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, February 29, 2016

Trader Joe's Dried Baby Bananas

Zombie fingers. That's how the TJ's employee described these to Sonia when she bought them. And he's not wrong, as you can clearly see from the picture below.

Each banana is about the size of my pinky finger—on average, anyway. They're sweet, chewy, and they taste surprisingly like actual bananas. They have the sweetness and flavor of a dark, overripe specimen—you know, the banana that's been sitting on the counter too long—but without the nasty mush that comes with it. 

Texture-wise, they're very similar to other dried fruits, not crunchy like banana chips. They're fairly firm, and for lack of a better term, I'd say they're slightly "leathery," although not in a bad way.

There's one ingredient: dried bananas. Amazing. I'm not sure if "baby bananas" are just young bananas or if they're a different strain of miniature banana altogether, but they're extraordinarily snackable in my opinion. I also can't tell if they just leave the peel on the banana or if they take it off. I would think they'd have to take it off, but then again, perhaps baby banana skins aren't particularly tough like grown-up banana peels. Furthermore, the drying process may counteract any toughness that one might encounter.

Health-wise, they're pretty much like big bananas. Any sugars present are completely natural. Plus, there's protein and lots of fiber and potassium. I've often felt like just a little bit of banana, but didn't want to commit to a whole big piece of fruit. My prayers have been answered. They come in a handy, resealable bag, too, so there's no pressure to eat the whole package. The convenience factor on these little, natural treats is very, very high.

If you're into the taste of super-ripe bananas and like the texture of dried apricots, figs, or prunes, then these will be right up your alley. Perfect snack for a long hike or camping trip. Double fours on this one.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Podcast Episode 19: Discontinued Products




In this episode we reveal our favorite Trader Joe’s products that have been Off Boarded (discontinued). We also share several products that What’s Good at Trader Joe’s readers miss.

Thanks for listening.

Visit Trader Joe's Official Product Gangway.



If you like what you hear, please help us out and rate the show on iTunes.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Trader Joe's Organic Fair Trade Five Country Espresso Blend


 If your household is anything like mine before Sandy and I have any coffee....Lord help you. Getting two kids out the door and me out to work is a slow rolling car crash every day. Plus, we're both so cranky and tired, it's...just ugly. I see you nodding your head in understanding. That's all pre-coffee. Post-coffee, we're all good.

New to our rotation is Trader Joe's Organic Fair Trade Five Country Espresso Blend, featuring beans from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru, and Sumatra. To say it's "dark" is a bit of an understatement - taking a whiff of some freshly ground beans, there's this potent pugnacity that hits your nostrils in almost a tobacco-esque way. Once brewed, it's not as concentrated, obviously, but there's still this essence and appearance that says this is a coffee to be taken seriously.

But...the coffee doesn't quite hold up to its appearance. First, it's just kinda boring tasting - bittersweet, a bit tinny, kinda one note or two note at best. For having five differently sourced beans, I was hoping for something a little more complex. And, as with most dark roasts, it's doesn't have much of a caffeine boost, either. It's definitely a two-cupper for the morning, but on the bright side, a reliable afternoon warmer-upper without getting too hopped up.

It's an okay cup at best - better than gas station, cheaper than coffee shop, trustworthier than the company pot - but there's better out there on the TJ shelves. I'll finish up the can at work, but it's not a probable repurchase. Bonus points (as always) for being organic and fair trade, though.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Fair Trade Five Country Espresso Blend: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons 


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Trader Joe's Simply Nutty Bars

My goodness...there's like a zillion different granola/ energy /Kind /fruit/ whatever bars out there these days. They're literally freakin' everywhere. At the local non-TJ's grocery store, there's an aisle and a half full of them, all different varieties.

Anyone else remember the good ol' days when there was just the variety pack from Quaker Oats, and not much else? How innocent and quaint.

I guess portable snackage is on the rise with our busy lifestyles. Like a lot of you, I'm sure, I got kids and fairly regular 10 hour work days to make ends meet. Food intake is sometimes completely dependent on what's convenient, but since I want what I eat to be healthy (or at least healthy-ish), as do a lot of folks, but everyone has their different ideas...well, that explains the market maybe.

Adding to the noise is good ol' TJ's with the new line of Trader Joe's Simply Nutty Bars. There's three varieties, of which I've sampled the two pictured, the Dark Chocolate, Nuts and Sea Salt bar as well as the Dark Chocolate, Walnut, Peanut, Fig & Date Bar. Not shown, and not tried, because it sounded the least interesting of them all, is the Dark Chocolate, Peanut and Almond Bar which comes in a orangey box. It's different from the sea salted bar mostly because it lacks walnuts and sea salt from what I can tell, so probably a little plainer.

I'd relate these bars mostly closely to the Kind variety, not just for ingredient similarity but also overall flavor and feel. Crunchy isn't the right word, at least not in the sense of those Nature Valley shrapnel-in-wait planks, but neither is crispy, nor soft, nor anything else. There's elements of all of that present from the toasted nuts, the little white crispy bally things which I never really know what exactly they are (pea protein pearls? Who knows?), and in case of the fig and date bar, from those respective ingredients.

Out of these two, I'd say I probably enjoy the dark chocolate, walnut, peanut, fig and date one more, and it's not just for the always appreciated ampersand. They're not figgy or date-y like Larabars (which I really enjoy, for the record), but instead they get reduced down to a paste that kinda fills the gaps between the nuts while adding a flavor depth, if that makes sense. The sea salt bar is pretty good in its own right, but it sticks mostly to a classic nut and chocolate mix with a trace of salt added. There's just something more to the figs and dates one.

Oh, and chocolate. Oh yes. There's a pretty good drizzling on the topside of each bar, with the backs completely dipped. And, as is custom with pretty miuch anything TJ's with dark chocolate, it's fairly high quality and tasty too - not exactly Belgian, but not Hershey's either. I'd reckon it's in the 60% dark range or so, and there's enough in there to give me the midafternoon chocolate boost I need, with enough nuts and protein to keep me from getting too hangry, that make skipping my cubicle neighbors' candy dishes so much easier.

Sandy and I both like what we've tried. We're suckers for this kinda stuff, and at $4.99 for a five pack, TJ's seems to be selling them at more than fair market price. At some point we'll probably try out the Dark Chocolate, Peanut and Almond Bar, but if you have, please comment away and let us know if we've missed something special (or not) there. We approve.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Simply Nutty Bars: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons (both varieties)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Trader Joe's Tomato Tiropita Triangles

Rather than give you a spiel about what tiropita is and fake like I know what I'm talking about (as I've done many times in the past), I'll just link to Wikipedia for you here. But I will go ahead and simply mention that just as spanakopita means "spinach pie," tiropita or tyropita means "cheese pie." How creative.

When you first bite into these pastries, you'll notice the buttery, flaky crust, but the filling really zings the tongue with a super Greek-ish cheese flavor. At first, I thought it was all feta, but the first cheese mentioned in the ingredients is "mizithra." It's made with cow, sheep, and goat's milk so that none of the farm animals feel left out. What? No pig's milk?

The taste of the tangy cheeses overpowers most of the tomato flavor, IMHO. But if you pay attention, there's definitely a touch of sun-dried tomato up in the mix. They go together pretty well. I was thinking they should have called these "Mizithra Tiropita Triangles," because the cheese flavor is so dominant, but then again, mizithra is a type of cheese and tiropita means "cheese pie," so it would not only be redundant, but you'd lose that nice alliteration in the title of the product. And technically, since these are three-dimensional objects, shouldn't they be called "prisms" or "polyhedrons"? I guess not, since the sides of the prisms aren't perfect planes. So basically, just forget about this whole paragraph.

Sonia? She liked these even more than I did, and she also made the initial assumption that the primary cheese flavor was feta. She claims she could taste olives. And there are definitely some olives and olive oil in there, but my taste buds weren't keen enough to pick them out without looking at the ingredients...or, you know, the front of the packaging where it explicitly states there are Kalamata olives in the product. She also enjoyed the flaky crust but thought it was a bit too oily. In all honesty, that might have been my fault since I used a little oil in the pan when I baked them. I was a bad boy and did not follow the instructions exactly.

But they still came out good enough for Sonia to give them a four. I'll say...three and a half.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Trader Joe's Pacific Flounder with Crab Meat Stuffing

Here in Pittsburgh, we take Lenten Fridays seriously. How seriously? Just click here - fish fry season! Any Catholic church worth it's weight holds their own, though no one yet can ably explain to me why eating a giant slab of fried fish is exactly a "sacrifice." Eh well. Bonus points to any fish fry with homemade pierogi. And if you don't know what a fish fry even is - here's a spot-on comedic primer.

But...you can't always make it to one. That's our no-fry Friday last Friday. We did make it to Trader Joe's though, saw his Pacific Flounder with Crab Meat Stuffing, and in case you find yourself in similar predicament and motivation today....

Pass on by. Not that great. Not awful. But not good. All in all, this stuffed seafood contrivance is a good idea...but just lacks any taste. Like, none. No herbs. No spice. Nothing from the cheese or breadcrumbs or saucy mayo stuff or anything else listed (the label says bell peppers, we didn't spot any!).  Just soft, flaky fish of the decent variety, filled with mushy nondescript crab with the occasional crumby grit or saucy splooge.

Both Sandy and I ended up after a couple bites reaching for the brown sugar BBQ sauce we had out for our fries just to add a little something to make our dinners actually taste like something. In all, these aren't the worst things you could spend $4ish on at TJ's, but there's lots better. Maybe these could be a Lenten sacrifice.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Pacific Flounder with Crab Meat Stuffing: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Trader Joe's Hatch Chile Mac & Cheese

I think everybody goes through at least one or two "mac & cheese phases" in their life. The first normally occurs in early childhood. There's just something about cheddar cheese on macaroni that really excites a youthful palate. I myself, due to food allergies, was not able to partake of much mac & cheese back then. But after being treated for said allergies, I was a full-fledged mac & cheese connoisseur by college—when an American's second great mac & cheese phase often occurs. It's a fast, inexpensive way to break up all that ramen.

And quite honestly, I've been eating more mac & cheese than usual lately. Sonia and I have a pretty good stockpile of shelf-stable foods in case of extreme weather, long-term loss of power, martial law, WWIII, or zombie apocalypse—and since I work from home, I often find myself raiding the pantry at lunch time when we're low on fresh groceries. I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but I once stated that I preferred Kraft Easy Mac to Joe's Diner Mac n' Cheese. While I no longer stand by that shocking statement, I'll admit that I'm still not quite as fond of Joe's Diner as Sonia and many of you seem to be.

Nevertheless, despite its similar appearance and packaging, I was fairly excited to try this new Hatch Chile Mac & Cheese. And it is very similar to Joe's Diner, except—you guessed it—it includes "roasted chiles from Hatch, New Mexico." Sonia thinks the cheese in this case "tasted a little odd and different." I didn't really notice that. I thought that the chiles were a welcome addition to what was otherwise the same old Joe's Diner Mac n' Cheese. Sonia wishes there were more of the chiles. I can see where she's coming from. The existing chiles give the mac a nice little kick, but it could definitely use more of them in my opinion. We both enjoy spicy foods, and as I've mentioned many times before, Sonia is full-blooded Mexican-American, which automatically puts her in the top 5% or so of hot chile-loving Americans. I think most of the rest of the WG@TJ's team would fall into that category, too. However, it's entirely conceivable that this product would be a little too spicy for some people, which brings me to my main point about this product...

Why not just buy Joe's Diner or any other mac and cheese and add your own personalized amount of Hatch Valley Salsa, Salsa Verde, and/or hot sauce? I mean, sure, there's an extra step and possibly an extra purchase implied there, but spice-o-philes and spice-o-phobes alike can suit their own tastes in that case. With this, there's a chance you're the guy or gal this particular product is tailored to, but there's also a good chance you're not. I'll throw out three and a half stars for this frozen mac dish. Sonia will give it three.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Trader Joe's Organic Brown Sugar BBQ Sauce and Marinade

If you took a listen to our most recent podcast episode, in addition to hearing some things you probably didn't want to about Nathan's and my eating quirks as well as inappropriate jokes about babies and microwaves, you also probably picked up on my excitement over the newest addition to the barbecue sauce lineup, Trader Joe's Organic Brown Sugar BBQ Sauce and Marinade. I mean, I was downright giddy. Down, boy.

Then again, if something can make a slab of tofu taste downright deeeeelish, well, it's got something going for it. Not that I hate tofu. It just absorbs whatever flavor you put on it.

All that being said, it's probably a good thing I waited a few days to declare my official verdict on this here new-fangled condimental concoction.

Ehhhhhhhhh.

Okay, it's better than that. But not nearly as good as I thought amidst all my excitable nervous hyperventilation that's now out there for all the world to hear.

The base flavor is a pretty strong typical tomato, with a heavy, heavy dose of molasses and sugar. Looking over the ingredients, I saw molasses listed probably three or four times...that's a lot of molasses. Poor moles. That makes a fairly potent base, but there's more going on than just that. Pineapple juice and little itty bitty chunks of what I presume are zested orange peel make a citrusy component that enhances and deepens the sugary tones, plus the typical spices like black pepper, garlic and cloves add some heat to the sweet. So, the sauce offers sort of a three way triple threat of multidimensional flavor, in reasonable balance and proportion, though subsequent samplings tasted a little more discombobulating than the initial encounters.

Problem is, I think, the consistency. I'm hesitant to use the words "thin" and "runny", but it sure ain't "thick" and "gloopy". While that may make it easier to use as a marinade, it come up a little short for my typical lunch of seared chicken breast bites. While other sauces, like the Organic Sriracha or Apple Bourbon, are thick enough to retain consistent flavor during cooking, refrigeration, transportation and reheating....this isn't. There was a literal pool of salad dressing-y oily runoff at the bottom of my Tupperware, leaving only a sugary sweet thin coating on my chicken. No twinge of heat. No nothing else. Kinda disappointing, I must say.

Regardless, if served right away, this does taste pretty great over chicken, or for dipping some fries in, or for whatever else kinda BBQ sauce needs you may have. Without too much stretch of imagination, I'd make pulled pork with this fairly happily. I have a feeling, though not tested, that burgers and meatloaf and the like would probably be better off with something else, though.

Still, for $2.99, it's worth a try. Sandy and I will probably pick it up now and again, for as long as it's around, despite our middle of the road take after our initial impression wore off. Take our score and split amongst it however you see fit, it'll be pretty close.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Brown Sugar BBQ Sauce and Marinade: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, February 12, 2016

Podcast Episode 18: February 2016 New Products




In this episode we discuss several new Trader Joe’s products like Sweetheart Bark of the Finest Collection, Sriracha Hummus, Molten Chocolate and Butterscotch Macarons, Thai Sweet Chili Veggie Burger, Parsnip Chips, and more.

Click here to see the show notes.

If you like what you hear, please help us out and rate the show on iTunes.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Trader Giotto's Due Canestrelli and Trader Giotto's Baci di Dama Cookies


That checkout area is tricksy. And now it's kinda fancy, too. Gourmet-sounding, foreign-inspired chookies? Yes, please. 

I call chocolate chip cookies or any other kind of cookies with considerable chocolate components "chookies" because I'm super in-touch with my inner five-year-old. But the grown-up in me enjoyed the sophisticated European-ness of these treats and the fact that they weren't overly sweet. Did I just rip off a Frosted Mini Wheats commercial

The Due Canestrelli is vaguely reminiscent of other chocolate wafers I've had, but thinner, stiffer, and a little more bitter. They're highly-snackable, satisfying, and unique.

The Baci di Dama Cookies might look like miniaturized macarons, but they're more like a shortbread-based cookie with a thin layer of dark chocolate filling. They're not unlike those crispy Milano-esque cookies we looked at last year. Although, I guess these are filled with Italian chocolate rather than Belgian chocolate?? If there's a difference between the two, I can't really detect it.

Each of the cookie packs is 99 cents and doesn't disappoint in the flavor department. Sonia scores both with four and a half stars, and I'll give 'em both fours. Cheap, fast, convenient, and small enough that you can eat the whole pack and not feel completely disgusted with yourself.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Trader Joe's Natural Turkey Summer Sausage

Sometimes, such as when I commented to my dad during the Super Bowl halftime that at least Coldplay was better than getting camera-slide-humped by Bruce Springsteen right before the montage started of years past and this clip played, my timing is impeccable. As referenced recently,I like the Boss and all, just, um, not like in that way.

Other times, my timing is off. Way off.

How else can I explain reviewing Trader Joe's Natural Turkey Summer Sausage right now? First, it's still winter, and there's a big ol' storm dumping inches of the powdery white death over a lot of the Eastern seaboard...Pittsburgh mostly spared yet again. Second, it's Ash Wednesday, so if you're Catholic, or like me, respectful of Catholic tradition for somewhat vague reasons, you aren't supposed to eat meat today...so here's a meat review. Right.

Anyways, on the spectrum of quality shelf stable meat consumables, summer sausage to me is a solid midpoint between the high (good beef jerky) and the low (Spam). It's not a perfectly optimal form of protein intake, but for a snack with cheese and crackers here, a hike-worthy munchable there, sure.

Narrowing down the scale even further, I think this turkeyfied take on the summer sausage stage is also fairly middlin'. It tastes just about right - definitely some good black pepper bite, good garlic, some bonus sweetness presumably from the cherry powder - but perhaps just a small step too potent. Really, if you're familiar with the cracked pepper beef and pork stick that TJ's offers, this has a fairly close flavor profile. What's different, though, is the texture. It's...not sure of the proper word. Softer? Yes. Mushier? Not quite right...but sort of. And not exactly grainy or anything, but there's a totally different bite to it, which is to be expected from a different meat. So with all the health tradeoffs of a leaner meat, to me, there is a small price to pay for the texture.

And now here is a potential controversial point here: the casing. To eat or not to eat? As a homage to my middle kid upbringing, I have a foot in both camps. Sometimes, I do, and sometimes, I do not. It depends almost entirely on my motivation and the relative ease in removing said casing. If you are in the "do not eat the casing" party, bad news: At least on my log, the casing is particularly difficult to remove. It seems extra stuck on. Now, I was able to remove it, eventually, but have tried some both ways, and I don't think the product greatly benefits or suffers from it. But in a likely cringe worthy moment, I tried some casing just by itself. Not advised.

Regardless, I'd say the TJ turkey summer sausage works. Not great, not bad, but it'll do, and not much else. Sandy tried some and kinda shrugged her shoulders, as did I. Not terrible for the $3ish bucks (I think). Just might do it for you whenever the time is right.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Natural Turkey Summer Sausage: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, February 8, 2016

Trader Joe's Sweet Onion & Bacon Vinaigrette

Sonia and I both like onions, but unlike our Pittsburghian counterparts, we're not huge bacon fans. Just do a search on this blog for the term "bacon," and pretty much all the results are posts by Russ. I know, I know. Unless you're vegan, vegetarian, kosher Jewish, or dead, what kind of unAmerican commie jerks don't like to eat lots and lots bacon? Us, that's who.
 
But we loved this salad dressing. Because it's mostly onions. The bacon flavor is very faint, by our reckoning. It's definitely there, but just barely.
 
Visually, using this dressing is like pouring a bunch of caramelized onions onto your salad. It's surprisingly thick and absolutely full of onion bits. There's actually more solid than liquid in the bottle here, and the dressing literally piles up on your lettuce unless you scatter the product around your salad bowl evenly. Taste-wise, it's not sweet like caramelized onions, but the texture is very similar.
 
Shockingly, this dressing is pretty subtle overall. It does taste like onions and vinaigrette dressing, but neither one is overpowering. It has neither the full earthy sting of raw onions, nor the sweet acidic zip of other kinds of vinaigrette. I actually wish it were a tad more pungent.
 
Sonia thinks it's just about perfect the way it is. We both agree it's amazingly unique and adds a lot to our salads. Four and a half from Sonia. Four from me.
 
Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, February 5, 2016

SHOT O' JOE: Trader Joe's Fair Trade Organic Bolivian Blend


 Listen: I'm not a coffee snoot by any stretch. I mean, I can taste the difference between gas station and coffee shop coffee, between Starbucks and a respectable cup*, and I won't touch the stuff from vending machines at my job...but when I read descriptions on coffee cans, 90% of the time, I can't easily discern the "earthy" or "fruity" or whatever descriptor words get tossed on there. Light vs medium vs dark roast - sure. Much beyond that, dicey at best.

 That is, until I met Trader Joe's Fair Trade Organic Bolivian Blend.

Says right on the front: "sweet caramel flavor." Now, I drink my coffee black, nothing added...and there's absolutely something to this coffee that makes it taste like someone slipped in a small flavor shot. Without any enhancement, it's noticeable enough for a schlub like me. Darn good beans, these are. Most days, a cup or two is exactly what I need to earn the right to go home to the wife and kiddos.

I've been drinking my way thru a cannister at work over the past few weeks, and I'm impressed. If I were to pay something $2 or $3 for a decent-sized cup of it, I'd be happy....and this was pretty inexpensive, probably right around $8 or $9 for the almost-pound. Tremendous deal, especially for it being organic and fair trade. I might have myself a new regular here.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Fair Trade Organic Bolivian Blend: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
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* Not all Starbucks coffee is bad - some of their fancier ones are just fine. But a cup of their regular stuff? Tastes like the burned charred remains of some ancient coffee bean burial rite. Will do in a pinch, but far from my first choice.  

Photo courtesy of www.coffeequest.com. Kept leaving mine at work and forgot to snap a pic myself :(.  

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Trader Joe's Thai Sweet Chili Veggie Burger

There's a song a few years old that I really enjoy named "Daylight" by a dude named John Mark McMillan. Go ahead and take a listen if you'd like. Sounds kinda Springsteen-y, doesn't it? Now, I'd be willing to bet that at least 95% of you have never heard of this song, or of John Mark McMillan, which is fine...but pretty much everyone has at least a vague idea of who Springsteen is and can recognize songs like "Born in the USA" and "Hungry Heart" and whatnot. Where am I going with this? Follow me here. If Springsteen were to release a version of "Daylight" that sounded 100% identical to McMillan's, it'd be hailed as a classic, a return to form. Dad rock fan boys (hey, me included) would be buying it in droves and Rolling Stone would probably slobber all over themselves in praise. Instead, because it's by a dude named John Mark and not Bruce, it toils in obscurity.

So what makes something great isn't always the product....it's the marketing and the packaging. Ya follow me?

Trader Joe's Thai Sweet Chili Veggie Burger (why singular?) reminds me of this thought. Sandy, who's keeping calorie tabs, scanned the barcode on the box and instead of TJ's, it popped up as a Dr. Praeger's product on her phone app. Google confirms such a thing as a Dr. Praeger's Thai veggie burger exists, and it's mentioned (although not detailed) on the official site so yeah, probably a Dr. Praeger product. Seeing a Dr. Praeger Thai veggie burger on the shelf, I'd probably pass right on by and not notice. Put the TJ's name and package on it instead, and both Sandy and I couldn't wait to give them a try. Suckers.

All that to say, it's a pretty decent veggie burger. No, it's not going to replace a regular hamburger if that's what you're in the mood for. The patty is mostly rice and carrot based, with some edamame chucked in, so they're not even going for a textural approximation here. Having one of these heated up via microwave and also one baked in the oven, in a rare twist for me, I prefer them microwaved - alittle more moist and palatably pleasing that way. The oven kinda dried them up to a crispy outside, mushy dry inside akin to veggie scrapple. Some onion chunks also add a little character here and there. For taste, it's honestly pretty straightforward, without much complexity or flavor layers like most decent Thai fare. I didn't really pick up any sweet chili flavor from the patty - whatever is there is pretty subtle and would easily be overpowered by any cheese, toppings, or bun. There's a slight bit of residual heat, but not enough to get your knickers twisted. Instead, it mostly tastes like garlic, spices, onion and greenery mixed with rice, which is nice but not quite the kick I was looking for, either.

My ambivalence towards these Thai veggie patties is easily outweighed by Sandy's exuberance. Indeed, they're practically perfect for a reasonably healthy, super easy, and fairly decently priced ($3.69 for a four pack) lunch option. Bonus points for being individually frozen and packed. We had them one night, and was going to review them, fell asleep instead...and when I went to revisit them just a couple days later, I found she had the rest for lunch. There was no twisting her arm to lay down her money and play her part on her return trip to TJ's for more....everyone's got a hungry heart. Four from her, 2.5 from me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Thai Sweet Chili Veggie Burger: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Trader Joe's Sweetheart Bark of the Finest Collection

Following in the footsteps of the Valentine's favorite, TJ's Fireworks Chocolate Bar, and at least one other "Bark of the Finest Collection," this timely slab of candy will kick off the month of February here on our blog. If there's ever a time to eat a bunch of chocolate, it's Valentine's Day...and Easter...and Halloween...and Christmas. Okay. There are lots of excuses to eat tons of chocolate, and nobody really needs another reason to eat more of it. But if you're thinking about gifting this hunk of sweetness to your boo or your bae this V-Day, here's what you're getting into...

It's three kinds of chocolate, heavily dominated by the dark chocolate base. Then, of course, there are the "milk chocolate gems," not to be confused with the ubiquitous "milk chocolate buttons" we've seen in multiple Trader Joe's products, which in turn, should not be confused with M&M's (even though all three are essentially the same thing). And finally, they threw us white chocolate fans a bone and carelessly slathered the product with some seasonally-appropriate pink white chocolate. I mean, the box says they "recklessly drizzled" the bar with "rosy-hued" white chocolate, but what I said basically means the same thing, right?

Right. Back to the bar. That brings me to my next point: this is actually a bar. In the past, Trader Joe's barks have arrived all broken up in chunks. Either they're trying something new, or their former shipping and receiving crews have all been fired and replaced with much gentler, attentive back room clerks. Because you have to break this one up yourself. Or just eat it like a giant chocolate bar.

It's actually a very simple product, which in my opinion, is one of its biggest strengths. I think some of the selections we've seen in the past got a little too complicated for their own good—I'm thinking Cowboy Bark in particular, but also the Cowgirl Bark to some extent. This sweetheart bark is best suited for dark chocolate fans, although it does wind up on the sweeter end of that dark chocolate spectrum. The white chocolate is detectable, but only just barely. The gems add little more than prettiness and a bit of pleasant, crunchy texture, but they can be tasted, too, to some degree.

Being someone who enjoys dark chocolate, Sonia thought the product was tasty, simple, and festive. The nice packaging and visual presentation of the product makes it a pretty obvious gift idea for Valentine's Day. Just don't expect a reinvention of the wheel here. TJ's is just giving you a large, attractive bar of dark chocolate at a fairly reasonable price ($3.99). Double 3.5's it is.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.