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, June 30, 2016

Trader Joe's Mango Joe-Joe's

Ever since Sonia brought back her first mango everything TJ's run a few weeks ago, we've had a box of Mango Joe-Joe's sitting on our counter. I'm not sure why, but neither of us even tried them until yesterday. Maybe it's because we're a little mango'ed-out. Maybe it's because we have willpower. Well, we know that's not true in my case...Sonia's case, possibly. But for whatever reason, I've had this inexplicable, temporary aversion to sandwich cookies. And despite hearing plenty of positive things about them on the interwebs and from readers, these Mango Joe-Joe's haven't even tempted me. Not the least little bit.

And now, after trying them, they still aren't calling my name like I thought they might. They're certainly not terrible. I guess fruit-flavored sandwich cookies just aren't my thing in the end.

Like any other package of Joe-Joe's, there are two rows of cookies resting in a plastic carton inside the box. Upon opening the cellophane wrapper, there's a distinct fruity smell, although I wouldn't have known it was mango if it hadn't so boldly told me so on the box. There are no fewer than three separate mango ingredients in these cookies, yet I still wouldn't say they taste distinctly like mango. In fact, of all the mango products I've shoveled down my gullet this month, I'd say these taste the least like mango. If I had been blindfolded, you could have told me these cookies were peach or passionfruit flavor and I would have believed you.

But that's not a terrible thing. It's a light, tropical, fruity vibe that's not unpleasant—and there's still a significant bready, sugary, sandwich cookie flavor to these snacks. Neither drowns the other out.

The box suggests five different methods of consuming the cookies, and I've tried three of them so far. In addition to just eating the cookies like a normal person, I also twisted the cookies apart, licked the creme center and then ate each side individually. I tried nibbling them around the edges until the whole thing was devoured (although I did not squawk loudly when finished, as is officially recommended by Joe-Joe the Toucan).

And then I tried them with milk. That was a fascinating experience. I was actually more impressed with the unique taste of the milk after having Mango Joe-Joe's dunked in it than the cookies themselves. Again, the cookies weren't bad. They were just milky, fruity sandwich cookies. But the milk became like some delicious tropical melted milkshake from the gods—not unlike the milk at the end of a bowl of Fruity Pebbles or Froot Loops. I've always loved fruit-flavored milk like strawberry milk and banana milk. Now I can add mango milk to that list, too.

Please feel free to disagree in the comments below, but I think I'm only going to be giving this product three stars—a respectable score, but not stellar, either. Sonia thinks they taste enough like mango. She's just not sure they're worth all the fat. She'll give them three and a half.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Trader Joe's Mango Chia Pudding with Cultured Coconut Cream

Let's see...be positive. Focus on the good stuff. Look on the bright side of life. There's good in almost everything with a little perspective. That's the proper way to look at life, right? Right?

So, as a proper challenge to that, may I present Trader Joe's Mango Chia Pudding with Cultured Coconut Cream?

Glass-half-full side first: The pudding sounds good. C'mon, admit it, it does. Even with some mango fatigue setting in, this kinda sticks out if you happened to glance upon it on the refrigerated shelf. Even without the lid's suggestion, as a small breakfast time treat, or a little snacky or dessert, it certainly sounds like an indulgence on the probably healthyish side. And hey, dairy-free for those who that's a concern for.

Then, there's everything else.

It's debatable between the wife and I about what's precisely wrong with the puddin'. My stance: it's the texture. It's kinda stiff and chunky and feels kinda slimy. There's some coconut strips in there that add an odd little fibrous bite that seems a little out of place. And then there's all the chia seeds...the cup's full of them. Top to bottom. That's just too many. Also, I'm not entirely sure if it would have been better if the seeds were, actually, you know, seed-like with a little crunch or something to them - because instead they just seem wet and bloated and soggy with scarecely any difference between them and the rest of the pudding.

That's what bugs me. What bothers Sandy: the taste. Admittedly, it doesn't taste like much at all. Mangos are naturally full of sugar, so it ought to taste sweet, right? You'd think...but maybe somehow the coconut dulls it all out, because there's next to nothing going on here. I mean, kinda look at it - it looks like it tastes. Gray. Lifeless. Just kinda there and not much else. Okay, there is a little something to it...but nothing all that much. I'm usually not a guy in favor of things like added sugar, but this could really use something to liven up the flavor a bit.

This kinda glop is usually right up Sandy's alley. She took two small tastes and made a huge "Bleccccch" face before handing over to me. I tried, and what promptly followed were two in-depth conversations: 1) Should we return it? We decided not to, because TJ's is 20 minutes away and not on our usual daily commute currently with M's preschool out. and 2) Is it okay to use the words "mango boogers" in my review? I mean, that's what first came to mind...I win, this is my review!

I've yet to hear anything positive about this mango pudding, so maybe, as our brightside takeaway, we can all be united on how not good it is. Sandy gave it a 0, I'm not much higher.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mango Chia Pudding with Cultured Coconut Cream: 1 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, June 27, 2016

Trader Joe's Mango Mango Mochi


Just a little quickie here to jump start the week: TJ's Mango Mango Mochi. As if you haven't heard the word "mango" enough these past couple weeks, TJ's just had to squeak it into the title of this product not once, but TWICE. I guess it's because they use mango sorbet as well as mango jam filling. 

The jam doesn't really seem like a separate flavor to me at all—but it might add a hint of extra creaminess to the center of the mochi even when it's frozen solid. Otherwise, these are almost exactly like the Mango Mikawaya Mochi that Trader Joe's has carried for years. Now I'm not going to say this stuff is Mikawaya brand, because I couldn't tell you if that's the case for sure, but I will say that it's extremely similar in taste and texture. Actually, now that I think about it, Mikawaya is based in California and this product is imported from Thailand, according to the box. So...probably not Mikawaya.


This product has a great mango-esque flavor, but it is particularly sweet—which is totally fine by me, but then again, I do have a sweet tooth. Mochi and mango are generally a pretty good combo...well, okay, there was this one instance where they were a little goofy together. I'd probably still choose vanilla or strawberry flavor first, but by and large, mango and mochi are friends.

Mochi and mushroom, however...

Four stars from me. Sonia will go with three and a half.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Podcast Episode 26: Our Favorite Chips




Trader Joe’s vast chip aisle has the usual potato and tortilla chips, but also goes beyond those. In this episode we share our favorite crunchy chips.






Thursday, June 23, 2016

Almondina Original Almond Biscuits

The good people at Almondina sent me a birthday present. It might have something to do with this fine blog we run here, but two packages of the low-fat cookies arrived in the mail about two weeks ago, and Sonia and I enjoyed them enough to allow them to join an extremely exclusive, elite group of non-Trader Joe's brand foods that have been reviewed here on our blog, including Espiral Vinho Verde WineGum's the Word Sugar Free Gum, and Mikawaya Mochi Ice Cream

As was the case with the products in those previous posts, Almondina is widely available at Trader Joe's stores, although it's not sold exclusively there.

These thin, crunchy biscuits are clearly optimized for dunking in coffee, tea, milk, or what-have-you, but they also make a nice stand-alone snack. The texture is great. It's not unlike types of biscotti I've tried, but perhaps a little thinner and less rigid.

I'll be honest, the cookie part alone is decent, especially considering it's so low in fat, salt, and cholesterol, but it probably wouldn't have done it for me by itself. The true genius of these cookies is the way almonds and raisins are seamlessly woven into the fabric of the confection—in fact, almonds constitute a full 24% of the product, a fact that's easily believed just by visually inspecting the biscuits. The fruit, nut, and cookie elements blend together well and make for a highly versatile breakfast/snack/dunkable/dessert.

Sonia and I will both throw out solid fours for these tasty, low-guilt treats. "Really darn good" all the way.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Trader Joe's Tropical Mango Complete Salad Kit

No spouting some good solid theology or practical wisdom gleaned from a freezer waffle today. No cow-on-highway video either. Simple, straight up review today. We can't always be that impressive.

It's tough to beat a fresh, cool, crisp salad for a good summertime dinner. And this being the Summer of All That is Mango at your local TJ's, it'd stand to reason that some sort of fruit/veggie mash-up just might be in the offering. And so it came to pass with Trader Joe's Tropical Mango Complete Salad Kit.

Like others in the bagged salad lineup, for $4.99, you get a huge bag full of the usual leafy greens  (mainly arugula, spinach and baby lettuce) with some thin straw-slips of broccoli and carrots mixed in. Some other stuff like red cabbage tossed in too. All of that is the usual TJ's salad base, and as one would expect, fresh, crisp, and provides ample body while not being too other-worldly. No complaints.

But that's not why we're here, is it? Oh no, not at all....what are the mix-ins!?!?!? And the dressing!!! That's what makes a salad fun, otherwise it's sad rabbit food. The mix-ins here include: cashew bits, toasted coconut chips, and, of course, dried mango chunks. The mango tasted of the slightly sweetened/candified lot, which added a slight air of artificiality, though not offensively. The real stand-out was the coconut (you can't label anything as "tropical" unless there's coconut involved, it's one the amendments, I think), though...for any and all of those crunchy bits, the salad rocked when there was some in  my bite, but there wasn't enough. Get to work, Big Joe.

 Oh but the dressing...I'm not a salad dressing guy, usually. But the mango tamarind on here? AMAZING. Seriously. As the name implies, it's tangy, sweet, spicy, and vibrant...just try it. It needs to be sold by the bottle, and I mean like right now. It's almost certainly the best salad dressing I've ever had, in recent memory at least, and any attempt to further describe it would be doing it a disservice.

It's a huge salad, easily enough to for a couple adults to share for dinner, especially if some grilled chicken got tossed in. I'm not sure, but maybe some sort of mild goat cheese would probably pair well with it, if only an excuse to find a good bottle of wine as well. Look at me sounding so pseudo-fancy about bagged salad. Go me! Anyways, no hiuge complaints from either Sandy or I except: more mix-ins! And more dressing!!! Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Tropical Mango Complete Salad Kit: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, June 20, 2016

Trader Joe's "this mango walks into a bar..." Cereal Bars

This past weekend was pretty cool. We did lots of hiking, biking, and camping. It kicked off with my birthday on Friday. And I'm getting to the age where I'm supposed to hate my birthdays because they're reminders of how old I am. But I still like them because they're good excuses to eat lots of yummy foods. 

Then on Saturday, Russ took the foodie blogosphere to a whole new level with what is undoubtedly the most eloquent, inspiring review of frozen waffles in the history of mankind. It seems a shame to follow it up with this mundane look at cereal bars. But in the end, not every breakfast food review can be a transcendent, life-changing experience I suppose. 

Also, I took video of a cow on the freeway with my phone and it wound up on the evening news. Then Sunday was Father's Day and I spent it taking a walk with my dad and picnicking in a nearby park. Good times all around.

Through it all, I was snacking on these "this mango walks into a bar" bars. I like them at least as much as their predecessors. See: strawberry/blueberry (complete with terrible "walks into a bar" jokes) and pumpkin varieties.

Texture-wise, they're exactly like the other flavors. The cereal-esque coating looks and tastes exactly the same. It's moist, it's bready, and it does what it's supposed to doholds the fruit filling right in the middle of the bar.

And as far as the fruit filling goes, I was pretty impressed. It tastes like mango, it's significantly sweet, and there's plenty of it. Sonia thinks they're "not bad" and gives them three and a half stars, adding that she quickly got bored of them after her initial pleasant reaction. I see where she's coming from, but I think they're better than "not bad" and have to throw out four stars here, as I have with all previous incarnations of "walks into a bar."

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Trader Joe's Naturally Flavored Mango Waffles


Are we surprised by joy or by sorrow? The world in which we live wants to surprise us by sorrow. Newspapers keep telling us about traffic accidents, murders, conflicts between individuals, groups and nations, and the television fills our minds with images of hatred, violence, and destruction...But these surprises paralyze us and seduce us to an existence in which our main concern becomes survival in the midst of a sea of sorrows. By making us think about ourselves as survivors of a shipwreck, anxiously clinging to a piece of driftwood, we gradually accept the role of victims doomed by the cruel circumstances of our lives.

The great challenge of faith is to be surprised by joy.

                                                                 - Henri Nouwen, Here and Now

In case you can't tell by now...this is not going to be our typical kinda review right here.

And I know you don't need me to tell you this, nor is this what would normally be expected on an otherwise lighthearted blog, and you might have even came here for at least a momentary retreat from it all (diversion is one of our standard services)...but this past week or so has been especially punctuated by tragedy. Reading or watching the news has been akin to taking a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick right to the gut. Incredibly sad. Overwhelmingly awful. Impossible to grasp. And perhaps, most sadly, another chapter of tragedy in seemingly increasingly violent times.

It's so easy (and perhaps even, in a way, therapeutic) to point fingers and pontificate and ascribe theories and arguments in all the aftermath. Just flip on the TV or read the papers. Everyone's a pundit, every politician knows the real answer...and on and on with the news cycle, waiting for whatever is next so the past can be discarded as yesterday's headline. It's beyond tiring.

I'm not here to rehash all of that in any further detail - this is neither the space nor the forum. I really don't want to be just another voice out there getting lost in the cacophony of noise and opinion. So instead, I'm going to leave you with a plea, and to help make my point, I'm going to use Trader Joe's Naturally Flavored Mango Waffles.

Namely: Look for joy, and be willing to be surprised by it.

It's Father's Day weekend when I'm publishing this. To say I've been blessed by the gift of two loving, happy, healthy daughters is an understatement. Both M (almost 4, with the attitude of a 15 year old) and B (19 months, loves copying her big sister and making a huge mess) challenge me, provoke me, love me, and continually show me that I somehow have more patience than I thought I did while proving that I still don't have enough. Love them kiddos. Love everything about them. Particularly love having breakfast with them almost every morning before I have to scurry off to my cubicle for the day. It's my daily centering, my peace.

In turn, M and B love waffles.

Originally, I was going to try and "interview" them as "waffle experts" for this post. It was going to be soooooo cute. Problem is, B is only at the very beginning stages of mastering discernible English vocabulary and M, well...sometimes we tease her that we have to take her to the doctor to figure out what happened to all her words. If she doesn't want to talk, she won't. And she didn't want to talk waffles with Daddy. So, idea scrapped. Admittedly, I was pretty bummed.

But then...I saw their faces as they happily chomped into their mango waffles and clamored for more milk. Bright eyes. Biggest smiles. Bulging dimples. They were in the moment, and they were joyous.

I grabbed my waffle and bit into it. Typical plain freezer waffle with some slightly sweet mango pureed in. Nothing too special. But after all the recent and outside worries and inside day-to-day stress...I needed that joy. So dang it, I pretended that was the tastiest waffle I've ever had, and let out a big, goofy, happy "YUM!"

What followed: giggles, little voices letting out their own big, goofy YUMs, silly sound effects. In short, one of the happiest breakfasts a dad could ask for with his two young daughters. All three of us were in the moment, and it all seemed so...real.

One of the most glaring facts of life is, no matter how much precaution and safety we try to bubblewrap ourselves and our loved ones in, is that anything can be taken away from us at any time, without warning, and there's not a single damn thing any of us can do about it. Whether it's health or relationships or people or possession, it can all be gone so fast. It only seems unfair when it happens to us, but we all fall under this burden.

We can choose to be ignorant of this, to be paralyzed of it...or to acknowledge it, and to live the best we can with what we have. I urge the third option, and to make it easier: find joy. Even if it's in something small like a child's delighted exclamation for having mango waffles for a second morning in a row ("HOORAY FOR MANGO WAFFLES!!!"). This is the good part of life, if we're willing to be open to it, if we can allow ourselves to be surprised by joy amidst all the humming strife. That is what is real.

Please find something, anything, that makes you as joyous as these waffles made my kids and me.

Breakfast and a life lesson for $2.49. Good deal.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Trader Joe's Organic Mango Lemonade



How confident am I in my opinion of Trader Joe's Organic Mango Lemonade?

So confident that I am basing my review solely on the two teeny cups I had from the local shop's sample station...that's right, I didn't even buy this...because after tasting it, I had zero interest.

Normally, I like TJ's lemonades, whether mixed with iced tea or fruit-flavored. But this mango stuff? Nope. It tasted more like a mango-citrus conglomeration along the lines of some Sunny D one-off. It was so much more juice, with a thicker, pulpier feel, than what ought to be a light, cool, refreshing glass of lemonade. It neither tasted nor felt right. Nothing about it said lemonade. I'd bet it make a decent enough popsicle. But I wasn't willing to invest the $3.49 sticker price nor the freezer space to find out, because dangit, that'd be a lot of popsicles. Even the normally sugar-in-liquid-form-loving kiddos had seemed fairly unimpressed, further cementing the case to leave it on the shelf. Not gonna completely hate on it (organic is always a good thing in my book) but yeah...not so great. 

Naturally, since I didn't buy it, I also didn't take that picture up above. You may recognize the style. Thanks, Big Joe, for letting me borrow it from the mothership's website (namely, this link here).

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Mango Lemonade: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Trader Joe's Mango Chili Chicken

It's an all-time classic and perennial top-seller, and perhaps most impressively, the inaugural member of our blog's Hall of Fame AKA "The Pantheon." Naturally, we're talking about TJ's Mandarin Orange Chicken. It's a pretty consistent winner in our book, and though occasionally imitated, it's never quite duplicated.

Naturally, with this being THE  Summer of Mango, here comes the newest variant: Trader Joe's Mango Chili Chicken. You can't tell me that doesn't sound gooo-ooooo-ooood. Some fruity sweet sauce glazed over some tempura-battered chicken, with a little kick of heat, with some chunks of mango tossed in for good measure, for just $4.99 - oh yeah, that's an easy sell.

I guess that's why, although solid, this chicken is still kinda disappointing.

Sans mango chunks, if side by side, I'm not 100% I would be able to tell the mandarin orange and mango chicken apart. They're just too similar.Yeah, there is the different flavor inflection from the mango as opposed to an orange...but it's not as divergent as it should be. And there's no discernible spice at all - if there were, my almost four year old wouldn't to'uch it, and she happily gobbled it down. And the mango chunks, well...after being frozen and reheated again, they seemed more reminiscent of canned pears than the tasty goodness I know a mango can be.

So yeah, kinda a bummer after our initial excitement. The dish just seems like it ought to be a more distinctive, different dinner than it actually is. Great idea, lazy execution...but we'll probably buy it again for another easy dinner night that everyone in the family reasonably enjoyed enough. Double threes.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mango Chili Chicken: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons 


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Trader Joe's Shooting Stars

Let's take a little break from all that mango madness, shall we? It's a long summer, that's plenty of time to get to all that, right? That's what summer is about - a little break from everything, and pacing yourself a bit...and technically it's still late spring, after all.

All that didn't keep me from taking a little personal break myself last week to enjoy the canyons and mountains in and around Zion National Park. If you're ever out that way on vacation, be sure to look up these guys, they'll be sure to show you a good time...as long as your idea of a good time includes intentionally dangling off a cliff. Much thanks to the Rodgers for holding down the fort all week, and Nathan and Sonia, enjoy your week doing whatever the heck it is you're doing this week.

Anyways, back to the matter at hand: Trader Joe's Shooting Stars. Yeah, from the packaging and whatnot, they almost look like a TJ's take on those cheapie gas station pyrotechnics. The real truth is a little less exciting than that - chocolate coated shortbread cookies (ho-hum)...but wait? What's this? "Covered in popping candy"!?!?! Now, that sounds like fun!!! Let's do this!

Yes, we've seen this gimmick before with don't-call-them-Pop-Rocks candy, or as the package calls them, "meteorites." Oooh, even more fun! But man...these are on steroids or something. From the moment the package is cracked open, an audible chorus of crackling starts and just won't let up. You get anywhere close to the cookies, you will get popped on - they spark up and explode on the whim of whatever chemistry makes this possible. At one point I was a good two feet away from the nearest cookie and still got nailed on my elbow. Doesn't hurt, of course, but it's as if the cookies have an invisible force field that it dares you to chomp through, like it's not going to go down without a fight.

The popping sensation carries through with each bite too. Crackle crackle crackle, chomp chomp chomp. There is a slight added sugary crunch as a result of the crystals, but not enough to greatly affect the flavor. The star cookies themselves are fairly basic, straightforward chocolate/sugar confections pretty close to the standard "from tree elf to store shelf" variety - of perhaps slightly better quality, perhaps, particularly with the chocolate (as is TJ's tradition).

It's really the popping candy that makes these cookies worth note - heck, without them, Sandy and I would probably pass right on by and not even notice. As a nice little bonus, our kiddos seem a little wary of being sparked by their dessert, so we just might have this whole box to ourselves. We don't recall the exact price, but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 - if you know, drop us that knowledge. It's a fun, silly, gimmicky purchase that we probably won't make often, but will enjoy while we can.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Shooting Stars: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, June 10, 2016

Podcast Episode 25: $5 Mini Shopping Spree




We gave ourselves a $5 budget this time and tried to find three or four inexpensive yet interesting products that we wouldn't normally buy, then we share our thoughts about them in this episode.

Thanks for listening.

Check out the show notes.

Visit us on Google Play.

Stop by our Stitcher page.

Music by Bensound.



Thursday, June 9, 2016

Trader Joe's Mango Sorbet Bon Bons with Chocolate Coating

Let's just lay it out on the table here that I'm no bon bon expert. In fact, prior to these little guys, I don't know that I've ever had a proper bon bon in my whole life. They're usually just little round chocolates, right? And I've heard of ice cream bon bons. But sorbet? Heck, why not? The product development guys knew that as long as there was "mango" in the title, Big Joe was going to green-light the concept. Where's the Mango Cookie Butter, you guys? We're waiting on mango cookie butter here.

But seriously, the best thing these balls of chocolate and sorbet have going for them is their frozenness. It has been quite warm here this past week or so, and I keep gravitating toward these bon bons if only because they're cold. And they're surprisingly low in calories, considering how indulgent they seem—just 90 for two bon bons. 

It's a very sweet sorbet that does indeed taste like real mango, but more sugary. Then they added a significant layer of deep dark chocolate. As far as refreshment goes, Sonia and I both wish we could have the sorbet sans the chocolate. We also think the flavor pairing is a little goofy, although we both agree that it has grown on us just slightly since our first respective bites. 

Of course, I'd like to try this sorbet with a milk chocolate shell. And even though it will never ever happen, like not in a million years, I'd like to try it with white chocolate, too. I guess I'm alone there. Every time I mention white chocolate around Trader Joe's types, I just get WTF's and blank stares. Such is my life.

Sonia says she's "not a fan of morphing chocolate and fruit with the exception of chocolate covered strawberries." I'm pretty sure she means "mixing" chocolate and fruit. Marrying? Mingling? Merging? Meshing? Any of those would work. In Sonia's defense, she's fluent in Spanish. And I can't learn that confounded language to save my soul.

But back to the bon bons. I think they were $3.99 for 12. They're worth a whirl if you think mango and chocolate sound good together. Like I said, the sorbet is very good and very mangoey. I just think the chocolate clashes with it a little bit. I'll give this product three and a half stars. Sonia can't muster enthusiasm for more than three.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Trader Joe's Mango Coconut Flavored Caramel Corn

As I've mentioned before, I'm not a huge fan of plain old caramel corn. But if you jazz it up a bit, I'll at least give it a try. And this product is sexified well beyond the status of standard snacking caramel corn.

I'll admit, Sonia was way more excited about trying this than I was. To say I was skeptical would be an understatement. But this is possibly the best caramel corn I've ever had. 

It's still not my favorite style of junk food, but the flavor of this popcorn is really, really interesting. Both Sonia and I agree it tastes way more like coconut than mango. You kind of have to use your imagination to even detect mango flavor.

Although, it just dawned on us that we're already going through some form of mango overload. We've both tried about six of these new mango products now—and we're worried that our taste buds require greater and greater doses of the tropical treat. A similar phenomenon occurs with pumpkin each fall. But this is week 1, year 1 of the mango madness marathon. Not sure if we can go the distance on this one if we're already requiring increased quantities of the juicy Asian stone fruit.

But perhaps a more likely explanation is that this product simply doesn't taste that much like mango. And that's not a bad thing. The title of the product is a bit misleading, but we'll forgive Big Joe for that one. Because it's delicious anyway. The last product we reviewed was heavy on the mango, and not nearly as heavy as I would have liked it to be in the coconut department. Well, dear old Mr. Coconut has gotten his revenge with this caramel corn. It's just like regular caramel corn, texture-wise, but it tastes just like coconut. There's still a good bit of that sweet, traditional, caramel flavor, too—but who'd have guessed it would blend so well with coconut flavor?

In all seriousness, there is a whisper of mango as well, particularly at the finish. It's just very subtle. And that's all it needs to be here.

In summary, if you like caramel corn and coconut, this just might be your new favorite food. Four stars from me. Four and a half from Sonia.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Trader Joe's Mango Bar Bites

Mango madness is right. Or as multiple readers, commenters, and tweeters have put it: "Mango is the new pumpkin." 

Just as TJ's blasts us with pumpkin and pumpkin spice products each fall, they have utterly overwhelmed us with mango products for this spring/summer season. Pumpkins and mangoes are both orange, they're both fruits (technically), and Trader Joe is apparently madly in love with both of them. My head is literally spinning right now from all the new mango products. Okay, not literally. That would mean it's time to call an exorcist. But what I really need is a good personal trainer to help me work off all these mango products, which, unfortunately for me and my summer beach bod (or lack thereof), are mostly—but not exclusively—treat-ish, dessert-esque indulgences.

As of the time of publishing this review, I've tried exactly three of these new mango products. One exceeded my expectations, one fell short of them, and this one was somewhere in the middle. I think I might have been more impressed if not for two little factors here—the first being Trader Joe's Lemon Bars. They're essentially the same product, but lemon flavored. Not sure why they added the "bites" to this product name, because they're exactly the same size and shape. In fact, they're very similar in every other way. They even have the same type of packaging, the same preparation process, and the same fonts on the box. But the Lemon Bars are lemon...in case you hadn't figured that out by now. And I love me some lemon. And they nailed that sweet, tangy lemon dessert flavor pretty darn well.

Likewise, these bars taste like actual mango fruit, but in a sugary, desserty, confectionized form. Really nothing to complain about. I guess I just like lemon more than I like mango. But these bars have the same soft, supple, creamy texture, and a nice sweet, mangoey finish. I'm certain mango fans will love them.

The second thing that kept me from absolutely adoring these bars was the lack of coconut shavings. I really liked what little was there. It added a lot to both the taste and texture, and I wouldn't have minded, like, maybe three or four times the amount that was actually included. It blended with the mango pretty well, and it added some substance to the bars. It made for a nice summery, tropical kind of feel, and I think even more of it might have enhanced that vibe even further.

Sonia thinks they taste just as much like passionfruit juice as they do mango, and for her, that's a good thing. I'm not sure if I agree with that or not. But we do both agree that these mango bars are good overall, just not as good as the lemon bars.

All in all, these are a nice refreshing dessert with a good balance of actual mango flavor and sweetness. We'll go with double three and a half's again.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Trader Joe's Turkey Burgers

I've always liked turkey burgers. At their best, they're flavorful substitutes for traditional beef burgers, but with fewer calories and a little less fat. I like red meat from time to time, too, but I don't feel the need for it every day. All things being equal, I'll usually choose a turkey burger if that option is available to me.

Trader Joe's offering is great in the texture department. It's not that they're an especially good approximation of beef burgers. But they maintain their moisture and juiciness even after cooking or grilling. They come frozen, and they look like little pale hockey pucks before heating. Speaking of hockey...D'OH!

If anything, they're a little on the bland side, flavor-wise. Lacking any fancy combo of spices, TJ's kept things simple as far as added flair: just a little kosher salt and rosemary extract up in the mix. So you might want to dress these up a bit. I found them to taste better when cooked on our charcoal grill. Some good quality bread, cheddar cheese, Miracle Whip, mustard, and pepper really helped give them some gusto, too. 

I think these were $3.49 for four raw burgers. So they're cheap, convenient, and juicy—we just weren't dazzled by the flavor, although I wouldn't say it's anything to complain about either. We'll go with double 3.5's on this one.


Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Trader Joe's Organic French Roast Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate

It's freakin' June already. Which is fine, I guess. June is good enough of a month. One of the highlights of June (other than no longer being subjected to Alexander Ovechkin's ugly mug since his season is long done, as is usual by now) is <insert drumroll effect>...it's officially iced coffee season!

When it's hot, hot coffee just makes it stickier than it has to be. But you can't just give up coffee. And please...iced coffee is not just regular coffee with ice in it. I've tried doing that, and the results are diluted murky brown tepid water. Nah, you gotta go cold brew to do this properly. Some people, by the wizardry of either French presses or cheesecloths, claim it's simple to make your own cold brew batches. Others, like me, think it's easier to shell out $3 or $4 for a large cupful. That obviously gets spendy quickly. So, for the MYO-inept crowd who would to enjoy some cold caffeine while saving a couple bucks, things like Trader Joe's Organic French Roast Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate seem like a good enough of a deal. $9.99 seems like an okay enough price to swallow for at least eight cups, right?

What's not easy to swallow: if you get the proportions wrong. Sandy preferred to mix her coffee in with some almond milk "beverage" (as pictured - as a bonus you can watch it swirl around!) while I did mine straight up with water. Either liquid worked fine, but if the ratio was even the smidgiest of smidges off the 2:1 balance of liquid base to coffee concentrate...ugh. Either it tasted a watery mess if too weak, or like motor oil if too strong. Speaking of motor oil: Don't bother taking a sip of it straight on. I tried in the name of science. It was a bad idea. The bottle says there's over half a pound of beans used in making this...yeah, it definitely tastes like that. Woo.

Other than that: Yes. I haven't tried TJ's other cold brew concoction to make a direct comparision, but as would be expected for French roast, this is a darker, heavier, fairly robust roast. In some ways, this is a great thing for iced coffee, because the stronger potency would withstand the inevitable ice meltoff a little better. I'm pretty happy drinking it black, while Sandy was happy enough with the taste that I think she skipped adding any sugar to hers....she may have snuck in some flavored creamer though (ugh).

Sandy and I were able to get plenty enough cups out of it to make our ten buck investment seem just about worth it. Sadly, there was a cup or two we ended up dumping and redoing, because of measurements being a little off, and by trying to fix things, we somehow made them even worse. That's really the only demerit here - if there could be somehow just be a little more built-in grace, that'd be great. Also, we're really not sure why it costs an extra $2 over its lighter, more normal counterpart...eh well. Different roast, and organic, sure, but still.

Enjoy an icy glass as the summer starts up. Or try it Ovechkin-style - no cup. In any case, this cold caffeinited concentrated concoction could be your summer sipper of choice.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic French Roast Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons