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, February 27, 2013

Trader Joe's Organic Gingermints

It's pretty silly, the mental gymnastics and justifications that Sandy and I routinely do this time of year, and especially this year, when we're going without meats and sweets for a spell. It's part of that four-letter L word I pledged to not go on and on about. I think we've eaten more fake meat products in the past two or so weeks then we have eaten actual meat since the beginning of the year. It's close, at least. As for sweets...Sandy and I routinely have a "Is this or is this not a sweet?" conversation. Banana and oatmeal "cookies" made with just those two ingredients? Not a sweet. Fruit smoothie, made out of fruit? Not a sweet. Dunkin Donuts coffee? Probably, technically speaking, a sweet but uhhhh....nope. Chocolate milk? Yes.* Shamrock shake? Definitely, and sadly, yes. And on and on it goes.

Perhaps, just perhaps, Trader Joe's Organic Gingermints could be considered a sweet, as it is a hard candy and all. But for whatever reason, it hasn't crossed that artificial threshold we've determined. Not a sweet, and therefore, it's okay that we bought this for the buck or so it cost, and okay that I've more or less hoarded as a "Daddy's little helper" stash to get me through the work day.

It probably helps our justification that these gingermints aren't sweet (adjective) at all, really. Nor are they close to minty in a way I'd call anything minty. Nah, these fellas are pretty much straight-up gingery. They're moreso than the cookie butter (which we unwisely left a half jar-full in the pantry to taunt us) but much less than these candied bits o' napalm. It's ginger dore right, with a little bite but without the overkill. Looking over the ingredients, it was interesting to see maple syrup as an ingredient, because I don't taste it that much. If it's there, it's not too potent. Maybe it just helps keep the ginger in check. At least the tapioca doesn't do anything to screw up the flavor like it may have for these cheesesticks.

Since they're vegan, organic, and gluten-free, it's easy to chalk these up to being a crunchy-hippie cousin of an Altoid, because in all other aspects they're pretty similar. A brief skim over ingredients confirms these aren't made by the same company, though. The closest Altoid I can compare them to would be a cinnamon one, but a little less strong (at least in my memory), and of course more gingery than cinnamony. Whatevs. I like 'em. Sandy's neither overly impressed nor unimpressed, so she's going down the middle with a three. I see that and raise another spoon.


Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Gingermints: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons
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* Sandy drank some about a week or so ago after a long training run for her half marathon. I'd call shenanigans on that, but she just ran about eight miles. Dang, girl!    

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Trader Joe's Powerberries

Whatever are Powerberries? Let me tell you, I've eaten an entire bag and I'm still not quite sure. But I can tell you this: they're covered in dark chocolate. The bag declares that the centers are made of "real fruit juice pieces." Right. 

So they are "pieces" of "fruit juice" covered in dark chocolate. But just for fun, turn to the person nearest to you and tell them you'd like a piece of fruit juice. I suppose there's a slim chance you have cubes of frozen juice in your freezer for some reason, and the person you've just asked for a piece of fruit juice will give you one of those frozen fruit juice cubes. But barring that unlikely situation, my guess is you'll just get a dumbfounded look.

As strange as it may sound, I still cannot deny the fact that I have just consumed a bag of "fruit juice pieces" covered in dark chocolate. Fruit juice pieces are soft, slightly chewy, and very sweet. They're not liquid. They're more like gelatin. 

For anyone who's been reading this blog for a while, you'll know I like sweeter chocolates more than dark chocolates, but the overwhelming fruitiness in the center of these snacky spheres offsets any bitterness in the dark chocolate. Sonia and I both bit Powerberries in half, attempting to get a better look at the perplexing centers of these confections. The middles are dark, with some highlights, and there's something jelly bean-esque about them. The overall taste of the Powerberries is not unlike a cherry cordial. But there's also something about them that reminds me of a truffle. 

They're like the illegitimate love-children of a truffle and a cordial. 

And yet I think they're a smidgen less caloric, thanks to fruit juice taking the place of traditional sugar and corn syrup. They're unique. And they're going to score at least two stars from me just for the weirdness factor. They get another star thrown on top of that for their good flavor. And they'll get another star for being healthier (or "less bad-for-you," if you prefer) than traditional chocolate candies. So I'll give them 4 stars. I can't go much higher than that because I'm just not in the habit of eating chocolate candies, and I can't feature myself buying these on a regular basis for any reason. Sonia will follow suit, adding that they'd be better if they had actual berries of some kind in their centers.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Trader Joe's Breaded Mozzarella Cheese Sticks

Ah, there's nothin' better than fried cheese. I've always loved mozzarella sticks. And I think it's awesome that people then dunk their fried cheese in some form of tomato sauce, usually marinara. Tomato is a fruit/vegetable, right? That makes it all healthy, right? You've got the fruits and vegetables group, the dairy group, and the breading would qualify as a grain. 3 out of the 4 major food groups. All you need to do is toss a sausage or hot dog on your plate, and you've got a balanced meal...or something like that.

The sticks came out of the oven with most of the cheese having leaked out of the side of the breading. So there would be this hollow tube of crust with a big wad of slightly-charred cheese right beside it on the baking sheet. And for some reason, they tasted freezer-burned to me. We ate them within a week of purchasing them, the bag was only opened within an hour or so of consuming them, and this was all well before the expiration date. So I'm not sure what happened there. Sonia didn't notice the freezer-burny taste at all, but then, she usually doesn't.

We dipped our mozzarella sticks in TJ's Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup. They went well together. I think it worked at least as well as actual marinara sauce would have. Once in the soup, I didn't notice the peculiar taste as much. It was actually really yummy.

I was surprised when Sonia pointed out that the breading contained tapioca. It was still made with wheat flour (sorry, gluten-free peeps) and it was very similar to traditional mozzarella stick breading, although I wonder if the subtle freezer-burn flavor was somehow connected to the use of tapioca...? Not that tapioca tastes like freezer-burn, but maybe somehow my taste buds detected an anomaly of sorts and just defaulted to the "this is just slightly funky" message, which my brain interpreted as freezer-burn...? And perhaps that last sentence is a good example of why I'm a foodie-hack blogger and not a neuroscientist...?

At any rate, I still have yet to be blown away or majorly disappointed by any mozzarella stick. Fried cheese is what it is. The tapioca starch was a nice touch I guess, but next time Trader Joe, we're counting on you to blow us away. Try putting marinara sauce inside the tube of cheese, add shrimp or something, cram cocktail weenies into the center of the sticks...for goodness sakes, be creative, TJ's! Entertain us! You do weird stuff better than anyone else. In return for your culinary creativity, we'll love you forever and continue to write this blog.

For those of you who've been pestering us for photos of the actual out-of-the-bag food, please click here. You're welcome.

Sonia gives these 4 stars. I give them 3.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Please buy some of these:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Trader Joe's Italian Sausage-Less Sausage

Well, it's been a hot minute or two since our last fake meat review. Nathan tackled the challenging turkey-less turkey back before Thanksgiving, while my last review on the matter was chicken-less chicken tenders....almost a year ago? What!?! That's crazy to me, especially because on the whole, fake meat is one of TJ's biggest strengths, even matching up well to the more famous competition. Don't get wrong, I like nice meat-full meat just as much as any other red-blooded red-headed 'merican, but when there's a healthier, almost-as-delectable option available, I can be inclined to take it. I guess that I've been so busy enjoying the lying-if-read-in-Spanish soy chorizo whenever the fake meat mood hits I've been neglecting other TJ options. Seriously: soy chorizo + black beans + rice + salsa/hot sauce + cheese + chips or tortillas = AMAZING. It's the meal that got me hooked on TJ's. Highly, highly recommended. We're considering stockpiling the soyrizo in case it ever gets discontinued. I thought it did maybe a year ago, and nearly cried tears of sweet, sweet relief when I discovered it was just moved to a different shelf.

Anyways, here's Trader Joe's Italian Sausage-Less Sausage. I'll say this upfront: at a cookout, it'd have a puncher's chance of passing as the real deal. That's a compliment in my book. I think I'd be able to pick it out, but only if someone grilled me about it (ha!). On an unsuspecting consumer, it'd have a 50/50 chance.

It's not the taste that would tip someone off. Think of a typical Italian sausage link, and it'd be pretty close in that regard. And it's not exactly the texture either...sort of. We pan-fried up a pair of links then sliced them to serve in some pasta. They were a little softer then most, and kinda crumbly, but kept mainly intact. Sandy said something to the effect that they weren't as "floppy" as other fake sausage product she's had. They certainly brown and sizzled up in a way pretty close to actual links. I guess, what it boils down to is, whenever Sandy and I have had sausage links over the past year (which has been kinda often), we've been picking up the farmer's market/local meat farm variety, which are big and juicy and very meaty, much more so than the typical grocery store variety. These are decidedly a small step or two below that comparison benchmark. That's not really a knock, and it's not even a fair point in some ways. There's a certain gristliness and juiciness and "essence" that real meat has that soy can never duplicate. That being said, if I had to give up meat completely for whatever reason, these would be a more-than-adequate solution whenever the grill-time hankerin' came.

Regardless of all that, we like them. Sandy's a bit more enthusiastic than me. I think that's at least  partially because the last time we broke out the bulk sausage we have on hand, she trembled a little bit after doing the Weight Watchers calculation (as I should have, too). These lil' fakers tip the scale at about 4 points a link, which is extremely manageable. She went ahead and gave them a four, making slight note of the texture. There's part of me that wonders what the allure is of fake meat - is there a class of vegetarians out there who want the most meat-like non-meat they can find? Is it for people who love actual meat but can't eat it for health reasons? Why do I keep buying it?- I'll never know.  Regardless, this is another win for TJ's if you're into this kinda thing. And $3.49 for a pack of 4 isn't a terrible deal either. I'll go with a 3.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Italian Sausage-less Sausage: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Trader Joe's Organic Tomato & Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Aside from slipping nasty products like Meatloaf Muffins and Sockeye Salmon Pasta by us once in a while, the meanest trick our friend Trader Joe likes to play on us is discontinuing amazing products like Lemon Gingersnap Ice Cream. TJ's execs clearly aren't reading our blog enough.

If they were, they wouldn't have taken away my beloved Organic Tomato Bisque. It was the perfection of tomato soup, in my self-important opinion. And if it ain't broke, Trader Joe, please don't try to fix it.

Now, I'm not saying this roasted red pepper stuff is bad. It's certainly not. It's just that it's so similar to the tomato bisque, that it's kinda pointless. If it were a slight improvement, I could understand. But it's not. There are no soft lumps of perfectly-stewed tomatoes. And if anything, the tomato flavor is dulled down just a tad. To this product's credit, it does taste slightly of red peppers, but the tomato-pepper combo just doesn't do it for me the way the pure tomato lusciousness did in the bisque.

Now I might just be illogically clinging on to something from the past in the same manner I was repulsed initially by the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings because they weren't exactly the same as the perfection that was the theatrical versions. But in the case with LOTR, each viewing made me like the extended versions more. In the case of this soup, each bowl simply makes me miss the bisque more. Please forgive me for this nerd-tacular comparison.

In summary, I think this soup falls just slightly shy of its potential. While the taste is similar to that of Trader Joe's Organic Tomato Bisque, whose spirit shall live on in the halls of our Pantheon long after its cans are forgotten by the shelves of your local TJ's store, this tomato red pepper soup's flavor is good but not amazing, and its texture is that of traditional creamy tomato soup. But make no mistake, as whiny as this post may sound to you, this soup is still really darn good.

My wife agrees, but she won't dock this product as much as I will. We gave the bisque a perfect score. She'll take away half a star for this soup. I'll have to knock off two full stars.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.



Thursday, February 14, 2013

Trader Joe's Guacamole Kit

This year for Lent, I promise you something. Unlike years past, when I've given up meat or sweets, I will not be endlessly writing about it on here, bugging the living crud out of 90% of you who just want to know my opinion of some fake meat or whatever. If you're really all that  interested in what I'm doing, you can check out my sporadically updated side gig.

This will be my one mention of things here: In addition to some other things, I've made the decision to include at least one raw vegan meal every day into my diet for the next few weeks. Perfect time of the year for that, eh? I'm hoping this just won't mean a salad or baggie of carrot sticks and an apple, although I'll be doing more than enough of that since my super-happy fruit of the earth meals will usually be my lunch during the week at work. Just works better that way for Sandy and I. And I mention that only because that decision to do raw vegan chow is what propelled me to buy Trader Joe's Guacamole Kit. I realize that guacamole is a pretty easy entry into the raw vegan world. It's about as adventurous as I wanted to get until I get "crazy" enough to try some of the tasty-lookin' recipes like this.

Anyways, does this guac kit rock it? Tough to say. Taking a look at it, $3.99 for this isn't exactly a killer deal. Let's compare to buying each part separately. There's two avocados (about a buck each for the good ones - we'll get back to that), a lime and about few garlic cloves (let's say 50 cents for the two), two jalapenos (cheap!), a tomato (let's round up and say 70 cents), and a teeny little onion that I mistook for a rounded garlic bulb at first glance. So that's not quite $4 worth of goods they're selling for $4. It's not a ripoff (there's always a price to pay for convenience) but it's not a steal either.


As for the stars of the carton, the avocados....yeeeeah. I'm not familiar enough with avocado carbon dating to know if mine were a little too old or not quite ripe yet. Regardless, I expect when I buy produce from somewhere, they'd be fine for consumption three days later. These were, but were tough, tough enough that I had to whip out our noisy-as-all-heck food processor (think heavy duty construction zone mixed with a congested snoring Gilbert Gottfried) at almost midnight to chunk them down instead of following through my original plan of fork-mashing them. Thank God I didn't wake up Sandy (granted, she regularly sleeps thru the alarm blaring six inches from her head every morning) or get any complaints from the neighbors. Even after about five minutes in there, there were still a sizable chunk or two that I'll just decide to man up and eat anyways. These avocados were very much unlike the ones TJ's sells separately, which whenever I've bought them have been soft and perfect, and I think a little bit bigger, too.

Everything else was great. The jalapenos were as fresh as the ones I've grown in our garden each summer, and no complaints about anything else. When I finally had a chance to take my taster for a test drive on my self-made guac, it was pretty decent overall. Nice, good kick to it, mostly because I didn't bother de-seeding the peppers, with plenty of lime as well. If I were thinking, I would've left all the tomato and onion and diced goodies out of the food processors, as I like the chunkier varieties, but this was okay enough for my first crack at making guacamole. I didn't measure exactly how much guac this made, but two cups seems to be a fair estimate. It'll be more than enough to dip some veggies in for lunch for the next few days.

I kinda assume the point of the guacamole kit is to try and entice folks who wouldn't be so inclined otherwise to make their own guac. I'm willing to take another crack at it, but next time I do, I honestly won't be buying this particular product again. The price isn't compelling and the quality is too much of a mixed bag. Regardless, I'm not overly dissatisfied, nor am I particularly satisfied. For Golden Spoon time, let's just play this completely down the middle.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Guacamole Kit: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Maybe I would have better luck with one of these: 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Trader Joe's Kale Chips

There's quite a buzz about these on the interwebs. And no wonder! They're really weird! These aren't the first snacky-veggies TJ's has offered us, but they might be the best. Check out past posts: Inner PeasVeggie Sticks and Seaweed Snacks.

These things are packaged like they're some kind of comic book superheroes. I suppose they're super-snacks. And...they're not "chips," at least not in any traditional sense of the word. But I guess 
"Leafy Green Kale Chunks" just doesn't have the sexy rockstar appeal of "chips." But I mean, they're sort of dry-ish leaves of kale. It's like somebody left out a salad—dressing and all, in a dehydrator somewhere, forgot about it, then re-discovered it a couple days later and decided to eat it anyway. Maybe that's where the superhero theme comes in. This snack was left to dry out and die via nuclear radiation, but instead of dying, it just became an ultra-powered, transcendent mega-meal.

I don't know. But man, the dehydrated salad idea simply doesn't convey how good these are. The nacho flavored dressing is like a really high-quality southwest salad dressing...but dry. And I swear I feel energized when I eat these. They have all kinds of vitamins and minerals. They are super-scrump-dilly. And just so...peculiar!


Let me put it this way: when the extraterrestrial overlords show up and try to incorporate parts of their culture into ours, I wouldn't be surprised if they have us snacking on this stuff. Let's just hope that with their advanced technologies and vast eons of wisdom and experience that they can find a way to bring the cost down. Like way down. Like the $4 a bag price tag on these things is totally their biggest weakness, their kryptonite, if you will. I'd eat these every day if they cost a buck a bag. They make me happy.

4.5 stars from me. Woulda had 5 if they were a tad less expensive. Sonia gives 'em 4.



Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookies

So there we were, Sandy and I, mulling over all the frozen seafood options for Lent, when I just so happened to look over my shoulder at precisely the proper angle just as the crowds parted and harp chords played. It's as if it were meant to be. There it was, in big, bold, beautiful letters, with stylish packaging, just sitting on the shelf, waiting there, made for me and me only. I can only wish the lighting were a tad less fluorescent and a little more dramatic. Regardless, there it was, that delicious word, speculoos. There was no question that Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookies were an automatic purchase.

Sandy and I are on an unfortunate cookie losing streak when it comes to comes to our favorite grocery store. It finally pushed us to the brink where we gave in and finally bought that crazy cookie butter all you kids are always, endlessly raving about. That's lived up to its billing (cookie butter + Nutella = ohmanohmanohmanohman!!!!). If these cookies were to somehow fail, I'd probably never buy cookies ever again.

Well....we're not going to have to worry about that. Oh goodness. In my life I have somehow failed to enjoy the treasures that Biscoff cookies. I guess I've never flown Delta. Sandy has, though, and she ensures me these are pretty much exactly the same. I can only vouch that they taste just like the famed and renown cookie butter, except in crispy wafer form. If you know the cinnamony, gingerbready goodness of which I speak, then you know exactly what these taste like. Let there be no trace of disappointment. For that brief moment of peace and tranquility, hazelnut latte in the mug and these cookies in hand, it was as if Sandy and I were no longer in our teeny little house in the middle of Pittsburgh listening to Baby M snoring on the monitor with a load of laundry needing to be changed in the basement, but instead were transported to a European cafe on a cobblestone street, just the two of us with no other cares in the world. Okay, that's a bit of an overstatement, but not by too much.

At first, the only ever-so-slight adjustment I'd say that I'd like if the texture were a tad more shortbread-like. But then I dunked mine in the hazelnut latte Sandy whipped up. Nope. Perfect. The crispiness was perfect and held up to the latte bath. There's nothing bad to say.

Sandy's perfectly happy with them. When I asked for her opinion, she automatically said something to the effect of "Five. No question. Five." Whatever she actually said kinda got lost in our collective satisfied Mmms. I'm trying to come up with something, anything that can keep me from giving these a five as well. I can't. Too darn good. Well done, Trader Joe's, well done.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookies: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons   

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Trader Joe's House Whip and Trader Joe's Greek Style Yogurt

Alright, I'll admit it, I'm scrounging a little here for some review matter. It's not entirely my fault. As part of some healthy eating kick the wifey and I are on, we're buying less prepackaged TJ's stuff, and especially we've cut down on all the tasty treats we used to gorge ourselves on. It's working. But then there's less selection from our grocery basket, unless you want to read about my thoughts about an apple or a bag of carrots. That's boring. From our last trip, I was thinking about two things in particular, but found out that Nathan had already reviewed some wasabi snacks, nixing that. No matter, we still had this new-fangled candy bar...except I spent too much time deedling and dawdling about what to write and how to work in some whole bit about kids and dinosaurs and this random Family Guy clip (true story) that Nathan swooped in and reviewed the new-ish PB&J chocolate bar before I could. Consider yourself spared. We've scrounged once or twice for review matter in the past, so I guess here goes my turn.

I'm left with two kinda boring, kinda plain products. However, I have a recommendation for both of them that you might not expect. I'm usually not one to give out cooking tips, leaving it to the pros who wrote the TJ cookbooks, but this is what I'm resorting to here.

First, let's go with Trader Joe's House Whip. Hmm, it's organic cool hwip. That's right, cool hwip. That's how I've been saying it around Sandy just to yank her chain. It drives her crazy. I don't know why. Anyways, I'm not usually a cool hwip kinda guy, and don't even get me started on that nasty spray junk from a can. But I like this. First, it's organic, and that's cool. Sandy says it shades towards tasting vanilla-y. Plus, while I'm sure it'll be a perfectly adequate ice cream topping or whatever else you use cool hwip for, Sandy's a genius and found a Weight Watchers dessert recipe that's simply cool hwip swirled around with a few dollops of your favorite peanut butter, separated into cupcake papers and frozen. My goodness. It helps I'm a peanut butter fiend, but man, those are awesome.  She made a dozen of them, and we were good and spread them out over a little more than a week, and just polished off the last of them tonight, and I want more already. Do it. Trust me. It's like rich peanut butter ice cream, except better, and in a few manageable, satisfying bites. You'll thank me.

You may also thank me after my suggestion for Trader Joe's Greek Style Yogurt. Sure, it's Greek yogurt, so use it as a sub for sour cream, or mix in some berries or honey or whatever. We've featured for many a taco night, or on top a baked potato, or a quick breakfast snag. That's not what I'm going for, even though I highly recommend it for all that. Did you know you can make pizza dough with just Greek yogurt and some self rising flour? I didn't. It's true. We've done it. Twice. It takes a little work and patience (because it looks NOTHING like pizza dough until all the sudden it does), but both times we've done it for homemade pizza, it's made an absolute killer crust. I like thick crust that's crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle. That's what this makes, plus it doesn't really taste like Greek yogurt at all. If you like thinner and all-the-way-through-crispier, I think you can just spread it a little thinner, and it'll work. We go back and forth between the regular and low-fat versions (depending on who's shopping/paying attention) and have been equally pleased with both.

Well, there you have it. There's not much else to be said about the House Whip or yogurt. Trying them together might be a little odd. The Greek yogurt is an absolute staple in our house, and the House Whip just might as we come up with some different dessert ideas using it as a base. There's no great way to really rate them, but here goes:

 Bottom lines: Trader Joe's House Whip: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Greek-Style Yogurt: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons




 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Trader Joe's PB & J Milk Chocolate Bar


Another check-out display item ensnared us on our last TJ's run. That clever Trader Joe. But you probably figured that out already just from the picture. You clever readers.

It doesn't taste like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, if that's what you're wondering. At least Sonia and I don't think so. We tasted chocolate first. Good chocolate. Milk chocolate. No surprises, no let-downs. Just chocolate. Then, after the chocolate, we tasted creamy peanut butter. Peanut butter and chocolate = win. It's difficult to screw it up. And everybody knows what a Reese's tastes like. So it's really that third and final element that's the wild card: the jelly.

Most of the time, when I make a PB & J sandwich, I use grape jelly. I think it tastes best. Sometimes I'll wind up with strawberry, which also works. But I can probably count on one hand the number of times in my life I've made a PB & J with raspberry jelly. Not that it would be terrible. It's just that we don't usually have raspberry jelly on hand. If we did, it might work, but again, we're not talking about a PB & J sandwich, we're talking about a chocolate bar. And I personally can't imagine any other flavor of jelly working with this candy. It's tart like the label says it is.

Sonia wishes there were a lot more of the jelly in the mix. I disagree. I think more jelly would have upset the delicate balance. I think with more jelly, TJ's might have run the risk of having it turn into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with chocolate as the "bread." As it is, it's a nice chocolate and peanut butter dessert with a little novelty and a little uniqueness in the form of raspberry jelly. The raspberry jelly is just the proverbial "icing on the cake," and not much more. But it shouldn't be more. If it were more than that, this would have been a different product entirely.

Sonia gives this product 2.5 stars. I give it 4. The discrepancy in our scores is almost entirely due to our feelings about the raspberry jelly. I agree that it was delicious, but sometimes you have to be careful of having "too much of a good thing."

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Trader Joe's Indian Fare Palak Paneer and Trader Joe's Malabari Paratha

This whole week I've been crazy sick. My wife and I both got hit with what I'm assuming is H2N4, or "warthog fever" as I've been calling it. It's the latest mutation of the swine flu. I figure if the first strain had something to do with swine, then there was a second mutation that might have been named after potbelly pigs or something, and so on, up through boars and such, until they arrive at this horrific version which will logically be named after warthogs. Furthermore, when Sonia and I cough, it rather sounds like the grunting of a wild warthog. So there you have it: warthog fever.

I've been delirious these past five days from a high temperature and lots of medication. I take this generic NyQuil that makes me hallucinate so heavily that I believe that I've fully recovered overnight and then once it wears off, I realize that I'm still sick as a dog. It's a great scam: one becomes so attached to thinking that one is well, that you go ahead and take some more, even if there's little or no evidence that the medication is actually helping you fight off the flu. Er, but anyway, that's all just to say that if this blog post doesn't particularly make sense, it's probably because that cat got my girdle.

Oftentimes when ill, I like to eat spicy foods when I have enough of an appetite, as I find that the spices help clear my sinuses and charge up my body with a little energy and liveliness. Now, I don't keep track of what or how often I eat very well, unlike Russ who wisely keeps a detailed log of his daily intake, but I feel like I ate very little during this sickness. It's possible that I ate multiple meals during some of my NyQuil blackouts and I simply can't recall, however, I would think there would be evidence in the form of dirty plates and crumbs, etc. But again, I digress. All that to say that I was fairly hungry and ready to eat when we heated up these Indian dishes from TJ's.

Even though Mr. Shelly wasn't a huge fan of his most recent product like this, my last Indian dish from Trader Joe's was yummy, as was, incidentally, my last Indian snack from Archer Farms. However, all good international cuisine streaks must come to an end. And come to an end it did. The appearance of the palak paneer is as unappetizing as anything I've ever seen from Trader Joe's. It's a deep green mush, not unlike freshly juiced wheatgrass, but thicker and slightly darker. There are a few chunks of cheese throughout it, but by and large, it looks like...well, you know—something I've vowed not to talk about on this or any other food blog.

The taste is heavily vegetabley. And the "green" flavor as I shall call it overshadows the taste of the cheese bits. It's sort of bitter, although it's also kind of hard to describe, because it is a unique bitterness, if that makes any sense. There are some Indian spices, which did help clear my head for a moment, but they're not strong enough to make this dish worth trying simply out of love for hot Indian spices. Now, it might be the medication talking, but green sadness always makes the heart get grumpy.

Instead of eating this paneer with naan bread, we ate it with malabari paratha—an Indian food I've never heard of before. They're like little Indian pancakes. I really can't complain about these too much, but it's hard to separate them from the paneer, which I was definitely not a fan of. We cooked the paratha on the stove, and they came out rather oily...but maybe that's because we used too much oil when we pan fried them...? I didn't think we used that much, but who knows. In the state that Sonia and I have been in, it's a wonder we didn't pan fry them in TheraFlu. They're soft, white, and you can tear pieces off to dip in your paneer or whatever you've got. They don't have a whole lot of flavor, but I don't think they're meant to be a stand-alone item. 

Sonia gives 2 stars to the palak paneer. I'll be merciful and give it 2.5. Sonia gives 3.5 stars to the paratha, and I give it 3. It's been a sick, foggy week people, so everybody keep track of the sunshine, because the leprechauns are on the go this year.

Trader Joe's Indian Fare Palak Paneer. 
Bottom line: 4.5 out of 10 stars.

Trader Joe's Malabari Paratha. 
Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10 stars.