continuing lets it cook all the way while minimizing the spills.

    That said, microwave oatmeal does taste different. I prefer stovetop when I have the time.

  9. This was really good in one of those power breakfast cookie recipes that is all over Pinterest...

    Two ripe bananas, 1 cup of this oatmeal, 1 Tbsp TJ's chocolate chips, 1 Tbsp peanut butter chips, 1/8 cup almonds (chopped), 1 tsp of TJ's Madagascar Bourbon vanilla, sprinkle of cinnamon. Mash the bananas, stir in everything until well blended, and spoon out onto a parchment lined cookie sheet (or a greased one, if you please--I prefer parchment). Shove into a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until desired done-ness is achieved (you want them to be cookie-like and not super runny).

    I choose almonds and chocolate and peanut butter chips as my mix-ins, but the possibilities are endless--or, no mix-ins needed at all! My recipe makes 16 cookies, which are two Weight Watchers Points Plus a piece. They make for a remarkably filling breakfast and are quite tasty when popped into the microwave for 15 or 20 seconds to reheat.

  10. I second Kathryn's suggestion - you have to do some mid-cook pauses to stir. My hubby makes our oatmeal in batches on the stove and then we separate into smaller containers that I can just throw in my lunch bag and reheat at work. Turns out great!

  11. Try using cold/room temp water instead of the hot water, and only nuking it for 2 minutes. I usually make my oatmeal with skim milk but have used cool water and it turns out great! No more than 2 minutes or it turns gummy.

  12. I cook this in the microwave every morning! I pour in the hot water and let it sit for 1-2 minutes before microwaving so some of the water is already absorbed and it won't boil over. Then I only microwave it for 1 minute and it's delicious!

  13. This is one of my favorite items. I just started a blog series on Oatmeal for the soul.

  14. I do 3/4 cup water, 1/4 cup oats and 1/4 tsp cinnamon on the stove over low heat for 4 minutes and they come out perfectly every time. For more gluten free recipes follow me at http://windycitydinnerfairy.blogspot.com/

  15. I have the SAME problem trying to get this to work in the microwave! Now I usually just make a big pot of it on the stove, portion it, and either refrigerate or freeze it. The microwave is really useless for this oatmeal, but I'll still keep buying it because I love steel cut oats and it's at least faster than the regular kind :)