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?"

Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Trader Joe's Vanilla Almond Spiced Chai

I've reviewed a lot of chai products these past few years. Chai herechai therechaichai everywhere. Before her untimely departure from this earth last year, my mother even jumped on board the chai bandwagon. Like a good Oprah-ite, she dutifully sought out Ms. Winfrey's offering at the local Starbucks and proudly declared herself a fan of chai tea and chai lattes. My wife claims the Oprah Chai isn't even that good. I'll take her word for it.

Of all the chai selections I've tried, only one has ever fallen drastically short of my expectations. As far as I can tell, it's pretty hard to screw up chai. Although...um...one good way to do that might be to try to turn it into a protein shake.

Granted, I don't really drink protein beverages, so I'm not sure if they all tend to have that nasty, powdery, chalky essence about them. But for me, having that bizarre taste and thick texture present in what I was hoping would be a smooth, sweet, spicy chai beverage was quite an unpleasant surprise. 

Sonia, who's far more of a chai aficionado than I am, genuinely liked this drink. She liked that it "wasn't too sweet" and really enjoyed the flavor, although her one complaint would be that it "lacked a bit of kick" in the spice department. 

I know black tea in general has a decent amount of caffeine, so this beverage packs a significant punch in that way. I had already had my daily dose of caffeine when I tried this, so it made me a tad jittery. I think the label-putter-onner guy was drinking some too, because as you can see in the pic, the sticker on the bottle is slightly crooked.

This is one Sonia and I will agree to disagree on. I found it mostly unpleasant and would file this under "not so great." Sonia would lean more toward "really darn good." So we'll meet somewhere in the middle and say it's "not bad."

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Nosh Show: Best Trader Joe’s Snacks That Come in Plastic Tubs




Hosted by Marvo from The Impulsive Buy, we made our debut as guests on The Nosh Show sharing our favorite Trader Joe's snacks that come in plastic tubs. Thanks to all the readers and listeners that also shared their favorites on our social media.

Check out the show notes.

Subscribe to The Nosh Show on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcherTuneIn or via RSS.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Trader Joe's Candy Coated Chocolate Drops

"Meh, these taste like Smarties" Sandy said after crunching through her first mouthful.

Wait...what?

Smarties?

Those cellophane-wrapped chalky straps of crunchified sugar, that parade candy classic, that stuffer of all things pinata, that cheap neighbor Halloween pass out? Those Smarties? How in the world do Trader Joe's Candy Coated Chocolate Drops taste like that? You crazy?

"No...the other Smarties...you know...the European ones...c'mon now...seriously? Never heard of them? What kind of food blogger are you anyways?" she stated with that slightly smug worldly glance that reflected very nicely off my blank stare.

I am a very 'murican amateur hack foodie, never been shy about it either.

So the natural thing would be to compare these TJ candies to the ubiquitous melt-in-your-mouth-not-in-your-hand empire out there, which I for one have not only heard of but also have sampled of multiple times. To be honest, the first go-around I had with these choco-drops kinda tasted more or less like those to me, close enough for government work. But I have a tendency to inhale and not really taste chocolate, so on a second pickup (courtesy of a coworker who didn't like them), I decided to actually slow down and try to taste.

Aha. There are a few small differences. The chocolate here seems slightly sugarier and as a result a little less "intense" (such a relative term for milk chocolate) than the nationally known. It also seems maybe a tad bit creamier too. And the candy shells - I swear, they seem not exactly tougher but perhaps crispier, so a slight different mouthfeel to them.

Obviously there are also the different colors too - the somewhat muted purple and green and yellow and orange and whatnot. No Red 40 or Blue 82 or whatever here, folks. Naturally colored! With things like spuirilina (which is a health superfood in some circles) and beets and whatnot - hey, does that make this a chocolate salad? Kind of? No? Well, I'll settle for the no artificial colors - can't hurt, might help.

These choc drops are good, not great, but worth a pick up here or there if having a easily transportable choco supply on hand is an attractive idea to you. Certainly is to me. The half pound sack cost only about $3 if I recall right, so not a bad price. Sandy was happy enough with them, and she says they taste like those fancy Euro imports, than so be it. Although she said she likes the most famous brand more...USA! USA! USA! Sorry, Olympics over, still decompressing. Matching 3.5s.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Candy Coated Chocolate Drops: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Trader Joe's Raises the Bar

The birds here in our neighborhood are absolutely ravenous for birdseed. They can clear out our moderately-sized feeder in a single day. It's mostly finches, chickadees, and sparrows—and of course, those ugly, ubiquitous grackles. The squirrels would normally be a problem, too, but the birds eat up the food so quickly that the bushy-tailed, tree-dwelling rodents often don't even get a crack at raiding the feeder before it's empty.

In light of all that, it's pretty obvious that our backyard buddies would love a shot at one of these birdseed bars. It would be gone in minutes, maybe seconds. I'm not sure how good tapioca syrup, cane sugar, and maple syrup are for birds, but I am sure they'd happily deal with the consequences for just a taste of all those yummy seeds and grains.

Channeling her inner-bird, Sonia, too, makes short work of these Raises the Bar bars. I liked them okay, but I think I've had too many other granola bar type selections from Trader Joe's that I liked the taste of better. The Fruit and Nut Trek Mix Bars come to mind—and the much more recently-reviewed Organic Chia Bars do as well.

Appearance-wise, Raises the Bar are very similar to the chia bars but are square, rather than rectangular. There are bunches of seeds and tiny ingredients all smooshed together, united by the aforementioned syrups and honey. The base is most definitely oats, and accordingly, they taste quite "oaty." They're also very mapley, with a significant sunflower component as well.

They're chock full of whole grains and are conveniently individually-wrapped. Five bars for $2.79 makes this a pretty decent value, too. If you're looking for a super simple breakfast option or even just an easy afternoon snack, these bars are worth a purchase. In the end, it all comes down to taste, and Sonia just appreciated these a bit more than I did. Four and a half stars from her. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Trader Joe's Pinks & Whites

"Pinks & Whites" sounds like something you might read on the front door of a racist establishment. The "whites" would obviously be, you know, normal Caucasian folk. And the "pinks" would be, well...people like me. And Jim Gaffigan. And possibly Russ, too. You know, gingers. People like poor Sonia would walk up to the door and the xenophobic host would say, "Sorry, ma'am. Pinks and Whites only," gesturing to the sign on the door.

But make no mistake: these pink and white cookies are intended for all colors and ethnicities, even in these times of high racial tension. These flower-shaped snacks are all-inclusive. Well, except maybe for the gluten-intolerant. And the lactose-intolerant (yogurt coating is the number one ingredient). And those with allergies to soy, egg, peanut, or coconut. And vegans.

But other than those unlucky folks, these cookies are super-unifying and good at bringing people together. Because they flaunt a delicate shortbread taste, a milky-sweet frosting, and a generous amount of happy, colorful sprinkles that just about anyone can enjoy. They made Sonia and I feel like kids again.

Because we both had ginormous bags of pink and white cookies when we were young—except they were animal-shaped back then. No, not Barnum's Animals. They were Mother's. No, not my mother's. Ha! My mother never baked anything in her life. Mother's brand. Apparently, they're still on the market. 

A quick glance at TJ's ingredients versus Mother's ingredients reveals that Trader Joe's is once again far less deadly. Mother's infused a little vitamin B into their cookies to make them seem healthy. I mean, B1 and B2 can't hurt, but they probably won't offset the hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup they snuck in there too. Jeez.

At any rate, the Trader Joe's version tastes just as good as, if not a little better than, those old-school animal cookies. Buttery, sweet, and highly-snackable, they're everything you've ever wanted in a yogurt-coated shortbread cookie. Both Sonia and I wish these had been around when we were kids. 

Truth be told, I'm not often in the mood for such cookies these days, but since they're as good as this kind of cookie gets, I can't go lower than three and a half stars. Sonia will give them an even four.


Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Almond Bark Thins

Nothing chocolate is safe in my house.

Oh, it's safe from the kids. As much as the girls love their "CHAAWWK-let" (as they say), we can more or less control their intake because we have longer limbs and defter hiding skills than them.

And it's safe from Sandy, too - she has the self control of a meditative master. That, coupled with this odd capacity to just hold on and on to snacks and whatnot until she is "fully ready to enjoy that snack" (whatever that means), results in her still having Easter candy from five years ago. How you gonna like that Peep now?

So, it's me. I'm the threat. Not sure what it is, but pretty much always (and in some ways in an even more acute sense over the past few months, I've wanted chocolate. It's some kinda odd man-craving. That sounds awkward. Anyways, because of this, and because we bought this right before Sandy and the kids were out for a week visiting my folks, Sandy ought to be proud of me that I didn't touch "her" Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Almond Bark Thins once  while she was gone.

Once this got opened, though? She'd be less proud then for sure.

Listen: it's not my fault. These bark thins aren't particularly fancy, but they make a pretty darn good little chocolate snack. Somehow we neglected to snap a pic of them, but if you ready the description on the front of the package, it explains exactly what they look like: odd sized and shaped shards of this 65% dark chocolate (tastes like the typical TJ dark choc variety) with some little teeny almond bits in here and there to add a little texture and crunch. By "thin", they absolutely are - no more than a few millimeters, to about the point wherre any thinner would call the structural integrity into question.

As could be reasonably expected, the dark chocolate and almonds pair well together, with the salt being a nice little touch. So nothing unexpected one way or another...except there does seem to be a little something extra. I think it's the thinness adding an extra snacky element. A regular chocolate bar would be a veritable slab requiring lots of commitment compared to a few wedges of this treat. For a quick sneaky hit of chocolate here or there, a little piece or two of this bark hits the spot, more so than a Hershey kiss to me.

It's a pretty good little pickup for the $4-ish it set us back. With a little control, the tub lasted us a few days of us both grabbing a piece here or there. Sandy only had to smack my hands away one or three times. As stated, nothing fancy or twisty or unexpected, but a smidge more snacktacular than anticipated. Matching fours. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Almond Bark Thins: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, August 19, 2016

Trader Joe's Somewhat Spicy Dill Flavored Kettle Cooked Potato Chips

Everything changed the day I discovered...

...I'd be a dad.

...that there is such thing as playing Pearl Jam too loud while in my car by myself.

...that the lead singer of Hanson was a guy. That made for awkward teenage feelings.

...Trader Joe's Somewhat Spicy Dill Flavored Kettle Cooked Potato Chips? Hardly, no matter what that crazy pseudo-lepruachaun ginger-mopped lookin' doofus says on the package. I can only say that because I'm sure similar pictures exist of me growing up. See "awkward teenager" comment above.

But I sure as heck discovered one heckuva interesting chip.

To get it out of the way, kettle chips are my go-to chip choice. I may have an occasional fling with lattice cut, and don't get me started on baked varieties (stale Styrofoam, anyone?), but kettle cooked? With the super-extra-crunchilicious hearty bite? Yes, no doubt, and as would be expected, these are spot on.

As for flavor, though? Hmm. They're tough to quantify. The chips taste more than "somewhat" spicy, but it could be all the pickle flavor amplifying the spices (not exactly stated on the ingredients, but presuming cayenne and garlic). There's an odd mingling interplay between the spice and the picklish bite, that's tough to draw a line between. So here's a new word. Spicy + pickley = spickley. That's not to say it's a completely seemless taste - there is some differentation - but where exactly is a good question. I can't make quite make it out after repeat tastings.

In some ways, the chips taste like barbeque chips crossed with salt and vinegar ones with dill weed on the outside for a distinctive pickle flair. That "awkward teenager" that still exists inside of me wanted to crack up at that last sentence. But it's there. There's some heat, with a pickle twist, for a taste that lingers on for quite a bit afterwards. It'll make your breath reek, for sure.

Both Sandy and I tend to enjoy them, although I'm still confounded by them. it doesn't help that Sandy thinks the chips could be a lot more picklicious. "they're more spicy than anything," she said. I don't entirely agree, but don't know how to counter in a productive manner either. Eh, here's to somethfing we can enjoy together enough. Neither one of us recall the price offhand but they're in the typical price range of $2 or $3 a bag. She likes them a little more than I, and she gave a four, so I'll go a small step behind.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Somewhat Spicy Dill Flavored Kettle Cooked Potato Chips: 7-5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

  

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Trader Joe's Tomato Lentil Soup

Maybe it's that "chocolate gum theory" Russ is always talking about, but I'm a fan of both tomato soup and lentil soup, so logically, I was expecting to love this mash-up of the two classics. But Sonia and I both agree it's less than the sum of its parts. And it's a shame, because we were quite ready to fall in love with another unique soup from Trader Joe's.

The broth was very thin—thinner than traditional tomato soup and certainly much thinner than my long lost TJ's Organic Tomato Bisque. That fact, in and of itself, wouldn't have been enough to ruin the "tomato soup" element of the equation. But the fact that it wasn't super-tomatoey was. I mean, it was just kinda watery. There was a tomato essence, if you will, but it wasn't the flavor extravaganza it could have been.

Even the lentils seemed to lack the richness of most traditional lentil soups. And there weren't enough of them. Any herb combinations present were too subtle to influence the taste in any meaningful way. And rather than the lentil flavor and tomato flavor working together and reinforcing one another, it felt as though they were struggling to suppress each other.

Although this will wind up sounding like an extremely negative review, I want to make it clear that I'm not saying this is a terrible product. It's not. It's a perfectly edible soup with a subtle earthy flavor, and it's certainly among the healthier products we've reviewed recently. If a bowl of this stuff magically appeared in front of me right now, I'd eat it without complaint. The point I'm trying to make is that I'd always choose traditional tomato soup or plain old lentil soup over this mixture of the two. I just feel like it's a little too bland and blasé. But that's just me. Well, Sonia too. If anything, Sonia was even more down on this product than I was.

In other news, one of the ingredients is "clarified buffalo milk butter." Yep. I don't even know how to elaborate on that. Just...yep.

Two and a half stars from me. Two from Sonia.

Bottom line: 4.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Trader Joe's Bollywood Popcorn

I wish I had something intelligent to say about Indian cinema and all the Bollywood classics that I'm sure exist. I simply don't. Closest I come is being able to say I was in the same room once or twice when Sandy was watching "Bend It Like Beckham" (I was probably writing a half-witted review, much like this one). And how representative that particular movie is of most Bollywood fare...I have no idea, because I don't know any better.

And I won't admit to knowing much about Indian cuisine, either. Most (okay, all) of my exposure has been either at Indian restaurants or the frozen food aisle at Trader Joe's, and how authentic that experience really is...I don't know, either.

But I can say I've eaten a lot of popcorn, and that whenever I've had any version of tikka masala I've loved it. Finally, those two classics have come together in Trader Joe's Bollywood Popcorn.

Ripping open our bag took some persistence and care. It probably didn't help we were pretty eager to chomp some down for a night of Olympics watching...but this was a tough bag to crack, to balance the force necessary without causing a popcorn micro-supernova. The payoff, though, was amazing - a big, aromatic cloud of cloves and cumin and garam masala, which quickly laid to rest how potent the seasoning might be on a simple popcorn base.

Potent is an understatement. My goodness. The best way I can explain it is a "happy heat." If you're a tikka masala fan at all, you know what I mean - it builds slowly but surely, with a lot of warmth, and it just lingers on and on, but it's never overbearing. I'm kind of amazed it comes from popcorn and not an actual dish with chicken or paneer and rice.

Combine all that with perfectly munchable popcorn kernels - solid, fluffy, crunchy, well popped, without many (if any) widows. It's a perfect snack. And it's been a long, long time since we've done this, but Sandy and I housed the entire bag in about an hour's time - that's what we get for keeping it within reach on the couch. And for once I can claim we were equally guilty.

To be honest, I'm trying really hard to think of anything even remotely critical to say about this popcorn, and I'm coming up empty. No deductions at all from these two American judges. And only $1.99. Perfect 10.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Bollywood Popcorn: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Friday, August 12, 2016

Trader Joe's Thai Yellow Curry Sauce

Since the drive to a decent Thai restaurant is a relatively long one from our current home, Sonia and I have gotten into the habit of picking up what Thai-inspired products we can from Trader Joe's. Here's a good example of one. It's been on the shelves of Trader Joe's for many, many years. And those of you familiar with TJ's know that not every product stands the test of time there. Those that do tend to be pretty good.

This product is no exception to that rule. It's got a great sweet oniony, garlicky flavor with a coconut milk base and hints of ginger. But like its Thai Red Curry Sauce cousin, it's a little wanting in the heat department—if anything, this yellow selection is ever so slightly spicier than the red, but make no mistake, neither product will scorch your tongue by any means. Fortunately, lack of heat does not translate to a complete lack of flavor.

It coats food well and flaunts a nice thick, creamy texture. We served it with white rice, roasted potatoes, and the previously-reviewed Trader Joe's Tofu. It worked pretty well with those comparatively neutrally-flavored foods. The yellow sauce was definitely the most flavorful element of the meal, but even so, I wouldn't say it's particularly pungent. Even the garlic and onion essences don't really knock you in the teeth. They're there, but not overwhelmingly so.

I think this sauce could be quite versatile if you wanted to get a little more adventurous than we did. The bottle mentions it works well with meat, poultry, or veggies. I can totally see that. We just might pick it up again and do some more experimentation with it. Our only complaint is that it could use a little more "oomph."

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Coconut Cookies


Although the What's Good at TJ's team has seen one or two coconut macaroon offerings before, we've seen a whole slew of salted caramel or "sea salt and caramel" products. I'd say it's getting up there with cookie butter, mango, and pumpkin spice in terms of what I'll call Trader Joe's brand "identity flavors."

And it's great to have these "safe" stand-by type flavors always around—ones you know TJ's routinely gets right. But I personally feel like it gets harder and harder to impress me with the same flavors over and over again. I'd rather see something bizarre, even if it's a little risky. 


And I know it's a completely different medium and has nothing to do with what I'm talking about here, but it's the same principle that makes Stranger Things a superior production to Fuller House in every way (even though Netflix knew I was going to watch each and every episode of that zany Tanner family like I did circa 1990). So logically, as Netflix and Trader Joe's are both well aware, the best course of action is to offer safeness and weirdness side by side.

Predictably, I gobbled up a couple of these cookies right after unboxing them. They're good. They're moist, coconutty, and sweet. There's a significant glob of caramel right in the center of each cookie, and it adds a nice extra bit of creamy texture to the coconut shavings, but I'd still say the "salted caramel" flavor is wanting. Sonia agrees. She tasted very little caramel, and insists that there was practically no salty flavor at all. Maybe we're being picky...or maybe that salted caramel bar is just too high for us now.



More impressed with the coconut macaroon part of the cookies than I was, Sonia says she would buy these again. I, personally, wouldn't. I don't regret buying this box, however, and I'd recommend coconut macaroon fans check them out. I'm in for three stars on this one. Put Sonia down for four.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Trader Joe's Chocolate Covered Dried Fruit

As will be discussed in an upcoming podcast, there's something so great about snacks in plastic tubs. I love the act of opening them - especially removing that shrinkwrapped plastic ring that holds the lid on. I have no idea why that is, but in some ways, I guess it feels like opening a present, except since it's a clear plastic tub, you already know it's going to be good (or so you hope). I like the little plasticky sounds and all. Okay, I'm weird.

Also speaking of podcasts and having no idea...my laptop sat around untouched all day long. Why it decided to automatically and without warning launch into some hours-long Windows 10-related update literally 30 seconds before Nathan, Sonia, Grand Master Marvo, and I were going to record last night is beyond me. I mean, it was doing nothing all day - why then? Sorry about that, we should have our next episode of Let's Talk TJ's later on next week now because of those shenanigans.

But back to the matter at hand - this time around, Trader Joe's Chocolate Covered Dried Fruit. C'mon, this looks like fun - there's the different sized food marbles, in different colors, with different fruits. Opening up the package not only had all the usual tub-popping satisfaction, but also made a huge waft of chocolate came up and smack me in the nostrils. This was going to be fun.

In case you're like me and want to know which colors are which right away, the pinkish ones are the cherries, whitish are strawberries, grayish/purplish are blueberries, and the orangish/tannish are the apricots. There's an -ish for each color, because much to TJ's props, these candies are naturally colored with things like beet juice. Much better than artificial colors, if you ask me, even if the tradeoff is less vibrant coloration. It's not like they affect the flavor anyways.

What does alter the flavor, though, is the composition of those coatings. I expected the usual M&M-y candy shellac, straight into chocolate with a fruit coat. That's not quite right. Instead there's about a few hairs-thick coat of softer white chocolate, before hitting into the dark chocolate. It's kinda offputting. At first I thought maybe it was one of those yogurt-kinda layers, because as compared to the dark chocolate, that's almost what it tastes like - kinda two ends of the spectrum being put right together.

Other than that, the experience is what's to be expected. the cherries and strawberries pop out more in their respective flavors, the blueberries are representative enough, but the apricots? Good idea, I like the theory, but I wouldn't have guessed apricot if I weren't told that's what in there. Instead, it just feels like a dried, chewy, semi-chalky center that gets overpowered by the chocolate. All the other fruits taste they way they ought, with that similar kinda feel.

Anyways, I will say these choco-fruity tidbits definitely hit more of a chocolate spot than a fruit one if you're looking for that brand of sweetness. There's nothing terribly wondrous about them, nothing overly bad either - just curious with that white chocolate layer if you ask me. I snuck 'em into work without Sandy having a chance to try them, so I shared them with a co-worker or two, and got a mostly satisfied "meh" in return. They're deserving of slightly better and to me rank as a fairly solid "not bad."

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chocolate Covered Dried Fruit: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, August 5, 2016

Trader Joe's Mango Margarita Mixer

After slowly weaning myself off mango over the past month or so, I fell right off the wagon after spotting this exotic margarita mix at the local TJ's. Sonia and I weren't able to make a Princeton run (the closest Trader Joe's store that sells alcohol) for TJ's brand booze, so we made due with an off brand, and we whipped up a batch of blended margaritas to help beat this summer heat and humidity.

Unlike quite a few of the offerings we saw earlier this summer, this is a product that actually should be mango-flavored. It's a sweet, candy mango taste that blends well with tequila. Margaritas are a uniquely-summery beverage, and they lend themselves to uniquely-summery flavors like mango. To me, it seems much fruitier and juicier than its lemon-lime predecessor. Of course, both flavors are good, but in a way, I think this one works even better. Who knows? This product may actually pre-date the recent onslaught of mango insanity at Trader Joe's. Somehow it just doesn't seem as forced as products like mango sandwich cookies and mango chia pudding.

Also like the previously-reviewed traditional flavor, this margarita mixer uses simple, natural ingredients. If there's anyone else out there who enjoys margaritas and also tries to avoid high fructose corn syrup, I'm sure you've discovered that it's virtually impossible to find margarita mixer at a normal grocery store that uses actual sugar in its ingredients—and in the rare case you do find it, it costs an arm and a leg. This stuff is only $2.69.

By itself, the mixer is very thick and way too sweet. It needs to be diluted significantly. I think four ice cubes and one shot of tequila per two ounces mixer works best, but it's also decent as the base for virgin cocktails with only water/ice and maybe a lime wedge, as suggested on the label—so, yes, the kids can enjoy this one, too.

Mangoritas taste like summer. Double fours.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Trader Joe's Blueberry Poppy Seed Cookies

Ever have something that's good in it's own right ruin something else that's perfectly good?

For whatever reason, I'm struggling to think of a great example of this. Must be my lack of imagination, or the heat getting to my brain - I mean, dangit, it's hot. But this has to be a thing...right? Maybe this is somewhat vaguely related to my chocolate gum/Bowie-Jagger theory that two things that are good separately aren't good when put together.

If you can think of any great examples, please, by all means, fire away.

For some fairly weak evidence, I'll put out there Trader Joe's Blueberry Poppy Seed Cookies.

Blueberries, even dried ones = yum. Cookies - obviously great. Even better when they're soft, crumbly, buttery, melt in your mouth shortbread ones, perfect for pairing with any variety of beverages. I love shortbread cookies. This can't fail...

It doesn't. But these cookies don't entirely succeed either. The taste is right. That aforementioned buttery shortbread is spot on, and the poppy seeds don't seem to add much one way or another (unlike those blueberry digestive biscuits a little while back). The blueberries seem right too, and while certainly sweet with enough added sugar in all sorts of various forms, the cookies seem to be right in line flavor wise.

Really, it's the texture. It's so disappointing when the chompers actually hit a blueberry, because it gums up an otherwise perfectly crumbly bite. It's a chewy interruption. Perhaps some other form of blueberry would be more ideal, or heck, even some blueberry extract...but as is? Not a huge fan. Oh well.

Otherwise these bite-sized berry buggers are pretty tasty - we'll happily eat them up, and could be persuaded to buy again for the few bucks they set us back. Purely on taste, they're nearly perfect - but again, so disappointing when striking that berry. Probably more than it should be since the cookies are so good otherwise. Life is hard, I guess.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Blueberry Poppy Seed Cookies: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, August 1, 2016

Trader Joe's Sweetened Dried Orange Slices

We've seen plenty of zombified fruits from Trader Joe's before: applesbananasbaby bananas, and even other oranges. For the most part, I think those dried fruit snacks have been successful. They're sweet enough to be desserty, but natural enough not to wreck most diets. In all those previous cases, they seemed to capture the innate essence of the fruit and candy-ify it—in some cases without even adding any sugar.

Not only is there plenty of sugar here, but these don't really taste like oranges. I mean, I know they're made of orange slices. And they're definitely citrusy. But I think what throws me off is that they left the rind on. And I've mentioned before that I'm not huge into eating orange peels. I don't know many people who are. 

Perhaps there's a reason why Trader Joe's suggests you do things with this product other than eat it. The back of the packaging recommends using them as garnish on cocktails or as decorations for cakes and cookie platters. On that front, I can't really argue with them. Orange is my favorite color, and I've never minded splashes of it here and there. The write-up on the wrapper also insists that you can consume the attractive little slices, but it does so quite unconvincingly. "This stuff's non-toxic, we promise!"*

Once opened, the package gives off a bizarre fermented fragrance—not unlike what I'd imagine marmalade left in the sun might smell like after a day or so. The taste is a little more pleasant than the aroma in my opinion, but again, the bitterness of the rind spoils a good bit of the sweet flavor of the fruit itself. The slices are sticky with sugar, somewhat difficult to chew, and bits of the candied fruit cling tenaciously to your teeth once you've begun masticating.

Orange is the new blecch!

Sonia was even more repulsed than I was. She literally exclaimed, "Oh God! That's awful!" upon first bite. I think this is her first time giving ZERO stars to a product. I'll give them a generous one and a half, mostly for their decorative value. This might be a return here. Or we might throw a cocktail party and put them to use as garnish, as mentioned above. If the drinks are strong enough, some of our guests might even get crazy enough to eat them.

Bottom line: 1.5 out of 10.

-----------------------------------------------------------------
*That's not actually written on the packaging.