Sunday, August 31, 2014

Changed publication schedule

I started with posts twice a week, but I was writing them much faster than that, so I was building up a ridiculously large reserve of pre-written posts. That prompted me to bump up the publication schedule to three per week.

Well, that didn't cure the problem. In fact, I think it pushed me to write even more often, because I was perversely worried about my reserve of posts running dry. So now, even with the increased publication, I now have posts done and scheduled to run almost to the end of December.

It's just silly to have them on ice for that long, so I'm going to increase the posting rate yet again. I'm going to put up a new post every even-numbered day--15 per month--starting this week. Let's see what that does to balance the rate of writing and posting.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Trader Joe's Multigrain & Flaxseed Water Crackers

In my very first post, I mentioned my unhealthy love for crackers topped with Trader Joe's Cheddar & Gruyere Melange Cheese. My preferred crackers for this snack of the gods are Triscuits. But I can be flexible on that point. When I was at TJ's getting some other things for this dinner, I knew I was just about out of Triscuits, so I decided to pick up some variety of TJ's crackers. I chose the above-pictured item arbitrarily, out of the many types on display. I didn't even know what the term "water cracker" meant.

Fortunately, we have Wikipedia to solve that little problem:
A water biscuit is a type of biscuit or cracker. Water biscuits are baked using only flour and water, without shortening or other fats usually used in biscuit production. They are thin, hard and brittle, and usually served with cheese or wine. Originally produced in the 19th century as a version of the ship's biscuit, water biscuits continue to be popular in the United Kingdom, with the leading brands (Carr's and Jacob's) selling over seventy million packets a year. 
If you want a cracker with its own taste and personality, TJ's Multigrain & Flaxseed Water Crackers are not what you're looking for. They are exceptionally bland. Eaten by themselves, they are like very thin saltine crackers with no salt. Not exactly something your taste buds can fall in love with. 

If all you want is a vehicle to carry a wedge of cheese to your mouth, one with a bland, neutral flavor that won't interfere with tasting the cheese, these will certainty do. Unlike many crackers, they don't shatter into a bunch of little pieces when you try to bite off half of it, which is nice. But other than that, it's hard for me to find anything particularly praiseworthy about them. 

Will I buy it again? 

Try as I might, I can't think of a single reason that I would. 

Nina's View

I have never been a fan of anybody's water crackers, and the trend continues. In a word: snoozerific. MOVING ON.

I recently also tried TJ's version of a perennial favorite of mine: Red Oval Stoned Wheat. (Can't remember what TJ called their version.) I had hoped that TJ's would be more like the long lost Stoned Wheat crackers of yore, which had more seedy bits and texture than the modern version, but they didn't.

But it was even worse than that: the first fail was insufficient salt in a bland cracker, but the coup de grace is a complete inability to get the crackers to split in half along the indicated dotted line, as the originals most excellently do. The TJ's version just shatters into random shards. WTF. Useless. Which is a shame, because I know for a fact they're less expensive.

Next post: Lemon Pepper Pappardelle Pasta 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Trader Joe's Italian Sausage-less Sausage

This is an excellent fake meat. It freezes well. It holds together. It slices cleanly and easily. It fries up beautifully in a little oil. It's versatile. It has a nice, substantial texture. It tastes great--just the right amount of spiciness. Offhand, I can't think of anything I'd want to do to improve it. Nina and I have had this a few times before, and it has been just right every time, in my opinion. It has become one of those items that I always keep on hand.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes, definitely.

Nina's View

I am 90% sure that this is a repackaging of Lightlife's Meatless Italian Sausage, which I have been buying and enjoying for years. It is yummy, and makes for a good breakfast sausage, a good grilling sausage when others are having hot dogs, and a good sausagey additive to things that can benefit from that (like a marinara sauce or a stew). Absolutely needs browning of some sort to be properly enjoyed.

I would be interested in a price comparison. If it's cheaper at TJ's, I'll try to remember to stock up when I make my occasional foray there, instead of at my local Ingles supermarket..

Next post: Multigrain & Flaxseed Water Crackers 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Trader Joe's Cold Pressed Juice--Green

With this post, I'm starting the reviews of the items from the second nearly-all-Trader-Joe's dinner I prepared for Nina after having started this blog.

I nearly always have some sort of juice alongside a tall glass of water with our dinners. I try to find a different one every week, though it's getting harder and harder to find ones we haven't tried after more than a year of this practice. In that time, we've had at least half a dozen different green juices, boasting how healthful they are. And maybe that's true. But for the most part, they taste like lawn clippings that got thrown in a blender.

This was in that same general category, though I'll admit that the apple, lemon, and ginger blunted the impact of the kale and spinach more than has been the case with most of the other green juices, which I have often struggled to finish. (The only thing that kept me going through a couple of the worst offenders was a thought along the lines of, "This stuff had damn well better cure any cancer cells I have growing in me.")

So I'd call it the best--or maybe "least bad"--of a pretty bad bunch. But I don't want to have it again. I especially don't want to pay $4.99 for a little bottle of it.

Will I buy it again? 

Not unless they promise me that it prevents 100% of cancers, and even then they'd have to drop the price.

Nina's View

As you might imagine, what with me being a vegetable-oriented kind of person, I'm more likely to favor this sort of beverage than Bob. But, by and large, the ones we tried previously definitely fell into "lawn clipping" territory (and I honestly don't remember which of us came up with that description first). I own a juicer, and I've made heavily green juice blends myself—every single one of which I've enjoyed more than store-bought varieties.

Even this store-bought variety, although I actually found this one palatable enough to be refreshing. But at five bucks a bottle?

Uh. No.

Next post: Italian Sausage-less Sausage 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Trader Joe's Fat-Free Refried Beans

As I explained in the last post about TJ's Soy Chorizo, one of the most common things I make for myself is refried beans slapped on a tortilla, plus a variety of other things added, depending on what I have on hand. So I always, always, always keep a healthy stock of refried beans in the cupboard.

If we set aside the specially flavored varieties of refried beans, such as those with added peppers or spices, you're left with basically two choices: with or without added lard. I can tell the difference between with and without, if I'm doing a side-by-side comparison. But once I started buying the vegetarian varieties (so that I could use them in meals I was making for Nina), I found that I didn't like them any less than the added-fat ones that I had always used before. So now the veggie versions are all I ever purchase. (The front of the label here doesn't proclaim "vegetarian," but a look at the list of ingredients on the back confirms that it qualifies.)

I, for one, can't tell a lick of difference between any of the several different brands of vegetarian canned refried beans I've tried since cooking for Nina became part of my life. So what I buy just depends on which grocery store I happen to be in when they're on my shopping list. They're all interchangeable, as far as I'm concerned. TJ's are no better and no worse than any other.

Will I buy it again? 

Certainly, anytime I need to replenish the cupboards, and TJ's is the place I'm next shopping. But I'll also use any other brand just as happily. Beans are beans.

Nina's View

I think I CAN tell the difference between varieties of vegetarian (non lard) refried beans. I find these TJ ones to be quite bland. I generally buy the El Paso brand ones in my local supermarket, and am perfectly happy with the no-fat-added version too.

But I suppose I could be proven wrong with a blind taste test.

Next post: Cold Pressed Juice--Green 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo

This is a Very Special Review. Because TJ's soy chorizo is a Very Special Product.

If you Google it, you will find people speaking almost reverentially about it. You will also discover that TJ's seriously ticked off a lot of its loyal customers over the last year or so. First, the product disappeared for several months--something about changing to a new supplier. Then, when they brought it back, it had "dry milk powder (for freshness)" listed as one of its ingredients, rendering it no longer vegan-friendly.

The howls of protest could be heard across the land. When the vegans ain't happy, ain't NOBODY happy!

The soy chorizo quickly disappeared again. But now it's back--with no dairy ingredients. (Notice the vegan "V" prominently displayed on the label.)

I didn't know about this back-and forthing until very recently. When my local TJ's opened in September, I went online to get some suggestions about what items to try first. I was particularly interested in meat substitutes, since I cook weekly for a vegetarian. I rapidly discovered the love for soy chorizo. The most prominent blog about TJ's products is "What's Good at Trader Joe's." When they added a new blogger to the team, his very first product review was of--you guessed it--soy chorizo. (See here.) I'm pretty sure that was one of the things I read last year that got me interested in trying it. So I had it on my first TJ's shopping list, only to learn when I got to the store that it wasn't available.

The "WGATJ" folks in April published a post about the second, non-vegan version of the product, which is where I learned about the recent history above. But, as mentioned, that stuff didn't stay on the shelves for long. Surprisingly, WGATJ has not yet reviewed the newest, re-veganified version--which is the only one I've tried.

I come to TJ's Soy Chorizo as a chorizo virgin. This is both a handicap, as I don't have a mental database of real chorizo against which to compare it, and, arguably, an advantage, as I can evaluate it for what it is, instead of for what it's not.

The bottom line is this: I like it a lot. It's not my absolute favorite fake-meat product. (That honor is reserved for a very recent, very local product called "El Zapatista," from an Asheville company called "No Evil Foods." Fabulous stuff.) But it might be my second-favorite such product.

Because of how it's packaged and presented, it's natural to assume that TJ's soy chorizo is a tubular "meat." But if you look closely at the label, it tells you to remove the casing, which is plastic. When you do, you quickly discover that the chorizo does not hold together:

That turd-looking thing in the upper right is how it looks when you plop it down in the pan. The rest is what it looks like soon after you try manipulating it with a spatula.

There's nothing especially wrong with that--but it's likely not what most people are expecting when they buy and open this product. I was cooking it for Nina, and expected to fry up nice thick slices of it to serve on a bed of rice. But "slicing" immediately and inadvertently became "crumbling." I ended up serving it basically sprinkled on the rice. Not what I had in mind, but it was good anyway.

One of my go-to foods for myself is tostadas--nothing more complicated than refried beans from a can slathered on a tortilla with shredded cheese, and a little hot sauce of some sort, heated in microwave or toaster oven. If I happen to have shredded lettuce on hand, naturally that goes on top. Same with either ground beef or fake ground beef.

Given that, Nina suggested that I try the soy chorizo in the role of the ground beef (real or fake). I thought this was an excellent idea. So the next time she was over for dinner, I fried the chorizo in a little oil, to brown it, then sprinkled it over the beans on tortillas, like so:

Into the oven they went, with cheese added the last few minutes, plus lettuce and some sun-dried tomato shreds after they came out. And voila:

I thought these things were mucho delicioso. I've made them for myself a few more times since this first experiment (which was about two weeks ago as I'm writing this), and they've been marvelous every time. This combination is now one of my very favorite meals to make for myself, and it's incredibly easy.

I'm sure there are a thousand other ways to use TJ's soy chorizo, but it's going to be hard to convince me that I'll ever like any of them better than this.

Will I buy it again? 

Absofreakinlutely. Top Ten item, and one that I plan to keep on hand as a staple all the time--as long as TJ's doesn't make another boneheaded move that renders it unavailable again. (Keep it in the freezer if you're not sure when you'll use it.)

Nina's View

There's little arguing that the Soy Chorizo is tasty, tasty stuff.

Not long after Bob served it up to me, I served it up to him. I made a vegetarian version of dirty rice & beans, using the soy chorizo and some red bell pepper. It was, as he pronounced it, "yummy."

I cooked up the remainder of it for breakfast a couple of days later with sautéed onion and a fried egg, which I promise you was also yummy. So far, browning it in oil seems like a good idea. At some point, I'll see whether it works straight up in a chili sauce.

In any case, on my visits to TJ's henceforth this will always find its way into my shopping cart.

Update, January 1, 2016 

Right now, as I write this, there are at least 3 packs of soy chorizo in my freezer. I'm simply never without it. It's not only one of my favorite foods, but one of my most frequently used ones.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Trader Joe's Raspberry Vinaigrette

Unlike the other items we've been reviewing from our recent nearly-all-Trader-Joe's dinner, this product was not a new one to us. In fact, shortly after the first time I tried it nearly a year ago, it became my favorite salad dressing.

You have to understand what a radical change this was for me. I grew up with Kraft Catalina or French as virtually the only salad dressings I had ever tried, and I saw no reason to buy anything else for years. No--for decades. I don't think I had even heard of such a thing as "raspberry vinaigrette" until TJ's opened its store in Asheville and I was wandering the aisles marveling at all the unusual things for sale.

I have since come to learn what probably everybody else already knew--that raspberry vinaigrette is, in fact, a rather common product, made by a whole bunch of different companies, not something dreamed up just by the crazy people in Monrovia, California. And I have tried several of those other products, after liking the TJ's version so much. They've all been OK, but none as good. I think it comes down to sweetness. This is completely backwards for me, but I think I like the TJ's version because it does not have the strong sweetness that the others tend to share. It adds a pleasant essence of raspberry to a salad without becoming the only thing that I taste. (Do I need to point out that raspberry makes everything better? I hope not.)

So you will now find Trader Joe's Raspberry Vinaigrette salad dressing in my refrigerator at all times. In fact, I keep a back-up bottle so that I'm never caught without it. It's not the only salad dressing I use; I still keep in the rotation some version of a tomato-based dressing (Catalina or French) and usually one other new kind that I'm trying out. But I'm always happiest when the rotation is back to TJ's raspberry vinaigrette. It's hard for me to imagine anything coming along that would displace this as my favorite.

"But," you're wondering, "is it good enough to be a Top Ten item?"

Yessirree Bob. It definitely is.

Will I buy it again? 

As Randy Travis would say, "Forever and ever, amen."

Update, January 1, 2016 

This continues to be my favorite salad dressing of all time. I'm not only never without it in my refrigerator, I'm never without a backup bottle there, too, for whenever the one in use runs out. That's how much I like it.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Trader Joe's Organics Herb Salad Mix

We're coming close to the end of the products that made up our nearly-all-Trader-Joe's dinner recently.

The salad was the stuff pictured above. A couple of months ago, I had noticed in the produce section of another local grocery store something called "Herb Blend" from Earthbound Farm. I decided to try it instead of the more conventional packaged salads I usually get. Nina and I both liked it. The dill and cilantro add some zip and an appealing aromatic quality.

So last week when I spotted in TJ's this "Herb Salad Mix," I thought it would be similar. In fact, if you look at the ingredients list, it so closely matches that of the Earthbound product that it's easy to suspect that Earthbound is TJ's supplier, and it's the same blend in a different package. It consists of a mix of baby lettuces (romaine, oak leaf, red leaf, lollo rosa, tango), baby spinach, red and green chard, mizuna, arugula, frisee, radicchio, parsley, cilantro, and dill.

But it doesn't taste or even smell the same. Now, this could easily be package-to-package variance. Obviously this isn't an industrial assembly-line product that can be made identically day after day. But at least this one package of salad was a disappointment. It lacked the qualities that made the Earthbound interesting. Overall it had an unfortunate resemblance to lawn clippings.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. I'll try it again because it ought to be good, and I'm willing to give TJ's the benefit of the doubt that I just got a below-average sample.


I wrote the above about a week ago. Today I tried a second bag of the same stuff. What an incredible difference! It's really hard to believe it's the same product. It was much fresher. I could smell the lovely aroma of the herbs literally the second I cut the top off the bag. There was a lot more dill and cilantro, or at least it was a lot more noticeable. I thought it was a lovely blend, virtually perfect. It was every bit as good as the Earthbound product, and maybe even better. In fact, it was so good that if it keeps on this way (i.e., I don't keep getting dud bags like the first one), this will become my default go-to packaged salad.

Next post: Raspberry Vinaigrette 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Trader Joe's Vegetable Root Chips

These were an impulse purchase. I had never noticed or heard of them before, but spotted them while looking for something else. My first thought was that I probably wouldn't like them much, but Nina would. That constitutes reason enough to buy something as an experiment.

What are "vegetable root chips"? Good question. They're made from sweet potato, taro, batata (yeah, I had to look that up, too), and parsnip, plus some oil and salt.

If nothing else, they look pretty, and would be almost elegant served in a fancy bowl:

However, I was right about my reaction. I've had them three times now--once with dinner that first night, then a few with my lunch each of the two subsequent days. They're OK, and kind of an interesting change-up from standard potato chips. A little softer than regular chips. But they don't make me want to keep reaching for more, and likely wouldn't even if they had more salt (which they need).

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not.

Other opinions 

Here are some other views from around the web:

The chip’s texture provides the best kind of crunch that I feared would be lost in a veggie chip. The variety of sweet potato, taro, batata, and parsnip kept me guessing and never tiring of one kind of chip. The mix isn’t overly salty, but it offers more of a sweet aftertaste. I questioned whether these were a borderline dessert, but my tastebuds couldn’t quite decide.

Verdict: Take. These were purely vegetable chips meeting all of my expectations for a lighter snacking occasion.

You get taro, sweet potato, beet, parsnips, batata in a bag. Crisp, crunchy, and salted. But you also get a variety of flavours within that bag, from the variety of thinly sliced root veggies. The taro is a little on the starchier side, and less sweet. In comparison, the sweet potato is the sweetest of them all with a little less crunch and little more chew. You get that sweet-salty combination in your mouth that makes chocolatiers create bacon chocolate. The beets fall on the sweet side as well but are still crispy, and do not worry - these will not turn your pee red. In between sweet and plain-starchy lie the parsnips and batata, both with their own unique flavours. 

Root vegetable chips are so good that after tasting them, you may not want to go back to old potato chips!

Comments: "Love these. Veggie flavor comes through, without a lot of salt." "Deep, resonant flavor." "Beautiful colors, giant crunch."

[That is from a comparison taste test published in the Chicago Tribune, incorporating comments from an unspecified but obviously plural number of tasters. They gave TJ's product 8.2 out of a possible 9 points--the highest score for any of the five chip varieties they tried.]

Next post: Organics Herb Salad Mix 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The man at the end of the line

Here's a quirky article from November, 2013, about a Trader Joe's in Manhattan, and specifically an employee whose job is to help people find the end of the line (which otherwise melts into the crowd of shoppers).

I'm glad my TJ's is not anything like the one described in the article. If that were the typical experience of shopping there, I wouldn't go half as often as I do. My store is a much smaller one. I think they have six cash registers, maybe seven. I have never had more than three people ahead of me in a checkout line, and I'd guess that the average number of people ahead of me in line has been one.

Hat tip to the "Things I Love at Trader Joe's" blog for their post about the story.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Writing like a madman

I have been in a frenzy of trying new TJ's things over the last couple of weeks. I have been writing so many reviews that I have posts all set to be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (9:00 a.m.) through December 1! That's 3 1/2 months' worth of writing already done! It is, frankly, pretty ridiculous.

What's even more ridiculous is that I have a couple dozen more reviews that I could write anytime on products I've already tried, and a couple dozen more products sitting around here that I have not yet tried. I could fill the thrice-weekly blog for at least four more months (December through March) without ever going back to the store!

This can't be healthy, can it?

Trader Joe's Vegetable Fried Rice

This stuff was OK, but unremarkable. As it seems is par for the Trader Joe's course, they went for exceptionally blandified as far as spices and flavoring go. It was as easy to prepare as promised--dump it in a bowl and zap it, without even the need to add water. Actual stir-frying is also an option, though I doubt that a little vegetable oil added in preparation would change much about the final result.

Will I buy it again? 

Maybe. But only if I forget how forgettable it was.

Nina’s View

I have always rather enjoyed fried rice, but feel like a fool either buying it or ordering it in a restaurant. First of all, I’ve been given to understand it’s not really an Asian (or specifically Chinese) dish at all, but rather something invented in Chinese restaurants in America for white people who don’t know how to eat steamed rice (or, apparently, vegetables). Second, it’s absurdly easy to make with the leftovers of the steamed rice you made for yesterday’s meal.

So, I’m virtually never buying this stuff, even it were supertasty. Which it is not.

What is it with the lack of seasoning, Joe? Fried rice lives and dies by GARLIC, GINGER, AND SOY SAUCE. To make this prepared stuff at all interesting, I’d have to tart it up considerably with the aforementioned flavorings. I would also definitely sauté it in plenty of hot oil (seasoned with those spices) because, as we have been told many times by ze chefs (can you ‘ear ze Fransh ackson?), fat=flavor and browning=even more flavor.

But, bottom line: frozen fried rice in a bag. Nuh uh. Not happening.

Next post: Vegetable Root Chips 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

What and what not to buy

Interesting pair of articles by the same author. Even though they're 3 1/2 years old, there's still a lot of validity to them.

6 Things to Buy at Trader Joe's 

4 Things Not to Buy at Trader Joe's 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Trader Joe's Vegetable Masala Burger

Continuing the reviews from last night's ("last night" as I write this, that is, not "last night" when it gets published) nearly-all-Trader-Joe's dinner, we come to the main course.

I question labeling these things "burgers," especially with that "serving suggestion" photo on the box, implying that you can slap these on the grill (notice the nice grill marks that they either seared into the "burger" or added with Photoshop) and end up with an Indian-spiced fake-meat hamburger.

Well, I'm here to tell you that you can't. I've had several meat-substitute burgers, and this really doesn't even try to be one, when you analyze it for what it is rather than for how TJ's is peddling it. It's not made of soy or seitan or any other high-protein meat substitute. It's made out of potatoes, canola oil, carrots, green beans, bread crumbs, bell peppers, onions, corn, water, and some spices and binders. The ingredients aren't even pulverized and homogenized to disguise their nature. Here's what the frozen "burger" looks like:

Just as the ingredient list would suggest, this is a conglomeration of hunks of potato and a few other vegetables, very mildly spiced, and held together with bread crumbs and other binders. It would be accurate to call it a "patty," but I think it's misleading to call it a "burger," given the firmly fixed images that word brings to mind for a typical American consumer.

That said, I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with these things--as long as you accept them for what they are. If you take your first bite thinking that this will be a vegan replica of a hamburger, you'll be somewhere between disappointed and angry.

I treated it as a burger, despite having had good forewarning from both the ingredients list and the appearance that it was not going to be even vaguely like a Boca or MorningStar meat-substitute product. It was on a hamburger bun, with cheese melted on it, topped with shredded lettuce, ketchup, and pickle slices. It would take more than that to disguise the fact that it is, at heart, chopped potatoes with some indistinctly Indian-ish spicing.

I've read the review at "What's Good at Trader Joe's," along with all 32 comments. It seems other people's opinions of TJ's Masala Burgers ranges all the way from "best thing EVAR!" to "second-best thing EVAR!" Which is to say, people lurve them--or at least the people who feel like expressing their views do.

Me, not so much. I had another one for lunch today, and my opinion didn't change from last night's "meh."

In this blog, I am generally going to carefully refrain from speaking for Nina, even where I think I know her opinion pretty accurately, since she can articulate it better than I can, and she has freedom to add her views to any post. I'll violate that principle here just to say that she clearly liked these things more than I did, and I suspect I will find myself eating them again at her house in the not-too-distant future, probably with a radically different method of preparation than faux burger. And it may well be that they would work a lot better done up in a way that takes advantage what they actually are, rather than forcing them into the role of hamburger substitutes, for which they're not well suited. (The comments to the WGATJ post suggest several completely different ways of using them, for starters.)

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not, but I'll be interested to see what Nina comes up with, if my prediction is correct.

Nina's View

Bob and I are in complete agreement on this: TJ is doing these potato patties a huge disservice by marketing them as "burgers." They are unequivocally NOT burgers. No way, no how. Putting them on a bun, slathered with traditional burger condiments, is a recipe for disappointment.

But if they were griddled up and served as a substitute for home fries or hash browns for a different twist on breakfast? Yum.

Or if they were crisped up nice 'n' crunchy and served alongside a nice robust vegetable curry? Oh yeah.

They need to be honored for the enhanced potato product they actually are. Bob's right, I can see myself experimenting with alternative, spiced up presentations of these potato pucks.

Next post: Vegetable Fried Rice 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Cheap wine

I know very close to absolutely nothing about wine, so this article about why Trader Joe's famous "Two Buck Chuck" is so cheap might be as full of rubbish as the author says the wine is, and I wouldn't know it. Still, it's an interesting view of the situation:

Addendum, August 8, 2014 

I just saw this on Snopes:

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Trader Joe's Cold Pressed Juice--Yellow

This is some of the most expensive juice I've ever bought: $4.99 for this little bottle. And I bought three of them. Well, sort of. Trader Joe's "cold pressed juice" line comes in three varieties--yellow, green, and red--and I bought one of each. This is the first one I've tried.

It's not often that I have read other reviews of TJ's products before I try them, but this was one such case. The good folks at "What's Good at Trader Joe's" did not have many kind words for this product. But I had already bought it by the time I read that, else I might have passed it by in the store.

I'm glad I didn't pass it by. I thought this was excellent juice. It's an unusual, unexpected flavor, coming from a blend of apple, pineapple, yellow pepper, cucumber, lime and mint. I don't know who thought up that strange combination, but it works. Somebody somewhere must have taken a lot of time trying all sorts of mixtures and ratios, and the result is lovely--even elegant. The pineapple is the most prominent flavor, but it's not at all as sickeningly sweet as straight pineapple juice would be.

Look, try as I might to appreciate new things, my knee-jerk reflex is still to think that "new" equals "suspicious and probably disgusting." And I definitely approached this stuff with keen suspicion. After all, who juices yellow peppers and adds the result to fruit juices? That's crazy talk. But it won me over. Really delicious.

Will I buy it again? 

If it were half the cost, definitely. But at $5 for less than a pint, it's going to have to be a rare treat, if I ever get it at all.

Nina's View

Not only is this juice excellently tasty in its own right, but it would also make a fabulous cocktail ingredient. Add some vodka, a little soda water, a twist of lemon, a splash of bitters and voilà… I imagine this would be a very delicious and refreshing summer libation.

I imagine because I'm having a hard time realistically proposing to purchase 15.2 fluid ounces for $5. Dang, that's pricey stuff!

Next post: Vegetable Masala Burger 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Oops, I did it again!

We're still in the middle of the reviews of last week's dinner items, and I threw together another almost-all-Trader-Joe's dinner for Nina!

What you see here is Trader Joe's Organics Herb Salad Mix, Trader Joe's Carrot Ginger Soup, Trader Joe's Cold Pressed Juice--Green, Trader Joe's Green Beans, Trader Joe's Italian Sausage-less Sausage, and Trader Joe's Lemon Pepper Pappardelle Pasta. Off-camera was also the appetizer, Trader Joe's Cheddar & Gruyere Melange Cheese (the only item here previously reviewed) on Trader Joe's Multigrain & Flaxseed Water Crackers.

I'd better get cracking on some more posts!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Trader Joe's Whole Wheat Hamburger Buns

Last week I posted a photo of a nearly all-TJ's dinner. It's time to talk about the several items we tried that night.

I'm starting easy: the hamburger buns. Frankly, I can't taste much difference between one whole-wheat bun and the next, so my preferences are based on other characteristics, such as size and texture. On those counts, these are winners. They're a little bigger in diameter than most brands, so the patty doesn't hang over the edges, and they're substantially thicker.

You know how with some buns by the time you get toward the end of the burger, what's left of the bun has been reduced to a squished, soggy, unrecognizable, unappetizing mess? Yeah, I hate that. These are much more resistant to that unfortunate end than any other brand I can remember. They hold up.

Not only did I like these, but I liked them so much that it's now going to be hard to persuade me that any competitors are worth trying.

I can't make them a Top Ten item, because, y'know, they're hamburger buns--there's an upper limit to how good they can be. But they are excellen at being what they are. (Is that tautological? Oh well.)

Caveat: TJ's web site says that their bread products are made regionally, and so will not be consistent across the country. This is a rare instance where what you see in your local store may be substantially different than what I'm getting.

Will I buy it again? 

As they say in Minnesota, "Oh, you betcha!"

Next post: Trader Joe's Cold Pressed Juice--Yellow 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Trader Joe's Hibiscus Cranberry Juice Blend

I gather from the label that the actual name of this product is "Hibiscus cranberry flavored juice blend with seven other juices from concentrates with other added ingredients." But that was kind of long for a blog post title.

I mentioned this juice in my introductory post as an example of something unfamiliar that I would have passed by five years ago, but decided to try under my evolving paradigm of "be more willing to experiment with new foods." I had no idea what hibiscus tasted like. Heck, I didn't even know it was edible.

Unfortunately, I still don't know what hibiscus tastes like. This "flavored juice blend" is so confused that you can't tell. Just take a look at the list of ingredients:

The first ingredient (after the water used for reconstituting the concentrates), and therefore the largest constitute by weight or volume, is apple juice. The second is white grape juice. You only get to "hibiscus concentrate" in the third ingredient, and even then the label explains that it is made up of "hibiscus concentrate [a weirdly self-referential disclosure], apple juice concentrate, plum juice concentrate, white and red grape juice concentrates, citric acid, pomegranate juice concentrate, hibiscus extract, natural flavor." How much of anything that actually comes from a hibiscus plant is in this concoction? There's no way to know with any precision, but it doesn't sound like much.

As far as flavor, it tastes like a mostly unidentifiable blend of fruit juices, with cranberry being the only thing I can pick out specifically. But it's completely lacking the nice tartness that cranberry juice, or even good cranberry blends, ought to have. I don't see sugar or high-fructose corn syrup on the list of ingredients, but after tasting the stuff, it would not have surprised me to find it there--because it tastes not just sweetened, but overly sweetened. It's arguably closer to Kool-Aid than to real juice, in terms of flavors.

This is another example of "I shoulda looked at the label in the store." I might have still purchased it out of curiosity, but I would have been better prepared for a disappointing mishmash of flavors--which is perhaps the best description of this blend.

Will I buy it again? 

Nope. What's more, I'm going to be much more suspicious of other juice blends that TJ's might add to their shelves in the future.

Nina's view 

I was doubly disappointed in this beverage.

1. Shame on Trader Joe's for egregiously bogus labeling. The kind of bogus labeling that leads to Supreme Court cases [Supreme Court says Coca-Cola can be sued over juice ...]. Shame shame shame.

2. Bob says he can detect the cranberry flavor. Well, maybe. To me, this juice tasted like melted lollipops, and not in a good way. Clearly they are using the apple and grape juice concentrates in concentrate form as sweeteners.  You can't see the % of recommended daily allowance of carbs on Bob's picture of the label, but I'm going to guess that a single serving of this has more than 10% of your recommended daily calories. 

In short: sugar water with no redeeming features. Feh.


I got curious what other people may have thought of this stuff, so looked at a few opinions revealed via Google. Here are the first four that I found, with no editorial selection imposed. I think one of these four is precisely right; the other three are completely off-base. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine which is which. :-)

I had the juice straight. And it was really good! Then, I had some with a squeeze of lime and a shot of rum, and that was pretty delicious. I was feeling proud of myself! Then, I looked at the ingredients.... seriously, there was so little actual cranberry in it, I don't think it even counts! It is apparently mostly apple and pear juices. :-/ I liked it and I'll keep drinking it, but I just think the cranberry is too diluted to really be able to further my cranberry cause. I'll probably have to go back to 100% cranberry, and then, just make my own blends at home, gradually making them more and more cranberrylicious.

Hibiscus is not as present as I would expect it for receiving top billing, except in the aftertaste. Cranberry flavors are muted and not tart in the slightest. Overly sweet. A strong red grape flavor is present throughout, especially with successive tastings as the hibiscus fades away quickly. By the fifth sip, I can't taste anything other than red grapes. Very one-dimensionsal and overly sweet. Poorly balanced. Will not drink this juice -- it was difficult enough to finish this tasting.

This is my favorite juice on the planet. Hibiscus is commonly steeped then cooled to make agua de jamaica in Latin countries. The flower is called amapola or jamaica in Spanish (yes that how the island got it’s name). This potion blends this unique earthy flavor with cranberry juice.This is a must have.

I drink a lot of water, but I have found that I enjoy some diluted juice as a pick me up sometimes. Trader Joe’s has a relatively new one that is made completely from juices. It is nice and sweet, but you can cut the sweetness by adding water or a little bubbly water for a healthy soda like treat. It’s their Hibiscus Cranberry juice blend.

Next post: Whole Wheat Hamburger Buns