Friday, November 24, 2017

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Egg Fettuccine Pasta

Nina took one look at this package and said, "Oh dear." She thought it had no chance of being successful. Was she right?

Well, yes and no. It's not great--but it's OK. And being just acceptable is a significant win for a gluten-free pasta. (Rice flour is its primary ingredient.)

With a bold, spicy sauce (Mario Batali's Arrabbiata) and some fake ground beef sprinkled on top for protein, I really didn't notice anything out of the ordinary about it. I don't think I would have noticed that it was a gluten-free product in this configuration, though perhaps I would have if it were served in a way that required the pasta to stand up for itself more. Nina, though, insisted that she still noticed that it was a little off, even as well-disguised as it was. But she conceded that just being mediocre among the ranks of all pastas, instead of really awful, makes it among the best of the gluten-free pastas we've tried.

Will I buy it again? 

Not for myself. But I'd eagerly recommend it to those who need gluten-free products, and I'd buy it if I were going to have dinner guests who needed gluten-free alternatives.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Trader Joe's Veggies & Greens Salad Kit

I was about to describe this, but you can just read on the front of the package what's in it. It's all chopped, mostly quite finely, so if you like big leaves and hunks of veggies in your salad, you're out of luck. (The leaves pictured on the package are a lie.)

The bag contains three small bags, in addition to the main contents. These contain the dressing, the pistachios, and the "dried pear crumbles."

Put together, it makes for a rather interesting salad. I've never had either dried pears or pistachios on a salad, let alone both at once. But it was too heavy in kale and Brussels sprouts for my taste. Nina, however, liked it a lot--except for the honey-ginger dressing, which, predictably, she found too sweet. I, predictably, thought that was the best part.

Will I buy it again? 

No, but I'm not sorry I tried it. I started this as a side salad for a dinner with Nina, and finished the bag on my own over the next few days. Which means that I didn't dislike it so much that I threw it out, or returned it to the store, or gave it to Nina to finish (all of which are things I routinely do when I hate a TJ's product).

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Trader Joe's Pineapple Rings

I've looked for a product like this several times before and never found it until last week, so I believe that it's new.

It is absolutely not worth buying. This small container cost $3.49. It had only seven thin pineapple rings in it. And they weren't especially good--just mediocre. Ingles, the locally dominant grocery chain, sells a whole pineapple, with the outer hull and core sliced out, for about the same price, but there's at least twice as much in the container. True, you still have to slice it, but that's not much trouble. And they're always excellent--sweet and fresh-tasting.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I have long wanted TJ's to carry a product like this, but now that they do, I'm bitterly disappointed in it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Trader Joe's Hi-Protein Veggie Burger

Trader Joe's has carried some of the Dr. Praeger's line of veggie burgers for a long time. I've never tried them, but I've noticed their packaging, and when I first saw this new TJ's product, I thought that they were not-so-subtly trying to suggest a connection. Compare the photo above to Dr. Praeger's box:

I thought it likely that this new TJ's burger was just a Dr. Praeger's rebranded. But I've looked over the various offerings of the latter company on their web site, and I can't find any that seems even remotely like the ingredients of TJ's. Dr. P's burgers all contain chunks of vegetables, while TJ's are blended smoothly, and none of Dr. P's seems to have pea protein as its first ingredient.

Regardless of the origin, the TJ's product is not a great success. The breaded coating is nice, and they physically hold together well, which isn't always so for veggie burgers. But that's about the best thing I can say in their defense. They're expensive--$3.49 for just two patties. The texture is kind of unpleasantly gritty. And the taste is, well, just kind of nothingness. (Nina said "sawdust," but I think that's being unfairly harsh.)

On a bun with cheese, pickles, and ketchup, they'll do, but more in the sense of "edible," not in the sense of "enjoyable." You're much better off with any of several other choices, including those from MorningStar, Boca, and Gardein.

Will I buy it again? 


Monday, November 20, 2017

Trader Joe's Turkey & Giblets Dinner Premium Cat Food--reconsidered

I discussed all three varieties of TJ's canned cat food two years ago, here.

Back then, I settled on Newman's Own brand for my Lucy. I stuck with that for quite a while, but then started doing a lot of experimenting with different brands, trying to find one that was higher in protein and lower in fat. Lucy tended to be OK with some of the products for a while, then sour on them. For about a year now, though, we've both been happy with giving her this stuff from Nutro/Max Cat.

But recently there has been a huge change in the cat scene around here. I got a second cat, Oliver:

Oliver's tastes are quite different from Lucy's. At first he seemed to be an omnivore, willing to gobble down anything I put in front of him. The cat-food field was wide open.

You might think the obvious choice is to give him the same thing I give Lucy. But there are reasons not to. First, it's expensive--especially because I've learned, with weight monitoring, that Oliver's caloric needs are a lot higher than Lucy's. Second, he has no teeth (long story), and Lucy's food comes in big chunks. He really needs a pate style. Third, ideally I'd prefer them each to get a food that the other won't eat, so that I don't have to worry about whether one is stealing the other's food without my knowing about it.

Lisa Pierson is a veterinarian who is passionate about good nutrition for cats. She compiled the 2012 table of commercial cat foods that I relied on previously. Earlier this year she updated it for 2017, here.

I culled that list of hundreds of wet foods down to 40 that met all the parameters most important to me, then narrowed it down to two that I thought best. I bought six cans of each for Oliver, the previous omnivore--and he turned up his nose at both of them! These were genuinely premium products, some of the most expensive available. (We're talking more than $2/can.) But you know what he loves? Trader Joe's Turkey & Giblets--a real steal at just $0.79/can.

Its nutritional parameters haven't changed between Dr. Pierson's 2012 chart and the 2017 chart.

First, you want less than 10% of calories to be from carbohydrates. This has 9%--not quite as low as I'd prefer, but acceptable.

After that, you want the highest possible percentage of calories to be from protein. There are a couple of brands that have real standouts in this category (Tiki Cat and Weruva), but those are all shredded, not pate. I tried a can on Oliver, and he seemed to have difficulty eating it, what with the toothlessness. The best pates go over 35% of calories from protein; the worst are down around 25%. Lucy's food is an outstanding 40%. TJ's is 32%. Not quite as good, but not bad.

Then you want a low phosphorus level, because excessive phosphorus is hard on the kidneys. I'd like under 300; TJ's Turkey & Giblets is better than average, at just 235.

So it's nutritionally acceptable, cheap, and Oliver loves it. I'll keep Lucy on the Nutro (unless she starts rejecting it, as she has other previous favorites before), but it looks like Oliver is going to be a Trader Joe's cat. (I already bought him his own Double Wide Scratcher, and he loves it.) I expect to save over $600/year getting him this instead of either of the two that I had originally planned to feed him.

I concluded two years ago, "among the wet cat foods that are in that price range, you'd have a hard time finding anything of better nutritional quality, and among those in the same general range of quality of ingredients, you'd have a hard time finding anything cheaper."

I stand by that as an accurate assessment--but I think I should have worded it even more strongly: At this price point, I know of no other food that you should be willing to feed your cat, because all the others are crap. And if you look at all the ones that are comparable in nutritional quality, this Trader Joe's product costs in the range of one-half to one-third as much as most of them. It's not the absolute best in quality, and it's not the absolute cheapest in price, but nothing else on the market can touch it in terms of nutritional bang for the buck.

Will I buy it again? 

It looks like I'll be buying a lot of it. It has my recommendation--and Oliver's.

(Note: The above is not true of the other TJ's varieties. They are not as good in their nutrient profile, primarily because of higher carbohydrate content.)

Bonus Lucy picture just because she's so adorable and nobody could possibly ever have seen enough of her: 

ADDENDUM, November 20, 2017

Life comes at you fast.

I wrote the above last week. Since then, Oliver has started to show less enthusiasm for the Trader Joe's Turkey & Giblets than he had originally. He still eats it, but instead of snarfing it all down as fast as he can, he eats a little at first, then returns to graze on it periodically.

So I began looking at specific online prices for some of the others to experiment with. Contrary to my assertion above about Trader Joe's being uniquely cheap, I was surprised to find two others that were much cheaper than the $1.50-$2.00 that is typical for 5.5-ounce cans of cat food of what I consider acceptable nutritional quality. Both come in larger cans, which undoubtedly contributes to keeping the price down:

1. Dave's Naturally Healthy Grain Free, in either chicken or turkey varieties, comes in a case of 12 12.5-ounce cans for $23.88 from (and even less if you subscribe to a regularly scheduled purchase). That's 16 cents/oz, pretty close to the 14 cents/oz for Trader Joe's. At a pet store near my house, it costs $1.99 per 12.5-ounce can, which is identical to the online price.

2. Triumph brand chicken & liver comes in a case of 12 13.2-ounce cans for an astonishing low price of just $15.99, also from Chewy. That works out to just 10 cents/ounce, about 40% less than Trader Joe's, while still meeting all my nutritional parameters. I'm floored by this. The Triumph brand isn't carried by any stores in the Asheville area, so I ordered a case from Chewy. It hasn't arrived yet, so I don't know if Oliver will eat it, but I thought it was such a good potential value that it was worth ordering one case to find out.

Saturday, November 18, 2017


This is my weekly compilation of news and other links about Trader Joe's.

Trader Joe's announces recall of yogurt dip and tahini sauce due to Listeria

Favorite Trader Joe's pumpkin-spice products

Suburban New Jersey's obsession with Trader Joe's

How to make a killer Trader Joe's appetizer spread

Comparison test of grocery store cranberry sauce

What to buy--and skip--at Trader Joe's this Thanksgiving

Comparison test of grocery store stuffing mixes

Trader Joe's is selling Thanksgiving in a box

Trader Joe's Thanksgiving for less than $25

6 Trader Joe's products to shortcut Thanksgiving

Comparison test of canned pumpkin for pies

17 easy Thanksgiving recipes with stuff you can get from Trader Joe's

Affordable Thanksgiving menu from Trader Joe's

Comparison test of four brands of turkey gravy

Vegan whipped creams

Best tweets of the week:

And finally, here's this week's cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag:

Friday, November 17, 2017

Trader Joe's Fire Roasted Tomato Cranberry Salsa

Trader Joe's Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa remains my favorite--the one I would pick if I could eat only one commercial salsa for the rest of my life. So when I saw on TJ's web site the announcement of a product that sounds like that with added cranberry, I really wanted to try it. It sounds like it should be, at least, interesting, and possibly great.

It is not.

I scooped some up on a TJ's Organic Corn Chip Dipper and popped it in my mouth. "That's weird," I said to Nina. She tried the same thing, and said, "That's weird."

The terrible mistake they made was overly sweetening it. This results in a completely absence of cranberry tartness--which is what should make this interesting. Worse, it ruins the salsa base. Sweetness should not be the first taste sensation you get from a salsa, but here it's so heavy that that's the result.

TJ's says that this is "like cranberry relish." I suppose that's true, but then why sell it as salsa instead of as cranberry relish?

Will I buy it again? 

Not a chance. I ate five or six chips dipped in it, then couldn't stand the thought of even one more. Nina gave up even faster than that. This is going back to the store for an extremely disappointed refund.