Sunday, November 30, 2014

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Blueberries



I guess I'll finish up a trifecta of three days in a row of chocolate-covered goodies.

These should be a slam-dunk. I like chocolate. I like blueberries. But I'm not sure about the combination. They're not bad in any sense. They just seem a little off. I think it boils down to the dark chocolate overpowering the mild blueberries, so that it's like eating little chocolate balls with nothing inside. Milk chocolate would work better here, I think.

Will I buy it again? 

If a tub of chocolate-covered blueberries were sitting in my house, I would eat them happily. But as far as choosing to put them in my basket at Trader Joe's, when they're sitting on the shelf right next to two of my very favorite things in the world--TJ's orange stick and TJ's chocolate-covered raisins--I just can't imagine ever choosing the one I like the least of the three.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Trader Joe's Chocolate Orange Sticks



I don't know how it's possible that I've written so many blog posts here, but have not yet told you about chocolate orange sticks. I absolutely adore these things. They might be my second-favorite TJ's product, after the raspberry tarte.

I guess I was primed to love them early in life. My mother was from Utah. Every year there would be a trip back there from where we were living in Illinois. Sometimes it was the whole family, sometimes just Mom and some other women from church. But either way, she would always bring back boxes of chocolate orange sticks. Not Trader Joe's, of course, but Sweets brand. These boxes would go in the freezer, to be brought out one at a time--rationed. She treated them like they were the best thing in the world, and I knew it was a special privilege when I got to have a few.

Those were long and skinny. TJ's are short and fat. But they're the same basic idea: a firm orange jelly coated in dark chocolate. Nothing could be simpler. Nothing could be better.

I have to limit myself to three at a time. After lunch, I'll take three out of the tub, put the tub back in its place, and take the three candies to my desk to resume work. If I take the tub, I'll keep eating them until it's empty, or until I'm regretting having eaten so many.

I like to keep them refrigerated. That way the chocolate is less prone to melting on my fingers. Besides, I like the brittleness it conveys to the chocolate. But if you decide you prefer them at room temperature, I won't brand you a dangerous lunatic or anything.

This is a Top Ten item easily.

Will I buy it again? 

Oh my yes. To excess, I fear.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Trader Joe's Organic Pea Shoots



Continuing the story that I started with the last post, about the wild arugula: I was at TJ's and had the bag of arugula in hand. I was thinking that it probably needed something else in the bowl with it.

In recent months I have enjoyed experimenting with topping salads with various kinds of sprouts--bean sprouts, broccoli sprouts, radish sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, and clover sprouts. They have ranged from the delicious (broccoli sprouts) to the nasty (alfalfa sprouts).

Looking over the produce refrigerator at Trader Joe's, I noticed the above package of pea shoots. That's one I hadn't tried. You know--sprouts, shoots, whatever. On the spot, I invented the idea of arugula topped with pea shoots. (That's Chef Bob for you, always inventing.) Obviously healthful, but how would it taste? I had noticed the package's promise of a "sweet taste," which seemed like it would be a good counterpart to the arugula.

It wasn't. I tried eating a few of the pea shoots separately, and detected no sweetness. The combination of the two ingredients wasn't any better than each by itself.

Again, I'm handicapped as a reviewer by a complete lack of previous experience with pea shoots. Maybe they're all like this. Maybe this was a singularly bad batch. I just can't tell. But I wasn't impressed.

Will I buy it again? 

No. Gimme the broccoli sprouts instead.


Nina's View

I like pea shoots. My best experience with them has been sauteed like spinach, with a little garlic. Yum. These pea shoots were definitely not as sweet as others I've had in the past, which made them much more a candidate for cooking than for salading. But there's no way Bob could have known that.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Me and hummus

This video pretty much sums up how I am loving the hummus these days.


Trader Joe's Wild Arugula



I was about to grab one of my usual TJ's bagged salads when my eye caught this. I thinks to myself, "Well, arugula has been part of several other salad mixes I've had, and they've all been pleasant enough. Why not try it all by itself?" That's what I thinks.

I thinks wrong.

I didn't actually serve the arugula by itself; I'll explain in the next post what I concocted. But I did try a few leaves of it by itself. Did not like.

Perhaps it's unfair to judge TJ's arugula as if it's TJ's fault that I didn't like it. I think it's likely that I would have had the same reaction to any brand of arugula. But I kept thinking that the leaves looked like the leaves of the dandelions that I was frequently assigned to kill in the back yard when I was growing up. Maybe that poisoned my mind (the way I poisoned the dandelions) into concluding that the arugula tasted like I imagined the dandelion would, which was pretty foul. (I understand that some people like eating dandelions. I have never tried, but find it hard to picture myself liking them.)

Will I buy it again? 

No. I'll continue to think that arugula is fine as part of a salad mix, but not alone or as the predominant ingredient.



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Trader Joe's Unexpected Cheddar Cheese



This was the cheese that I picked more or less arbitrarily, with no advance planning, to pair with Some Enchanted Cracker. Again, I think it was largely the whimsical name that drew me to it.

Even after having eaten nearly this whole block, I'm still not sure what I'm supposed to think is "unexpected" about it. The description under the name on the label makes me think that maybe they're suggesting that it tastes more expensive than it is. I couldn't tell, because I didn't compare prices.

There's nothing wrong with it as cheddar cheese, but there's also nothing unexpected about the taste. It is neither unexpectedly good nor unexpectedly bad. The only unexpected thing I noticed was that it was more crumbly than most cheddars. Try to slice it, and a big hunk breaks off before the slicer reaches the end of the block. That's annoying.

Will I buy it again?

No. If I want straightforward cheddar cheese, there are others that taste as good or better, and that don't crumble into unmanageable chunks when sliced.


Nina's View

Unexpectedly CRUMBLY.

Unexpectedly DULL.

Unexpectedly ONLY VAGUELY TASTING LIKE THE WORST PART OF PARMESAN (back of the tongue nastiness).

Unexpectedly GO BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD TRADER JOE!



I found this item to be a waste of valuable cheese calories. There are so many better options.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Trader Joe's Some Enchanted Cracker



On a recent Trader Joe's run, I decided to get some cheese and crackers to use as appetizers for a Tuesday night dinner with Nina. I didn't have any particular ones in mind, and TJ's has a large selection of both items, so it was just going to be kind of a crapshoot.

When I got to the cracker section, the above-pictured box was the first one that caught my eye. The whimsical name pleased me, perhaps in part because I've recently been on a major Rodgers & Hammerstein movies binge-watch.

Well, as it turned out, I doubt I could have made a better selection. These things are great. First of all, they're quite lovely--pleasingly multicolored, what with all the different grains and seeds. It's not like I throw a lot of parties, but they would look great on a platter for guests.

The size, texture, and taste remind me most of Breton crackers, which used to be my mainstay base for cheese and crackers. The problem with those was that they tended to shatter uncontrollably at the first bite. The TJ's, conversely, are excellent at fracturing only where bitten, with the rest of the cracker remaining intact. This prevents whatever is riding on it from messily collapsing into your hand and/or lap.

The main drawback to finding these excellent crackers is that now I'm going to be reluctant to continue trying other TJ's cracker varieties, for fear that nothing else is going to be as good. I'm not quite ready to elevate these to a Top Ten item, but they're close.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes--some enchanted evening.


Nina's View


These are very nice crackers for all the reasons that Bob so excellently outlines above. My sole point of objection to them is that they are a tad too sweet for me. But only a tad, certainly not enough to stop me from enjoying them with a nice sharp or strong cheese. And I think they would make a palate-pleasing party offering for a broad range of guests' tastes.


Addendum 

All of the above was written a few months ago. Since then, I've brought home many more kinds of TJ's crackers. I think it's safe to say that none has been as big a hit with Nina and me as Some Enchanted Cracker. So I'm reversing my earlier ruling, and enshrining these in my Top Ten list.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Mints



Oh, these are excellent little morsels! I just ate a whole bag of them (it's only 2 ounces, and one bag is listed as the serving size, so I was just doing as I was instructed to do) five minutes ago, and I rushed to the computer to bang out this plea that you buy yourself some.

Strong peppermint, just a wee bit of chocolate. Pleasing contrast of textures, with a thin, hard outer layer, then soft chocolate, then a sort of crystally core.

$1.49 is kind of pricey for a single-serving bag, so I'm not going to keep these stocked in my house, but it was a delightful little treat.

Will I buy it again? 

The next time I'm stuck waiting for another customer at the cashier, where the impulse-buy candies are kept, I suspect another bag of these goodies will call out to me and ask to be taken home. Who am I to say no?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Roundup

Weekly compilation of links related to Trader Joe's.


10 best pumpkin goods at Trader Joe's

5 memorable holiday customer service stories (see #2) 

Avoiding a fight at Trader Joe's 

Meet Pirate Joe

Meet the women who write Trader Joe's recipe books 

Alternatives to peanut butter 

Best cookies at Trader Joe's 

My top 10 favorite Trader Joe's items 

Great cheap wines at Trader Joe's 


And my favorite way to close out these weekly lists: picture of a cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag:



(From https://twitter.com/CallMeDollyBlog/status/534099628044853248/photo/1)


Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Chewy Coated & Drizzled Granola Bars



I generally don't like granola bars, because most of them have some sort of nuts as a prime ingredient, and I'm at least mildly anti-nut. But among TJ's thousand or so varieties of granola bars, I found this one with no nuts. (Well, peanuts, but they're not really nuts anyway.) I wasn't sure if I would like it--but I did.

It's peanuts and peanut butter, with rolled oats, wheat flakes, rice crips, and a hint of caramel. What's not to like? It makes an excellent late-night snack. It would also make a nice energy source for a long hike or bike ride.

Will I buy it again? 

I'll try. The trick will be picking the right package. The granola bar selection at TJ's is hugely daunting and confusing--almost as bad as trying to find the one trail mix you like among the one million choices there.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Trader Joe's Triple Ginger Snaps




A few months ago, something led me to this Huffington Post article about the 17 best-selling Trader Joe's products of 2013. The #1 item was Triple Ginger Snaps, which I had not heard of before. I like ginger snaps as much as the next guy, so I made a point of finding and buying a tub of them on my next TJ's run.

The result? Instant addiction.

Triple Ginger Snaps, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love the size. I love the texture (especially those little chewy bits). I love the taste. Hell, I even love the tub they come in.

It is now a rare day that I do not have a container of these on my kitchen counter, beckoning me to eat "just a few" after dinner. In fact, even though it's only 10:30 in the morning as I write this, I think I hear them calling me right now.

Will I buy it again? 

Seriously? You need to ask?


Nina's View 

I bow to no one in my love of ginger. Ginger is excellent. I cook with it a LOT. I like gingerbread, ginger candies, and ginger tea. Heck, I even like redheads.

To recap: THUMBS UP FOR GINGER.

But these cookies leave me cold. I know—apostasy!!!!! Off with her head!!!!

I cannot account for it. Texture: meh. Taste: okay. Size: fine. Maybe I'd like them better if they were less chewy and more snappy.

Dunno. I am prepared to accept the full force of social opprobrium on this one.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Trader Joe's Tomato Basil Marinara



I first bought a jar of this on my first trip to TJ's when its Asheville store opened. I was interested in trying a wide variety of their wares, and since I tend to make myself a lot of pasta, this seemed an obvious choice.

However, it was up against a roughly 25-year habit of using essentially nothing but Prego brand spaghetti sauce. I've occasionally tried others, but nothing could knock off the king of this particular little hill.

But I have to admit that TJ's Tomato Basil Marinara comes close. I've bought about half a dozen jars of it over the past year. I still prefer Prego by a little bit, but I'm perfectly happy to use this instead--and I do whenever spaghetti is on the menu for a dinner with Nina, since I know she prefers it to Prego.

Will I buy it again? 

Of course. This isn't quite a Top Ten item, but it's very good.


Nina's View

No arguing that I think TJs marinara is better than Prego. But I'm afraid that's a little like saying I prefer root canal to leg amputation.

Okay, hyperbole abuse, my bad.


The reality is it's a perfectly decent prepared spaghetti sauce. But I grew up in a home where my Mom made spaghetti sauce the way she'd learned to do it IN ITALY. So: spoiled. Every now and then I'll make a big vat of red sauce for myself, à la Mama. For what it's worth, of the canned stuff I think Paul Newman's Own takes the prize.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Trader Joe's Beef-less Ground Beef


Nina and I have used this stuff on several occasions, so I think it's past due for a review.

Most recently I used it to top some spaghetti. After light browning in oil, it serves well for this purpose. It doesn't add much in terms of taste, but it adds both protein and texture to pasta with sauce.

I think I like it a little less than MorningStar's "crumbles," but it's not much of a difference. Either will do well as a substitute for ground beef in recipes. This is the kind of product that makes a vegetarian diet seem feasible to me.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes, regularly.


Nina's View


I find this bland to point of nullity. I distinctly prefer the Morningstar version. I like Boca crumbles too. All this stuff does is add a vaguely meaty texture to dishes. To make it more interesting requires the addition of significant flavorings. Garlic. Onion. Peppers. Etc.

Dinner



Last night's dinner with Nina: Pizza made with TJ's ready-to-bake pizza dough, TJ's pizza sauce, TJ's vegan mozzarella, and a non-TJ's spicy fake ground beef. Veggies are TJ's "Bean So Green" frozen medley. Salad is TJ's "Roasted Butternut Squash, Red Quinoa, and Wheatberry Salad." Juice is TJ's "Omega-3 Carrot Orange Juice." Not shown: appetizer of a non-TJ's hummus with TJ's "Quinoa and Black Beans Infused Tortilla Chips," and dessert of TJ's dark chocolate with coconut caramel bar.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Trader Joe's Creamy Toscano Cheese Dusted With Cinnamon



Again I went to the cheese case at TJ's and just looked until I found something that looked interesting. I didn't even realize that this is considered a seasonal item until I saw in the Fearless Flyer that it is available only in the fall.

I didn't know what Toscano cheese was. You can learn what I did here. I liked the cheese itself--very rich, more buttery in flavor than any other cheese I can remember.

Two things about it don't work for me. First, the texture is crumbly, making it impossible to cut thin slices. It just breaks up into irregular chunks.

Second, the cinnamon. I would have thought that cinnamon makes everything better. Now I would modify that: cinnamon makes everything better, except for cheese. These two tastes just don't play nicely together. However, I'll admit that when Nina and I tried some atop TJ's Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps, the combination was quite nice, with all sorts of flavors going on all at once, in kind of a gustatory symphony. On a blander cracker, though, or eaten alone, I keep wanting to strip the cinnamon away from what is otherwise a delicious cheese. You can't do that, by the way, just by cutting off the outer layer; the cinnamon is dusted on before aging, and it infuses itself all the way through.

Will I buy it again? 

Not in this form. But poking around the web, I see that TJ's sells (or at least has sold in the past; I'm not sure if they still do) the same cheese in two other forms: dusted in black pepper, and soaked in Syrah (Shiraz). I'd be happy to try both of those, as I imagine either flavor would work better with the cheese than cinnamon does.


Nina's View

I liked this more than Bob did. The sweetness of the cinnamon made for a nice balance with the cheesiness of the cheese. And yeah, with the Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps: fantastic.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Cornbread Mix




I bought this basically as a joke, thinking it was just a gimmicky seasonal item the awfulness of which would serve as fodder for an amusingly scathing review.

Welp, I can't do that. I actually like this stuff--a lot. It's super-easy to make, and it came out perfectly on my first try (which can't often be said of food items, given my underdeveloped kitchen skills). The texture is perfect, probably the best of any cornbread mix I've ever tried (which, admittedly, is only a few)--pleasingly moist without tipping over into sogginess. And the taste is just surprisingly good. I had anticipated that it would be either plain ol' cornbread with a hint of pumpkin spice to justify the name, or go to the opposite extreme and overwhelm me with pumpkin, so that it no longer resembled actual cornbread. Nope. TJ's split the difference exactly right, producing a lovely balance of the two dominant flavors.

My only gripe with it is that it's too sweet. After "enriched flour," the second ingredient is "evaporated cane syrup"--i.e., sugar. This is followed by "degermed yellow corn meal," then "pumpkin." They need to move the sugar a notch or two down the list. If they did that, they'd have a perfect product, worthy of my Top Ten list.

As it is, it's very good, but falls short of greatness.

Will I buy it again? 

I think this will be the one TJ's seasonal pumpkin item that I most look forward to having annually.

Other opinions 

Over in the "Eat at Joe's" blog, the review is so different that one might wonder whether we're even talking about the same product.


Nina's View

Okay folks, if you've been following along, you know exactly how I'm going to feel about this one, right?

First, I have to concur that this cooked up just about as perfectly as you could ask for.

And second, just too sweet. It's more like a dessert. You could put some whipped cream on it, stick a candle in it, and sing happy birthday, and everyone would love it. 

Were this a more savory version, it would be a killer side-dish with your Thanksgiving dinner.

FIX IT, TJ's!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Trader Joe's Salt Water Taffy


I had not had salt water taffy in years when I saw this bag in the tempting "buy me!" rack next to the cashier. So I did. I took it on my big trip as part of the snack supplies.

It was extremely--and I mean extremely--mediocre. It had none of the contrasting saltiness that I remember from past encounters with this kind of candy. It just wasn't very interesting or appealing. I could eat three or four pieces, and not want any more. Now, that may sound like a healthy approach to candy, but it is certainly not my usual state of mind--unless the candy is truly, exceptionally mediocre, as this is.

Will I buy it again? 

The encounter has rekindled my interest in finding some good salt water taffy around here, but I won't be looking for it at Trader Joe's.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

Trader Joe's Beef Taquitos



This is the second time I've purchased these, and I like them a lot. I've had taquitos from several other manufacturers before, and they're all OK. But the TJ's version is much bigger and beefier. They cook easily in either microwave or toaster oven. The latter is better because it crisps the shell.

My only complaint is, like most TJ's products, they're a little on the bland side. A quick dip in Sriracha sauce cures that, however.

Will I buy it again? 

Most definitely. In fact, I doubt that I'll ever buy any competing product again. It's not like I'm feasting on these constantly. But three or four times a year, I'd guess, and I think it will always be TJ's from now on.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Trader Joe's Meditation Upon A Cinnamon Broom



To understand the reference in the name of this unusual item, see here.

You might wonder why I bought this thing. So do I. All I can say is that I saw a display of them at the store and thought, "Well, that's different!"

Actually using this as a broom, as shown in the illustration on the wrapping, is an absurd proposition. The ultra-dry twigs (pine, I believe) crumble with the lightest touch. Try sweeping with it, and you'll leave behind a far bigger mess than you were trying to clean up.

So what do you do with it? I asked the cashier at TJ's that very question as she rang up the purchase. She said, "You can hang it on your door as a decoration."

Excellent idea--except for one thing. The smell is so strong that I find I can't bring myself to inflict it on my fellow apartment dwellers, which rules out putting it on the outside of the door (i.e., in the common area). On the inside of the door, I'm afraid it will make a horrendous mess as it falls apart with the movement of the door.

But I do enjoy the scent. As far as I can tell, however, it's not so much cinnamon as clove. Good thing I like both. (EDIT: Looking more closely at the list of ingredients, I see that TJ's is claiming it's nothing but pine and cinnamon. No cloves. Coulda fooled me.) You can't imagine how powerful the scent is from examining the item in the store, because it doesn't really let loose until you unwrap it. It's so strong that it had Nina's nose stuffed up and runny, and I had to banish it to a back bedroom for the duration of her visit. I let it out again after she left, on the grounds that overpowering cinnamon is better than Eau de Bachelor Pad avec Chat.

I just leave it standing in a corner, smelling nice. I had worried that the cat might shred it, but she keeps her distance. I imagine that the odor is completely repugnant to her super-sensitive sense of smell.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I satisfied my curiosity fully with one of them.


Nina's View

I think my nasal distress is a pretty good predictor of how I feel about this thing. I strongly prefer Eau de Bachelor et Chat. It doesn't even smell *real.* It smells artificially enhanced, somehow.

Hang it on your door one night for Halloween to scare away the trick-or-treaters, if you must. Then throw it away.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Another almost-all-TJ's dinner



I suffer under an unhealthy delusion that the world is deeply interested in the all-Trader-Joe's meals I sometimes prepare for Nina's weekly visit. There's probably a technical name in the psychiatric literature for that, but I don't know what it might be.

Anyway, it happened again. What we have here is TJ's Wild Salmon in Yogurt & Mint Sauce, TJ's Pumpkin Cornbread, TJ's Garden Patch juice, with a salad made by mixing TJ's Cruciferous Crunch and TJ's Champs Elysees greens. The appetizer, not shown, was TJ's Mediterranean Hummus on TJ's Organic Yellow Corn Tortilla Chip Rounds. Dessert was a sampling of three different TJ's applesauces.

Reviews of the individual items will be forthcoming.

Trader Joe's Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli



These are absolutely the prettiest ravioli I've ever seen, what with the bright orange on one side and the bright yellow on the other. Dopey me, I failed to take a picture of them out of the package. (I was too hungry.) But you can see other people's pictures here, here, and here.

Easy-peasy to prepare. Three minutes in a pot of boiling water. For a first usage, I served them naked, so as not to confound the flavor evaluation. We had some spicy fake sausage on the side and haricot verts, but no sauce, no topping for the ravioli itself.

As for flavor, well, not such a pretty story. I got nearly all pumpkin, with the cheese completely subdued. I didn't mind them, but they weren't as tasty or interesting as I had hoped.

I paid $3.49 for the package, which turned out to contain only nine pieces. (The label claims the package to contain two servings, so I guess they expect you to cut one of them in half.) That's 39 cents apiece. Seems kind of high.

Will I buy it again? 

It's a seasonally available TJ's item. I suppose that by next fall I might develop a curiosity to try to do something different with it.


Nina’s View

Fundamentally, I think pumpkin is best in baked goods of the sweet variety. Pumpkin pie being the apogee thereof.

I prefer butternut squash ravioli to these semi-sweet concoctions. They are indeed festively colorful, and I suppose with a sage-butter-caper sauce to provide a flavor balance to the sweetness, they could make a tasty occasional side dish. Occasional because: 9 ravioli to a package? PUH-LEASE.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Trader Joe's Turkey Chili With Beans



I had hoped that this chili would be very much like the excellent Premium Select Chicken Chili With Beans. Instead, it's virtually indistinguishable from the mediocre Beef Chili With Beans--i.e., mediocre.

Will I buy it again? 

No.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Trader Joe's Premium Select Chicken Chili With Beans


First, let's establish that I have eaten a lot of canned chili. I'm confident that I have averaged more than one can a month for my entire adult life. I'm 53. Something like 400 cans of it, then, including a wide variety of brands and styles.

So please understand that it means something serious when I say this: I believe that the above-pictured item may be the best can of chili I've ever had. (I've had better homemade chili, of course--hence the qualifier "can.")

It's spiced exactly to my taste. There aren't a lot of hunks of onion/celery/peppers. The beans and pieces of chicken have distinct flavors when you bite into them, rather than having one homogeneous flavor permeating everything. The proportions of beans to meat and solids to the liquid base are just right. It's really excellent in every way.

After one trial, it has knocked everything else off of my list of mainstay chilis. I didn't have one favorite, but had preferences for several that were pretty good. Now I have one favorite.

Will I buy it again? 

It just became one of those items that I will always keep on the shelf for when the urge strikes. So yes, in a big way. Additionally: Top Ten. Yep--it's that good.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Trader Joe's greeting cards


I recently read an article about things you didn't know you could buy at Trader Joe's. The only one in that list that really surprised me was greeting cards. It's true that I had never noticed them for sale at TJ's.

It was a good tidbit of information to tuck away in my brain, because literally the next time I was at TJ's, I realized that I needed a birthday card for my sister, and didn't really want to make another stop. And then I had the "aha!" moment of remembering what I had read.

I had to look around a little to find them. In my local store, they are displayed at the customer service window, which is sort of out of the way. But there they were--99 cents each. And they are, in fact, TJ's branded; it says so right across the back.

No, they're not the greatest cards ever, and the selection is not vast. But I found one I liked, and that was enough.

And here's a handy hint: You don't have to take them out of the clear plastic envelopes they're in to read what's inside the care (as I was doing at the store). I discovered after getting home that they have anticipated this problem; the inside wording is repeated in smaller print on the back of the card for your browsing convenience. Clever!

I promise I won't buy every card and do a separate blog post about each one. I think it's plenty to do one post just to let readers know the things exist.

Will I buy it again? 

I think it's very likely.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Roundup

A weekly collection of links to all things TJ's.



Why has pumpkin dominated the food market?

Former Trader Joe's CEO dies 

21 Secrets every Trader Joe's fan will never tell you 

Mouthwatering scoop 

What's a little wait when you get a Trader Joe's? 

12 Trader Joe's products that are like crack 

10 more Trader Joe's products that are super-addictive 

What is Trader Joe's hiding (on GMOs)? 

Trader Joe's favorites 

6 recipes calling for cookie butter spread 

A store review by someone who digs food 

5 things I learned the first time I went to Trader Joe's 

Great products from the Trader Joe's health and beauty department 

The tastiest Trader Joe's products 



And now, the Trader Joe's song:

Trader Joe's Organic Tomato & Roasted Red Pepper Soup



I grew up eating Campbell's tomato soup. It became my de facto gold standard for what tomato soup was supposed to be. It was almost magical, in that I could add water to make it the regular way, add milk to make cream of tomato soup, or even go half-and-half to make it in between. Any of the three varieties would pair with a grilled cheese sandwich for a perfect lunch.

On the rare occasions that I would have tomato soup in a restaurant, or homemade at somebody's house, my reaction was, inevitably, "Well, that's OK, but it's no Campbell's." Hell, I would have supported a federal ban on any other company making tomato soup. Who needs 'em?

So it was with great skepticism that I added a box of Trader Joe's version to my shopping basket for the first time. "Good luck with that," I thought. As if red peppers could improve tomato soup. Ha! But I have a girlfriend to feed once a week, and I feel an obligation to keep the menu varied, which means trying things even when I'm dubious that they'll be good. (As it turned out, she had had this many times before on her own. But I didn't know that.)

I've gotta tell you: I was wrong. This is--brace yourselves--better than Campbell's. It's really, really good. The red pepper does make the tomato better, without overpowering it or ruining its essence.

I have now changed a lifelong habit. I still buy Campbell's to use in some recipes, but if I want to eat tomato soup, it's this version that is my first choice. It has become a staple in my cupboard. I'm even going so far as to elevate it to Top Ten status.

My only wish is that they would can it as a condensed product. It's heavy to bring home and bulky to store the ready-to-heat stuff. But I guess that's a small burden for the sake of having the world's best tomato soup on my shelves.

Will I buy it again? 

Come check my cupboards on a surprise inspection sometime, and I bet you won't catch me without it.


Nina's View

As is probably a familiar refrain by now: I don't care for Campbell's tomato soup because—say it with me, people—it's too sweet. Lot's o' sugar. TJ's soup uses lovely red bell peppers which add sweetness but also actual honest-to-goodness flavor. WIN!!

I generally don't care for soup when the weather is warm. But this soup is a welcome dish in the fall and winter. Soothing, tasty, warming, and reasonably nutritious. One could even use it as a base for other sauces. Or add things to it (like maybe little chunks of roasted tomato?).

This one is genuinely hall-of-fame worthy.


Addendum 

As I'm sure many others have discovered, this product appears to be made by Pacific Foods, and is the same as that company offers under its own label here

Friday, November 7, 2014

Trader Joe's Organic Tofu Veggie Burgers



I'm not 100% sure--cuz, you know, the memory is the second thing to go--but I believe that these burgers constituted the first time I have purchased tofu, and the first time that I have eaten it.

As you might have guessed from the fact that today's photo was taken in the store (implying that I no longer have the product on hand, and don't want to buy it again), it was not an experience I'm eager to repeat. They were far from the worst thing I've ever eaten, but there was no way to fool myself into thinking I was eating an ordinary burger, even with the bun, cheese, ketchup, pickles, and lettuce as indicators (or maybe as disguises). If the bland off-taste didn't tip me off, the odd whitish color inside would have.

There are veggie burgers that I like a lot--particularly those from MorningStar. It's not that I'm opposed to the whole concept. I'm just opposed to versions of the concept that taste bad. Like these did.

Will I buy it again? 

Tofu me once, shame on you. Tofu me twice, shame on me.




Thursday, November 6, 2014

Trader Joe's fruit bars



As with so many things from Trader Joe's, these were an impulse purchase. I couldn't have put them on my shopping list, because I didn't know that they--or anything like them--existed until I spotted them on a kiosk near the checkout lines.

What's unusual about them is that each type of bar lists exactly two ingredients: apples plus mangoes, coconuts, or bananas. No fillers or binders, no flavors or colorings, no preservatives--no nothing.

I couldn't even guess what they would look like when unwrapped. Well, to save you the suspense, here's the answer:



It looks like they just take minced, partially dried fruit and press it into the shape of a bar. The fruit is not as fully dehydrated as it is when you buy packages of dried apples, dried pineapple, dried apricots, or whatever. Calculation from the nutrition information on the back suggests that about 10% of the bar's weight is water.

I had imagined eating these as a late-night snack. But instead, Nina and I shared them for dessert after a dinner.

I thought the apple-coconut was excellent. I can't remember anything I've had before that mixed these two ingredients, or even apple and coconut as flavors. It's an unusual combination, but it works great.

Next up was apple-mango. Again nice, though not as big a hit as the apple-coconut. My experience is that after just a bite or two of real mango, I start to notice an unpleasant, slightly bitter aftertaste. Here, however, the sweetness of the apple prevented that phenomenon.

The apple-banana was the least successful. It wasn't awful, just not as pleasing as the others. The banana component was clearly the culprit. I thought it had some bitterness, while Nina described it as a somewhat chemical taste.

I think these bars would be excellent wherever you might otherwise use dried fruit, or as a substitute for more conventional energy bars. Stick 'em in a pocket or backpack to use while hiking, biking, or on a long trip by car, bus, or plane. (I will eat them on a boat. I will eat them with a goat.)

Will I buy it again? 

Apple-coconut, definitely. Apple-mango, probably. Apple-banana, unlikely.



Addendum 

A couple of weeks after writing the above (but before it was published), I went back to TJ's to buy more, and discovered another variety: the apple-strawberry.


It was excellent--right up there with the apple-coconut. I will definitely be bringing home more of these.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Trader Joe's British Style Crumpets



First, can we talk about the product name? "British Style" crumpets? Really? As opposed to, I dunno, Mongolian style crumpets? I'm not sure there is any word in the language that more directly evokes "British" than does crumpet. I think we could do without the specification. (The sketch of the Parliament building on the label might be enough of a hint.)

I had never had crumpets before. I had never seen them for sale in any U.S. grocery store. I wasn't even sure what they were. All the more reason to give them a try!

I guess the best way I can describe them is as a cross between a pancake and an English muffin. They have both taste and texture components of both items. Which means that they really can't help but be good.

Of course, I can't compare them to any other crumpets. It wouldn't surprise me if a proper Brit would turn up her nose at these and say they're a poor imitation of the real thing. But I liked them. A few minutes in the toaster oven, a swipe of butter across the top, and I'm enjoying something a little different for my breakfast.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. I can see myself becoming a big fan of crumpets.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Two all-Trader-Joe's meals (or almost all)

Once in a while, I plan a dinner for Nina that is all Trader Joe's stuff, just for fun. But sometimes, one that is all TJ's, or very nearly so, just kind of happens without planning. That's because such a large fraction of all the things I have in the cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer are TJ's that I pick an entree, a side dish, a salad, a juice, and whaddyaknow--it's all TJ's.

That has happened two weeks in a row now. 

Last week: 



The pasta is TJ's Organic Pasta--Vegetable Radiatore. The sauce is TJ's Traditional Marinara. The fake meat is not a TJ's product, but a ground beef substitute from a company called Beyond Meat. On the side are TJ's Snow Peas. The salad is one TJ's Mega Crunchy Salad with a Bite, split between us. The juice is TJ's Lemon Ginger Echinacea. 

This week: 



We've got TJ's Organic Tricolor Quinoa topped with TJ's Soy Chorizo. On the side is a brand-new TJ's product, Julienned Root Vegetables. The salad is TJ's Sorrento Baby Arugula Blend, with TJ's Raspberry Viniagrette dressing, plus a handful of non-TJ's dried cranberries. The juice is TJ's Garden Patch. Not shown are the appetizer of TJ's New York Extra Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese on TJ's Rosemary Italian Style Crackers. Finally, we had a dollop of TJ's Unsweetened Apple Sauce for dessert, also not shown. 

We've got so many reviews to write! 

Trader Joe's Blenheim Variety Extra Choice/Choice Apricots



When I was about 13, my Boy Scout troop leader told us of the hiker's diet: "For breakfast, you eat dried apricots. For lunch, you drink water. For dinner, you swell."

I've been eating dried apricots--and thinking of that silly joke--for 40 years now. I still love them. (The apricots, not the joke.) I have a fussy idea of what their taste and texture are supposed to be. I can't describe them, but I know when they're there.

I'm very pleased to say that these TJ's dried apricots (the word "dried" doesn't appear in the name of the product, for some reason) are exactly what I seek. Maybe it has to do with using the Blenheim variety of apricots, which are apparently becoming scarce in California. Maybe it's something in the drying method. I don't know. All I know is that they are just right. I want to eat a million of them in one sitting.

But then I would swell something fierce.


Will I buy it again? 

As long as they don't do anything to upset the perfect formula they have.


Addendum 

Since writing the above, I've had three more bags of them. They've all been just as good as the first. These are exactly what have long had fixed in my mind as the Platonic ideal of dried apricots. I can't imagine ever buying any competitors. I've decided that even though this isn't the kind of wild, wacky, can't-get-it-anywhere-else product that Trader Joe's is famous for, it's good enough to merit inclusion in my Top Ten list.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Trader Joe's Beef Jerky





These two items were more samples in my quest for backpackable snacks for my trip.

Beef jerky is a rare treat for me these days. By far the best I've ever tasted is Jack Link's "KC Masterpiece Barbecue" flavor. That stuff is so good that it's hard not to snarf down the whole bag in one sitting.

The Trader Joe's? I can resist the temptation. There's nothing wrong with it, but there's nothing to make it stand out as special, either. It seems completely generic.

That goes equally for both the "original" and the "teriyaki" versions. The latter might be a little more salty/soy-saucy than the former, but not by much. If you had me taste one piece from a mixed bag, I'd have a difficult time being confident which one I was eating. If I could taste one of each, I'd probably get it right--but if you have to do a side-by-side comparison to tell which is which, you've failed to make the product have whatever supposedly distinct flavor you're calling it.

I shared some with my sister-in-law. Her first reaction was, "It must have a lot of sugar in it." She was right, though I had not noticed it. The label reveals that the regular flavor has 5 grams of sugar per 28 grams of product, making it about 18% sugar. The teriyaki is even more, with 6 grams of sugar per 30 grams of product, making it about 20% sugar.

Will I buy it again? 

On the rare occasions that I indulge in beef jerky, I'll be going back to my favorite brand and flavor, which is definitely not TJ's. (By the way, while finding that link above, I noticed that Jack Link's has two new flavors of beef jerky: "Sriracha" and "burrito." MUST TRY!)


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Trader Joe's Meatless Meatballs



I thought I had exhausted Trader Joe's inventory of meat-substitute products, but then Nina made dinner for me tonight and surprised me with this offering, on pasta with TJ's vodka sauce. The combination of the three worked well. I tried a bite of one by itself, and it wasn't anything to get overly excited about. Not awful--just dull. However, in conjunction with the pasta and sauce, the "meatballs" contributed not only protein, but a nice texture and mild flavor.

Will I buy it again? 

Well, technically, I didn't buy it the first time, unlike most products reviewed here. But yes, I'm happy to know that such a product exists, and I'm pretty sure I'll find a place for it in future dinners.



Nina's View


These are simple little comfort-food bomblets. They work in sauces. I sometimes just microwave a bowlful and squeeze some sriracha sauce on them for a quick snacky meal. They will not cause tastebud fireworks, but they will fill the meatball niche in many recipes. One of these days I'm gonna try wrapping some fake-bacon around them and putting them in the oven for an hors d'oeuvre effect.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Roundup

My approximately weekly collection of links that might interest TJ's fans.


Three favorite frozen items from Trader Joe's 

A Trader Joe's Halloween costume 

Six pumpkin items from Trader Joe's 

Five amazing pumpkin products from Trader Joe's 

A Trader Joe's Thanksgiving 

Lead in Trader Joe's licorice products 

This week's picture of a cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag 


Trader Joe's Pumpkin



We've reviewed a bunch of Trader Joe's pumpkin products...but not pumpkins. It's time to change that.

Nina invited me to her house last night for dinner and to feed the trick-or-treaters. She asked me to stop on the way and buy a pumpkin for carving. The first grocery store I went to had no more. The next stop was Trader Joe's, which had had enormous boxes of pumpkins for several weeks. No more. They were down to one box, which had none of the traditional look. But after digging through for a while, I spied the one shown above, which I thought was exceptionally pretty, even if a bit unconventional. I bought it for $6.99.

Nina, being the more artistically minded, did most of the carving, with this result:



And here's how it looked after dark, with candles inside:



Happy Halloween!


Nina's View

Bob is a fan of the dappled look. Just check out his kitty cat.

Please note that the DESIGN of the pumpkin carving was Bob's suggestion, based on a photo he saw that a friend had done. It's a cute pumpkin, and it was lots of fun to wield the carving knife again.