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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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