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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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Trader Joe's Ditalini Pasta + Cheddar Cheese + Cauliflower + Kale (=Best Mac and Cheese, Ever)

My mother freely admits to having "punishment meals" for us kids growing up. By this, she means if we were acting up one day, and she had enough, she made sure to make something for dinner she'd like and we'd all hate. For days full of extra shenanigans, she'd pull out the big guns: tuna casserole. We all HATED it, chief reasons among them being canned tuna, which I always associated with my cat scarfing up then barfing everywhere. Still can't even bear the smell of it.

The details of the exact day have been lost to time and memory, but the ramifications have not: The day that I suggested that instead of regular tuna casserole, my mom instead put that canned kitty emetic into her homemade mac and cheese. Homemade mac was a capital-T Treat in our house. Still is. And whether out of my relative innocence, her maternal instinct of mercy, or perhaps her reluctance of making her devilish kids choke down a dinner so maybe we'd all just go to bed earlier, she obliged. It was awful. And then she kept making mac and cheese every time that way. A family classic, ruined.

Another way that, as a kid, I thought mac and cheese could get spoiled is by adding in veggies. Now, as a child, I was strangely okay with spinach...but kale? Cauliflower? No and no. Not gonna happen. I would have begged for tuna over those, I'm sure.

Not so much these days. Here's to Trader Joe's Ditalini Pasta + Cheddar Cheese + Cauliflower + Kale (=Best Mac And Cheese, Ever). PEMDAS headscratching aside, it sounds awesome...doesn't it? Gotta give it a try for $4.99 for a large 1.25 pound tub, large enough for several lunches.

If it could last that long....

This mac isn't earthshattering or lifechanging or anything....but it's the best I've had commercially available, for sure.  Pretty tasty all the way around. I wish the cheddar cheese sauce was a little sharper, with a little more distinction, but it's very creamy and subtly spiced with herbs like dillweed and garlic. It hits the right oozy comfort spots that adding anything like hot sauce or anything more than maybe a dash of black pepper would seem a sin. Warm gooey cheese can do a soul right, can't it? The cauliflower is steamed yet firm, al dente-ish, and is present in enough bites to add a good textural variant without being overbearing. And honestly, it's kinda easy to overlook the kale too - which is a compliment to the rest of the dish. it's soft and completely unobtrusive and inconspicuous. Ditalini pasta is basically elbow chopped up into smaller carbo-tube chunks -  I would have preferred perhaps a heartier noodle like rotini - but no real complaints there either.

Both Sandy and I enjoyed a few bites as a side dish over our lunch at my workplace. Even B, our youngest, got in a few bites and gave it a two thumbs up. M, our older daughter, wasn't that impressed (I'm thinking it's the sight of the kale) and skipped trying it, which hey, more for us then. Sandy was a tad disappointed at the presence of the chunks of cauliflower, as she thought it'd be more of a pureed-in variety, thus using less cheese and making it somewhat more healthy so she feel less guilty about eating it...if that makes sense. Does it, or have I gone mad? I don't know. She gave it a three and a half. I'll go in a little higher - for me, the only real thing that could ruin it is tuna. Thankfully none here.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Ditalini Pasta + Cheddar Cheese + Cauliflower + Kale (=Best Mac and Cheese, Ever): 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

9 comments:

  1. tuna casserole...gross, yuck and gag.....thank you Lord that my Mom never punished us by making that

    Her punishment for bad kids was to drive down to the city dump and tell us to get out. TRUE or not speak to us for 2 weeks.

    I think I'll pass on the TJ's Ditalina Pasta with gross veggies in it. I can only eat Cauliflower or Kale by themselves with nothing added but maybe cheese or seasonings.

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  2. Good thing that TJ's haven't yet made tuna casserole. Maybe you could put that in a casserole pan and crumble that cheese bites on top of it and bake it.

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  3. I love kale, cauliflower and mac and cheese. But I thought this item was absolutely horrid. I could barely stomach one bite. My 2 year old on the other hand, absolutely loved it!

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  4. Not a comment about this item but about your blog in general. I was shocked that I didn't find my favorite TJ's item on your blog. You MUST try the Peruvian style chimichurri rice.

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    1. Thank you for the awesome suggestion!

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  6. Tried this today -- really good! Split it w/my wife for lunch and after 1 bite told her I'd gladly force myself to eat hers if she didn't like it. (Alas, she did.)

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  7. On my To-Try list as a rare treat (low-carb eating here, mostly). TJ has yet to disappoint with any mac/cheese dish (regular or hatch chile frozen, mac/cheese balls, Kraft-style elbows with packet of cheese powder type).

    P.S. MUDD PIE!!!! ;)

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  8. This is the kind of thing i would eat, be disappointed by, and then proceeded to crave "the real thing" until i caved and made some myself.
    Considering the nutritional stats (not exactly health food) i would rather cut straight to The Real Stuff and have my veggies on the side.
    As an aside, this must be like the 13th or so mac and cheese product that TJs sells....! I swear half the store is mac and cheese variants, various tortilla chips, and cookie butter products
    Ttrockwood

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