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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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Trader Joe's Organic Frosted Pumpkin Toaster Pastries

About this time each year, Sonia's skin begins to turn a bit orange. I'm pretty sure it's from all the pumpkin products she consumes. Plus, her skin is naturally a sort of brown/red, so orange isn't that much of a stretch for her. She's technically Native American, of the Zapotec tribe from Oaxaca, Mexico. That makes her a "redskin," like my NFL team, who have obviously been cursed by the Native Americans who find that term racist and offensive. I certainly can't blame them. To put my own spin on a famous Chris Rock line: "Havin' a team called the Washington Redskins is kinda like havin' a team called the Harrisburg Honkies or the Carlisle Crackers."

Another unfortunate side effect of the mass consumption of pumpkin is that my wife's taste buds become "immune" to the taste of pumpkin. It's truly an addiction because she needs more and more of the substance to achieve the same effect. We're setting up a pumpkin intervention for poor Sonia. She tasted some pumpkin in the cream cheese, but she claims to have tasted very little in these toaster pastries. I think she just wants everything to taste like pumpkin pie. I'll go ahead and tell you that she only gives this product 3 out of 5 stars. That's too low in my
opinion.

These are pop-tarts for all intents and purposes. And there's a much higher crust to filling ratio in pop-tarts than in pumpkin pie. Since I'm a carbivore, I didn't mind what Sonia perceived as a lack of filling at all. I think there was an adequate amount of filling and pumpkinnish flavor. It was very similar to a cinnamon raisin type taste. But instead of raisin, it was pumpkin. Distinctly pumpkin. Subtle, yet still pumpkinlicious. I will say this, though: toast these pastries. Unlike many other pop-tart flavors, these guys taste way better hot than raw, IMHO.

For those of you who suffer from similar pumpkin addictions, go ahead and type "pumpkin" in the search bar below the blog description to find page after page of pumpkin-thing reviews. More coming soon.

I give these toaster pastries 4 out of 5 stars.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Cream Cheese Spread

Russ was right. And I look dead sexy in my yoga pants. I might not, however, after I gorge myself on every pumpkintastic item I can get my hands on because I will have gained about 30 pounds by the end of this season. As of Sunday, it's officially fall. And yes, like any red-blooded American man with northwestern Euro-mutt roots, I love me some Oktoberfest beers, but the giggly 21-year-old college girl living inside me loves pumpkin ales just as much. Guess what else she loves?

This pumpkinriffic cream cheese. It's super soft and plenty punkinny for me. It's a nice balance of cream cheese, pumpkin spices, and actual pumpkin. Sonia seems to think it needs more pumpkin flavor. I disagree. It's not pumpkin pie here. Nor is it pumpkin pudding. And along those same lines, one should definitely not eat this stuff straight out of the tub with a spoon, tempting as it may be. It's meant to top a bagel. I actually think the pumpkin-factor is a bit too much when it's spread on
toast. A bagel has enough breadiness—enough substance—to put this pumpkin cream cheese in check, just like regular cream cheese works with a bagel while butter and jelly works with a piece of toast. 

But I will say this: there is something light and fluffy about this cream cheese. It almost feels whipped. It's not as dense as a regular cream cheese if you ask me. When you're knifing it out of the tub, it comes out with ease. There's very little resistance. But the full-bodied flavor is still there somehow. It's a miracle of science. It's a miracle of nature. Just like the pumpkin. And the pumpkin spices. And the drool that now covers my desktop as I sit here and pine for more pumpkin. Stay tuned to WG@TJs for more ridiculous, fictitious, pumpkin-based adjectives like "pumpkinlectable" and nouns like "pumpkinnishness." 

When we made our latest TJ's run, the checkout guy looked at Sonia and I and made a funny face. "I see you've been stricken with the same pumpkin affliction that I have, too." We both just nodded and slobbered all over the counter and grunted out a zombie-esque "Puuuuumpkiiiiin."

I give this pumpkin cream cheese 4.5 stars. Sonia gives it a 4.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Trader Joe's Chicken Pot Pie Bites

This is going to be a boring blog post. I'm just warning you now. Unless you're seriously considering purchasing this product from TJ's but you're on the fence for some reason, you should probably just move along and read something more entertaining like Russ's most recent postThe Unofficial Foodie-Hack Blogger Credo, my old review of TJ's Chicken Pot Pie, or this heart-felt love letter. This post has nothing profound to offer, and since I've already used the line "No, kittah, this is mah pot pie" in a different review, there will be nothing even remotely funny or interesting for the rest of this article.

Why am I doing this, you ask? Why am I being so down on myself? Because I just ate this whole package of miniature pot pies without Sonia tasting even one. While she was on her way home after a hard day's work, I heated these babies up and devoured the entire package myself. And they weren't even that good. This is my public penance for a terrible sin of gluttony. I could try to justify it by telling you that I was purposely sheltering her from a not-particularly-good TJ's product, but that's not really the truth. The truth is that I was just so hungry that I would have eaten a shoe and not saved anything for anybody else.

So I figure a good way to punish me for my crime of selfishness is to boycott this blog post entirely. Please don't read it. And if by some chance you're still with me, please go ahead and leave me a derogatory comment below. Something that will make me feel remorse for my insatiable appetite and thoughtless action.

Plus, I don't want any of you to see this picture of the product after baking. I'm pretty sure I did something wrong. This is a sad pic of pot pies. They look awful. And they didn't taste much better. It's almost as if all of the liquid and softness baked right out of each pie and only a crispy little shell was left. A greasy, buttery, empty little shell. I thought I followed the baking instructions. I thought they'd at least resemble the pot pies in the packaging picture. Not so much. There were just weird little pieces of chicken clinging to a dry, empty shell made of fattening breadiness.

Those were my pot pies. And I know some of you are going to tell me that I should have left space between them when I cooked them. I did, I swear! But it looks like they melted while they cooked. How was I supposed to know the pot pies would melt rather than bake?

About the only really good thing I can say is that the pieces of chicken were small enough that they weren't nearly as rubbery as the chicken pieces in the aforementioned TJ's original Chicken Pot Pie. And as I said before, Sonia wasn't around to taste this abomination, but if she had been, she would have given this product 2.5 stars. That's what I give them, too.

Bottom line: 5 out of 10 stars.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Trader Joe's Triple Ginger Snaps

Finally over the weekend, it came. You know what I'm talking about. This past weekend in Pittsburgh was the first that offered the cool entrance of fall times, promising to leave behind the heat and humidity of summer. "Get out your hoodies and kick back on the couch with a warm blanket and watch some football, summer will be over soon enough," that cool, refreshing air said.

A lot of people I know, particularly in the usually-yoga pants-wearing crowd, associate this time of year with pumpkin here, pumpkin there, pumpkin everywhere. Not me though. I realize I may be stoned for saying such things, but I'm not a huge pumpkin fan. Pumpkin pie's alright but I'd prefer a good fruit pie like apple or cherry, or the undisputed King of All Pies - my Aunt Brenda's pecan pie, which no one can ever replicate. There's a new bar/grill in the neighborhood that advertises all the pumpkin beers they're getting in - let me know when you get Oktoberfest beers in, please.

To me, though, Trader Joe's Triple Ginger Snaps taste like fall. I realize I may be straddling a fine line here, as ginger is a major ingredient in pumpkin pie and all, but no pumpkin pie has ever had ginger like these cookies, on purpose at least. As the name suggests, there's three types of ginger in here, and no, I'm not talking about nerdy, sturdy, or downright purdy. Fresh and ground ginger provide a good, solid gingery base, but the crystallized ginger really steals the show when you crunch across one - there's a certain momentary chewiness with a little crispiness, too. It's perfect and there's neither too much nor too little. And make no doubt, these wafers are all about ginger - look at the ingredient list, there's nothing in them except pretty much the bare minimum needed to form something like a cookie, then lots and lots of ginger. The resulting flavor is deep and savory, almost bordering on a cinnamony spiciness (but, hey, look, no cinnamon!). They're so good they're intoxicating.

I want to eat these with apple cider. I want to dunk them in milk. As inspired by this gone-but-not-forgotten ice cream, I want to eat them with lemon creme frosting. I want to eat them by the handful. Which I have - if you look closely at the picture, you'll realize I took a picture of an empty container. Whatevs. Although they're available year-round and have been for years (a true, enduring TJ's classic in that regard), I'll always associate these with fall. I think it's because my dad would buy Sweetzels every fall, and while they were an acquired taste for me growing up, I love that my 14-month old daughter seems to like these. I'm not sure if these are the best cookie that TJ's sells (there's some good competition) but it's close enough for me to call them a perfect five. Sandy counters with a measly four. I think she's just mad I ate more of them. For $3.99, dear, you best be assured we're getting these again, and soon.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Triple Ginger Snaps: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons       

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Trader Joe's Mini Pie Medley

C'mon, sing it with me! (to the tune of "Sweet Little Lies" by Fleetwood Mac)

Give me pies, give me sweet little pies. (Gimme, gimme pies) Oh no, no, you can't disguise...that these are tiny pies.

You'll soon be able to purchase that track, along with many others, when Russ, Sandy, Sonia, and I finish recording our second album, Jammin' with Joe, which will be available on iTunes shortly. It will also feature hits like "This Cheese Is Made for Grillin'" and "It's a Super Fruit!" It's the long-anticipated follow-up to our hip-hop debut, TJ's and DJs. We'll hopefully be going on tour in the spring, opening up for the newly-reformed Nirvana with Joe Jonas doing his best to fill the shoes of the late Kurt Cobain. It's gonna rock.

Know what else rocks? These tiny pies. That is, unless you're trying to lose weight. Or maintain your current weight. Or not become morbidly obese.

I know they're desserts, but seriously? 20% of my RDA for saturated fat in one pie? And who really stops at one pie? Not I, certainly. Sure, leave a comment belittling my lack of willpower, hinting that only children eat foods like this and that furthermore, your five year old was able to stop at just one pie. 

But really, you've got to try at least one of each flavor, right? Ok, that puts you at 60% of your RDA for saturated fat. And they're not very big at all. They are truly miniature pies. So you eat three and you're still hungry. And we're all shopping at Trader Joe's to pretend that we're eating healthy, right? 

But yes, they do taste good. However, not all pie fillings are created equal. I found that the amazing, soft, buttery crust overshadowed the fruit filling in all but the strawberry pie. The strawberry flavor was tart, sweet, and strong enough to blend with the bready parts. It's not that I didn't like the others, I just wanted the fruit flavor to be stronger. It felt and tasted like I was eating a hot, soft butter cookie—the kind with the little globs of purplish or yellowish jam in the middle, except in my opinion there's never enough of the jam...and man, that crust just melted in my mouth and was so rich and yummy that I just forgot all about the fruity center. And it's strange that I liked strawberry the best because in almost any other scenario, blueberry would be my favorite flavor and strawberry would be my least favorite. 

Sonia felt like the fillings were more or less the same. She actually preferred the blueberry slightly. She wishes there were more pies in the box and thinks that $4.49 for six pies isn't a very good value, but because she was absolutely wowed by their decadent taste, she gives this product 4 out of 5 stars.


Because of the amazingly delicious crust, I can't go lower than 3.5 stars.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Trader Joe's Organic Super Fruit Spread

I could chalk it up to me being some kind of berry snob, but unfortunately my slight aversion to the taste of this spread is more likely a consequence of a lifetime of eating non-organic, heavily-sweetened, fake-flavored, overly-processed products of our modern industrial age. Sad. This stuff kinda reminds me of the blackberry spread we reviewed a long time ago. Like the blackberry spread, I feel that this "Super Fruit" lacks a certain punch. Unlike the blackberry spread, this stuff doesn't have corn syrup or added sugar, which is always good.

My 13-year-old palate wanted both of those products to taste like Trader Joe's Blackberry Crush. But I suppose if something's gotta have a grown-up taste, it's better if it does so with truly organic ingredients. I'm still waiting for the spreadable version of Blackberry Crush, but until it comes, there are always brands like Smucker's that offer organic jellies, most of which have "organic sugar" added. I'm pretty sure TJ's has similar products, but we just haven't gotten around to reviewing them yet.

But to be fair, I must mention that Sonia really liked this spread. She doesn't have the sweet tooth I do, so the natural fruit was plenty potent for her. She liked the consistency of it, too. It's pretty
smooth overall, yet there's enough mashed up berry bits that you really believe the product is coming straight from crushed fruit. And I must say, I enjoyed the product much more when used in a PB&J sandwich, rather than just by itself on toast, although people who really enjoy the taste of organic fruit might disagree, Sonia included.

I thought for a minute when I first looked at the jar that maybe "Super Fruit" was some kind of amazing, recently-discovered plant from the Amazon that tastes like chocolate and has preposterous amounts of antioxidants or something like that. Kind of like an "açaí berry" or "passion fruit," but you know, like, more super. I was wrong. Super Fruit is nothing more than the amalgamation of cherries, grapes, blueberries, and pomegranates.

Since there's basically nothing but fruit in the jar and since Sonia loved it so much, I can't give this a worse score than I gave to the blackberry preserves. So 3 stars from me. Sonia gives it 4 stars. That puts this product squarely in our "not bad" category.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Trader Jose's Chile & Onion Flour Tortillas

Some things in life just aren't fair. For a pretty benign example, imagine being a Pennsylvania resident (which I am) and going to an out-of-state Trader Joe's (which I have, on numerous occasions) and surveying the vast selections of consumable goods that just aren't available in your local store. It's unfair. I mean, I've been to the Woodmere, OH store on multiple occasions, and each time, I enviously eye them up. It's literally a whole section of the store. Why, as a PA resident, can I not buy the same goodies as a native of the good state of Ohio? Is it antiquated state law? Market demands?  Lingering animosity over the Buckeyes-Nittany Lions rivalry? I don't know, but it's not fair. Somebody get the governor on the phone.

Lest you think I'm talking about beer and wine (for those not in the know, PA does have antiquated state laws not allowing for alcohol sales in most retail channels, including grocery stores, so we're living in roughly the year 1792 here), this time I'm not. Though I did get some on my most recent trip, there's nothing I felt too compelled to review yet. The Stockyard Oatmeal Stout's pretty tasty, the Simple Times lager isn't great but is much better than their other cheapo option, and perhaps once we get in our new house Sandy and I will have the occasion to break out the wine.

But I am talking about the Trader Jose Chile & Onion Flour Tortillas. I first spotted these several years ago there and just had to try them, I loved them, an hoped they'd migrate just a little further east and south to my Pittsburgh home store. When they hadn't, I assumed they got discontinued for whatever reason. But no, they're still up at the Woodmere store, just outside Cleveland, along with other tortilla flavors that we in the 'burgh just don't have. We only have the run-of-the-mill flour and corn variety, with the Habenero and Lime  for an exotic option, which gets old after a while.

If these were regularly available to me, these would be my everyday tortilla. And I eat a lot of tortillas. They're just perfect. Take a good flour tortilla and add in onion and some actually legitimate chile spice, and BAM. They taste good plain, pair wonderfully with my fake chorizo/rice/bean delight I regularly make, and even taste alright and hold up okay after zapping a microwave quesadilla. Tell you what, though: fry them up in a little butter for a stove top quesadilla, and they are a-m-a-z-i-n-g. The tortillas crisp up perfectly, absorb in a little butter, and get all nice and flaky while the flavor just pops then. They're spicy enough to keep me intrigued but probably accessible enough to most flavor palettes. I've tried replicating their exact spice level by tossing in some red pepper flakes into the cheesy portion, but it just doesn't work the same.

These are some seriously good hombres, and they need to find a new home: Pittsburgh. Please come. I may be the bigger fan of these tortillas. Sandy kinda shrugged and said "I like 'em. They're good. I like 'em. Quote that." As you wish. I just wish I didn't finally eat the last one of them the other night after savoring them for a while. I'm giving them a perfect five and guessing for Sandy's score...

Bottom line: Trader Jose's Chile & Onion Flour Tortillas: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons    




Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Pretzel Slims

I'm usually not one to toot my own horn too terribly much, but you know what? Today, I am. You see, yesterday was Labor Day, which I celebrated the good ol' fashioned 'merican Way by going to work. Meanwhile, my wife and now officially toddlin' lil' toddler were going to the local waterpark for a fun day of splashing and spraying. It sucks to miss out on those kinda days. Add in that I'm adjusting to a recent promotion with a bunch of added responsibilities at work (stress) plus we're right in the thick of selling our house, got back the inspection report, and there's some stuff our sellers want us to do, and we're waiting to get it nailed down with them before we make an offer on another house, meaning at present time I'm not 100% sure where my family is going to be living in a month (much, much more stress), and yeah, yesterday was a baldspot-inducing day. Sorry about that hideous run-on there, but man it felt good. My normal reaction to stress is 1) sleep more and 2) eat more, especially junk food.

I made an early morning solo run to TJ's yesterday to get some fruit for a Labor Day breakfast our brother was having, and right there, at the checkout, taunting me mercilessly, was his Dark Chocolate Covered Pretzel Slims. So,  I bought 'em, and if I would have devoured them while at work like I wanted to over and over again (it didn't help that our vending machine which conveniently takes fives didn't give me change back after getting a Dr Pepper, shorting me $3.75 to get another snack), Sandy would have never ever known. But, as the loving, sweet, kind, sharing husband I am, I brought them home, seal intact, for the two of us to share after our daughter finally settled down for the night dreaming sweet 'lil toddler dreams.

Anyways, enough about me, let's talk about these choco-tasties. I like 'em. Sandy likes 'em. They're pretty straightforward in every sense. By now, I'd imagine everyone's had a pretzel slim or chip or whatever you'd call it, and has had dark chocolate, and has had a chocolate covered pretzel, and so you can mentally add all those experiences together and imagine roughly what this would taste like, and you'd be pretty darn close. They're as light as something covered in chocolate can be, and crispy, and salty and chocolatey, and highly, highly snackable. It was way too easy to polish off the whole bag within a couple minutes.

It's not to say they're perfect. First, light handling is recommended, unless you enjoy random choco-smears everywhere. Seriously, these are some melty dudes. I'd say so much so that these are probably only a Mama and Daddy treat. Also, while I liked the crispiness of the pretzel slims, it make me wish there was a rod or twist or some sort of full pretzel in all its full pretzel-ly glory just to get some added crunch and girth to it. Lastly, I'm not sure what kinda difference two days really makes when it comes to a snack like this, but I didn't realize until I took the picture that the sell-by date was August 31 and I bought them on September 2. Not a big deal, but, well, there you go.

Sandy agreed the meltiness factor was its huge error. After every bite she had to lick off her fingers so she could continue to hit up Pinterest in search of all sorts of decoration ideas for the house we're eying. Chocolate + keyboard = bad news. The fact she's insistent on no mini-fridges in what she calls the "family playroom" and I call the "man loft" = even worse news. We both agree these are a bigger win than the chocolate chips we had a while ago and not since, as these are a conceivable repeat purchase for the $2.99 they cost. Sandy says a four while I say just a small step behind.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Pretzel Slims: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons