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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Monday, April 14, 2014

Trader Joe's Roasted Butternut Squash, Red Quinoa and Wheatberry Salad

Okay, confession time: For the longest time, I, Russ, was a serial fast food sneaker. Especially at breakfast time, especially on the way to work. Or late at night, while running out for the random errand. Ever want a quick way to gain 40 pounds? There you go, right there.

I'm changing my ways, though. These days, I'm a semi-regular salad sneaker. If there's not enough leftovers for lunch and I have the time in the morning, it's not uncommon for me to run over to TJ's to see what's there. I've had some decent ones, and while I still miss my favorite of all time, the $4 or so I drop on them are very rarely ill spent.  Want a good way to help drop 40 pounds? That won't do it all, but it'll point you in the right direction.

I found myself in that kinda situation on Friday morning, and since it's Lent and I'm respectful of Sandy's Catholic upbringing (although we're both Protestants, she strictly adheres to "no meat Fridays"...eh...happy wife means happy life), that means had to find a good, filling-looking salad without any meat. I saw Trader Joe's Roasted Butternut Squash, Red Quinoa and Wheatberry Salad and figured this would be quite the mouthful to both say and eat.

Well, it sure is. There's a lot that goes into this particular salad. There's squash. And quinoa. And wheatberries. And arugula. And cranberries. And toasted almonds. And goat cheese. And a host of other stuff, all topped with honey sesame vinaigrette. It's everything except the ampersand. I'd think it'd be hard to pull off a cohesive-tasting salad with all of that in there, but in actuality, almost all of it tastes like it belongs. This was my first experience with wheatberries, which kinda taste how they look (like soft, chewy popcorn kernels, except wheat-y), which I took a few bites to warm up to, but by the end was pretty happy with them. Between those and the quinoa, there's a lot to help fill you up, and the almonds add a great little occasional crunch to the mix. All ingredients were pretty fresh, which isn't always the case with prepackaged salads, of course. Also, not all of the dressing is really needed - I put maybe half on and was pretty happy with the coverage,

I only have a few minor knocks here and there. First, the squash had just a little too much bite to it. Coulda been "roasted" a few minutes longer for my taste. Also, there were a few bites I came across that were ultra-rosemary-laced that were a bit much. It was an herbal blindside backhanded smack to the taste buds each time. And that helps point out another quasi-issue - why the rosemary? There's enough other things in here for taste, that honestly if TJ's were to adopt a "less is more" approach, it would have worked out great. Sometimes, they need to learn that lesson. I would have voted out the rosemary and cranberries, but asked for a little more sesame in the dressing.  

Regardless, while I may dabble in some other salads before hitting up this particular jumble again, I am almost certain to make it a repeat buy, despite the ribbing from the guys at my lunch table. At least we started a scintillating conversation about ancient grains that lasted like 30 seconds before going back to sportssportssports as usual. Though I'm not exactly sure if anything here really is an ancient grain...meh. Since I snuck this without the wife's knowledge, we're going strictly on my score here. All in all, not a bad pick-up.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Roasted Butternut Squash, Red Quinoa and Wheatberry Salad: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons 


  1. Panara has a wheatberry salad that is pretty tasty, but it's exciting to know that TJs has gotten on the bandwagon!

    1. Sounds tasty. Maybe I can use a cinnamon crunch bagel as an "extra large crouton" too :)

  2. I saw this salad at TJ but it never enticed me to grab it. Each and every single one of the ingredient in there is none of my favorites, but ones that I normally try to avoid as much as possible if they show up on my dish. For 530 calories, I need a dish that has the ingredients I enjoy... 7/10 is a pretty high score since you won't be getting it again for a while..

  3. I am not a huge squash fan, game or fruit. But it doesn't sound bad. I'll try it!

  4. This does sound good and I can always add my own dressing!

  5. I actually had this yesterday and wasn't pleased at all. Way too many wheatberries, not enough squash, etc. I was really surprised considering I love all things TJ's. With that being said, still a proud supporter of their products!