Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Trader Joe's Anticavity Peppermint Toothpaste with Baking Soda & Fluoride

I am mostly indifferent when it comes to selection of toothpaste. When I'm on my last tube, I put "toothpaste" on my shopping list, and hit up Target or Wal-Mart, buying a stockpile of several different tubes of the cheapest stuff. Mostly it's either brands left over from the 1970s that are no longer popular (Ultra-Brite, Aim, etc.), or the plain-Jane versions of big name brands, like Crest, Colgate, Aquafresh. If I have to pay more than 99 cents for a big tube, I feel like I'm wasting money. Is it toothpaste? Is it minty? Does it have fluoride? Those are the only questions that matter to me, besides price. So spending $2.99 for this Trader Joe's toothpaste was a severe departure from my long-established pattern.

I won't be doing it again. It would be perfectly acceptable, if unremarkable, stuff, except that the taste of the baking soda is really strong, and fairly unpleasant. It always reminds me of the days when I would chug baking soda in water to settle an upset stomach. Not exactly pleasant sensory memories to have called to mind twice a day. Then there's the whole issue of spending $2 more for it than I would for kinds that I like better.

So when this is gone, that's it for TJ's toothpaste.

Will I buy it again? 

Not a chance.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Tidbits of possible interest

A roundup of articles, notes, reviews, blog posts, etc., about Trader Joe's that I've encountered recently--most new, a few old.

Review of 13 pumpkin desserts at Trader Joe's 

Charles Shaw wines at Trader Joe's 

Happy Fall! Trader Joe's Bliss Offerings

Tuella Douro 2012--A Trader Joe's $5.99 Hot Pick 

31 thoughts you have every time you shop at Trader Joe's 

Awesomely autumn pumpkin products

Cat claims Trader Joe's grocery bag 

The end of Two Buck Chuck? 

Trader Joe's sunflower seed butter 

Sample anything (with permission) at Trader Joe's before you buy 

Consumers Union presses Trader Joe's to stop selling meat raised on antibiotics 

Company snapshot: Trader Joe's 

Stores battle with Whole Foods for organic food dominance 

5 best drinks at Trader Joe's 

Inside the secret world of Trader Joe's 

Trader Joe's Corn Tortillas

They're corn tortillas. They're just like every other brand of corn tortillas--maybe a skosh thicker than some, but otherwise indistinguishable. The package has fewer in it than the Mission brand I usually buy at other grocery stores, but that doesn't really matter, because I never use all 30 before they get dried out and thrown away anyway.

Will I buy it again? 

Sure, if I happen to be at TJ's when I need tortillas. I'm completely indifferent whether I buy them there or elsewhere, since I can't tell the difference between the products.

Special note 

If you look closely, you'll see that this is not actually a "Trader Joe's" product, but a "Trader Jose's" product. TJ's gets cutesie with its own store name with several types of foreign foods. Besides this, there's "Trader Jacques" for French, "Trader Giotto's" for Italian, "Trader Ming's" for Chinese, etc. I'm ignoring all of those when titling these blog posts.

Update, January 1, 2016 

These were a staple item for me for quite a while. But then I discovered the far better Handmade Flour Tortillas, and I've never looked back. So if you're wondering why these aren't listed among my staple items, that's why.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


Most days, I take a quick scan or two through the #TraderJoes hashtag on Twitter to see what people are saying. Doing so leads me to some interesting items I haven't heard of before, to relevant articles and news stories, to reviews of individual products, etc.

But the last few days, I have noticed an unmistakable theme to the photographs that people are posting. See if you can detect what it is. It's pretty subtle, so you'll have to pay careful attention.

Well, I can hardly let myself be outdone by a bunch of people who don't even have their own internationally read* Trader Joe's blog, now, can I?

Here's my own pumpkin haul so far:

This leaves out the pumpkin ravioli, which has already been consumed. It also leaves out the pumpkin rolls (a variant on TJ's Jumbo Cinnamon Rolls, apparently) that I plan to get, but which were out of stock yesterday. Furthermore, I intend to try the "Harvest Blend" bagged salad shown in one of the pictures above. Finally, I told Nina yesterday that I had seen a slot in the refrigerated shelves for rolls of pumpkin croissant dough, and from her appalled reaction, I knew instantly that I must obtain and bake some for her, just to provoke her into writing an indignant review about how croissants should not contain pumpkin.

*Blogger reports that I have had a grand total of FIFTEEN page views from outside the US. Admittedly, the six from the UK were probably my own from when I was traveling there recently. But still--that leaves two from Canada, three from France, and four from Germany. Ha! Thus, this blog is indeed internationally read.

Trader Joe's Organic Turkish Apricots

Nina's View 


Unsulfured dried fruit, and especially apricots, cannot be expected to be pretty. They're gonna oxidize, that's just the way it is. You go unsulfured, you're gonna get a brown dried fruit. So I was prepared for that aesthetic disappointment.

What I was not prepared for:

1) The first apricot out of the bag still had a stone in it. I'm all for "organic," but I'd rather not break a tooth. Still—crunchy-granola-girl that I am, I was prepared to accept the occasional pit, much as I once flew the underarm hair flag as point of natural pride. Pits forever, man! I can dig it. (Oy.)

2) The second apricot out of the bag had a sour, off flavor. I don't mind ugly, but the whole point of dried fruit is concentrated, aromatic fruit flavor and sweetness. But, say I to myself as I chew into this second apricot, maybe it was just the odd less-than-ripe fruit in the bunch… and then my molars hit the grit.

GRIT, people. As in sand. Or quite possibly DIRT.

That is way, way too organic for me.

I spit it out.

And, although I repeat I AM NOT A SLOW LEARNER, I fished in the bag and bit into Apricot #3.

And lo and behold! MORE GRIT!

And that was quite enough of that for me. I took the rest of the package back for a refund.

I emphasize that I am not a flighty or frequent returner of products. Something has to be truly unacceptable for me to bring it back to the store. These apricots and those fresh rice noodles are just dire.

My recommendation: buy some other dried apricots. And by "some other" I mean DEFINITELY NOT THESE.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Trader Joe's Fresh Rice Noodles

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a long-awaited moment for me. You see, there are many Trader Joe's items that I just won't ever eat, and another bunch that I would probably be happy to have, but just have not yet gotten around to trying yet. Nina has experience with many products in both categories. So ever since I started this blog, I have gently suggested that she could write reviews of these items all by herself, and I would open the blog to her.

It has finally happened--twice. Save for this introduction, today's post and tomorrow's are both entirely "Nina's View."

Nina's View 

How I wanted to like these! I really, really wanted to.

But I cannot, for alas they are DREADFUL. 

All together I bought three packets of these noodles. Each packet contains two hermetically sealed pouches with what look like desiccant packets in them (which is counterintuitive, since the noodles are moistish, but whatever).

I bought one packet, opened it and cooked the first pouch and obtained a slimy, gummy, glutinous mess.

My bad, I thought, I overcooked them! Thank goodness, there are two pouches per packet. I shall do better with the second one.

I followed instructions precisely this time.

OMG slimy, gummy, glutinous mess.

Perhaps this batch was no good, I rationalize.

I bought two more packets. I shall master this product, because I love fresh rice noodles! They have a great texture and they take sauces beautifully and there are many lovely Asian dishes that I wish to make!

Perhaps you are detecting a pattern, yes? 


Packet 2, pouch 1: gloppy, tasteless, unpalatable heap of whiteness.
Packet 2, pouch 2: Ditto.

I am nothing if not stubborn. I vowed that I would apply SCIENCE! I would cook swiftly and apply cold water rinse immediate to stop cooking at the precise moment!

Packet 3, Pouch 1. *ahem* AWFUL.
Packet 3, Pouch 2…

Are you kidding me?


Along with another product, about which more in another post. And I used the proceeds to buy more of a new favorite, about which also more in another post.

My recommendation: Do Not Buy. Run. Run far away.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Trader Joe's Caramel Popcorn

I love "The Sound of Music." But perhaps its greatest flaw is that in the famous song "My Favorite Things," Rodgers and Hammerstein listed "crisp apple strudels" and "schnitzel with noodles," but utterly failed to list "Trader Joe's Caramel Popcorn." That is such a grievous oversight that it should result in revocation of their Tony and Oscar awards.

I just discovered this stuff a few days ago, and it landed on my Top Ten list (which, I hasten to remind you, is not actually limited to ten items) about five seconds after the first handful landed in my mouth.

I can't say that this is the best caramel popcorn I've ever had, because caramel popcorn is best when obtained fresh and hot from the cooker at a candy store. I've had that, and nothing packaged, shipped across the country, and sold on grocery store shelves is ever going to surpass that. But this is, unequivocally, the best packaged caramel popcorn I've ever had. In fact, it's pretty much the only packaged caramel popcorn that's worth buying. Other stuff is just uniformly sad.

What's even more interesting is that, according to the label, they make this without butter, which I would have thought was an indispensable ingredient. Better-tasting and low-fat, too? Yes, please!

What is it that makes this superior to other packages caramel popcorns? Surprisingly, I think it's how lightly they coat the popcorn with the caramel. I'm used to the caramel layer being thick and hard--like eating hard candy with a little popcorn in the center. But TJ's isn't like that; it's regular popcorn with a very thin coating of caramel. When I first looked at it, I thought that was going to doom it. "Clearly not enough caramel," thought I. I was wrong. I can't analyze what it is about this caramel formulation that makes it so potent, but it somehow gets the caramel-to-popcorn balance exactly right. As an extra bonus, it's easier to eat than other brands, not requiring a massive crushing force with the molars to crack the hard exterior.

I have only two quibbles. First is the flagrant lie that TJ's tells on the back of the bag:

SEVEN servings in a 7-ounce bag? Who do they think they're fooling? My first bag, I ate the whole thing in one sitting. I went to the store again the next day and bought two more bags. The first of these I managed, with considerable self-restraint, to stretch to two consecutive nights of snacks. The fate of the remaining bad is yet undetermined as I write this.

Second quibble, somewhat related to the first: This stuff should come in packages about seven times bigger than it currently does.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. I'd buy the factory they make this in, if they'd let me. I'd move in and make it my home. I'd appoint myself Chief Taste Tester and insist on tasting every bag, to make sure that no sub-standard packages left the factory. And by "tasting" there, I mean "eating in its entirety." Admittedly, that sequence of events might make it difficult for the rest of you to enjoy this extraordinary snack, but that's your problem, not mine.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Trader Joe's Cherry Pie

Uh-oh, it's another of those pictures taken with my cell phone at the store. You know what that means.

The one time I bought this item was a couple of weeks before I decided to create this blog, which is why I didn't have one of my standard photos to go with this post. But even though it's been a while, I remember well how disappointed I was in the pie.

It was, as far as I could tell, indistinguishable from every other commercial grocery-store cherry pie out there. It was unremarkable in taste, stingy in its helping of cherries, and moderately soggy in the crust. Worst, it got moldy faster than I think is reasonable, forcing me to throw away the last quarter or so of it. (Complaining that the pie isn't very good and I had to throw some of it away because of spoilage is a lot like the old joke about the woman in a restaurant griping that the food is terrible, "and such small portions.")

Will I buy it again? 

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice? Not gonna happen.

Nina's View

This was so bad, I thought surely something must have gone wrong in the production of it. The crust and crumbly stuff on top were just awful. The filling was terrible.

Please understand that I LOVE cherry pie, and am willing to overlook all sorts of things to get the cherry goodness. This had no cherry goodness.

Unless it was just a bad edition. 

But if this was how this was intended to be: stay far, far away.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Trader Joe's Organic Baked Beans

In a post a couple of days ago, I explained my love of the combination of potato chips and baked beans. This post is kind of the second half of that one, since I was trying both of these items at the same time.

Somewhere between 15 and 20 years ago, I made a mid-life switch of preferred baked beans. I had grown up with Van Camp's. But my wife preferred Bush's, specifically the vegetarian variety. For the sake of marital harmony, I tried them--and liked them even better than my old standbys. If we could have agreed on other things as easily as we did on beans, we might still be married. But that's kind of going off on a tangent....

Getting back to the matter at hand: I didn't like TJ's as much as I do Bush's. They're not bad. If all other baked beans in the world disappeared and I was stuck with TJ's forever, I would eat them almost as often as I do the Bush's now. Sure, I'd be a little nostalgic for Bush's, but I'd shrug my shoulders and get on with life, and with the bean-eating.

Put another way, they're second-tier stuff. Runners-up. Perfectly acceptable, just not the best. If I had to put my finger on what's not quite right about them, I'd guess that it's not enough molasses.

Incidentally, though they don't proclaim "vegetarian" or "vegan" up front, these beans are, in fact, vegan-friendly. They're on TJ's very long list of vegan products.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not unless something happens to the availability of Bush's.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Some links

I just discovered another whole blog devoted to reviews of Trader Joe's products: "Eating at Joe's." It has been going since July, 2011. I'm more than a little puzzled how I managed not to know of its existence before now. Somebody on Twitter mentioned a TJ's product I had not heard of, so I Googled the name to get some other opinions before deciding whether I should try it, and a post from this blog came up. The thing is, I've done essentially the same thing a dozen or more times before, and I never came across it. Anyway, after reading a tiny sample of posts, the author seems smart and funny.

Plus: He picks up some really unusual items, frequently ones that I've never noticed at TJ's. His reviews are long, detailed, creative, and often include his own original recipe or serving suggestion.

Minus: The guy seriously needs a good copy editor to rid the posts of their gobs of typos, and especially to teach him the difference between its and it's, which he gets wrong Every. Damn. Time. So annoying.

Go take a look.

Now, a few other articles--some new, some old--that I've found recently:

Five must-try vegan desserts at Trader Joe's 

Trader Joe's is the bomb 

What I buy at Trader Joe's 

Trader Joe's seasonal pumpkin items 

Top selling items from Trader Joe's 

Trader Joe's Jumbo Cinnamon Rolls with Vanilla Icing

I've had these things five or six times now. Does that count as a spoiler and tip you off as to what I think of them?

Yeah, they're that good.

They're not overly sweet and gooey, like some other ready-to-bake cinnamon rolls. They're just right.

I have no complaints about how they turn out. They are so easy to get right that even an oaf like me can manage it every time:

They even look pretty much like the picture on the wrapper--a rarity in my kitchen, which has not exactly made the Dean's List of Betty Crocker College.

My only gripes are with the packaging.

First, they come five to a can. That works out great if I make them for dessert on a night that Nina is here for dinner. I want two at a time, she wants only one. That leaves two for me to eat the next night--exactly right. But if I'm by myself, it means that I have to eat three the first night, two the second night, because they really don't keep well into a third day. Besides, the sadness of eating just one of them in a sitting would probably pitch me into a cycle of despair and overdosing on Prozac. (If you're thinking, "Just throw one of them away," I beseech you to leave this blog and never return. I have no use for the likes of such heathens.)

The other problem with the packaging is that they're hard to get from the tube to the baking sheet. They glom together in strange ways, often nesting sort of conically into each other. And one time when the container popped open, dry cinnamon spewed out all over me and the kitchen counter. Admittedly, that probably made me smell better than I usually do, but it was kind of a mess.

But these are small annoyances to have to put up with in order to get the reward of polishing off two or three of these lovelies.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. This is not only a Top Ten item, but one of the handful of TJ's products that I always keep on hand, ready for when I am hit with that irresistible urge to have a nice cinnamon roll.

Nina's View

For those of you prone to craving cinnamon rolls, these'll fix you right up. Me, I want one maybe a couple few times a year. But the man is right, at least they are not over-the-top grotesquely sweet. For example, I will eat these with the frosting, which I generally skip on other brands (including store-bought like Cinnabon) because it's always SUGAROVERLOADTOTHEMAX.

(If you've been following along so far, you'll be seeing the start of what is likely to be a consistent trend: in general, Bob likes the sweet stuff a lot more than I do. Unless I'm eating with him, I rarely have a dessert.)

To my beloved: there's no law that says you have to bake all the rolls at once just 'cause you've opened the package. Wrap the extras individually in saran wrap and put them in a baggie in the fridge and you can prepare them separately on subsequent days. (They should keep for four days.) They will always be hot 'n' fresh 'n' yummy.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Trader Joe's Ridge Cut Potato Chips With Sea Salt

When it's lunchtime, one of my favorite things to eat alongside a sandwich is baked beans. And the only proper way to eat baked beans is to take a ridged potato chip, dip it in, and munch. (Pringles will do in a pinch if there are no ridged chips, but the risk of all the beans falling off between bowl and mouth is much higher than can be considered ideal.) I have been doing this literally as long as I can remember. I don't suppose I was doing it in infancy, but I honestly can't remember a time when I didn't help myself to baked beans and potato chips with lunch when I could have them.

The gold standard of ridged potato chips is Wavy Lays. Or Ruffles. Rrrrrrrrrrrruffles have rrrrrrrrrrrrrridges, you know. (If you don't remember those commercials, you're too young.) I find them basically indistinguishable in taste, and suspect they're made identically--same factory and all--except for the die used to cut them.

Any brand of chip wanting to be king of my baked-bean hill has to compete against something like 40 years of ingrained habit and preference. Which isn't easy.

So, did TJ's offering manage to knock off the king?

No. Not even close. I did like their plain potato chips, which I tried at the same time, but not these. They were too firm--almost rock-hard--and brittle. Worse, lots of them were stuck together, making them double-thick and twice as hard to bite into. They weren't salty enough. There were too many little ones, not enough big ones. And they plain just didn't taste very good.

Will I buy it again? 

No. The king is still alive. Long live the king.

Nina's View

Bob's description of these is exactly right, which is a significant disappointment. I was hoping for something to compete with the kettle-cooked goodness of other brands *cough*CapeCod*cough*. But no. A significant TJ FAIL.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Trader Joe's Cherry Preserves Made With Fresh Cherries

Did you notice that yesterday's photo of the jar of raspberry preserves was not a new jar, but one half empty? That's because it was an item I already had on hand when I decided to start writing this blog.

Recently I finished that jar, so yesterday when I was at Trader Joe's, I went to replace it. Lo and behold, things have changed. TJ's has recently started selling its own line of preserves. There were, I think, six different kinds.

If you compare today's photo with yesterday's, you might notice a few things: Both of them are that odd weight, 17.5 ounces. Both have an octagonal jar. Both have a black lid. I think what has happened is that TJ's decided to stop selling the E.D. Smith brand, and instead have E.D. Smith slap a TJ's label on their same old products.

I decided to go for cherry this time instead of raspberry, for a little variety. I had some this morning on toast. It certainly tastes delicious--no complaints whatsoever there. My only gripe is that they make it with whole cherries, which are so large that it's essentially impossible to make anything like a smooth, even layer on a piece of toast. If they ran the cherries through a slicer before making the preserves, I'd be happier.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes, though it will probably be a long time before I run through all the new line of preserves at TJ's and get back to cherry.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

E.D. Smith's Raspberry Preserves

Here we have another of the occasional products sold by Trader Joe's but not given their own label.

I'll confess that my palate is not fine enough to distinguish between brands of raspberry preserves. In the time I've lived in Asheville, I've had Laura Lynn (the store brand of the regionally dominant grocery chain, Ingles), some brand sold at Wal-Mart, Smuckers, and now this. I can't tell any difference between them. I'm equally happy with any of them.

Will I buy it again? 

Well, I would--except that there has been a new development that will put a monkey wrench in that plan. See tomorrow's post for details.

Friday, September 19, 2014

More posting

Once again, I'm writing posts faster than they get published. I have them lined up through the second week of January, at the current rate. So, once again, I'm going to bump up the posting frequency: now every day, including weekends. But that's it. I won't believe that people are interested in seeing them faster than that, and if they keep accumulating, tough.

Trader Joe's San Francisco Style Sourdough Bread Sliced

I love sourdough bread. It's what I keep on hand for most uses--toast, sandwiches, etc. The best I've found around here is the "Extra Large Sourdough Loaf" from Atlanta Bread Company, which I discovered shortly after moving to Asheville. I usually have one loaf of it that I'm working on, and another in the freezer ready to replace it. I consider it essentially perfect. The only problem is that it means another stop for a single item in my grocery shopping. Oh, and it's kind of pricey.

So, all else being equal, it would be better if I could find a sourdough bread I like at TJ's. But it appears that that's not going to happen. I've tried this offering twice now, a few months apart, and I'm done with it.

First, it doesn't have much of the distinct lactic-acid sourness that is supposed to characterize this kind of bread.

Second, the loaf is shaped in an unhelpful manner. I'll concede that this is probably traditional, because most sourdough loaves I've encountered are similarly round and flattish. Atlanta Bread Company's product, on the other hand, is shaped like standard white or wheat loaves. This is a huge pragmatic advantage, if you ask me, because of slice-to-slice consistency. The round shape is problematic because the slices are tiny toward the ends of the loaf, and enormous in the middle. Most of them, then, end up either smaller or bigger than I would like. That sucks.

Caveat: TJ's web site says that their breads are produced by regional bakeries and vary from one supplier to the next, so what you see here may differ meaningfully from what you find in your local store.

Will I buy it again? 

Nope. It's both less tasty and less practical to use than what I get from Atlanta Bread Company, so I'll keep buying the latter.