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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Trader Joe's Really Expensive Authentic Handcrafted Chicken Burritos

Work lunches have always been a little tricky for me. I don't want to go out and spend $5 or $10 every day on lunch. We also rarely have leftovers to pack, and I don't plan ahead to pack a meal at night, nor do I ever wake up with enough time to make a sandwich or anything in the morning. So generally this leaves me with options that are quick to grab as I run out the door, and that are easily prepared at the typical work lunch room (sink, fridge/freezer and microwave bank), and ideally cheap. By default, most weeks this has meant stocking up on Chef Boyardee goods with the pull-tab can lids ... mmm, tasty. Not. Coworkers openly mock me for it - "Hey, you got dinosaurs or ABCs today?" - as they chomp down on their delivery pizza and wings (coincidentally, these same ones complain a lot about "never having money" ... hmmm). A man's gotta eat, but after so many cans of mini-ravioli, you gotta find some other options too.

Fortunately, Trader Joe's seems to have some possibilities worth exploring.

One of the first canned pasta alternatives I stumbled upon were his Really Expensive Authentic Handcrafted Chicken Burritos (REAHCBs). They appealed to me for a few different reasons. First off, I love burritos and nearly everything about them - tortillas, meat, beans, cheese, whatever you can fill them with, and wrap it all up - delicious and vaguely Mexican, and I love any Mexican food that doesn't include cow stomach. Secondly, the directions seemed pretty short and simple to make - keep frozen, unwrap when you're ready to eat, cover them with a paper towel, and nuke 'em for a couple minutes. Quick and easy enough for a workplace meal. Thirdly, well, I didn't realize it until I started busting them out, but as a work place food, they look pretty impressive. One of the middle-aged ladies in the lunch room asked where I got them - "they look too good to be from the vending machine," she said. Judging by the look on her face, I could have probably told her they were from the Sharper Image and she would have believed me. As the guy previously most famous in the lunchroom for an unnatural obsession with the Chef, it felt good to have some recognition (however fleeting) as having the Cadillac of microwavable meals. Their pretty impressive name certainly helped.

Well, overall the burritos are pretty decent, but also somewhat tough to get a reliable gauge on through no fault of their own. I blame the work microwaves. The directions say to defrost for two minutes, then go on high for a minute - yeah, show me a work microwave that can you can trust to do just that. There's not even a defrost setting on ours, so I resorted to heating on high for about four or five minutes. The result was a burrito alternating between containing molten hot bean-y magma scorching the inside of my mouth and literal ice chunks which served as relief. The tortilla itself got a little chewy in the process too. But that's CVS's fault, not Trader Joe's, I think.

Taste-wise, the REAHCBs work for a lunch option. The filling is mostly typical bean filling with dark meat chicken chunks. It's flavored with some tomato, onion, and typical spices which give it a little kick, but certainly not taste bud overkill. When it comes to texture, I'd prefer if there were some whole beans or the occasional vegetable chunk in there to mix it up a bit. The tortilla is a decent flour one, but nothing terribly special either.

They're certainly not Really Expensive (I think they were $2.49 for the package) and depending on your appetite they can make one or two lunches. As for Authentic ... well, that can be a relative term. They're not nearly as "authentic" (or for that matter, "handcrafted") as some of the most delicious burritos and related Mexican food I've had in Mexican mountain villages where the women woke up at 4 a.m. to grind the corn and the chickens were clucking around three hours before being served up. But of course, that's not what I could expect either, so I won't hold it against them. Just that Trader Joe character can get a little boastful at times, that's all. At least he wasn't stretching the truth when it came to the "Chicken" and "Burrito" part.

I'll give them a little bit of the benefit of the doubt. With a better preparation method, I'm sure they'd be a little bit better, and I'm somewhat indecisive between giving a 3 and a 3.5 for them. But since Sandy hasn't had them (they have that killer word "tomato" prominently displayed), I'm solely responsible for their grading, so I'll give them one of each.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, December 27, 2010

Trader Joe's World's Puffiest Sour Cream and Onion Corn Puffs

Hey everybody! Sorry for the extended break ... just a few days after the latest post, family Christmas celebrations kicked into high gear, and in my family that means lots and lots of food, homemade, nonstop. I'm talking hundreds of cookies, cheesebread, Swedish tea ring, pork roast, mashed potatoes, ham, mac and cheese, cheese omelets, etc. All that good I thought I was doing at the gym went down the tube (kinda literally!). Mix that in with a few days of recovery time, a little rest for the taste buds, and finally I feel like I can make honest reviews again. No offense to Trader Joe, but there's nothing that he can offer up that can compete with any of my family's homemade goodies.

Quick sidenote: My sis got me not one but two TJ cookbooks where everything in the recipe is made from TJ foodstuffs. Awesome gift, and looking forward to trying out some dishes - if I stumble across anything particularly good, I'll share for sure.

TJ's Sour Cream and Onion Corn Puffs made a good first entry back into regular non-holiday fare. I'll take his world that they're the "World's Puffiest" - I haven't exactly spanned the globe a la Andrew Zimmern and tasted corn puffs from across the international food spectrum while making as many happy sighs and groans as he does. But they are pretty puffy. Texture-wise, they are a treat. Although in appearance they resemble packing peanuts, they're definitely crunchy on the exterior with their puffy popcorn-like interior filling out the shell, so they're not quite like Cheetos either. They'd be pretty crappy if they were all puff and no crunch. In case you were wondering, they're strictly puffs with no kernels like popcorn. They're light and easy to munch down, not terribly filling, which makes grabbing a couple handfuls and chowing down just a little too easy to do. They're just okay taste-wise, I'd say. The onion flavor is subtle yet prevalent - it seems to be a light coating of mild onion salt (i.e, complete opposite of Funyun-style salt orgy). The sour cream doesn't seem to make its way on every puff. It's more like little sour cream pockets here and there that are pretty noticeable when your taste buds find them. I guess this way they're better by the handful then they are individually.

These guys are kind of hard to rate. Both Sandy and I like them, but don't consider them to be that spectacular. Yet when we tried them the other day, we had to rip the bag away from us and close it up after eating way too many of them. Maybe it was their crunchy, puffy texture or maybe it was their little sour cream blasts, but we wolfed down half the bag in not a lot of time. Of course, it could have just been our appetites still coming down off their holiday high. Sandy gave them a solid 3 out of 5 Golden Spoons - "a good, average snack" is what she said. I agree with her assessment and give them a 3 as well. The jury's out to see if they'll be a repeat buy.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Trader José's Super Seeded Tortilla Chips

I'll spare you the details, but from what I understand, diverticulitis is not a pleasant thing to have. Basically, it's a condition in some people who cannot properly digest seeds, nuts, and things of the like because their intestines don't like them. I know someone with what I assume to be severe diverticulitis, and he claims if he were to eat any seeds, he'd end up in the hospital. It's really nothing all that funny.

But, it must suck to have it. Imagine. No popcorn ... no pumpkin seeds ... no freshly toasted everything bagels with semi-melty cream cheese. Extra care must be taken when eating watermelon. You don't know what rye bread or Chick-Fil-A buns taste like. Think of all the extra work if you want to put peppers in your chili.

And up there with all of those injustices of the condition, no Trader Jose's Super Seeded Tortilla Chips for you, either.

Trader Jose found him some good chips here. The first bite offers lots of evidence that they're tough to beat. They seem to be a bit thicker than most, so they have a good satisfying crunch that other chips seem to miss. The seeds add a good nutty undertone, enough to be noticeable but not enough to interfere greatly with salsa and whatever else you might eat them with. Sandy and I heartily recommend pairing them with some Trader Joe's Peach Salsa, but I assume any type of chunky salsa would be a decent match. I crumbled some up to put in a bowl of homemade chili, and that worked really well because they're so thick and crunchy, they didn't get soggy at all. My last bite still had a good, loud crunch in it. Some other brands of tortilla chips tend to be overly salty, and these guys, while not exactly low sodium, don't make you feel like you just swallowed some ocean water either.

And they must be as relatively good for you as tortilla chips can be. Though not expressly marketed as being organic, all their ingredients say they are, and I thought I saw a blurb somewhere on the bag saying they were. I was too busy munching them down to really notice, though. They're gluten-free, which is nice for all you crazy celiacs out there. Plus, all the benefits of the seeds ... let's see ... well, we all know Barry Bonds was actually telling the truth when he credited flax seed oil for helping him hit all those home runs. Chia seeds can help turn ordinary ceramic creations into lovable furry green animals or definite office conversation starters. Hemp makes you cool with the hippies. I think. There's also poppy seeds, which we all know what they do for you on drug tests, and caraway seeds, which, uh ... well, I have no idea what any of the seeds do but I trust Trader Jose implicitly. Amigo hasn't let me down yet.

Trader Joe's has a lot of pretty good chip options, and these guys are Sandy's and my tortilla chip du jour. I think we downed two bags of them in about a week's time. I asked her how many golden spoons she would rate them, and she just said "a lot", which to me means four out of five, mostly because I give them a four as well.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Trader Joe's Mac & Cheese Bites

We are back! After a long period of transition and moving across the country, we have made our maiden TJ's shopping trip on the east coast, and we're ready for another blog entry. 

We are now primarily shopping out of the Media, PA Trader Joe's. So long to our favorite TJ's at 3rd and La Brea in L.A...

Anyhoo, let's take a look at these Mac & Cheese Bites...Hmmm... 

Well, let's face it: mac and cheese was never really health food...and deep fat frying it isn't exactly a step in the right direction...unless, of course, the direction you want to go involves triple bypass surgery. 

I think my good buddies at TJ's read my blog about their "Joe's Diner Mac n' Cheese" and resolved that their next macaroni and cheese product would NOT be bland. Trader Joe's Mac & Cheese Bites are quite tasty...but these little balls make Philly Cheesesteaks look like Weight Watchers entrees. 

The bites must be about a half an ounce a piece, yet paradoxically, about 3 ounces of grease flow out of each one. A half a dozen of the things completely drench a paper towel in milliseconds...we're talking crazy, freaky, Stargate portal summoning grease from another dimension type lipids here...the Simpsons episode where Bart rubs the Krusty Burger on the wall and it magically becomes transparent came to mind...Sonia and I have a new window in our apartment thanks to these little bites. 

But they do taste good. I mean, something with this much grease HAS to taste good...unless, for some strange reason, you don't like grease. If you don't like grease, I suggest you avoid the aisle they sell these things in at TJ's entirely. 

We did wind up putting some Cholula hot sauce on them just to give them a little more kick, but I was happy with their flavor and the comfort food coma that followed. I give them 4 out of 5 stars. Sonia gives them 3.5, docking some points because she's still mopping up the pools of liquid fat in the kitchen. 

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10. (Projected score for grease-haters: -9 out of 10.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joe's

So it's pretty much a proven fact that it's a bad idea to go grocery shopping when hungry. Everything looks better and tastier and you're bound to buy more prepackaged junk food because your thought process is more in tune with instant gratification and not reasonable meal planning. This is especially true at TJ's with all of their snack food and how they pile it on every conceivable display they can. 

Sandy and I went there for our somewhat weekly supply run after I picked her up from work one night but before we had a chance to eat dinner. Our stomachs were both growling as we walked through the doors to see what Joe had traded for us this week. We behaved going through the first couple aisles, getting cheese, our latest installment of soy chorizo, some fruit, etc. You know, real food we actually needed. 

But when we turned our cart around the corner about to go up through where I call "Temptation Lane", there it was. Huge, bright, happy end cap display of Candy Cane Joe-Joe's. It was like the centerpiece of the entire store, brimming with promise of seasonal sweet tooth satiation. They might as well have had a guy dressed as Trader Joe approach us and say "Aye, Cap'n, these be the best I scrounged for you this week" in some false pirate accent. There was no way we weren't picking up a box before scurrying home and plowing our way through.* 

Well, they aren't bad, but they're not that great either in the end. Imagine taking a candy cane, smacking it with a hammer til there's nothing but a pile of granule-y dust, smacking it more and putting it in the middle of your classic Joe-Joe/knock-off Oreo with a little mint flavoring. That's about what there is to them. The package claims to have "real candy cane pieces and rich cocoa in every bite" - both parts are a bit of an overstatement, as it's literally minute minty particulate matter and the usual not-so-rich-but-okay chocolate cookie wafer with the typical sugary filling holding it all together. 

The red food coloring dots they put in the filling are made of deception and falsehood, not good old candy canes. Of course, I should have questioned the accuracy of the packaging as they are clearly named Joe-Joe's, not Joe-Joes. I'm not sure what the apostrophe is trying to express ownership of ... the cookies themselves? No, I just bought them, they're mine, whoever you are, Joe-Joe. Of course, like any cookie of its type, enjoying them with a little milk makes them a little better too. 

Anyways, they're neither remarkable or unremarkable, They're just a seasonal variation on a classic. Just because they were the centerpiece of the store doesn't mean they should be the centerpiece of your holiday cookie tray - make some good old fashioned homemade cookies for that. The Candy Cane Joe-Joe's are good for a little snack or to tuck into a lunch, or okay to grab if you're running late to a casual holiday party, but for me, that's about it. I wouldn't mind getting them again, but I wouldn't insist either, and I won't miss them when they're put away for the season in a few weeks. 

Sandy seems like them a little more than I do, and she gave the Joe-Joe's 4 out of 5 golden spoons. Girl loves her candy canes, I guess. I'll give them 2.5, right down the middle, for total of 6.5 out of 10 golden spoons.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons


*It's about a week later, and about half of them are still around. That'd be a household record for a truly irresistably deliciously tasty sugary munchie if, you know, that's what they were.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo

Hey everybody! What's Good at Trader Joe's has a new contributor! So it's been a while since this blog has been updated ... my old college buddy Nathan's been busy moving across the country or something ... and my wife Sandy and I (Russ) happen to pretty big TJ's fans ... so hopefully you'll be seeing at somewhat regular posts by me. We're hoping this blog, while a work in progress, will be a fun way to share about the good, mediocre, and nausea-worthy stuff we find on the shelves at TJ's. Nathan made this sound better up top.

Anyways, enough about that. Let's talk about fake meat product.

If you know anything about me, you know that I like food. And I like my food to taste like what it actually is - a steak to taste like a steak, coffee to taste like coffee, beer to taste like beer, etc. Sandy, on the other hand, is a little different. She likes her coffee to taste like caramel apples (this is what her choice of creamer tells me) and she loves to use black beans to make brownies (which I don't really get ... I just pretend they're actual brownies and go with it). She also loves fake meat. No, not like Spam. Like Morningstar Farms soy chicken products and "chicken" at Whole Foods and stuff like that. She's not vegetarian (she doesn't like vegetables enough to be), but she just loves the fake meat. I've tried it, and honestly, for me, if you want something that tastes like a piece of chicken, have it be the actual bird. It's nasty enough what they do to a chicken to turn it into a box of McNuggets, and I don't want to think of the additional steps of nastiness required to turn a handful of tasty-in-their-own-right beans into that.
Anyways, I guess it was her affinity for all things soy that led us to the original purchase of Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo. It sounded interesting to her, and I guess for the $1.99 and her happiness, w
e put it in the cart. We got home, put it in the freezer (it does freeze well) and a few nights later, decided it was time to try. I did not have high hopes. First off, the very name is a lie if you know any Spanish. Soy Chorizo = "I am sausage".* No, you're beans, not delectably ground up little piggies. Then the way it is packaged is somewhat of a lie. It's tubular shaped, and comes in plastic casing, which originally lead me to believe this was a grillable-type of chorizo. So I go out, put it in on the grill (anything is better grilled), and once it gets even somewhat hot, it starts crumbling into a mess. Not good. I take the pieces I can salvage and not knowing what else to do, come back inside, put in a frying pan, and start cooking it. I explain this to Sandy, we re-figure out our dinner plans, and decide to make a go of it. Not knowing what else to do, I think we ended up tossing in some black beans and rice once the chorizo was crumbled completely and beginning to brown. We also had some salsa to stir in along with some cheese, and either tortillas or tortilla chips. Finally, it was time to take the first bite ...

Freaking. Awesome.

For a soy-based meat product, it's really good. Scratch that. It's just really good, period. It's spicy, but not overly. The chorizo when cooked also has just a little of the requisite gristle so it's hard to remember that it's not actual meat. When made with rice, beans, and other stuff (our favorite way to have it), it really seems to hold it all together without dominating the other tastes. I think it'd be a pretty good meat substitute for anything ground meat would be needed for in a spicier dish, like chili, tacos, or hotter pasta sauces. It's not anything you can shape or form into a patty or loaf, so burgers and the like are out, but it tastes better mixed into things as opposed to standing on its own anyways.

This has become a "must buy" nearly every time we shop at TJ's - Sandy and I always ask each other how much milk we have left, how many eggs, and if we still have any soy chorizo in the freezer. It's almost become that much of a staple - I'd say we eat it probably at least every other week. We heartily recommend trying it out just as described above - with black beans, rice, your favorite salsa, cheese, and tortillas. Sandy calls it our "everything we love in a bowl meal", which I think sums it up pretty well.

I think Nathan did the star rating thing. I'll use the same methodology, except instead of stars I'll use golden spoons. I give it a rock solid 4.5 golden spoons (it's tough to get 5), Sandy's busy so I can't ask her but I think she'd give it a 5, 

so 9.5 golden spoons out of 10.


*It occurred to me after writing this sentence that it might not have been a lie after all. If TJ's wanted me to read into the Spanish meaning of the product name, they probably would have marketed it under Trader Jose's, not Trader Joe's. We call it "I am sausage" anyways because it sounds funnier, and it's so good, I'm not going to argue with it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Trader Joe's Organic Cranberry Apple Juice

TJ's Organic Cranberry Apple Juice is very tart. It's a little sweet, but not excessively. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I like excessively sweet things, so for me that's not a huge plus. I've had similar 100% juice drinks before that do taste sweet enough for at first I was thinking, "Hmm...maybe it's the organic-ness of this beverage that makes it not too sweet." But then I realized that didn't really make sense. The absence of pesticides and such shouldn't really change the sweet to tart ratio of a fruit juice. Then it dawned on me. The other juice blends I've had were "Apple Cranberry Juices." This is "Cranberry Apple Juice." In the other juice blends, the sweet taste of the apple is meant to be dominant, while TJ's juice blend favors the tart taste of the cranberry. Mystery solved. Another "adult" beverage from TJ's. Good for Sonia, with her discerning, mature palate. Not so good for myself and the other children of the world who crave sugar-sweet candy yum-yum tooth-rotting goodness. Don't get me wrong, this beverage is a fine product. I can just tell a little of the elevated beauty of its flavor is lost on consumers like me. I give it Three out of Five Stars. Sonia gives it Four out of Five. Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Trader Joe's Strawberry Kiwi Juice

Yummy-licious! We like it. We like it a lot. We may have a new favorite beverage from TJ's here. The long-time champ, Pomegranate Limeade may have just been de-throned by the Strawberry Kiwi Juice. This sexy blend of those good-for-you fruit pals, strawberry 'n kiwi, has got it all. It's got flavor, it's not bad for you, it comes from TJ's, you can recycle the bottle and get 5 or 10 cents back for it, it's nutritious, it's delicious, it'll make you run faster and jump higher, it's a magical cure-all that takes you to a fantasy world of love and eternal happiness... All that for just $3.49! No, we didn't spike it. We just had it straight. It's sweet enough for me, but not too sweet for Sonia. It tastes like real fruit. This might be the first beverage I've had where you can actually taste strawberry and kiwi. And not like fakey type strawberry 'n kiwi, either. Despite its definite sweetness, it has a complex flavor. An official taster might describe it like so: (Think of this being said by an aristocratic wine-critic with a fake English accent) "The attack of this beverage is delightfully fruity, yet suitable for sophisticated palates. From there, a bouquet of fine fresh strawberries delights the senses, with just a suggestion of flinty undertones. The exquisite juice finishes with a faintly acidic wash across the tongue, inviting the partaker back for another indulgent taste." Yeah. We give this one a perfect 10.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Trader Ming's Chicken Shu Mai

My Asian friend, Trader Ming, has brought us yet another jewel from the Orient. These aren't terribly dissimilar from the Chicken Cilantro Mini Wontons. However, here are a few ways they do differ: Trader Joe brought us the Wontons...Trader Ming brought us the Shu Mai, The Wontons have more cilantro than the Shu Mai, and the Wontons are sort of dumpling-shaped little thingies...and the Shu Mai is round-ish. Sonia says these are way better pan-fried than steamed in the microwave. Makes sense. We both liked them. Sonia gives them a 4 and I give them 4 and a half. Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Trader Joe's Chicken Chow Mein

So here again we have the name "Trader Joe" on a Chinese food product instead of "Trader Ming" or whoever...makes you wonder about the inconsistency...

At any rate, this was pretty good. The noodles were thick and there were plenty of veggies. I kinda remember wishing there were just a few more pieces of chicken in the mix, but overall, I was satisfied. The sauce was decent. Sonia thought it was too salty. Is there such a thing as "too salty"? If God wanted us to be wary of salt, He wouldn't have spoken of it so highly in the Bible, what with all that talk about "the salt of the earth" and everything.

Anyway, Trader Joe's Chicken Chow Mein is nothing to write home about, but worthy of the moderate amount of time, effort, and money it takes to buy and cook it, as opposed to getting the same thing for take-out at a Chinese restaurant or buying a comparable product from another grocery store.

Sonia gives it a 4. Same here. Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Trader Joe's Crispy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

These happy little cookie bites are sure to produce post-dinner smiles. Good texture. They are crispy, as the label indicates. They are slightly crunchy as well, but "crispy" is indeed the proper adjective to describe the level of tooth/cookie resistance present in these snackable treats.

They're made with oatmeal, which is better for you than bleached wheat flour, and they have a moderate amount of chocolate. Just enough to make them dessert-like and fun.

I'd say they're better than Famous Amos or any other big name vending machine type cookie, and probably better for you. And, if you broke down the price to find out the cost per cookie, I'm willing to bet they're a better value, at $3.99 for one package.

Sonia gives them a 4 out of 5. I do, too. Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Trader Joe's Honey Nut O's

Trader Joe's
Honey Nut O's

That rhymes.

They should have a little bee that raps about this cereal on commercials. "Honey Nut O's, mine not yo's..."

But I guess that would kinda be copying the Cheerios bee. Not that the Cheerios bee raps...only because "Honey Nut" doesn't rhyme with "Cheerios." If it did, I'm sure the Cheerios bee would bust it out like Jay-Z...Hey, they could call him "Jay-Bee." Get it?

Lol. That's terrible, I know...

Since they're made of oats, they could have a rapping horse...since horses like oats I think. And they could name it after some famous horse...Mr. Ed...Secretariat...Seabiscuit...I guess they could call him Honeybiscuit.

Anyway, I like this cereal. It's very close to the Honey Nut Cheerios in terms of flavor and texture, and it's generally cheaper. Good Stuff. Sonia and I give it Four and a half Stars a piece. Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Trader Joe's Organic Mango Nectar

I like the thick, rich texture of this juice. And that's about all I like. The taste leaves a little to be desired. Sonia wasn't a huge fan either.

I like mangos. I guess they just don't translate into nectar the way I was hoping they would. My logic was "I like the way mangos taste, therefore, I will like the taste of this organic beverage made from mangos."

It's as if the good people at TJ's found a way to create a delicious mango flavored beverage, but they couldn't get the texture quite right, so they decided to see if monkey urine would smooth everything out, and even though the flavor was completely ruined, they just left it that way because they ran out of ideas.

Sonia says she thinks it's bland...I disagree...I think it tastes the way a mango tastes, but with something extra...something that just ruins it. Not sure what it is...the package mentions white grape juice and vitamin C, but I've never heard of either of those things ruining the taste of a fruit juice before.

With this Mango Nectar, TJ's has offered us a healthy beverage flaunting near perfect texture and consistency, with a flavor not unlike the fluid waste of a diseased chimpanzee...not that I know what that tastes like...I'm just guessing.

If you're really really crazy about mango, you should try it...I might be wrong. It gets 2 stars out of 5 from this reviewer. Sonia gives it a 2, stating "And that's being generous." Bottom line: 4 out of 10.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Trader Joe's Mini Eclairs

I thought these were really good.

The last time Sonia and I had eclairs, we were in Vegas at one of those all-you-can-eat buffets, and they had eclairs out on their pastry table. And boy, these Vegas eclairs were disgusting! Worst. Eclairs. Ever.

So, after that experience, it didn't take much to impress me. I thought these Trader Joe's Mini Eclairs were tasty. The chocolate and the filling were very good. I must admit, the bread was a tad dry. That's what got Sonia. She is an eclair enthusiast, and she wasn't thrilled with these. She'll admit they were better than the Vegas buffet eclairs, but still not up to par with the fine pastries she is accustomed to.

Once these eclairs sat around a bit longer, they got slightly more moist. They come frozen, and you're supposed to eat them thawed. The only one Sonia had was about an hour or two into the thawing process. I think they need a little longer than that...For pre-packaged, frozen eclairs, I don't think you can expect too much more than what TJ's delivers. I give them Four and a half Stars out of Five. Sonia gives them Three and a half. Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Trader Joe's Organic Strawberry Lemonade

Well...I definitely like this stuff. That may indicate that it would be too sweet for some people. It's actually quite similar to the Pomegranate Limeade...except think of a strawberry instead of a pomegranate...and a lemon instead of a lime...

But really, it does have a similar texture and flavor to the Limeade. The main difference, I would say, is that this beverage is not quite as tart. The sweetness level is about the same, but the strawberry finish generates a milder pucker than that of the Pomegranate Limeade.

Sonia gives it Four Stars, and it would have gotten that fifth one if not for the excessive sweetness. I give it Four and a half. I really like it, and it's a nice break from the Pomegranate Limeade once in a while, but overall the flavor isn't quite as impressive. But it's a very close second in my book...

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Trader José Light Premium Lager

So this is supposed to taste like a Corona or something. It says it's imported from Mexico. Authentic. Trader Jose. Si, Senor. 

 It's not as good as Corona, but it's not bad for an imitation store brand. And, it's cheaper than Corona. Limes always help with Coronas, and I'm sure they would enhance the flavor of this beer, too, although we didn't have any when we tried this. 

Also, it is a light beer. There was no non-light version at the store when we picked this up. Light beers can't really compete with the real thing. I don't think I've ever had a Corona Light. It's probably on par with the Trader Jose. 

All in all, it's pretty good. I give it a Four. Sonia gives it a Four. 

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Trader José's Chunky Salsa

<gasp> This stuff's made in Needham, Mass? Well, this stuff ain't made in San Antonio, but I still think it's a good salsa. Actually it's only sold and distributed from Needham, Mass., and I'm not sure where it's made. Could be New York City for all I know. In this case, it looks like our good friend Trader Jose hopped the border and made straight for the northeast.

I'm happy with it, but I am a yankee, and I apparently cannot be considered a connoisseur of fine salsas. To me, it seems chunky, just like the label says, and it has plenty of flavor. It's got just a little kick, but it won't burn your mouth.

It's OK if a salsa burns your mouth some, as long as it's got the sabor to back it up. ('Sabor' is Spanish for 'flavor.' Have you seen those billboards where it says something like "Experience true sabor." I guess 'sabor' is a real Spanglish word now. We'll go ahead and define the Spanglish term 'sabor' as "flavor, as it pertains to any food or beverage imported from a Latin country, or a Tex-Mex inspired food, such as this salsa.")

Now my wife, who is 1st generation Mexican-American, has the authority to declare this a good salsa, despite the fact it's made in (or at least distributed from) New England. And she actually likes it more than I do. So that says something.

I think they have hotter versions of the same salsa. I guess this is the mild variety. There's a little graph in the shape of a chili on the side of the jar that shows you how hot it is, and the chili is 1/3 red. I'm guessing medium is 2/3 red, and so on. I'll have to try the hotter ones too at some point. For this kind, I give Four and a half Stars. Sonia gives Five Stars. Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Joe-Joe's 'n Cream Flavored Ice Cream

Joe-Joe is apparently a toucan or some other kind of tropical bird, and he apparently has his own line of oreo-style cookies at Trader Joe's. What toucans have to do with chocolate and vanilla creme sandwich cookies, I don't know. (I'm not sure what they ever had to do with fruit loops, either, but at least the colors on the toucan's beak were similar to the color scheme of the cereal). By that logic, perhaps a zebra might have made a better cookies n' creme mascot. Anyway...this ice cream is "cookies 'n cream" flavor, and it's very good, in my opinion.

Sonia and I are both lovers of cookies 'n cream ice cream. It's the perfect balance of classic ice cream flavors with exciting cookie surprises. It's safer than something like "apple pie" ice cream or "strawberry cheesecake" ice cream, which, although tempting and emanating with potential, can be easily botched by an imbalance of ingredients or an improper pastry to ice cream ratio. Conversely, cookies 'n cream, though somewhat traditional, is not nearly as boring as plain chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla. It is the bar by which ice cream standards are set. Dairy science wizards and ice cream auteurs that can master the fine art of cookies 'n cream may then get set to tackle more advanced flavors, a la Ben and Jerry's, the world's leading minds in the world of dairy deliciousness.

Like Ben and Jerry's, Joe-Joe's opposes the recombinant bovine growth hormone and will not use milk from cows treated with it. I don't know what it is exactly, but it is evidently quite sinister, and cows treated with it are downright unhappy.

Sonia thinks the ice cream was a little bland. I disagree. I could taste chocolatey cookies and vanilla ice cream, and it was creamy and sweet...our other guests didn't make a big fuss about it either way, which would tend to suggest they kind of agree with Sonia. Hmmm...

Anyway, the cookies 'n cream passes, at least in my book. TJ's, you may now proceed with caution in the development and production of more bizarre flavors.

I give the Joe-Joe's 'n Cream Four and a half Stars. Sonia gives only Three and a half. Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Trader Joe's 100% Pure Maple Syrup

I was trying to think what Canadian name they could give to maple syrup...but I guess there are plenty of guys named Joe in Canada. Maybe "Trader Joe's, Eh? Pure Maple Syrup"?

Or how about "Trader Joe the Mountie Pure Maple Syrup"? But then, if this Mountie's profession is Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman, then he can't also be a trader, can he? I mean I guess he could, but he should probably focus on catching the moose poachers instead of trading maple syrup and the like.

Well, I guess we'll just think of it as "(Canuck) Trader Joe's 100% Pure Maple Syrup." It is good, by the way. It goes well with the aforementioned Gluten-free, Dairy-free Pancakes (or any other pancakes, for that matter.) I give it Four and a half out of Five Stars. Sonia gives it Four and a half out of Five Stars, too. Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Trader Joe's Gluten & Dairy Free Homestyle Pancakes

Mmmm...just like mom used to make at home...wait, no, I'm pretty sure the ones mom made when I was a kid had dairy, and you can bet they were chock full o' gluten, too.

Actually, my mom never made pancakes for me as a kid. My dad did sometimes, and I distinctly remember almost choking to death on one of his famous rubber pancakes. Yummy.

At any rate, these pancakes are a marked improvement over anything I ever had in my home. Makes you wonder whose home these pancakes were styled after? Well, apparently this particular home had some issues with milk...and gluten, as well.

What is gluten, anyway? We know it has something to do with wheat, but we're not quite sure what it has to do with wheat. We know many people have some sort of "issues" with it. Are people allergic to it? Does it cause indigestion? Is it just not good for us?...Does it taste bad?

Well, I certainly don't miss it in these Trader Joe's brand "Homestyle" Pancakes. Come to think of it, the pancakes in most people's homes probably don't come in little plastic wrappers, either. And they're probably cooked on the stovetop, not in the microwave.

Oh well, homestyle or not, I'll keep eating them. Four out of Five Stars. Sonia gives Four out of Five. Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Fettuccini and Organic Marinara Sauce

This pasta combination is very good. It's extremely filling. The whole wheat fettuccini is thick and hearty. I didn't read the label before Sonia cooked the pasta, but I'll bet there's like a day's worth of fiber in one serving of those noodles...which is good if you...ya'know, need more fiber. There's at least enough pasta in the $1.29 package to make two large servings, and probably more like three or four. The marinara sauce costs $2.29 a bottle.

The sauce has a medium consistency. It's not super-thick, but it's not too thin, either. It's not really chunky, but the pasta itself feels chunky somehow—in a good way. There's a nice tomato-ey flavor to the sauce that works well with the wheaty flavor of the fettuccini. You feel like you're eating a dish that came right out of the good green earth and into your tummy. Right on, TJ's.

I give the pasta Four and a half Stars, the sauce Four Stars. Sonia gives the pasta Four Stars and the sauce Four Stars.

Bottom line:
Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Fettuccini: 8.5 out of 10.
Trader Joe's Organic Marinara Sauce: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Trader Ming's BBQ Chicken Teriyaki

Again, we have the "Trader Ming's" brand signifying that this is authentic Chinese food. Er, wait...isn't teriyaki Japanese?

First we had Trader Ming's Mandarin Orange Chicken...definitely Chinese...what with "Mandarin" and all. Orange Chicken = Panda Express = Chinese.

And Teriyaki = Kabuki restaurant = Japanese. Hmm...I don't know, I'm thinking maybe this should have been Trader Yoshi's or something.

Whether Trader Joe's got its nation of origin correct or not, this chicken teriyaki is pretty tasty. Sonia cooked it up like a pro. Well, I guess it's already cooked; you just put it on the stove for a while to heat it up and add some sauce. But she totally nailed the heating up and adding sauce process.

Yet again, Trader Joe's...<a'hem> Trader Ming's, rather...whoops, excuse me...Trader Yoshi's BBQ Chicken Teriyaki is a victory for TJ's Asian food efforts. I liked it quite a bit. Almost as good as the teriyaki chicken I've had at classy Japanese restaurants. Sonia claims hers was a little too chewy. I guess I can see where she's coming from. The texture may have been slightly off. But I definitely liked the flavor.

I give it Four out of Five Stars. Sonia gives it Three and a half Stars. Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Trader Joe's Roasted Seaweed Snack

Yes, I enjoy seaweed. It's like salty paper that melts in your mouth. I'm pretty sure it's an Asian thing. I know they usually use seaweed in cut sushi rolls.

I love eating this seaweed snack with rice. The seaweed comes in little square sheets. You just pick up the sheet, put it on the tips of your fingers, and scoop up a little rice with it.

It tastes great by itself if you're just in the mood for a salty snack. Eat it right out of the package. Or if you're like the weirdos that took the photo on the wrapper, you can crumple up each piece and serve it in some gourmet crystal serving dish thing, when you're, like, entertaining snooty guests or royalty or something.

It's cheap, it's good for you, and it's pretty tasty.

I give it Four out of Five Stars. Sonia gives it Four out of Five, too. Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Trader Joe's Meatless Corn Dogs

One day, I was particularly in the mood for corn dogs as I roamed the crowded aisles of my local Trader Joe's, when I spotted these frozen puppies. I didn't see any other varieties nearby, and I was crestfallen upon noticing the "meatless" seal on the cover of this box. I wanted meatful corn dogs. Who ever heard of a vegetarian corn dog?

Well, my friends, I was brave that fateful day (not to mention really desperate for a corn dog) and I went ahead and bought these corn dogs, devoid of life-sustaining meat. And wouldn't you know it, but the evil genius that decided it was a good idea to make vegetarian corn dogs also decided it would be a good idea to make them taste good. Now, I'm not going to lie to you -- if I had a meaty corn dog in one hand and these Trader Joe's Meatless Corn Dogs in the other, I could probably tell which was which. But, without having the meatful corn dog for reference, the average consumer probably wouldn't detect the absence of meat in these amazing TJ's Corn Dogs. I really like them. Easy to microwave, relatively healthy; look there, "4g of Soy Protein."

I've got to hand it to these vegetarians; not liking the taste of veggie foods is an increasingly invalid excuse for eating meat with every meal. Trader Joe's Meatless Corn Dogs are healthy and tasty, and you can enjoy them without wondering if there are pig snouts or hooves in the food. Always a plus.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mikawaya Mochi Ice Cream

So...I know this is cheating because technically this mochi isn't Trader Joe's brand, but if you're shopping at TJ's a lot, you need to try these, and I've never seen them anywhere other than Trader Joe's.

For those of you unfamiliar with mochi ice cream, it's a sort of soft, dessert-ish, rice-based shell filled with ice cream, and, ohmyfreakinggosh, it's good.

I guess Mikawaya is a Japanese company. It wouldn't surprise me if these puppies are imported from the Orient. They're a little pricey: in the ballpark of $3 for six little ice cream ball things...but trust me, it's worth it. If you buy them individually at a mochi ice cream restaurant in Little Tokyo, for example, you might pay $1 for each one. So six for $3 is a bargain. Plus, the quality is on par with ones I've had from an actual mochi parlor. They're amazing.

My favorite flavors are strawberry and vanilla. Chocolate is OK...only get the green tea flavor if you LOVE green tea. I've never had mango, but I hear it's not bad.

Next time you're in the frozen section of TJ's, pick up a box. They're scrump-dilly-icious. Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Trader Joe's Sparkling Mineral Water

Since it's still summer, and it has been pretty hot lately, we'll go ahead and review TJ's water, since everyone should be thinking about their proper hydration. I mean, it is just water

However, I can totally tell the difference between name brands such as Perrier or San Pellegrino and a store brand. TJ's ranks very high among store brands, but doesn't quite hold up to the likes of Perrier. Similar to other popular lines of sparkling water, TJ's mineral waters come in different flavors: plain, lemon, lime, berry, and orange. I think my favorites are berry and lime. Sonia likes lemon the best. Orange is our least favorite. 

But they're all decent, and all worth a try. At $ .89 a bottle, it's not a very big investment. It's hot out there. You'll surely be sweating a lot. Drink plenty of fluids. 

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Trader Joe's Peanut Butter

So here we have Trader Joe's Crunchy Salted Peanut Butter and Trader Joe's Organic Crunchy Peanut Butter. They're both good. They also come in unsalted varieties.

I can't really tell a difference in the taste between the organic and regular. They both taste pretty fresh. I remember a farmer's market run by Mennonites in my hometown in central Pennsylvania that would pulverize peanuts (or any nuts you wanted) right before your eyes in a hand-cranked grinder to make a butter out of them. It was as fresh as could be. The taste of the Trader Joe's brand is exactly half-way between that ground-right-in-front-of-you-by-Amish-types flavor and that of any traditional grocery store brand. Considering that the price is in the same ballpark as Jif or Peter Pan, it's a pretty good value.

I give them Four and a half Stars. Sonia gives them Four. 

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Trader Joe's Omega Trek Mix

When I read lables that boast "500mg of Omega 3 Fatty Acids Per Serving," I expect the product to taste like some nasty oily medicine. So my expectations are already low...but that's just me. I'm weird. It's probably some psychological issue I have. Also, I'm seeing tons of walnuts in this bag, and I'm not the biggest fan of walnuts. Sonia loves walnuts. I'm more of a peanut, pecan, and almond kind of guy.

So, as I'm writing this, I'm trying this trail mix for the first time. Appropriately, I have just come in from a long walk outside on the urban trails of Hollywood. (No, I'm not talking about Runyon Canyon - just the sidewalks...but I walked at least two miles by my calculations).

So let's see how this trail mix holds up to its competition...

OK, well the first thing I notice is that the packaging is poorly designed. The bag is not resealable. I will have to put the remainder of the mix in a tupperware container after I try a few handfuls. And, the package just exploded as I opened it. It's one of those bags where as soon as you've applied enough force to get the package open, you've already applied too much force. I just spent five minutes picking up nuts and berries off the floor. I'm docking at least a half a point for that. How frustrating!

So, there aren't as many walnuts as I first expected. It's not bad. Every third bite or so, I get kind of a medicinal flavor on my tongue...just slightly. The berries are very oily, and now my hands are quite sticky. If you're really hiking with this trek mix, be sure to bring some moist towelettes - or dip your hands in a stream nearby.

There are way too many pepitas. (That's what Latinos call pumpkin seeds). Now, I don't have a problem with pepitas by themselves, but I'm not a big fan of them in trail mixes. I like trail mixes to be a little sweet, and pepitas are decidedly salty.

The bag sells for $4.48.

Other than that, this trail mix passes. I give it Three out of Five Stars. Sonia gives it Four out of Five Stars. Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Trader Joe's Chicken Cilantro Mini Wontons

Yummers. I'm not sure why these are Trader Joe's and not "Trader Ming's" like the orange chicken and some of their other Asian foods. I guess this is Americanized Chinese food. It tastes authentic enough to me...(as if I'd know the difference).

Easy to prepare, good texture, not too expensive. I think they're $3. I'd say these are a good buy. Add a little soy sauce -or- TJ's has a really delicious gyoza sauce that works well with these little guys.

I give them Four and a half out of Five Stars. Sonia gives Four and a half Stars. Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Trader Joe's Organic Tomato Bisque

Of all the things I would have guessed to be absolutely bursting with flavor, it wouldn't have been tomato soup. But this tomato bisque is quite possibly the best tomato-based soup I've ever had of any brand, anywhere.

Sonia and I like to grill up cheese sandwiches on the George Foreman and dip them in this soup. Simply amazing. We use whole wheat bread or multi-grain bread with Havarti cheese. That seems to go pretty well with this bisque. But just by itself or with saltine crackers is good, too. We haven't tried it yet, but I bet you could use this as a sauce for pasta.

Pick it up for $1.99 a can.

I give it Five out of Five Stars. Sonia does, too. Bottom line: 10 out of 10.

Joe's Diner Mac n' Cheese

Trader Joe's Macaroni and Cheese is part of a line of diner-style dishes called "Joe's Diner." The way it's packaged, it works best as a side dish for two or more, rather than an entree for one person. It's not bad, but it's not stellar. Sonia seems to be a bigger fan of it than I am.

In general, the most common issue I have with TJ's brand foods is that they can be bland. Very few foods have nasty textures or bad tastes, but a minority of their products simply lack flavor. This mac n' cheese is not the worst offender, but I would place it in that camp of slightly bland foods. However, salt, pepper, and/or hot sauce can make this dish quite yummy.

I would say taste-wise, this mac n' cheese ranks just below Kraft Easy Mac. At $2.99 per package, it's probably a little more expensive than Easy Mac. But of course, the TJ's brand is much better for you. I've tried some experiments mixing the Joe's Diner Mac n' Cheese with the TJ's chili. It's a great combo. All in all, I give it Three out of Five Stars...Sonia gives it Five out of Five Stars.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10

Monday, August 16, 2010

Trader Joe's Chili

Trader Joe's Turkey Chili is pretty tasty. All of their chilis are good. They also have beef and veggie varieties. Turkey is probably my favorite, though. Sonia likes Vegetarian the best.

The chili is a great value at $1.99, since it's enough for two servings and it's very filling. Turkey and beef have a decent amount of meat in them, and all three have a bunch of kidney beans.

I could stand the sauce being a little spicier, but nonetheless, it has a good flavor. Just add some hot sauce or peppers to remedy its lack of kick. I give turkey and beef Four out of Five Stars, Veggie gets Three and a half from me...Sonia gives Four to both of the meat kinds and Five to Vegetarian.

Oh, and the Vegetarian kind is organic.

Bottom line:
Turkey Chili = 8 out of 10
Beef Chili = 8 out of 10
Vegetarian Chili = 8.5 out of 10

Trader Joe's Pomegranate Green Tea

This stuff is really good, too. Sonia is a huge fan of it. I'm only in the mood for it once in a while. Don't let that dark red color fool you; the taste of this beverage is very subtle. It's not quite as sweet as I would like it to be. Sonia's palate is a bit more refined than mine, and she is a big fan of green tea, so she absolutely loves it. This is another staple beverage at our house, but Sonia drinks it far more often than I do. If you like the taste of iced green tea, with just a hint of pomegranate tang, then this will be perfect for you. If you're like me, and you like your sodas and juices kind of syrupy and sweet, then stick to the pomegranate limeade. Trader Joe's Pomegranate Green Tea is an "adult" beverage.

A bottle will run you $2.99.

Three and a half Stars out of Five from Nathan...Five out of Five Stars from Sonia. Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Trader Joe's Pomegranate Limeade

Sweet & Tart indeed! This beverage has become a staple around our house. We love it. At $2.69 a bottle, it's one of the more inexpensive juices to be found at Trader Joe's. Another plus: this beverage is sweetened with real cane sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. We highly recommend this product. Five out of Five Stars from Nathan...Five out of Five Stars from Sonia. Bottom line: 10 out of 10.

Trader Ming's Mandarin Orange Chicken

Sonia and I loved this stuff! Delicious. Restaurant-quality. Sonia cooked these on our stove and served them with TJ's instant brown rice. It was great. The chicken was crispy, tender, and flavorful. The sauce was perfect. Sonia isn't a fan of things that are super-sweet, but even she really liked it. There's just the right balance of orangey sweetness and exotic tanginess. 

I'm a big fan of pretty much any orange chicken. But Trader Joe's really nailed this one, and I would say this is on par with $10-a-plate Chinese restaurant orange chicken. Sonia bought some P.F. Chang's frozen orange chicken the week before we had this one. It was good, but we both agreed the TJ's brand was significantly better. And, Trader Ming's Mandarin Orange Chicken was cheaper, just $4.99! 

We both highly recommend this product. Four and a half Stars out of Five from Nathan...Five out of Five from Sonia. 

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Trader Joe's No-Tomato Chicken Lasagna with Spinach & Roasted Garlic Bechamel Sauce

I hate to start this blog off with a negative review, but as fate should have it, I ate this Trader Joe's Chicken Lasagna today for lunch and was not impressed. Sonia tried the same lasagna last week and warned me that it was quite bland. She didn't even finish hers, which is not like her at all. She's not one to waste food, simply on principle. There are starving children in Africa.

Anyway, this lasagna is virtually devoid of flavor. It boasts "No-Tomato" on the label. Well, friends, if God didn't want lasagna to have tomato, he would have banished the enigmatic fruit/vegetable from the nation of Italy back when the usually-delicious pasta dish was being developed some centuries ago. But of course vine-ripened tomatoes thrive in the lush gardens of Mediterranean countries, and are, therefore, an essential ingredient in many Italian dishes.

I found myself pining for the taste of tangy tomato sauce so greatly, that I raided our miscellaneous drawer for some leftover hot sauce and salsa packets from various fast food restaurants. After adding them, I found the flavor much improved, and was able to finish the dish. Now, in the lasagna's defense, I did prepare mine in the microwave, not in the oven. The label does say microwaving is a viable option, however we all know things generally come out better when cooked in the oven.

I'll be honest...I don't know what Bechamel sauce is. It is apparently green, mushy, and flavorless, save for a hint of garlic. Furthermore, I could detect neither the taste nor the texture of chicken in this so called "Chicken Lasagna." If there was chicken in the food, it was evidently pureed beyond recognition, and somehow sapped of all indigenous flavor.

I will say the lasagna feels pretty stomach is not in agony, nor do I have any weird aftertaste haunting me, reminding me of the experience...I do not remember the price of the item. Somewhere in the ballpark of $3, I believe. With all of the delicious items TJ's has to offer, I do not recommend trying this one unless you're really desperate for something new. Two out of Five Stars from Nathan...One out of Five Stars from Sonia. Bottom line: 3 out of 10.

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