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Monday, January 30, 2023

Trader Joe's Everything Ciabatta Rolls


Every time I go to the grocery store and get cold cuts, cheese, greens, and plain wheat or white bread, there's a process that inevitably follows over the next few days in our kitchen. On the first couple days, if I get hungry around lunch time, I remember we have sandwich stuff, and I make a sandwich, and it hits the spot.


After the first few days, I try to think of something...anything other than a sandwich for lunch because I'm tired of the same thing day after day, but then I realize it's just Sonia and me and I better eat a sandwich before one of the ingredients spoils. By the end of the tub of cold cuts or the loaf of bread, I'm only eating the sandwich out of a sense of obligation to not let anything go bad, and then I don't want homemade sandwiches for a long time.

I present to you the remedy for this conundrum: Trader Joe's Everything Ciabatta Rolls. No matter how many times I make sandwiches with this stuff, it never tastes or feels boring. It always feels like I went out to a cafe and had some professional sandwich artist craft some deli-fresh food of the gods just for me.

The bread itself is great quality and the "everything" seasonings just throw it over the top. There's onions, garlic, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and sea salt in the mix. It's just the right combo to make a sandwich feel uncommon, even if it did just come from my own kitchen.

$2.49 for four rolls. Sonia and I will definitely purchase again. Four and a half stars a piece on Trader Joe's Everything Ciabatta Rolls.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Trader Joe's Organic Mediterranean Style Salad Kit

If you want to pique my interest in any food product, slap the word "Mediterranean" on it. The promise of garbanzo beans, feta cheese, and any kind of pita or flatbread will reel me in every time, guaranteed.

Throw in other ingredients like romaine lettuce, radicchio, and red wine vinaigrette, and there's a good chance we'll have a winner on our hands. Speaking of red wine vinaigrette, does Subway still have that stuff? I don't go to Subway anymore because the last half dozen times or so I've gone, the prices have gone up, and there's no red wine vinaigrette. I digress.

So the ingredients in Trader Joe's Mediterranean Style Salad are good, but these kits rarely, if ever, have enough of the dressings, toppings, and fixins. 


I mean the vinaigrette, cheese, and flatbread strips were all lacking in our package. I'm not paying four bucks for a bag of lettuce here, Trader Joe's. I want a complete salad kit. 

The photo we took might lead one to conclude there were plenty of toppings, but this was our first little bowl of salad. Subsequent helpings were not as abundant in terms of flatbread strips, cheese, and dressing. We always have some vinaigrette on hand, so that wasn't really an issue. 

The bites that had each and every ingredient were delicious, but there were plenty of bites that were mostly just lettuce. I wasn't a fan of the little sun-dried tomatoes, either. I'm weird about tomato, though. I gave mine to Sonia. She was fine to finish them all but thought they were overly dried and too hard somehow. I just thought they were overly tomatoey somehow.

$3.99 for three and a half servings. A few tweaks here and there would put this in repeat-buy territory. As of right now, three stars from me on Trader Joe's Mediterranean Style Salad Kit. Sonia gives it three and a half.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Trader Joe's Everyday Seasoning with Grinder

Maybe I'm still shell-shocked by the unreasonable amount of peppercorn in the recently-reviewed Trader Joe's Peppercorn Snack Bites with Peppercorn & More Peppercorn or I feel like I've had enough peppercorn flavor to last a lifetime, but even the relatively well-balanced peppercorn taste here in Trader Joe's Everyday Seasoning is a little much for me.

Again, I like the taste of peppercorn, black pepper, and pretty much any pepper derivative, as far as condiments and seasonings are concerned. I just don't like an overabundance of it. And I honestly think Trader Joe's Everyday Seasoning might have been a contender for my Pantheon of great TJ's foods if there were just two minor alterations to this seasoning blend:

1. Tone down the peppercorn in relation to the mustard seed, garlic, onion, and chili pepper flavors.

2. Lose the salt altogether.

Why get rid of the salt, you ask? Well, for one thing: who doesn't have salt in their home? You can always add it separately if you wish.

I'm often using these Trader Joe's seasonings to flavor foods that already have salt in them. You can make a cheap microwave meal a gourmet dining experience simply by adding Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute. Those TV dinner type things are already loaded with sodium and there's no need to add more.


At least some of TJ's other seasoning blends like the Ajika Seasoning and the Za'atar Seasoning that contain some salt have it much lower on their ingredients list. In this case, salt is number one. I guess sea salt is preferable to regular salt, but still, there's roughly the same amount of sodium in both.

$1.99 for the shaker. I must admit the built-in grinder is fun and convenient. Sonia likes this blend for cooking purposes and will score it a little higher than I do for that reason. Four stars from her. I give Trader Joe's Everyday Seasoning three stars.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Trader Joe's Organic Crumbled Feta Cheese


When I was a kid, I had allergies to a few very common foods including cow's milk and dairy-based cheeses. My mother had the same allergies, so our family did a rotation diet where we'd eat soy milk one day, rice milk the next day, then nut milks like almond milk, and then finally there was goat milk day. On goat milk day, we could have feta cheese with our meats and salads. I wasn't thrilled with it at first, but it really grew on me over the years. By age ten or eleven, while other kids were turning their noses up at unusual fare like feta cheese, I was seeking it out and educating my Velveeta-loving friends about the tangy, flavorful goat milk cheese.

And while Trader Joe's Organic Crumbled Feta Cheese is still tangy and flavorful, it's actually made with cow's milk, which mellows it out just a little bit. It's still undeniably feta-esque in taste and texture, though. Thankfully, I grew out of my food allergies and can eat pretty much whatever I want these days, so the cow's milk isn't an issue.


Trader Joe's Organic Crumbled Feta is a fairly salty cheese, which might turn off some folks, but the briny edge worked well in this instance if you ask Sonia or me. We added it to salads, sandwiches, pasta, and omelettes, among other things. The little tub disappeared fast. I want to say this was our second or third time purchasing this product, and I'm sure we'll get it again.

$3.49 for the tub. Organic. NOT non-dairy. I neglected to snap a pic of the ingredients and nutrition information, so just click here for all of that stuff. Four stars a piece from Sonia and me for Trader Joe's Organic Crumbled Feta Cheese.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Trader Joe's Salmon Rub Seasoning Blend

Salmon, when done right, is right up there with my favorite foods of all time. I'm talking nice sit-down restaurant, cooked and seasoned to perfection, served with lemon, herbs, and some fancy sides. It's hard to beat that in my book. I'd generally prefer top-shelf salmon over steak, chicken, or any other meat.

Unfortunately, I've had my share of sub-par salmon. Trader Joe's has offered up a doozy or two throughout the years. There's also been some good ones, too. Salmon can be done perfectly, or it can be perfectly awful, and there's a whole lot of gray area in between.

But if you're into buying frozen salmon fillets like Sonia and I are, and you're looking for something to take that middle-of-the-run salmon into superb​ territory, Trader Joe's Salmon Rub Seasoning is your new best friend.

It's best when used as an actual rub—that is, put some olive oil on the fish and then sprinkle this seasoning on it and literally rub it in before baking/air frying/grilling your fillet. But honestly, it's not terrible when just sprinkled on already-cooked fish after the fact.


It's the perfect blend of sweet, smoky, and savory. There's no one element that's overpowering, and it enhances the flavor of the fish exquisitely.

A lot of times if something contains a "smoked" ingredient, I find it revolting for some reason. Not this time. There is a faint smoked flavor, for sure, but it doesn't taste like chemicals and it's not overpowering at all. The smoked paprika is very welcome here as it rounds out the brown sugar sweetness and really adds to the flavor profile without being obnoxious.


I'm sure some folks will find it a tad on the sweet side, but Sonia and I both loved it. $2.69 for the 2.6 oz shaker. Four and a half stars a piece for Trader Joe's Salmon Rub Seasoning Blend.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Trader Joe's Sourdough Sliced Bread

One summer during my college years, a fellow student named Tim rented one of the vacant rooms in the house I lived in. As I was going about my business in the common areas one day, I noticed a bowl of...something on the seldom-used dining room table. It looked like a science experiment of sorts and smelled vaguely tart.

Tim later explained that it was sourdough starter and that he was going to bake his own bread. He mentioned the sourdough starter needed to rot a bit just sitting at room temperature because that's what made the dough sour. I was a little grossed out but after a day or so, he baked the bread and let me try a bite. It was surprisingly tasty. I mean, I'd obviously had sourdough before, but after seeing it in its primordial form, I didn't expect Tim's batch to taste so good. I've never looked at sourdough the same since.

And if anything, Trader Joe's Sourdough Sliced Bread is above average for store-bought pre-sliced sourdough. It's got just the right amount of tang and sourness, and just the right amount of wheat and barley goodness. The texture is just a bit chewier than regular white bread, and it's perfect plain with butter or as the outer layer of a sandwich. It's become one of our regular purchases at TJ's.


I believe it was $2.99 when we bought this last loaf, but it might have gone up recently, as many bread products have. If you feel like getting crafty, there's a recipe for Sweet & Spicy Pimento Grilled Cheese on TJ's official website. It sounds pretty yummy, but what are the odds I'll remember to pick up all those ingredients on the same trip?

Sonia gives Trader Joe's Sourdough Sliced Bread four and a half stars out of five. I give it four.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Trader Joe's Dried Cantaloupe Slices


So this item is very similar to
2019's Watermelon Jerky, a very polarizing product. My guess is this one will be, as well. It's the same idea: dehydrated melon in a bag. They don't call this one "jerky," but simply "dried."

Neither Sonia nor I were huge fans of the watermelon version, and we're finding ourselves in the same boat with Trader Joe's Dried Cantaloupe Slices. While I generally enjoy more traditional dried fruits like raisins, dates, and dried apricots—and I was pleasantly surprised with products like Trader Joe's Dried Baby Bananas—I guess I just have to admit that I'm not a fan of dried melons.


Sonia swears she can taste the sulfur dioxide in the cantaloupe. I'm not sure if that's what I taste, but I'd just say it's like cantaloupe flavor but not as sweet. Texture-wise, it's like cantaloupe but stiff instead of soft, leathery instead of juicy. So, in other words, it's just like real cantaloupe, but it lacks everything that makes actual cantaloupe melon good: the sweetness, the softness, the moisture.

Some of you will find it a unique, convenient snack. I'm not saying you're wrong. I want to like it. I'll probably be able to finish the bag slowly, one or two pieces at a time. It's just not something I'd ever seek out after trying it this one time. Sonia agrees.


$2.99 for the 4 oz bag. Two and a half stars from Sonia. Three from me for Trader Joe's Dried Cantaloupe Slices.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Trader Joe's Super Seedy Cheese Snack Bites


Mmmkay. This is one of those "sexy" new items I was talking about last week when I promised I'd review something more interesting than common pantry fare soon-ish. Trader Joe's Super Seedy Cheese Snack Bites are definitely new, but are they really that sexy?

Welp, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say...no. But let's look at both sides of this equation. There are some things working here. Let's try to be positive and look at that stuff first.

Parmesan cheese. The number one ingredient. I like parmesan. These are indeed parmesan-laden and cheesy and that's the "CHEESE" part of the product title. In my humble opinion the cheesiness is good and the intensity is about right.


What else is working? The texture. These things are crispy and crunchy in a very unique way. I tried to capture the texture visually with the new macro feature on my phone camera. Pretty cool, right? You can see all the rifts, ridges, nooks, crannies, and seediness up close. 

Of course, that photo is larger than life. I mean...depending upon the size of your monitor screen. Maybe if you're on mobile right now, it's just about life size. But then I don't know how big your phone is. Maybe I should just tell you how big they are. Fortunately, there's a ruler right behind me as I write this.

They are 1.25 inches by 1.375 inches on average. Nearly square. Like maybe two or three small bites a piece for me.

So let's move on to what's not working: nearly everything else. The overall taste of these is like black pepper. And I like black pepper. Is it the peppercorns? I guess. They're overwhelming. It's a pungent, acrid, bitter pepper punch in each and every bite. Actually some bites are worse than others. It builds up on the tongue and honestly I can only eat one or two crisps at a time. They're very light, too, in terms of density. If the peppercorn flavor were tempered a bit, I think I'd plow through the bag in one or two sittings easily.

TL;DR - Crunchy parmesan aspects are nice. Peppercorn element is overpowering.

$3.49 for the 2.8 oz bag. I give Trader Joe's Super Seedy Cheese Snack Bites with Puffed Quinoa & Whole Peppercorns two out of five stars. Sonia liked hers in tomato soup okay, although she agrees they're not great on their own. Three stars from her.

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Trader Joe's Chew-Cuterie


When I was growing up, my dad used to buy the family dog treats called People Crackers. The idea was that since people eat crackers or cookies shaped like assorted animals, that animals would enjoy eating crackers shaped like mailmen, milkmen, dog catchers, and various other denizens of the neighborhood. My father got a big kick out of the idea and would remark that the dog was "eating people" each time he'd give them to our miniature poodle named Apricot.

The only reason I bring up the People Crackers is because they were similar in texture, color, and smell to these Chew-Cuterie Assorted Dog Treats. Both treats are/were crunchy like a crispy human cracker, but perhaps a bit thicker and harder than anything a person would enjoy. I believe the People Crackers had different flavors, but I'm not certain. They definitely had a few different colors like these Trader Joe's brand dog cookies.


They come in cheddar flavor, salami, provolone, and prosciutto, and they actually contain real meats and cheeses. I see ingredients like "dried cheese," "pork stock," "natural provolone cheese flavor," and "natural ham flavor."

Alfred and Sadie liked them well enough and didn't show any preference among the four flavors. They gobbled each one down right away. I even tried breaking the crackers into little pieces and putting two different flavors on the floor equidistant from the dogs to see if they'd pick a particular variety over any of the others, but alas, there was simply no pattern.


The dogs generally prefer soft and chewy treats over hard and crunchy ones, so we'll say three out of four paw prints each from Alfred and Sadie. The idea of charcuterie for pets is cute, and we like the designs on the box. We'll give another 1.5 paw prints for the presentation on Trader Joe's Chew-Cuterie Assorted Flavor Dog Treats. There might have been another half a paw print if it came in a resealable package. $3.29 for the box.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Trader Joe's Carb Savvy Tortillas


Sonia, my wife, is a proud American, but she's descended from a long line of Mexican ladies that purchased nothing but handmade corn tortillas daily for many generations. A snack we've had at least weekly, if not daily, since we got married over 13 years ago is quesadillas. If we run out of everything else, we've always got little tortillas and some cheese in the fridge. Heat them up, throw on a couple drops of Tapatio or Cholula, and you've got yourself an authentic Mexican-inspired snack.

We've done corn tortillas, flour tortillas, and we've even tried other low-carb tortillas. What I'm trying to get at here is that my beautiful wifey knows her tortillas and is somewhat of a tortilla snob. And I'm slowly becoming one too.

Sonia and I both agree the Mission brand carb balance soft tortillas are surprisingly good. And we both agree that these Trader Joe's Carb Savvy Tortillas made with Whole Wheat are not. In general, they lack flavor. There's a whisper of something oddly nutty by virtue of the whole wheat, but it's just enough to let you know that there's something missing.


The texture is even worse. It's like a thin sheet of leather. It's a little too tough and chewy for either of our tastes. I guess they beat the Mission brand in terms of their lack of carbs. These contain 9 grams of carbohydrates per tortilla compared to Mission's 19 grams each. The difference is tastable.

If you're really concerned about your carb intake and you want to make quesadillas or tacos or wraps or something along those lines, an even lower carb alternative is Trader Joe's Egg Wraps—a product with superior taste and texture, albeit not exactly tortilla-esque, with an extra bit of protein up in the mix and also gluten-free. I guess those wouldn't really work if you're vegan, but that's about the only scenario I can think of where I'd steer you towards these. Are these even vegan? Usually the packaging announces it quite loudly and proudly...

$2.69 for 10 tortillas. Would not buy again. One star from Sonia for Trader Joe's Carb Savvy Tortillas made with Whole Wheat. Two stars from me.

Bottom line: 3 out of 10.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Trader Joe's Chicken Noodle Soup with Veggies


I promise there are some sexy new product reviews coming down the pipeline soon. I've just had a backlog of random pantry staple type items building up that never got reviewed over the past year or two that I'm just getting around to now. What qualifies as a "sexy" product review, you ask? Something less boring and newer than boxed chicken soup, that's what.

But boring as chicken soup may be, it's as appropriate in January as it ever is. At two bucks a box, the price is right, and I think it's a pretty good product overall.

Sometimes chicken soup is like a breath of fresh air wafting through a country kitchen. Other times, it's reminiscent of dismal hospital fare or the tasteless cuisine you'd find in old folks' homes. This product falls squarely in between those two extremes, and probably a shade closer to that pleasant country kitchen side.


It's not as good as the Kettle-Cooked Chicken Soup by my reckoning, but then again, few soups are that good. On the plus side, there are big soft noodles in this soup—something the kettle cooked version lacked. 

There's still a generous amount of veggie chunks, and even an adequate quantity of chicken, too. However, I'm on record saying I'll always ask for more chicken in chicken soup, and this specimen is no different. GIMME MOAR CHICKENZ!

The broth has a pleasant flavor. It's salty and savory and is good enough to slurp down straight from the bowl by itself once you've sought out each and every piece of celery, carrot, chicken, and noodle with your spoon.

I like boxes better than other shapes for soup in the pantry since you can stack them like bricks top to bottom and front to back and not lose any space. Like I said, the price is right and it's surprisingly palatable soup. We'll purchase again. Four out of five stars from Sonia for Trader Joe's Chicken Noodle Soup with Veggies. Three and a half stars from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Trader Joe's Small Batch Vodka

Just a quickie for today: Small Batch Vodka. Made with corn from the heart of Wisconsin and limestone-filtered water, this vodka is distilled ten times. Says so right on the bottle.

I remember hearing what might be an urban legend: if you take cheap vodka and run it through a Brita or Pūr type water filter—one that uses carbon or charcoal to cleanse water—you can make more expensive-tasting vodka.

Of course, you ruin your water filters. And they're not cheap. So the money you save by buying cheap vodka is moot point if you're going through expensive Brita filters left and right. I digress.

The point is that Trader Joe's, or rather their buddies at Monroe Brewing Company, have gone ahead and saved you the time and money of purifying your cheap vodka 10 times because they did it themselves.

I've had a few shots of really cheap vodka in my day, and I gotta say, this liquor is much better than the bottom of the barrel stuff. It certainly does have a "clean" taste to it. You'd hope so since it's been distilled 10 times.

The price? A buck for each round of distillation. $9.99 for a fifth. 44% ABV. Pretty darn good vodka for the price if you ask this guy. Sonia agrees, though she's not into vodka as much. Four stars a piece on Trader Joe's Small Batch Vodka.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Trader Joe's Raw Almond Butter

In my hometown growing up, there was a farmer's market my parents liked to go to run by a local Mennonite family. They had all kinds of fresh produce, meats, and baked goods. In the fall, they'd put out scarecrows with pumpkin heads and hay mazes, and they'd sell homemade apple cider and a myriad of pies and goodies.

My absolute favorite part about going there was watching the employees make peanut butter with an old-fashioned hand crank grinder. It was literally nothing but unshelled peanuts going into the hopper, and the purest, rawest peanut butter coming out the other end. They'd put it in a mason jar and weigh it, and that was that.

To this day, that was the best peanut butter I've ever had. It's a simple case of "less is more." And that's exactly what we have here with Trader Joe's Raw Almond Butter. Less is more. Nothing but raw almonds in that jar. They didn't even add salt.

Many moons ago, our old Pittsburghian compadre reviewed Trader Joe's Creamy Almond Butter. I remember thinking he was a little harsh on the product since Sonia and I had tried it around the same time and both of us had generally positive sentiments about it.


But both the beautiful wifey and I must admit this raw version is head and shoulders better. The difference? They used dry roasted almonds in the previous version...and added some cashews? Weird.

Trader Joe's is peddling an organic almond butter most recently. Apparently this raw version is not made with certified organic almonds but their new kind is. Also, there was very recently a crunchy version of this raw almond butter which is now discontinued, much to the chagrin of crunchy almond butter fans the world over.

I should also point out that this almond butter isn't technically completely raw, since it has been pasteurized. Does that affect the flavor? Who knows. I've never had unpasteurized almond butter.


The butter itself is both runny and a little gritty—it's a good gritty though. The runniness can vary from serving to serving based on how recently and how vigorously the almond butter has been agitated. You really have to manhandle the stuff the get the semi-solid parts to integrate with the liquids.

$5.99 for the jar. Not exactly cheap, but hey, despite a few weaknesses, Trader Joe's Raw Almond Butter gets a thumbs up from me. We'll go with three and a half stars. 

This is Sonia's new favorite nut butter of all time. She gives it a perfect five out of five.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Trader Joe's Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert Chocolate Fudge Oat Bars


Let's kick the new year off right. It's January, and everybody's craving frozen treats, right? No? Well then, let's crank up the heat, put on a tropical island screen saver, and pretend it's the middle of July. Not every review can be seasonally appropriate.

I've honestly been surprised how well oat lends itself to fudge and chocolate flavors. In almost every case, these oats and oat milk-based products would have been a godsend if I were still on my milk-free diet as I was as a child, or for that matter, if I were vegan. I'm thinking these Chocolate Fudge Oat Bars, the recently-reviewed Very Chocolatey Oat Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert, and Trader Joe's Oat Chocolate Bars.

Conversely, in each case, these chocolatey oat desserts fall just shy of my good old dairy-based stand-by treats. Although it's not really my thing these days, I used to love a good Fudgesicle circa junior high and high school. That's basically what these are: vegan fudge popsicles.

They taste fudgey enough for me, although they might fall a hair shy of the originals in terms of rich chocolatey goodness and creaminess. Still, for being oat-based, it's hard to complain, since the differences are negligible.

Texture-wise, they're sorta creamy-ish, I guess, but also almost a tad oily I'd say. Is it the cocoa butter? Sunflower lecithin? Both? It's not really unappetizing, just unique. The mouthfeel of this product is...interesting.

$3.49 for four bars. It seems odd there are only four. Six would be ideal by my estimate. Sonia gives these oaty treats four out of five stars. I give Trader Joe's Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert Chocolate Fudge Oat Bars three out of five stars.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.