Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Trader Joe's Egg Nog Ice Cream

This is the fourth Trader Joe's ice cream I have tried (with "ice cream" there understood to encompass all similar products even if they don't technically qualify as ice cream). The first three have all been outstanding: pomegranate blueberry sherbet, Soy Creamy Cherry Chocolate Chip (review pending), and Chocolate Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert.  Would TJ's be able to keep the streak going and make it four out of four excellent ice creams?

Sadly, no. This was a major disappointment. I always liked the taste of egg nog when I was growing up and Dad would make it for us. Always the non-alcoholic kind, of course. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've never had the "adult" version.

But this ice cream tastes almost nothing like that. It's really much more like a French vanilla ice cream. The spicing is so mild that it might as well not even be there. The list of ingredients says that there is "bourbon vanilla extract" present, but I sure can't taste it.

Overall, I didn't hate it, but I sorely wished that it had been something more special, more distinctive--more like what it purports to be.

For a concurring opinion, see this review from the "What's Good at Trader Joe's" blog.

Will I buy it again? 

No. On the rare occasion that I want French vanilla ice cream, I'll buy French vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Trader Joe's Chocolate Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert Made With Coconut Milk

Asheville has a restaurant called "Plant" (just a stone's throw from Trader Joe's, by coincidence) in which every item on the menu is vegan. Nina and I ate there once just after I had moved here. What I remember most about it was the amazing non-dairy ice cream, made from coconut milk. I never would have been able to tell that it wasn't the real thing. It recently got picked up for national distribution as part of the Amy's Kitchen line of natural/organic grocery items.

After the rousing success of my first trial of a Trader Joe's ice cream product (the luscious Pomegranate Blueberry Sherbet), I was ready for another. When I saw this chocolate fake ice cream made from coconut milk, I immediately remembered the stuff from Plant, and grabbed a pint, hoping that it would be as good, though with some trepidation that it might be inferior, and thus a big disappointment.

I was not disappointed. It's scrumptious. I ate half of the pint in my first sitting, and (1) that was after a big dinner, and (2) I definitely could have polished off the whole thing, absent the exercise of a heaping helping of self-restraint.

It's soft, creamy, smooth, delicious. There is definitely a coconut note present, but I consider that a plus; coconut and chocolate are a great combination, as the Mounds bar proved decades ago. I will go so far as to say that if all real chocolate ice cream vanished from the face of the earth tomorrow, leaving only this product, I would not miss the dairy stuff. I could be entirely content substituting this for chocolate ice cream as long as I live.

Now the question is, can I refrain from eating every last bit that's left before Nina's next visit three days from now? If I can manage that kind of self-discipline, I think I'll qualify as a Shaolin monk.

If you're thinking that that kind of praise is leading up to another Top Ten award, you are correct.

Will I buy it again? 

Definitely. I'm also eager to try the Plant/Amy's version once it hits stores, and compare them side by side.

Nina's View

There was indeed a spoonful and a half in the bottom of the carton by the time I arrived. I ate that spoonful and a half and I liked it. Since I'm gradually reducing dairy in my diet (I will spare you the disquisition on how dairy farming is basically the production of JUICE OF PAIN), I've found that coconut milk makes a pretty decent substitute in many cases. This would be one of those.

Weirdo that I am, chocolate is not at the top of my favorites list. I'd welcome the opportunity to try other flavors of this confection.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Trader Joe's Cruciferous Crunch Collection, and Trader Joe's Organics Baby Lettuce Mix

I first heard of the "Cruciferous Crunch Collection" from a post on Twitter. The name was intriguing, and I wanted to learn more about it. A Google search led me to this excellent review on the "Eat at Joe's" blog:
The Cruciferous Crunch Collection, as is not at all clear from the title, is a bag of shredded kale, Brussels sprouts, green cabbage and red cabbage. It is, in short, the nightmare scenario of every little kid sitting down to the dinner table. Back in the day that would have been me panicking at the site of kale, however since growing to adulthood I’ve developed a certain fondness for robust salads. To the modern day me, this bag of greens is a god send. The texture and heft of your greens are aspects of salads that go criminally under appreciated. Every time you’ve ever sat down do a cold plate of watery iceberg lettuce, someone has taken the texture and heft of their salad greens for granted. The absolute bastards. 
Trader Joe’s Cruciferous Crunch mix brings vibrant tastes and textures to your salad, shading the other elements with the nutritious, nutty flavor of kale, the crunch of crisp shredded cabbage, and the dense chewiness of sliced Burssels sprouts. Throwing an handful of two of this mix in with your bed of baby spinach, romaine or, dear I say it, arugula, is the easiest thing you could do to upgrade your entire salad experience.
I was kind of intimidated at the thought of eating a raw mix of kale, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts alone, so I liked the idea of using it instead as a mix with tamer salads. That's why I bought the baby lettuce mix with it. I can't really review either one alone, since the only way I've had them is as a roughly 50/50 blend. 

And put together that way, they're excellent. Mr. Eating-At-Joe's is exactly right about what the cruciferous veggies do to a salad in terms of "texture and heft." I had worried a bit that it would add a lawn-clippings taste, but I did not find that to be the case. I've had the blend of these two bagged salads now with two different salad dressings (one a sweet/fruity pomegranate dressing, the other a tangy tomato-based one, similar to Kraft Catalina), and liked it with both. 

This part is probably pure imagination or wishful thinking at work, but I got the impression that I was eating something super-healthy, the likes of which should immunize me from any and all diseases that might try to take hold of my fragile flesh. 

Will I buy it again? 

Yes, to both items. However, I wish TJ's would sell the cruciferous blend in smaller bags. Even eating a salad a day, I'm unlikely to be able to finish off a bag of this size before it goes bad. 

Nina’s View

We have reached that banner day upon which Bob is actually more enthusiastic about a green salad-y item than I am. I will pause while you let the occasion sink in, in all its momentousness: and lo! a foodie was born!

My main objection here is not at all to the baby lettuces, or indeed the concept of the cruciferous crunch collection, or the adding thereof to make a pleasing blend. It boils down to one thing. Brussels sprouts: they ought not be raw.

There. I’ve said it.

Brussels sprouts should come in size “baby” and be gently steamed to tenderness, or in size “smallish" so that they can be oven roasted to brown, crispy-soft-sweet perfection. Slicing and eating them raw is wrong and barbaric and I am not having it!

I accept, rationally, that essentially they are just mini-cabbages and thus subject to the slaw preparation. You will never convince me, however, that this is a worthy preparation of them. Go away with your uncooked Brussels sprouts. Away, I tell you!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Trader Joe's Peanutters Peanut Butter Cookies

Oh, Trader Joe's! How can you make your ginger snaps so wonderful, and these so terrible?

They are almost completely lacking in peanut flavor, leaning much more heavily to tasting like butter cookies. They are unforgivably brittle, falling apart in the tub and in one's hand. They are oily. The "peanut flavored chips" are--well, I'm not sure what they are, but they are nasty in both texture and taste.

A complete fail on every count.

Will I buy it again? 

I love peanut butter cookies. But since I don't consider these to actually be peanut butter cookies, it's easy to turn my back on them forever.


After writing the above, I couldn't decide what to do with the 95% of the tub of cookies I had left over. It finally dawned on me that I could, for the first time, try Trader Joe's vaunted no-questions-asked refund policy. So I took the tub of cookies to the customer service desk the next time I went shopping. True to their word, I just said, "I didn't like these at all," and the clerk apologized and whipped off a voucher for store credit, which I presented when I checked out with my purchases. I had the receipt, but didn't even need it. Fast, easy, painless.

Nina's View

No. Just no.

They are not nice. Oily sawdust nuggets would probably be tastier.

Do not buy them.

I would gladly slave over a hot stove all day (and by "all day" I mean about half an hour) to produce my own peanut cookies, if it meant that this product would never again see the light of day.

Saturday, December 27, 2014


This week's collection of links related to Trader Joe's. It's been a slow news week.

How to choose between Whole Foods and Trader Joe's 

Trader Joe's is the Disney World of grocery stores 

A Trader Joe's top choice wine 

Finally, in lieu of the usual finale of a "cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag" photo, I give you a "cat loves Trader Joe's coconut oil" video:

Trader Joe's Chicken Pot Pie

I get lazy and heat up a frozen pot pie of one sort or another a few times a year. I had previously tried one from Trader Joe's refrigerated section. I didn't like it primarily because it had way too many onions. Onions ruin whatever they touch. This has also been the downfall of some other brands that otherwise showed promise, including Marie Calender's and Claim Jumper,

This frozen variety, fortunately, does not suffer from the same fatal defect. However, it is completely bland and uninteresting. (And to all the smartasses who immediately see a connection there--no, its blandness would not be improved by adding onions.)

I also don't get the claim that this is a serving for two people. I had a whole one for my lunch, plus a hearty salad, plus some chips and dip. I am not a big guy. It might have been a little bit more than I would have thought ideal, but not a lot.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not. It just didn't excite me.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Trader Joe's Mini Gingerbread Men

I like these a lot. They're crisp and heavily gingery, and the icing provides just the right amount of contrasting sweetness. Frankly, what I was expecting from these was bland, generic, boxed, mass-produced grocery store cookies--but they surprised me by being much tastier than that.

Will I buy it again? 

I'd be happy to have another box next year.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Trader Joe's Gingerbread Molasses Cookie Dough

This is a refrigerated cookie dough that you just bake and serve. Unlike most pre-made cookie doughs I have used in the past, this one eliminates the need to spoon out the dough. The dough is shaped into individual round disks (slightly flattened spheres) that you just put onto a cookie sheet. I seem to have a genetic brain defect that prevents me from making uniform cookies when I have to measure it out myself; some end up three times as big as others. This is not only visually disappointing, but results in different amounts of doneness when they bake. This is not ideal.

By contrast, look how perfect these come out:

I took this picture a little too quickly after they had come out of the oven, because they only stayed puffed up like this for a few minutes. After cooling, those dome-like tops collapsed down to the classic fissured appearance of gingerbread cookies.

Even better, they're delicious! I ate four of them in about as many minutes, and only stopped there because I wanted to take the rest to a poker game at a friend's house last night. My plan was for there to be enough for everybody to have one. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea of sharing treats, and we were overrun with cookies of every variety--far more than we could eat. So only two other people tried these. But both of them had one, and liked it enough to go for a second. When I got the last four home, I inhaled them as my bedtime snack.

The package suggests dipping the dough balls in sugar before baking. I did not try that, and I'm not sure I want to. They're already very sweet. Maybe it's Nina's influence rubbing off on me, but I think I'd like them even better if they had a tad less sugar in them. But that's not a complaint. As is, this is the best pre-made cookie dough I've ever used. As such, it earns a spot on my Top Ten list (which, as I occasionally remind readers, is not limited to ten items, because what fun would that be?). Highly recommended.

Even if you don't think you'd like these, you should buy and bake the dough just for the heavenly smell it generates when it's in the oven.

Minor complaint: The dough should come in a resealable package, so that it's easier to bake just a few at a time, saving the rest for another day.

Will I buy it again? 

I plan to hit up TJ's today or tomorrow and buy two or three more packages for the freezer, because I don't want to wait until next December to have more.

Nina's View

These are good. My main objection is that they are a tad one-note, and as Bob has noted that one note is very sweet. But their texture is excellent (soft and a little chewy) and they are appropriately gingerbready. These would be well-accompanied by an unsweetened tea or coffee.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Trader Joe's Miso Ginger Broth

This was the second broth that I bought in anticipation of a temporary clear-liquids diet--but it turned out not to be as clear as I had guessed, so I ate only a little of it then, with more following when my restrictions had been lifted.

I don't think I had ever had miso soup before, so I didn't know what to expect. I also have no experiential basis for comparing it with any other miso product. (I have a small tub of yellow miso in my fridge, but I haven't opened it yet.) So all I can tell you is that I liked it. It was salty and delicious, even though I'm not sure exactly what I was tasting. I'm kind of unclear on the whole "miso" concept.

I think I'm going to try some noodles to this stuff and see if I can make it even better.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. I'm eager to start experimenting with it.

Nina's View

This is miso soup for beginners, which is a good thing. I suspect it would even be kid-friendly. It's not especially traditional (no bonito flakes, for example). It's *very* gingery and almost sweetish. But an experimenter needs to start somewhere, and this is as good a place as any.

It was nice with the rice noodles Bob chose to serve it to me with. It would also be good with tofu and some scallion and maybe a shiitake or some other mushroom floating in it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Trader Joe's Sparkling White Chardonnay Grape Juice

I typically buy a product like this--either sparkling grape juice or sparkling apple juice--about once a year, usually during the holiday season. So when I saw this at TJ's, it was an easy decision to pass on the usual Welch's or Martinelli's.

I liked it. Is it any better than the more ubiquitous brands? Not that I could notice on one tasting, though I can't say how it would be if I had been able to try it simultaneously with one of the others.

Will I buy it again? 

As with so many items, when there's not one clear best choice, it's just a matter of where I am when I decide to buy.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Trader Joe's Premium Cat Food

Trader Joe's has three varieties of canned cat food "dinners." They also sell their own brand of dry cat food, which I have not purchased.

My cat, Lucy, has basically four different reactions to cat food. (1) Loves it and snarfs it down immediately. (2) Likes it, eats about half immediately, the rest later. (3) Meh, which means she sniffs at it and walks away, hoping that I'll get her something better, but if I don't, she'll come back and eat it later when she gets hungry enough. (4) Blech--the stuff she'd rather starve than eat.

The TJ's chicken/turkey/rice gets a reaction (2). The turkey/giblets gets a type (3). The fish/salmon/rice gets a (4).

As for nutritional quality, these products are sort of in the mediocre range. They're lower in protein and higher in fat than would be ideal. See the PDF chart here if you want all the nitty-gritty details. However, they're essentially the same on those parameters as the food that constitutes the mainstay of Lucy's diet, which is Newman's Own Turkey Formula, and the TJ's cost only about half as much. All three sell for $0.79 per can.

Calling these "premium" is a stretch. OK, it's a lie. However, among the wet cat foods that are in that price range, you'd have a hard time finding anything of better nutritional quality, and among those in the same general range of quality of ingredients, you'd have a hard time finding anything cheaper.

Will I buy it again? 

No. Lucy doesn't like any of them better than her regular food, and I don't mind the higher price of Newman's, so that's what I'm sticking with.

Nina's View

Loki says, "They tried to make me eat TJ's but I said NO NO NO." (You may remember that he likes the Tuna for Cats, though. A lot.) This stuff dries up in the dish. Enough said.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Trader Joe's Beet Hummus

This is a brand-new product at Trader Joe's, and it's exactly the kind of offbeat, category-busting, "who thought of that?" item that makes shopping at TJ's so much more interesting than picking up groceries at Safeway.

I didn't mind this stuff, but I didn't love it. The beets completely dominate the traditional hummus ingredients of chickpeas and tahini, though the label promises that they're in there somewhere. A more accurate product name would be "beet mash," but they probably wouldn't sell much of that.

Will I buy it again? 

No--not because it's bad, but because when I want hummus, I want something that actually looks and tastes like hummus. I have not yet experienced a urge to eat beet mash. If I ever do, my answer here will change. Still, I do expect to encounter it again--at Nina's house, because of what I'm pretty sure she's about to tell you. (Spoiler: "Nom!")

Nina’s View

I will stipulate that it’s not particularly hummus-y. Fair enough.

But what it is, is remarkably—nay, outrageously!—tasty. When Bob mentioned that this existed, I said to myself: “That sounds like it might be good. I’d try it.”

I ate 9/10ths of the tub in about 8 minutes. So good. Really really good. Again: not so much with the hummus, but I don’t care. It’s got kind of an earthy sweet ’n’ sour thing going on (balsamic and other vinegar, which they could dial back a wee bit I will admit, but just a skosh). As Bob spoilered above, NOM!

If he thinks I’m going to serve this to him at my place, he is sadly mistaken. Why would I put this fabulous food in front of someone who clearly does not appreciate it the way it deserves (“didn’t mind?” "beet mash?" how disrespectful!)? More for me, none for him. I will hug it and pet it and call it George.

And then I will devour it.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


It's time for the weekly listing of links related to Trader Joe's:

The Oatmeal mistakenly goes to Trader Joe's hungry 

Seven vegan holiday dinner items to snag at Trader Joe's 

Making tiramisu from Trader Joe's ingredients 

"Most festive salad ever," using Trader Joe's ingredients 

Vegan gingerbread cookies, using Trader Joe's ingredients 

Why Trader Joe's wine is so cheap 

Nobody stepped up on Twitter this week with a picture of a cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag, so we'll have to go to stock photos of my own Lucy:

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Triple Ginger Cookies

I had assumed that these were just a chocolate-covered version of Trader Joe's famous and fabulous triple ginger snaps. But soon after biting into the first one from this box, I realized that was not so. The cookie is softer than the ginger snaps, and the embedded ginger pieces are different. I suspect they come from a different manufacturer. Which is a shame, because the triple ginger snaps are perfect. The cookies here, not so much.

I also don't think the chocolate blends nicely with the ginger. It's too dominant, too bitter. Milk chocolate would probably work better.

Overall I was just kind of "meh" about these. Disappointed.

Will I buy it again? 

No. There must be better cookies to leave out for Santa.

Nina's View 

I love Bob very much, but sometimes I feel he is so wrong that we inhabit different universes.

This cookie is a case in point. It has already been established that we disagree on the aforementioned triple ginger snaps. That's because they are meh, whereas these cookies are very, very good.

The texture is awesome. The chunks of ginger are fabulous. The robe of dark chocolate is perfect, thin but intense. A cup of tea and a couple-three of these little nuggets of deliciousness would fix just about any day that needed fixing. 

Even a day in which Bob is entirely mistaken.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Trader Joe's Petite Fig, Pear And Cranberry Tart

I read about this in the December Fearless Flyer, here. "This is a classic, French-pastry-inspired tart that begins with a fabulously flaky crust. Nestled within that crust are abundant amounts of sweet California figs, smooth & tart pears, and tart & tangy cranberries. Every bite delivers sweet & tart, with a bit of crunch (from the figs), and that flaky crust that brings it all together." Sounds irresistible, doesn't it? TJ's copywriters earned a purchase with that, because I wouldn't have bought this thing without having read that. In fact, the baked-goods table is one part of my local TJ's that I habitually ignore, unless I'm looking for something specific.

This is the third item I've bought from that table, the first two being the awful cherry pie and the so-so Druid Circle cookies (review coming later). Now we add a ho-hum tart to that list.

I've had 3/4 of this, one quarter per night for three nights, and I don't think I'll eat the fourth. The crust is more tough than "flaky," let alone "fabulously flaky." The fruit does have a nice blend of sweet and tart, but they're really stingy with it. The result is like eating some tough bread with an occasional bit of fruit. Which is not exactly an irresistible experience.

TJ's also gets demerits for not using the Oxford comma in the product name. It's adding orthographic mediocrity to culinary mediocrity.

Will I buy it again? 


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Trader Joe's Tart Cherry 100% Juice Blend

Yummy. Cherry definitely predominates, but I liked the other components, too.

If I were in charge, I would take the "tart" out of the name. Because it's really not. But I liked it anyway.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. I'd get it again right away, except that there are so many other juices on the TJ's shelves yet to be explored.

Nina's View

This is not bad. It would be better, however, if it were all tart cherry. I find it a little too sweet (the ubiquitous grape juice makes an appearance), and I don't really dig the purée texture provided by the pear and plum purees that are added. 

I have accepted that it is my lot in life to be outvoted by the masses who (wrongly) prefer excessively sweet stuff. *sigh*

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Trader Joe's Jumbo Raisin Medley

In this picture, the raisins probably don't look unusually big. But they are. You take a couple out of the package the first time, and it's, "Whoa! When did they start injecting raisins with steroids?!"

They are by far the biggest raisins I've ever seen. Bigger than I ever knew existed. Fortunately, they're also the best. They're sweet and plump and soft and tasty.

I saw packages of jumbo black raisins right next to the packages of the medley. I'll probably try those, too, but what I'd really like is a package of just the golden raisins, which have long been my favorite. In the meantime, though, I'll keep eating these. Superlative.

Will I buy it again? 


Nina's View

This gets a big, fat, juicy "MEH" from me. I'm not a huge raisin aficionado (or a small raisin aficionado for that matter), so I don't have a whole lot to compare and contrast with. I will say that of the three varieties included, I preferred the dark ones as I thought they had a more complex, winy flavor to them.

But I rarely eat raisins out of hand.  Sometimes they make an appearance in trail mix I eat. I may cook or bake with them from time to time, but I'm never buying them just to munch on.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Trader Joe's Fancy Shredded Mexican Blend

My usual choice for shredded cheese (and, yes, I'm lazy enough to buy it packaged rather than grate it myself) is Sargento's "Four State Cheddar." Maybe I'm just showing my troglodyte palate here, but if you blindfolded me and had me taste that or this TJ's "Mexican" blend, I'm not confident I could tell you which is which--a point that is meant to illustrate that I detect nothing especially Mexican about this stuff. Once it's sprinkled on any dish with its own personality, whatever small traces of Mexicanality (Mexicanness? Mexicanitude?) there might be to it completely vanish into the background, and you're left with just a generic sense of "cheese."

To be honest, that's fine with me. It's all I expect from shredded cheese as a garnish. So this stuff does the job satisfactorily. Still, I'm disappointed that if there's anything distinctive about Mexican cheese, I'm not finding it in this product.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Trader Joe's Triple Ginger Brew

This is ginger ale on steroids. And it comes in a way-cool, kick-ass bottle.

Seriously, they took plain old ginger ale, but put, oh, about 7000 times as much ginger in it as you usually find. (The "triple" in the name is understatement.) It's got about as much kick as I can imagine getting from a non-alcoholic beverage.

In fact, I thought it was a little over the top in both gingeriness and sweetness. If they would dial both back maybe 10 or 20 percent, I'd like it better.

But you really have to try this at least once in your life, just so that can say that you did. Better act fast, though. I understand TJ's sells out of this quickly every year when it comes in.

Will I buy it again?

Yeah, I think making this a once-a-year treat would be OK with me.

Nina's View

I like me some ginger. I have absolutely no complaints about the ginger quotient in this beverage. But once again, TJ's has bowed to the HORRENDOUS TASTE of the Great Unwashed Masses and put way too much sugar in this beverage.

What could be a bracing, thirst-quenching tonic of fiery delight has been rendered a gingery melted lollipop. Alas.

Perhaps if it were served over much crushed ice with a huge squeeze of lime juice and the addition of some — oh, I dunno — VODKA…

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Trader Joe's Tomato & Basil Hummus Dip

I believe I have eaten hummus exactly twice in my life. The first time was with Nina at a Mediterranean restaurant when I was living in Las Vegas. I was a little like this woman, though I didn't go quite so far as to claim that I had terminal cancer.

The second time was just a couple of weeks ago, at Nina's house, when she put out some crackers and lemon-flavored hummus (not a Trader Joe's product). She said she thought I would like it, and I did.

Just for the record, I am not alone in my hummus naivete.

Anyway, I had already tried the lentil chips mentioned in the last post, but I had eaten them unadorned. It occurred to me that they could stand some good dip. Because of the recent lemon hummus experience, I decided to see what TJ's had to offer by way of hummus. They had several, but the "tomato-basil" variety struck me as the most likely to be something I would like. I did notice the word "dip" in the name, but I assumed that that only meant that they did something to the texture to make it more suitable for scooping up with chips.

It was only after I got it home that I looked more closely at the label and realized that this wasn't slightly modified hummus; it was dip that had some hummus in it. The first listed ingredient is tomatoes. Oops. Oh well. Live and learn.

But regardless of the erroneous mental process that led to my selection, I liked the stuff. It's bold and substantial. The texture is just right for dipping--it's not hard to pick up, not runny or drippy. I dub it a winner.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. It's not often I feel an urge for chip dip, but when I do, this will be high on the list of choices.

Nina’s View

I found this dip very weird. It’s basically a chilled, congealed version of TJ’s Vodka Sauce for pasta (which you will probably eventually see a review of from Bob). I was so weirded out by the similarity in flavor profile that I could not get behind this dip in the slightest.

I like hummus in many, many different guises. But not this one.


An advantage of having a long lag between when I write most posts and when they publish is that sometimes I have tried an item one or more additional times and can add more perspective. In the three months or so since I wrote the above, I went on a hummus mini-rampage. I have tried about a dozen different kinds, and have started to develop definite preferences.

So the last time I was in Trader Joe's, having now tried most of their hummus varieties, I decided to return to this hummus dip, since it was the first one I bought, and see if my opinion on it would be changed by all the hummus I had had since.

Boy howdy, did it ever change. I was going to try to describe it, but sitting down to write, I came across Nina's description, which I had completely forgotten about. She nailed it. That is exactly how it seems to me now. I had ten or so chips dipped in it, and just couldn't stand it anymore. I threw the rest of the container away. It's nasty.

Maybe it's good that I started with this, because being tomatoey it was familiar and unfrightening. I'm sure that's why I selected it from all the choices TJ's has for sale. But it's precisely for that reason that it just ain't hummus. There is apparently some hummus in there somewhere (both garbanzo beans and tahini are on the list of ingredients), but it really does taste and feel like cold, thick pasta sauce--which is not what I want when I'm in a hummus mood.

Now I read my original review above and can't help but wonder: what was I thinking???

Saturday, December 13, 2014


Weekly compilation of links related to Trader Joe's:

Is Trader Joe's really GMO-free?

Make cookie butter at home 

Favorite Trader Joe's products for vegans 

Favorite Trader Joe's snacks for vegans 

Trader Joe's donates unsold flowers to Meals on Wheels for distribution 

An act of kindness by a Trader Joe's employee 

Trader Joe's is #2 on Forbes list of most inspiring companies 

Finally, this week's cute cat in a Trader Joe's bag. (We'll just have to take her word for it that that's a TJ's bag, I guess.)

Trader Joe's Baked Lentil Chips

This is exactly the sort of product I had at least vaguely in mind when I decided to start writing this blog. My inclination is always to stick with the things that I know and like, not venture out, because of the eternal equation: NEW = SCARY.

But I had a strong suspicion that once I committed myself to writing about new items I tried, it would tip the balance in how I weighed purchase decisions. The pre-blog process, when spotting something like lentil chips on the store shelf was approximately this: "It might be good, but it might be awful, so I'll just pass." With the commitment to write about new things, however, this changes. It becomes, roughly, "If it's good, I'll enjoy it. If I don't like it, at least I can do a blog post about what's wrong with it." And so the moment of decision shifts from "leave it" to "take it."

In this instance, I'm glad I did. I knew that I liked lentils, but that sure doesn't mean that I'd necessarily like lentil chips. But I did! They have a mild, pleasant taste, clearly different from potato chips. My biggest surprise was how much the black pepper added to my enjoyment of them, something I'm not sure I've ever felt before.

I didn't like them so much that they'll replace potato chips as my main accompaniment to a sandwich at lunch, but I definitely enjoyed polishing off the bag. They even emboldened me to take a chance on a whole new chip dip; see tomorrow's post.

Will I buy it again? 

Once in a while, yes.

Nina’s View

Indescribably bland. A good shape for dipping into hummus or other spread. A significant percentage of the chips were undercooked, which I find utterly unacceptable. I would not buy these.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Trader Joe's 100% Pomegranate Juice

This is one of those occasional items that it feels a little odd to be reviewing, because it's not something that's unique to Trader Joe's. That is, whatever there is to be said for this would presumably apply equally to any manufacturer's bottle of 100% pomegranate juice. There just can't be that much difference between them, can there?

I suppose I've probably had pure pomegranate juice at some point in my life, but I really can't remember it clearly. I've definitely had it as part of juice blends, and always liked it. I think I haven't actively pursued having it more often because (1) it's intense, and (2) it's expensive. (This bottle from TJ's was $4.49.)

I bought it because, well, at the risk of TMI, I have my first screening colonoscopy coming up, which is going to require 24 hours of a clear-liquid diet beforehand, so I wanted to stock up on Jello and juices and broths. After I got this home, however, I looked at my instructions a little more closely, and then noticed that it specified "nothing red or purple." I think the reasons for that are sufficiently self-explanatory that I won't delve into the subject further.... But the upshot was that I served this with dinner earlier this week when Nina was here, since it wouldn't do for my pre-procedure day.

It certainly was intensely flavored--but I liked it a lot. Too much, I'm afraid, because now I'm going to want more of it, and it's really hard to justify that kind of cost. It's not like pomegranate juice is loaded with rare, life-saving nutrients. It's basically natural sugar water, with some tart fruity flavoring. Delicious, but not essential.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes, once in a while as a treat, or maybe to create my own blend with something else.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Trader Joe's Baby Spinach With Cranberries, Candied Pecans, Miner's Blue Cheese & Raspberry Vinaigrette

If nothing else, this item may win the prize for the longest name of an item to become a blog post title.

This is not--repeat, not--the kind of bagged salad that I normally bring home. I don't mind when spinach is in a blend with various lettuces, as in the "spring mix" that many companies sell. But I'm not a fan of it being the star of the show. I do not like pecans, candied or otherwise. To the best of my knowledge, I've never had any kind of blue cheese before. (It's on the long list of things that in my infinite wisdom I can tell just by looking--or even just by the name of the thing--that I won't like.) The cranberries and raspberry vinaigrette were the only parts of this that sounded good.

So why was this going in my basket instead of another bag of lovely herb salad mix? I dunno, except that in that moment I had an inkling that it might be an interesting combination of tastes and textures.

And you know what? It was. My first reaction was, "This isn't as bad as I feared it might be." I finished my bowl of it. But then I had it again the next day--and the needle moved from a roughly neutral position on the "love-hate" scale into the "like" section. A good part of the overnight change may have been that I omitted the pecans. Still don't like them.

I just now finished having it for a third time, and it wasn't quite as good this time, probably because there wasn't enough blue cheese in the bag to last (everything except the spinach is in a separate small bag inside the big bag); I had finished that on Day 2. Do you know what that means? It means that I can like at least some blue cheese in at least some circumstances. This is a small but quite amazing revelation.

I'm not sure how Day 4 will go, because I polished off the cranberries today, meaning that tomorrow it will be down to spinach and dressing. That could be a problem, even though I like the dressing very much.

To wrap up: On the plus side, I genuinely surprised myself by liking this, and it definitely is an interesting mix of ingredients. On the minus side, the way the parts are portioned doesn't work out well for how I'd like to balance them. I may well end up throwing away a third of the spinach.

Will I buy it again? 

Maybe sometime if I'm having enough people over for dinner that I can mix up the whole batch in the proportions that TJ's intends, and try a bit of it again that way. Otherwise, I think it's going to feel too wasteful. However, I well might try experimenting with making some comparable mix on my own terms, now that this stuff has piqued my interest.

Nina's View

I object to salad kits on principle. Having said that, I admit that this is pure prejudice and I should just get over myself. Bob's review demonstrates quite clearly why they can be a very good thing.

The spinach leaves could have been younger and tenderer and better trimmed. Since they weren't, it would have been more enjoyable had there been a variety of greens, but it wasn't outright unpleasant.

I don't care for 99% of blue cheese, so I was pretty sure I wouldn't like the one included here. I tried it anyway. (Always try! More than once! I know my taste is capable of changing.) Still didn't like it at all. So I had several large helpings of this salad omitting the cheese. I would have a sharp chevre or even feta by preference with this.

The pecans are good—I have yet to figure out why Bob likes the occasional type of nut but not others (to be fair, I can imagine why he doesn't care for walnuts: they can be bitter). And I actually prefer the raspberry vinaigrette in this mix to the regular TJ's bottled kind that Bob adores. Less sweet. 

That said, I'm just not ever buying a salad kit. I generally have a mix of dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and dressings available when I want to tart up a salad.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Tonight's dinner with Nina: TJ's Quinoa Cowboy Veggie Burger on TJ's hamburger bun, TJ's vegetable melange, TJ's Latin style black bean soup, and TJ's Triple Ginger Brew. Not shown: appetizer of non-TJ's hummus with TJ's "reduced guilt" white corn tortilla chips and TJ's multigrain tortilla chips, and dessert of TJ's freeze-dried raspberries and TJ's caramel bites.

As always after a meal like this, there is much writing to do!

Trader Joe's Real Mistletoe

I believe this is the first real mistletoe I've ever purchased. The box says something about it being preserved so that it will last all season. Once you take it out of the box, the preservation method becomes obvious: it's dried, then painted green. I suppose it's still marginally better than plastic versions, but not by much.

However, I hung it up, and the next time Nina came for a visit, I maneuvered her unsuspecting self under it and kissed her. So it worked! What more can one ask of it?

Will I buy it again? 

No. First, I shouldn't have to, since I think this will last for a few years, unless it crumbles to dust in storage. Second, well, I don't mean to brag, but I have a hunch that I might have been able to get Nina to kiss me even without any mistletoe. But for $1.99, it was fun to use once.

Update: I wrote the above a few days ago, and the mistletoe is already gone. I didn't have it mounted very securely, and it kept falling down. Every time it did, a bunch of leaves would fall off--not surprising, since they're dried and spray-painted. After the fourth time, there was so little left that I just gave up and tossed the remainder. But I did get another kiss out of it before it turned to dust.

Nina's View 

Okay, I like the idea of mistletoe. Romantic. All natural. Even pretty, in a kind of basic shiny-leaf-waxy-white-berry way.

But this TJ's stuff? NEGATORY. 

First of all, who sprays plasticky green flocking all over something natural to preserve it? Furthermore, why would you *need* to preserve mistletoe anyway? The whole point of the stuff is that it's seasonal. SEASONAL. Good for One Season.

I think it is most accurate to say that I kissed Bob despite the TJ's mistletoe. At least twice.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Trader Joe's Bath Tissue

Trader Joe's sells two different versions of its toilet paper: regular and extra-soft. This is the former. I have not tried the latter.

In spite of being not their super-soft product, it's really nice. My regular brand has long been Cottonelle. This is every bit as nice as that, and maybe even a little bit better. Which is pretty remarkable, given its claim of being 80% post-consumer paper. (Let's just hope that it isn't 80% post-consumer toilet paper.)

How is the cost comparison? Cottonelle costs between 2.5 and 2.7 cents per square foot at Target, depending on the size of the package (i.e., the number of rolls). TJ's is 1.4 cents per square foot.

That makes TJ's just as good or better than my standard, greener, and cheaper. I believe we have a winner--and the first non-food item on the Top Ten list.

Will I buy it again? 

Many times. It is my new preferred product in this category.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Trader Joe's Organic Mini Cheese Sandwich Crackers

1. They're tiny. They're kinda cute.

2. They're too salty (a first for Trader Joe's, in my experience).

3. To the extent that there is any cheese taste, it's a vaguely Cheez Whiz-y flavor.

Will I buy it again? 


Nina's View

Bob has said it all. Small, excessively salty, flavorless. Buh-bye.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Trader Joe's Organic Foursome

This is completely straightforward: it's corn, peas, carrots, and green beans, frozen. Heat it up any which way you choose, and you have veggies.

Do you have outstanding veggies? No. Do you have interestingly flavored veggies? No. Do you have exotic veggies? No. Do you have fresh veggies? No.

But you have veggies. Safe, predictable, exactly-what-you'd-expect, commercially mixed veggies. So you've got that going for you, which is nice.

I think the most I can say for this product is that it did not suffer from the extreme and unpleasant limpitude that the Pacific Shores Stir-Fry Vegetables did. Everything came out fine.

Will I buy it again? 

I suppose I might keep a bag in the freezer for some occasion when I haven't planned ahead to have something better. And it will always do, but it will never be anything special.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


A weekly compilation of links, news, reviews, etc., about Trader Joe's.

Trader Joe's invites you to vote for your favorite products 

What you should buy (and avoid) at Trader Joe's 

8 Trader Joe's beauty products that are actually amazing 

Who knew Trader Joe's had craft beer? 

The most addictive thing at Trader Joe's 

Trader Joe's peppermint goodies 

An ode to Trader Joe's frozen foods 

And finally, this week's picture of a cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag. Hey, look! It's my very own kitty, Lucy!

Trader Joe's "This Blueberry Walks Into A Bar..."

Having liked the strawberry version of the same product previously, when I went back to the store to get more of them, these went into the basket as well. No surprise: I liked them just as much. If I weren't afraid that it's against the law to like something more than strawberry, I might even say that these were a teeny tiny bit better. They're basically like eating a piece of blueberry pie.

Now I have to wonder about the other varieties--I believe I've seen apple and fig alongside the strawberry and blueberry. Will they be as good?

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. Yes I will.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Trader Joe's Jaipur Vegetables

I know nothing about cooking Indian food. The only way it gets served at my house is if it comes pre-made for me--like this did. Inside the box is a pouch containing the soupy stuff. You can either put the pouch in boiling water, or dump the contents into a bowl and microwave it. I did the latter, and it turned out fine. Nina and I had this for dinner, served on some TJ's brown Basmati rice.

I liked it. I didn't love it. It was Indian-ish. But nothing about it tasted fresh, the way I have a few times experienced Indian food in good restaurants. I'm not sure I can specify what it is I'm tasting that's off, but I think I would have no difficulty passing a blindfolded taste test of this versus a similar dish freshly prepared. Something about it strongly suggests "packaged."

Which is as good as Indian food is going to get at my house--but not nearly as good as it can get in somebody else's.

Will I buy it again?

Maybe someday, but it's not going to make it into the regular menu rotation.

Nina's View

I now don my SNOB HAT (which is fetching, doncha think?). I have been privileged to eat much tasty and fresh Indian food, so I have a pretty decent idea what jahfreezi—which is what I think they're aiming for here—is supposed to taste like.

And this ain't it. It tastes stale and old and the texture is muddy.

The world is full of too much good Indian cuisine to be had at reasonable prices to eat this stuff.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Trader Joe's flowers

In a way, it's pointless to review the flowers I bought for Nina at Trader Joe's as I would other stuff they sell. After all, there were several different types of flower groupings available in each of at least three different price points on just the day I bought these. Furthermore, the kinds of flowers and their sourcing and quality will surely vary enormously with time and with where a given TJ's store is located. So by no means do I intend for this quickie review to stand for all TJ's flowers everywhere for all time.

But on the other hand, I think it's worth one post to remind readers that TJ's does sell flowers, that they are at least as good in quality (as far as this uneducated consumer can tell) as those available at other grocery stores, and that they are very reasonably priced. The bundle above cost $3.99. Unless they dies in less than three days, which seems unlikely, that's a real bargain. (The vase is one I had bought at a local thrift store previously for just such occasions.)

I'm lucky that Nina is practical and frugal. She likes flowers now and then as much as any woman, but she is more likely to be pleased that I didn't blow a lot of money on them than she is to be impressed that I spent a lot on her. (The kind of woman that would be happier if I spent more is not likely to have a personality I'd find appealing anyway.)

Will I buy it again? 

Yes, and you probably should, too. Somebody in your life deserves flowers.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joe's

Even if you've never had these, it's pretty easy to accurately imagine what they taste like. Take Oreos, grind up some candy canes, and mix the resulting bits into the Oreo filling. Erase any reference to "Oreo" or "Nabisco" on the packaging, and you've got yourself Candy Cane Joe-Joe's. Which means that you already know in advance if you're going to like these. You don't need my opinion.

I liked them, of course, but I think more for the novelty than for the thing itself. I've eaten about half of the package (not all at once) as I write this, and I think that given a choice, I'd take plain Oreos. Or plain Joe-Joe's. (I have not tried plain Joe-Joe's yet, but I have a pretty good idea of what they'd be like just by mentally subtracting the peppermint from these cookies.)

Maybe I'm a freakazoid, but I was also bothered by the texture of the candy cane pieces. I keep feeling like there is ground glass in my cookies. It feels wrong to be grinding it into my teeth.

Will I buy it again? 

I don't think so. Judging from the excited reaction of people on Twitter to the reappearance of these seasonal cookies in stores, I may be the only one on earth who doesn't want more of them.

Nina's View

I don't have a view, because Bob ate all of them before I had a chance to try them. I think I would probably like them. But we may never know.

Life is cruel.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Trader Joe's Veggie Chips Potato Snacks

God, these things are awful. It's like eating pieces of fresh cardboard. No, let me revise that--it's like eating pieces of stale cardboard.

It's not just me making that assessment. A food writer for the San Jose Mercury News sampled 14 different veggie chips, and this Trader Joe's offering came in dead last. Says the writer, Ms. Jolene Thym:
These bargain-priced chips are a serious disappointment. They get a half-point for being low in fat, but the cardboard flavor gets a thumbs-down. A serving has 160 calories, 1 g fat, 1 g fiber. A 6-ounce bag is $1.99. (½ a star) 
And what's with the identity crisis? "Veggie Chips," but simultaneously "Potato Snacks"? Let's set the record straight--there are no "veggies" here, only "potato starch and flakes," according to the ingredient list. Well, OK, there is also "tomato powder" and "spinach powder," but they're both listed after salt, which tells you something about what tiny amounts of each are present.

This is without a doubt the single worst TJ's product I've tried yet.

Somewhere within the vast Trader Joe's organization there is at least a small group of people, among the many tasked with vetting new products, who presumably tasted these chips and all said, "Wow! Those are great! Let's get them on the shelves right away!"

My message to Trader Joe's is this: Find those people and fire them.

Will I buy it again? 

Take a guess.

Nina's View 

How to explain?

My first impression of these chips: vaguely salty styrofoam.

My second impression: hmm, there's some oil in there too.

My third impression: huh. If I eat several of the same color in a row I can detect a vegetablish flavor of spinach or tomato.

My fourth impression: these things are appropriately shaped for dipping in dips. Which would definitely make them better.

My fifth impression: I'm still eating them. I am a pathetic slave to anything salty and greasy.

My sixth impression: I would not reach up or stoop down to put these in my shopping cart.

My seventh impression: if these fell into my shopping cart and I didn't notice, I would ask the cashier to not ring them up when I went to check out.

My eighth impression: if these were a "free bag with purchase" at TJs, I would in fact take them home and eat them. (Whereas Bob has proclaimed he would throw them out.)

My ninth impression: I would eat every other savory snack in my home before finishing these. At which point they would be really stale and even worse.

My tenth impression: save yourselves some money and just put some oil and salt on plastic packing peanuts. 

Bob again: Can you see why I love this woman?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Trader Joe's Mini Beef Tacos

These are good, not great. When I have a hankering for frozen mini-tacos, my preferred product is Jose Ole Beef & Cheese. TJ's are almost, but not quite, as good. They're also definitely oilier, which I didn't like.

Note also that the photo on the package is deceptive as a "serving suggestion." What that means in this case is that yours can look like this--if you add the cheese, greens, and tomatoes yourself, cuz they ain't in the box.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not.