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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Friday, August 28, 2015

Trader Joe's Green Dragon Hot Sauce

The 1972 martial arts classic Return of the Dragon used to be in heavy rotation in my DVD player back in college whenever me and the roomies needed a "brews and Bruce" night. I mean, the climactic fight scene between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris? Invest nine minutes of your life and watch it here. The cacophony of joint crackage, the random cat, the chest hair grab....not to mention plenty of roundhouse kicks and a couple masters going at it in their prime, even if scripted. Great stuff, I love it.

Admittedly, high level martial arts flicks have little to nothing to do with Trader Joe's Green Dragon Hot Sauce, but I thought of the movie title when I first saw this sauce for sale. "Return of the Dragon." We've seen this particular scaly scary hombre before, not too long ago - namely, on TJ's branded sriracha, which I recommended calling dragon sauce - hey, I think some royalties are due here, Big Joe.

Regardless, I thought that this green glop wouldn't be that unlike a salsa verde or the Hatch Valley Salsa, except in saucier form. That's a mistake, as there's a little bit more going on here, despite some similarities. The first ingredient with any real substance to this dragon drool is pureed jalapenos and the last is habeneros, so there's some seriously spicy bookends. The habeneros don't come thru too strongly, though, which is appreciated, but they're still there, even if just slightly. But it's not just heat and nothing else. There's plenty of roasted sweetness from tomatillos with some added flavor depth from lime juice and garlic to add a bite, and cilantro to add a herby twist. All of these flavors seem present and proportionately balanced for a strong but not overbearing spicy sauce with some character to it. There's also "spinach powder" in there....I guess that's present for greenery insurance. Or maybe they're just trying to sneak us some extra veggies. Who knows.

It's all a pretty smooth consistency too, all things considered - not too watery, and certainly not chunky. The sauce definitely pours more than plops, making it ideal to use in most anyway one can enjoy a hot sauce - I've used over various meats, in sandwiches, on eggs, in tacos and so on. I've yet to find something that didn't mesh well with the flavor profile - even with the spiciness (which I'd rate as moderate) and other flavors present, none seem to completely overpower whatever I'm putting it on. Good sauce.

Both Sandy and I seem to be pouring it over any meal we can the past week or so. My mother-in-law who's been staying with us the past few weeks just kind of looks on in amazement. Eh well. The dragon sauce might not be for everyone, but I think it'll be a staple for us going forward because of its tastiness and versatility. Like that Lee-Norris fight scene, this sauce just might be pretty tough to beat.


Bottom line: Trader Joe's Green Dragon Hot Sauce: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Trader Joe's Portobello Mushroom Fries

There are occasions when I feel like I should role play on this blog—times when I can't fully appreciate a product, regardless of its popularity or nutritional value or uniqueness, yet I feel like scoring it based solely on my own personal hang-ups would be doing it a grand injustice. Sometimes I want to write a review from someone else's perspective. This is one of those times. 

I think I've mentioned it on the blog once or twice before, but I have very strange reactions when eating mushrooms (and not just the "magic" kind—in fact, I've never had those...to the best of my knowledge, anyway). After consuming a food-grade mushroom, my stomach instantly feels like it's on fire, and my heart beats harder and faster than usual. Coincidentally, Sonia has similar reactions to certain varieties of mushrooms, particularly button mushrooms. But apparently, portobello does not produce any reaction for Sonia—which is good for the sake of this review, and good for Sonia, because unlike me, she really enjoys the taste of most mushrooms, despite her unusual response to certain species. And both of us do, on occasion, simply bite the bullet and eat mushrooms—even the kinds that we're sensitive to, and we just suck it up and deal with the palpitations. Such was the case for me in this instance. All that to say, I feel like shafting this product just because I can't fully enjoy it would be doing a disservice to the vast majority of our readers.

I was already starting to notice a buzz about these portobello mushroom fries on Facebook and Twitter, when I received a fascinating email from a reader who pointed out that there are some things that truly make this product unique and progressive in the world of packaged, frozen foods. These mushrooms are harvested, battered, cooked, and frozen over the course of just a few hours—not the usual formula for pre-packaged, fried foods. In that reader's own words, these mushroom fries "could be the start of a trend to reverse our walk toward the edge of the industrial food cliff." He thinks success with these mushroom fries will bring "hope that more (foods) will be brought to us in this most life-sustaining manner." Thanks for your unique insight, James, and thanks for the heads up on this product. Click here to check out more of James's thoughts on this product and others.

When we removed the fries from the oven, some of them were quite crispy, and some not so much. The crispier fries were much better than the others, both in texture, and in my opinion, in taste as well. So I'd say err on the side of "burned" unless you like your mushroom fries juicy and moist, but like most anything you heat in the oven, there's a magic sweet spot in between "soggy" and "burned to a crisp." I think we had ours in for the full 15 minutes but maybe wouldn't have minded another minute or two in the heat.

I did appreciate their taste—at least more than most mushroom products I've tried. They have that subtle, earthy, almost nutty flavor that good quality mushrooms tend to flaunt. The batter was nice, too, though Sonia wishes there were more of it. It's a thin layer of wheat batter with a hint of garlic and pepper—so thin, in fact, that in many spots, it doesn't completely coat the mushroom. But I guess that's helpful if you're trying to keep your carb intake to a minimum. We served them with Trader Joe's Sriracha Ranch and also tried them with marinara sauce. We both agree the Sriracha Ranch worked best, although the hot sriracha flavor dominated the subtle taste of the mushroom fries.

Sonia gives this a four. Despite my aversion to mushrooms, if I were to score it, I'd probably give it a 3 or 3.5 or so for virtue of it being the best mushroom product I've ever tried. But instead, I'll score this product according to the chorus of fans it's already gathered on social media, Sonia's co-workers, and people like readers James and Janice, and I'll go with a 4.5 on their behalf.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Trader Joe's Indian Fare Jaipur Vegetables

Here's an item that's been in our cupboard for months and months and we might have forgotten about it, but last time we were at TJ's, they were handing it out at the sample counter. We liked it, so Sonia and I reminded ourselves to heat up the package we already had at home. And boy am I glad we did.

It's really tasty. It reminds me of the filling in the Balti Pies we looked at not too long ago, though not quite as fattening and calorific. Obviously, there's no crust or chicken here, either. The curry is nearly identical to the Balti curry, though maybe a tad bit spicier. There are big chunks of peas, carrots, potatoes, and tomatoes. Plus, there's paneer cheese and cashews—two ingredients TJ's is no stranger to. They all blend together nicely flavor-wise, but I'd definitely say the taste of the curry is the dominant flavor here. And that's just fine with me, because it tastes great.

All of the other ingredients create a nice hearty texture. It's not just a homogeneous mush. There's plenty of each constituent part to keep it interesting. I wasn't particularly thrilled with the cashews, since they were slightly soggy. If they had found some magical way to keep them crunchy, then this already delicious product would have been even better. I suppose they could have separated the cashews into a separate pouch that you could open and pour into the mixture at the end, but that's just me being uber-picky.

And that brings me to my next point: the preparation of this product is insanely easy. You either drop the bag into some boiling water on your stove top for five minutes, or you snip the bag and nuke the contents for a minute or two. I heated mine in the microwave and poured it over rice, and bang! Instant meal. I don't recall exactly what the price is on this one since it's been so long since we purchased it, but if it's anything like the other Indian Fare products, it's probably in the ballpark of $2, which is a really good deal for what you're getting. No complaints here.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Chicken Salad

When I'm eating a piece of meat, be it chicken, steak, or what have you, I never want to see actual fat. I hate it. I've always been repulsed by the sight of real animal fat. I'll cut it off, I'll feed it to the dogs, or I'll just leave the fatty portions on my plate. Likewise, I've never liked things coated with grease or lard. If there's excess mayo on a sandwich, I'll scrape most of it off. I'm the weirdo that uses two or three napkins to sop grease from the top of a piece of pizza. Other people see me doing it and they say, "Why are you doing that? The grease is where all the flavor comes from!" Maybe so. But I prefer it without the excess grease.

However, all that being said, I must point out that when fat is seamlessly blended into a product, be it a doughnut, milkshake, cookie, or delicious chicken salad, I eat it up like it's going out of style. And not only that, but I'm usually actually turned off by lower-fat, lighter options of the same products. This chicken salad is no exception.

It's not really terrible, though. In fact, Sonia loved it. But I'm going to immediately compare it to the two best chicken salads I've ever had, Wine Country and Curried White Chicken Deli Salad, and find it wanting. The only ingredients that are comparable between this and the wine country salad are the white meat chicken pieces and the celery bits. I'm not sure how, but I feel like even the celery flavor is more enjoyable in the wine country option. The carrot bits in this dish add some pleasant crunchiness—but very little in terms of flavor. I must admit, though, that the chicken in this reduced guilt salad was good white meat, and it was relatively moist and had a nice texture. 

Furthermore, in this product's defense, the difference in fat content is astounding. We're looking at 2.5 grams of fat per 99 gram serving here, whereas the wine country salad has 11 grams per 113 gram serving. That's something like 1/4 the amount of fat, plus there's less than half the calories. This isn't one of those situations where TJ's cleverly changed the container size and serving size by a third and then boasted "33% less fat!" There's a marked difference here. The problem is you can taste it.

Or rather, that you can't taste it. I think it's bland. A bit of mustard certainly does this product a service. The chicken is okay as I mentioned before, but in the end, I think I'd rather just buy my own lean chicken breast, some lettuce, and some Miracle Whip and make my own low-fat chicken sandwich—and at $4.49 for a small tub of this stuff, you could probably assemble those three ingredients for less money.

Sonia gives this product four stars and says that it's a great, healthy alternative if you don't want all the fat and calories in the wine country chicken salad (which she insists on calling "Sonoma Country Chicken Salad." She's so cute). I think it's worthy of three stars—not exactly a treat, but it's amazing they cut such a drastic amount of fat and calories and still yielded something that's even edible.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Trader Joe's Key Lime Tea Cookies

As you may have heard on our recent episode of Let's Talk TJ's, it's probably a good thing Nathan got to the review of the Popcorn In A Pickle first. It's not that I didn't like it...it's just that I wasn't anywhere close to as enthused as Nathan, Sonia, and apparently everyone else on this planet of ours. I feel like if I had written the review and said anything even slightly  negative, it would've gotten a tremendous backlash, and well, we try to keep it friendly here folks. We really try to be an oasis away from all the other noise out there and to just be positive. The world doesn't need much if any more angst, acrimony, or snark...okay, guilty of the last one occasionally...but we want to be a lighthearted diversion.

For a similar reason, good thing I'm writing this review on Trader Joe's Key Lime Tea Cookies. The Rodgers weren't terribly sold on them - too strong flavor, too much powdered sugar, etc etc. Me? Listen: I've spent the past year or so finally cultivating some sense of self control for the first time in my adult life. I threw it completely out the window when it came to these cookies.

Not gonna lie: I basically ate the whole package myself. Over several days, yes, but man, what a glorious run these were. Every cookie seemed better than the previous - the crumbly texture of the cookie middle, the quickly intensifying lime flavor in all it's soursweet citrusy glory, all of the sugar adding a sweet balance. Oh goodness.

Make no mistake: these key lime cookies pack a wallop that honestly I didn't expect. Biting one in half to take a look at the cross-section reveals a little magic while adding to the mystery - the cookies is composed of basically 90% cookie bases, with a thin (maybe half to a full millimeter) sugar coating similar in appearance and feel to a Muddy Buddy (except a little bit more) with a confectioner sugar dusting. It's in that thin sugar coating that all that key lime flavor is contained. How? I don't know. All I know is I would eat and eat these until my lips and mouth began to hurt, like I had too many Sour Patch Kids or salt and vinegar chips - maybe it's just me, but I love that sensation. Amazing cookies, in my opinion.

As for Sandy? Well, I think she may have gotten a couple of them, if any. I asked for her take, and about all she said was "I bet they tasted good." What I do know is she really liked TJ's key lime pie (which these were very similar in taste to sans gingery crust) so if given a fair chance to adequately assess these cookies, I can't imagine her going lower than her score on that. For me? Just two small quibbles: There is a lot of sugar dusted on top, perhaps a little too much here and there - I coughed out a dust cloud or two, but that may have been more my excess than potential cookie foul. Also (and Sandy and I share this) - no idea what kind of tea to have with them. These are too potent to pair up with many teas - have a suggestion? Share it! Regardless, I'm going near-perfect here.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Key Lime Tea Cookies: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons   

Friday, August 14, 2015

Episode 6: Belgian World Domination Puppets




In this episode we discuss some of the latest products popping up on Trader Joe’s shelves, like Speculoos Cookie Butter Cream Cheese, Brownie Crisp, Key Lime Tea Cookies, and Salmon Jerky 2.0. Also check us out on StitcherThanks for listening!

RSS: letstalktjs.libsyn.com/rss

Show notes: www.letstalktjs.com/6/

Download: MP3 (23.1 MB)


Opening Music: www.bensound.com




Thursday, August 13, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Mac N Cheezy Rays

So, there's a certain pattern that our family seems to be falling into for our vacations and out-of-town trips. let's see if you can pick it up...last year, we went on an overnight trip to Cincinnati to go to a Pirates-Reds game, then went to the Columbus Zoo and a Columbus-area TJ's on the way home. This past July, we went to Detroit for another trip. First stop: Trader Joe's. Second: Pirates-Tigers game. The next day: Toledo Zoo. And on our just completed vacation to the Portland, Maine area: Trader Joe's in South Portland (huge store!). A Sea Dogs-Senators (minor leagues) game. And on the recommendation of our tremendous hosts from Airbnb, the Maine Wildlife Park, which is basically a zoo. We had a confirmed moose sighting! Fun trip, where we did plenty of other things, but yep. Apparently we like our baseball game/TJ's/zoo treks. Works well for our family, I suppose.

I mention this because, at that aforementioned ginormous South Portland TJ's (the size of a small WalMart!), we first spotted Trader Joe's Organic Mac N Cheezy Rays. We really wanted to get them but alas, the promise of fresh seafood dinners every night was too strong to sway us for another meal option. We again spotted them at the Princeton, NJ TJ's (booze!) on the way home, but had no great way to refrigerate them all the way back to the 'burgh, so again, we passed. With much relief, our regular stop, Pittsburgh - North Hills, had these new-fangled ray-violis for our fridge/pantry restocking trip upon our return home.

To be honest, I'm a little torn on them. Like most things in life, these mac 'n cheese pockets have pluses and minuses. But overall, if I had to choose, I'd say I like them. Quite a bit. The noodles themselves are a good, firmer variety, with much more bite then the typical smushy Krafty elbows that you can swallow without chewing as a kid. And with ricotta as the primary filling ingredient, I was a little apprehensive at first - I'm usually not a huge fan - but it melds well with the cheddar to make a smooth, creamy, pretty satisfying cheesy stuffing that was palatably pleasing for the wife and me, as well as our kiddos. Plus, it's kind of a fun shape, too - granted, they don't look exactly like sting rays (no stinger tails!), but it isn't too much a Rorshach inkblot-esque stretch, either. Our toddler bought into the concept pretty easily and it seemed to add to the lunchtime experience for her, with a couple added grins and a goofy laugh or two.

So, what's the negative notes? Well, a couple. First, the dough doesn't seem to hold particulary well together at the seams - there were more than a couple rays that burst their guts while cooking, losing their cheesy innards to the boiling ocean around them in the process. Bummer. Plus, as kind of a strange note, the package says to "add your favorite sauce" to them - huh? Potentially aside from hot sauce, what sauce would one splash on here? Sandy buttered hers up some, but butter doesn't count as a sauce. Marinara seems like an off choice. And then, there's the cost: $3.99 a package. It's not a rip-off, but not a great deal either. My frame of reference for this is considering that one can get a 12 pack of Annie's branded organic mac n cheese for like $10 at Costco, and the fact that we needed to buy two packages of this to make a reasonable meal for two adults, a toddler, and a baby seemed a little, well, off. Also, unsurprisingly, the sodium count....yeesh. Let's think of more ways to get flavor without salt, shall we? Please?

Anyways, there's a good chance we'll get them again. If anything, our toddler loved them, and there's a good chance that most kids would, too, giving their folks a break from the usual mac 'n cheese doldrums. With a little coaching, our kiddo gave them a perfect assessment ("Five! Fivefivefive!"), and she's had enough mac 'n cheese to know her stuff and be considered an expert, so I'll go with that. Sandy would give them about a 4, with me perhaps a 3, so let's average those out.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mac N Cheezy Rays: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Trader Joe's Popcorn in a Pickle

In an upcoming podcast episode, you'll find out that Russ and I have taken opposing positions on two of TJ's newest and most-talked-about, most-posted/pinned/tweeted/instagrammed products: this pickle popcorn and the Key Lime Tea Cookies. I was originally going to review the tea cookies first since I tried them first, but now that we've talked about it a little and I know where each of us stands, I think it would be better if I started off this new batch of products with a positive review. Negative reviews have their place and are sometimes necessary, but there's plenty of negativity in the world currently, don't you think? 

So let's be positive for a minute...and maybe just a bit silly.

Ahem. This product is the answer to that age-old question: "What the dilly, yo?"

Yes. This stuff. This popcorn is the dilly, and it is indeed very dilly. It's cooked in dill oil, and although that's the last ingredient on the list, you can sure taste it. I personally don't think they overdid it with the dill flavor. Any less and you might not know they were going for pickle popcorn. But as it is, it's unmistakably flavored like a dill pickle. It's that salty, vinegary, dilly flavor you've come to know and love as a pickle—yet it's popcorn. Unlike a popcorn we looked at long ago, you can't see any of the spices or flavors on the exterior of this popcorn. Looks-wise, they appear to be normal, average, everyday, unassuming, non-pickle type corn kernels. Looks can be deceiving.

Texture-wise, it's similar to what we've seen before from TJ's flavored popcorns: nice fluffy, white, fully-popped corn kernels with a nice crunch and firmness, with very few "widows" or unpopped kernels. If you like the smell of a dill pickle, but could never get into the whole cucumber-soaked-in-vinegar type mouthfeel, you might want to give this product a whirl. It's like eating a dill pickle taste-wise, but with a brand new texture. 

I must admit that I can't completely binge on it. A handful or two can be very satisfying, but more than that and it feels like I'm overdoing it. It's almost like the dill oil builds up in my system and doesn't leave it very quickly. Maybe Sonia's body processes the dill faster than mine, but she's entirely happy to binge away. Overall, though, I think it's a very unique popcorn flavor executed quite nicely. I give it four stars. Sonia sees my four and raises me half a star.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cream Cheese

In a shadowy boardroom somewhere in Monrovia, California, a clandestine meeting recently took place. TJ's crack product development team had been gathered to formulate something diabolically delicious, cookie buttery, and hopelessly addictive.

"What we need is a cookie butter product that's spreadable," said Big Joe thoughtfully, thumbing the collar of his Hawaiian shirt.

There was an awkward pause. The product developers looked at each other with raised eyebrows. One young man timidly raised his hand and spoke with a squeaky, wavering voice, "Uh, sir, Original Speculoos Cookie Butter is spreadable. Same with the Crunchy Cookie Butter. Also Cookie and Cocoa Swirl."

Big Joe stewed for a moment, eyed his subordinates coolly, and considered choking the young man with a dark-side-of-the-force-like death grip. But then he mellowed.

"Alright then, Smitty. Since you're so smart, why don't you tell us what direction we should go in our next bold play for world domination," said Big Joe gruffly.

With every ear in the room anxiously awaiting Smitty's next words, he reached down into the most fiendish recesses of his culinarily-inclined imagination and spoke: "How about spreadable Cookie Butter Cheesecake?"

And that, my friends, is how Smitty got promoted to Grand Moff of Trader Joe's Corporate Offices, and more importantly, how Trader Joe's Cookie Butter Cream Cheese was conceived. It's been a while since the last new cookie butter product: Cookie Butter Cookies. And rumor has it that the product development team was leaning towards cookie butter made from cookie butter cookies rather than regular old Speculoos Cookies, and they were going to call it Trader Joe's Cookie Butter Cookie Butter. Oh well, maybe next time.

For now, we'll have to settle for this tub of spectacular cream cheese with real crushed speculoos biscuits. OMG. It's stupidelicious. It's not EXACTLY spreadable cookie butter cheesecake, but it's darn close. Sonia and I both think the cheesecake and Cheesecake Bites have a bit more cookie butter flavor bursting through than this cream cheese, but it's nothing to complain about in my humble opinion.

Sonia wishes there were speculoos cookie chunks floating throughout the product. I see where she's coming from, but normal cream cheese isn't exactly "chunky." A little extra texture might be nice in this case, though. Another tiny little teensy-weensy problem with this—that might keep it from our Pantheon—is that the flavor can easily be overshadowed by other ingredients. I must admit that it's not quite as potent as other cookie butter products. When I tried this spread on white bread, it was perfect. But with the non-Trader Joe's whole wheat bagels we happened to have on hand, I tasted more wheat than cookie butter. Which is fine, I guess, but frankly, I'd rather have a semi-healthy, hearty whole grain flavor OR a cookie butter "dessert-for-breakfast" kind of vibe. They sort of clash when they're competing for the collective attention of your taste buds. But our poor bagel pairing isn't really the fault of this product.

All in all, it's a delicious edition to the cookie butter family. If you ask me, it IS tasty enough to eat directly out of the tub, however, for the sake of your own self-respect and human dignity, I can't really recommend doing that. It's great when served with something neutral or complimentary, and it melts and spreads just like regular cream cheese, but you might find it to be slightly less versatile than original cookie butter. Now, for cooking, on the other hand...I can't wait to see what recipes people tell us about in the comments section, because this stuff has "Baker's Best Friend" written all over it.

Sonia gives Speculoos Cookie Butter Cream Cheese 3.5 stars. As the original cookie butter fanboy, I can't go lower than 4.5.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Trader Joe's Kale Quinoa Salad

Bacon chocolate bars. Fig cookies ...err ....cakes .... bars. errr... whatever you want to call them. Greasy Greece-y cheesy dough spiralsMega carrot cake cookies. Super-de-duper crunchy brownie bites, which apparently everyone in the world except me knew were Sheila's Brownie Brittle.

Is it any wonder that I could use a salad?

As fun as it would be to subsist on nothing but all of those aforementioned treats, plus any cookie butter confections and other assorted TJ's goodies, well, that's just not how it works. You need veggies, and in the hot hot heat and humidty of summer, some nights nothing but a cool, crisp, flavorful salad will do.

It doesn't get any easier than Trader Joe's Kale Quinoa Salad. As the package implies, it's a full, ready to go salad in a bag, ready to be rinsed off, dumped in a bowl, and served up. And there's a lot in here, too - crisp, fresh kale for the leafy green base, with some fresh shoestring carrot and broccoli for kind of a raw crunchy natural slaw to really fill the salad out. There's the typical red cabbage and radicchio shards intersparsed through out. All of that is well and good, but the toasted quinoa - man, that's a great addition, much better than any crouton. The itty quinoa bits (of which there are plenty) add a crispy, toasty, slightly nutty munch than makes a tasty accomplice to the rest of the kale, etc. The lemon vinaigrette is okay - somewhat light, a little citrusy, with a slight sweet tartness that plays off the natural veggie flavors well enough - but isn't terribly memorable, either. Of course, I say this as a non fan of most salad dressings, so take my opinion for whatever it may be worth. There's also a small package of pepitas and cranberries that add some textural variance and flavor, but it'd be nice to have more of them, especially the cranberries.

And this is one huge salad too. Sandy and I have bought it twice - the first time, we were extraordinarily hungry, so we plowed through the entire bag between the two of us for dinner, and that seemed to be pushing it a bit. The second time, we roasted some chicken breasts to cut up and mix in with the salad - man, that was filling, and though we ate to our hearts' content, there was enough remaining for a good leftover lunch for me. Really, not a bad value at all the for the $4.49 it set us back.

We're both fans, although strangely, me more than the wifey for once. Not tht she hated it, by any stretch. The first time we dined on it, she expressed some of her fullest love she could for a consumable good (non ice cream division). After the second...more of a "meh" reaction. Maybe it's because we knew what to expect. Regardless, Sandy said she'd probably still pick up the kale quinoa salad for a few lunches here and there, giving it a 3.5 overall. Me? it deserves better than that in my humble opinion. Not quite perfect (seriously, more cranberries, please) but I'll grade a little higher to give it the score I think it deserves.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Kale Quinoa Salad: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, August 3, 2015

Trader Giotto's Arugula & Parmigiano Reggiano Ravioli

Every time I hear the word "arugula," I think of the movie My Blue Heaven with Steve Martin. I was too young to really appreciate the film the first time I saw it, but the scene in the grocery store where he asks for arugula has stuck with me for the past 25 years. "It's a veg-e-ta-ble."

And apparently "parmigiano reggiano" is just a fancy way to say "parmesan cheese." But put together like that, it's pretty hard to speak the title of this product without trying to sound like an Italian mafia don from New York City. Near the end of a recent podcast episode, you can hear my sad attempt at saying "Trader Giotto's Arugula & Parmigiano Reggiano Ravioli" with an Italian accent. And if you like that, please check out my even-more-offensive Indian, Danish, and Japanese accents on our YouTube channel.

Whether you say it with an Italian accent or can barely pronounce it at all, you have to admit that arugula and parmigiano reggiano is a great combo. And it's even better inside ravioli pasta. It's a far cry from the bizarre "fusion" experiment we recently checked out called Trader Joe's Chicken Pot Pie Ravioli—admittedly, a mostly successful experiment. But this product tastes classic...like a time-honored family recipe from the Old Country—not that I know anything about the Old Country. I'm about as Italian as the Queen of England. But it tastes like something that you'd get from a mom and pop's Italian place. Not a hole-in-the-wall pizza place, either. Like maybe The Olive Garden, but much better. It's a delicious, balanced blend of veggies, cheese, and pasta, and it goes great with olive oil and Trader Joe's Shaved Cheese Blend. All of the flavors are somewhat subtle, but very pleasant. They go together so well because no single ingredient outshines the others, taste-wise.

The amalgam of parmesan and arugula is nice and smooth. There are no chunks of veggies or cheese. They're blended together to an almost creamy consistency. There's definitely a little more substance to the mixture than just plain cheese by itself, but it's not a "chunky" experience by any means. Even the Chicken Pot Pie Ravioli had more body to it, since there were hunks of carrots and peas and tiny whispers of chicken in that product. We enjoyed the texture in both cases, but for different reasons.

This pasta is easy to prepare and reasonably priced at $3 for the package. Sonia and I both recommend it.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.