Saturday, January 31, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Pasta--Spaghetti

If it's pasta (which this is), and it's made from durum wheat semolina (which this is), I'm unlikely to be able to distinguish it from any other similar product. This one predictably exhibited that same characteristic. Even in a side-by-side taste test, I doubt that I could tell any of them from any others.

Will I buy it again? 

As with all such commodities, it's purely a matter of cost and convenience.

Nina's View 

Some day I'd like to do a blind taste-test of pastas, just to see whether there's any meaningful difference for me. I *think* there is, but I can't be sure. Such a test would probably require just butter and salt on the noodles, because the addition of just about any sort of sauce would make the comparison very difficult indeed.

The critical point with pasta is that it be cooked correctly. Bob cooked this batch correctly, which made it very palatable indeed.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Trader Joe's Candy-Coated Licorice

These candies are obviously a knockoff of Good 'n' Plenty. I admit that I haven't tried the original in maybe 20 years, so my sensory memory of it is not the sharpest, but I remember liking it. This, not so much. The candy coating is chalky tasting. The licorice center is so dense that it's almost hard, and it has an off-putting, bitter note in the flavor.

Perhaps plenty, but not good.

Will I buy it again? 


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Trader Joe's Unscented White 95 Count 2 Ply Tissues

I love the whimsical box these tissues come in. The other sides say, "I'm there when you need to pick up icky things," "I'm there when you're sick," and "I'm there when you run out of toilet paper."

So the box gets a laugh from guests. But I'm afraid that's not enough to save it, because the tissues themselves are pretty rough and harsh. I don't go for the expensive, ultra-softened tissues. My long-time mainstay is what Puffs now calls its "basic" line. For me it hits the sweet spot in balancing cost and softness. TJ's are both more expensive and less soft. That is never going to be a winning combination.

Will I buy it again? 

Sadly, no. But if that thought makes me cry, I still have a few of these tissues left to wipe away the tears.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Trader Joe's Dried Pineapple Rings

I've had lots of dried fruit in my day, but I don't think I had ever heard of the existence of dried pineapple until I noticed these packages on the Trader Joe's shelf. I love pineapple, so it was an instantaneous decision to add these to my basket.

They're pretty good, but they have a couple of functional limitations for the purpose I had in mind, which was to carry in my backpack for lunch/snacking on a long bus ride. First, they're rather sticky, so if you're in a situation where you won't be able to wash your hands, or at least use a wet wipe, you're going to regret it. (This is probably true of pretty much any dried fruit, I guess, but I think these are somewhat more so.) Second, as with fresh pineapple, you'll be left with big hunks of fruit stuck between your teeth for a while.

Oddly, they're not as sweet as I had anticipated. Some dried fruit tastes sweeter than fresh because of concentration of the sugars. It did not seem to be the case here. That's OK, it's just not what I imagined before my first bite.

Will I buy it again? 

Not regularly, but I think dried pineapple rings can easily be a "once in a while" late-night snack.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Trader Joe's Chocolatey Cats Cookies For People

When a package of cookies says both "chocolate" and "cats," how am I supposed to resist it? I'm powerless.

It's a given, then, that I love the package. The cookies themselves? Not so much. They're not repulsive, but they're completely monotonous. They're very much like eating only the cookie part of Oreos, without the filling. That's fine for a couple or three, but very quickly the lack of any complexity or variation in taste and texture causes a sense of "enough already."

They do have these two cute shapes (explaining the "cats" part of the product name) as a redeeming feature:

But then again, you'd get more variety than that in a box of animal crackers.

Will I buy it again?


Monday, January 26, 2015

Trader Joe's Multi-Grain Pretzel Nuggets

This was another item I auditioned for a place in my backpack o' snacks for my long trip in August. It did not make the cut. I found these seriously unpleasant. The taste they most reminded me of was burnt toast. There was practically no salt at all on the outside.

Will I buy it again? 

Ick, no. If I had a Trader Joe's Ten Worst list, this would go on it.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Frosted Toaster Pastries--Cherry-Pomegranate

In the process of sampling Trader Joe's pumpkin-spice toaster pastries, I discovered the existence of a non-seasonal version in cherry-pomegranate. As I wrote then, "It took about three seconds for that to go onto my shopping list. Stay tuned."

I finished eating my first pair of them about ten minutes ago, and I can tell you that it took about the same three seconds for them to hit my Top Ten list. They are that good. They are simply the best toaster pastries I've ever had.

To be sure, I love both cherry and pomegranate enough that practically anything that combines them is going to go to my happy place. But even with that high expectation in place in advance, these exceeded it. They are the platonic ideal of a toaster pastry.

I'm not the only one who deems them exceptional.

What's Good at Trader Joe's:
[T]he filling tastes like real, actual fruit instead of glucosey/corn syrupy colored sugary gunk.... I had to talk Sandy out of eating a pack on a Sunday morning when we had a lot more time AND leftover carrot cake for a sweet breakfast treat. She said something silly about really really really really liking them, but I fail to remember what that was. 
Bake at 350:
From the outside, it looks like something out of a commercial -- but the taste actually lives up to its looks. The pastry and icing parts are very sweet (in a good way), and they are perfectly complemented by the fruitiness of the inside filling, which has an absolutely fantastic taste! I hardly ever eat toaster pastries/pop-tarts, but I think I may start to now! Overall rating: 5 out of 5 stars. 
Go buy some right now. $2.49 for a box of six. (Quibble: TJ's claims a serving size of one pastry. Oh, please. Show me even one person who eats just one at a time.) 

Will I buy it again? 

I'm in love. How could I not? 

Saturday, January 24, 2015


Weekly compilation of news stories and other links about Trader Joe's.

Junk Food Guy tries the new Trader Joe's Sriracha Bacon Jerky

Trader Joe's and the ethics of grocery shopping 

8 bad buys at Trader Joe's, and what to get instead 

Value Italian wines at Trader Joe's 

Taste-testing Trader Joe's beers 

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

Trader Joe's Citrus Gum Drops

As with so many food items, I had the Platonic ideal of gumdrops fixed firmly in my mind in childhood. You know what I'm talking about: Brach's spicy gumdrops, amiright?

Normally I would say, "Accept no substitutes." But my commitment to the writing of this here blog means that I often push myself to try something when I'm really feeling very sure that I would prefer my usual brand. That's how it was here. I saw these in the checkout aisle, and immediately thought, "Why bother? They're not Brachs."

Sometimes ignoring that impulse and trying the new thing has led me to delightful discoveries, like tomato-red pepper soup. But more often, I think, I end up deciding that my old favorites should remain my favorites.

So it is here. These gumdrops are nice, and definitely more citrusy (tangerine, pink grapefruit, key lime, and lemon, to be exact) than what Brach's will sell you. But I find that after a few, I've had all I want. With the spicy Brach's, I keep wanting more.

So, good try, TJ's. But not quite good enough.

Will I buy it again? 


Friday, January 23, 2015

Trader Joe's Mojito Salmon

Though I can tolerate many kinds of fish, salmon is the only one (besides tuna) that I will actively choose. I also know that it's one of Nina's favorites. (She's not quite a strict vegetarian. Sort of a lacto-ovo-pisco-vegetarian.) So when I spotted this in the TJ's freezers, it was pretty much an instantaneous decision to bring it home.

I wasn't sure what about this concoction merited being called "mojito," and I'm still not. It sure has nothing to do with the rum-based cocktail. I'm guessing that it's based on "mojo sauce," though even if that's right, I don't know why they use what I think is a diminutive form of the word. (Or maybe I'm completely off-base. My Portuguese and Spanish are both weak.)

This is one of the most expensive items I've ever bought at TJ's--$7.99. But that buys two very generous servings. Neither of us was able to finish our portion. (My cat, Lucy, was happy to eat the rest--the fish alone, not the spicy other stuff--handed out as small chunks over the next several days. This was a surprise, since she usually turns her nose up at anything fishy.)

I hope you like your salmon served spicy, because this is. They are not fooling around with that chunky sauce that comes with it.

The salmon itself was OK, but not great. I hope Nina will comment on that in more detail, because she has approximately 12,439 times as much experience with salmon as I do. Approximately.

Will I buy it again? 

It was an interesting thing to try, but not good enough to lure me back for seconds.

Nina's View

To start off, let me thank my sweetie for catering to my tastes. It was very thoughtful of him.

I had taste-tested this in the TJ's store and it seemed promising. But I basically never buy fish in a store (except for the odd can of tuna, or for super special festive meals), and generally only eat it in restaurants, so it was never going to make my shopping list.

Alas. It did not live up to its promise.

Firstly, It was dry and tough. Perhaps our version was a bit overcooked, but I'm not sure that it was.
Secondly, it was a tad gamey in flavor (something I've noticed with some but not all "wild-caught" salmon. Fresh fish shouldn't taste fishy, and this did.

Thirdly, the salsa just didn't come together, with flavor or texture, in an appealing way.

I disliked it enough that I didn't finish it (nothing to do with portion size). I'm glad that Lucy got the benefit of the remainder.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


I'm going to be heading to Utah to visit with family for the next several days. The posts will continue to publish on schedule every morning at 9 a.m. Eastern time. I have also prepared a weekly roundup post for Saturday night, as usual, though, it's very short, containing only news items up through today. I may or may not be checking email to approve comments. If I don't, I'll catch up with them when I get home. Be patient, please.

Trader Joe's Iberico Cheese

I definitely have a favorite cheese; it was, in fact, the subject of the very first review I wrote for this site. But these days when it's time to buy more cheese, I search the TJ's shelves for some variety that I haven't had before, both for the sake of gaining additional blog material and for expanding the range of my personal experience. So the choice of Iberico cheese was spontaneous and arbitrary. I knew nothing about it. (You can become better educated than I was. Read here about this type of cheese.)

To cut right to the chase, I found this terribly dull. It is sufficiently bland, mild, and neutral that you could probably use it in all sorts of applications. I did nothing but have slices of it on various kinds of crackers. My impression every time was that it conveyed a generic sense of "cheese," but that's about it. To its credit, it is of a consistency that makes slicing it relatively neat and easy.

Will I buy it again? 

Not for myself. I can imagine maybe including it as part of a gift of several different kinds of unusual cheeses for a foodie friend, or putting it out as one of several choices for a cheese-and-cracker platter for a party, but if I'm going to be the one eating it, I want something more flavorful.

Nina's View

I liked this cheese considerably more than Bob did. I don't find it bland: it has a nice nutty flavor, and its texture is just right for slicing and eating out of hand, or on one of those excellent Raisin & Rosemary Crisps. 

As I reduce my dairy consumption, I am committed to eating less and less of the congealed pain juice. *sigh* Which is going to be difficult because it is so so tasty.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Trader Joe's Veggie & Flaxseed Tortilla Chips

These ain't no Tostitos tortilla chips. There are three different colors--very pretty. You can see the added seeds. You can taste the extra flavors (at least in a combined vegetable-y sort of way, though I couldn't pick out individual carrot, tomato, beet, spinach, etc.). Plus--fiber! In short, they're a lot more complex and interesting than plain tortilla chips. These are what I've been using to scoop the Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, and I find it a delectable combination.

Will I buy it again? 


Nina's View

LOVE THESE! Love love love. Great texture, stand up to dips, yummy flavor, and pretty. What the heck more do you want? Go buy some.


Bob here again. I've had a couple more varieties of TJ's chips since writing the above, and I kept thinking, "Good, but not as nice as those multicolored things." Combining that experience now with Nina's opinion, I'm gonna take the liberty of promoting these to my Top Ten list (which, as an occasional reminder, is not limited to ten items, you overly literal-minded people). 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Trader Joe's Apricot Preserves Made With Fresh Apricots

I love apricots. My first love for them came in the form of apricot nectar when I was a child, followed by dried apricots when I was a teenager. But I'm not sure I've ever had apricot preserves before this.

I certainly liked it, but just not as much as any of the red jams and preserves: strawberry, raspberry, cherry. There is no rational reason for this, just a matter of personal preference. However, this stuff gets props for being clearly authentic, with hunks of apricot generously embedded throughout. And unlike the cherry preserves, which was the first of the new TJ's line I tried, the pieces are not so big as to make it difficult to spread properly.

Will I buy it again? 

I don't think it will be a staple like the red berry versions, but yes, once in a while for something a little different on my toast, it's perfectly lovely.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Trader Joe's Smooth And Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

As explained previously, my experience with hummus is extremely limited. But I liked this stuff. For more than a week now, I've been eating it every day with lunch, using various chips to dip into it. I have a hard time describing it, because I have no mental database of other hummus against which to compare it.

This is where we cue Nina....

Will I buy it again? 

Maybe. I liked it. But I liked even better a non-TJ's lemon hummus that Nina served recently. That, plus the limited selection of hummus at TJ's, makes me suspect that there is more and better stuff in other stores. If I find that there's something I like better, I might not come back to this particular product.

Nina's View

This is a decent roasted red pepper hummus. Which is to say, it'll do.

But so far I have not had a TJ's hummus that I've liked better than those available at my local supermarket. They all taste like they've been blandified, or adulterated with non-hummusy substances.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Weekly roundup of links to stories about Trader Joe's (a day later than usual, for which apologies):

Taste-testing cheap beers from Trader Joe's 

A sommelier tastes all of the Two Buck Chuck varieties 

How to make a Trader Joe's Cookie Butter smoothie 

Finally, this week's cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag:

Trader Joe's Banana Chips

I had never had dried bananas before picking up this bag at TJ's. In fact, I had never even heard of such a thing existing. Still, it wasn't hard to guess that I would like them.

I did--but not nearly as much as I enjoy eating a ripe banana. So I would limit these for use in situations where carrying a banana or two isn't practical. I bought them for that long trip I keep talking about, where I needed to have several days' worth of lunch and snack foods available. For that, they were great.

Will I buy it again?

Sure, if an appropriate occasion arises again. But unlike many other forms of dried fruit (raisins, dried apricots), I wouldn't buy them just to snack on at home. I'd buy bananas.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Trader Joe's frozen berry medleys

This will be a rare post, reviewing four different items at once. The reason for this is that they are so similar that it makes no sense to deal with them individually. Moreover, if you're going to choose from among them, you have to understand how they are related to each other, which is easier to explain in a single post than in four posts.

I eat a lot of frozen berries. I like berries, but I can't predict when I'm going to feel like having some. So having them frozen solves the dual problems of not having them when I want them, and buying fresh berries only to have them go to waste because I run out of appetite for them before they're used up.

Trader Joe's sells four different medleys of frozen berries:

(A) Fancy Berry Medley, $3.29 at the Asheville TJ's.

(B) Very Cherry Berry Blend ($2.99).

(C) Berry Medley ($2.99).

(D) Organic Mixed Berry Blend ($3.49).

All of them share the same basic idea: they're berries individually frozen without syrup or other added ingredients. That means that they're not frozen into a solid block. You can pour out what you want into a bowl, let it thaw for about 45 minutes, and eat. The rest goes back in the freezer.

Product (A) is blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Product (B) is, as far as I can tell, simply product (A) with cherries added. Similarly, (C) is simply (A) with strawberries added. I don't know why (A) gets the moniker of "fancy" when the others don't. If there's something genuinely different about the fruit in the package, it's a difference that escapes me.*

I see no need ever to purchase (A) again. That's because I like both cherries and strawberries. A berry blend that has one or both in it is always going to be better than one that doesn't. Unfortunately, TJ's doesn't make a version that has all five components (the basic trio of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, plus both strawberries and cherries), so I have to choose between strawberries and cherries as my fourth "add-on" fruit.

(B) and (C) are approximately equally appealing to me, with the edge going to (B). This is not because I necessarily like cherries better than strawberries. It's because (B) is generously supplied with cherries, rightly earning the name of "Very Cherry," while (C) is only modestly stocked with strawberries.

But the worst offender in quantities is (D). Remember when you were a kid and discovered that in Van Camp's pork and beans the "pork" was one tiny cube of fat? Well, that's about how TJ's metes out the strawberries in (D). Just before I sat down to write this post, I had the first bowlful from a new package of (D)--about 1/3 of a bag. There was not a single strawberry in the whole bowl. Not one. It's pathetic. (Edit: I polished off the rest of the bag in two more consecutive nights. The second serving had three strawberries, the third two. For those of you counting at home, that's 5 strawberries in a one-pound bag, when the label gives strawberries equal one-quarter billing. I consider that unforgivably deceptive.)

Product (D) is in composition just like (C), except using organically grown fruit. I have no objection to that, but it's not something I'm routinely willing to pay extra for, and (D) does cost a little bit more. I think it's worth going for organics in meat and dairy products, because then you're avoiding source animals treated with antibiotics. I believe that overuse of antibiotics and the consequent rise of antibiotic-resistant organisms is an enormous looming global problem. I'm much less worried about the various chemicals used on fruit, so avoiding them by choosing organics is not as important to me.

All four products are, in my experience, extremely consistent over time, from batch to batch--and consistently good, with big berries (the blackberries in particular are ENORMOUS), excellent taste, and virtually never a bad one snuck in. This is a major advantage over the store brands from other grocery chains that I used to buy. With those, some bags would be great fruit, others pretty sour and nasty, or just plain tasteless. The bad bags would sit in my freezer half-eaten for weeks until I finally admitted to myself that I was never going to finish them and threw them away in disgust. No such risk with TJ's in my experience of perhaps ten bags so far over the course of a year.

Will I buy it again? 

I won't buy (A) again, unless they happen to be out of everything else, which seems unlikely. There's nothing wrong with (A); I think the berries are exactly the same as are going into (B) and (C). But I'll always choose to have a four-fruit blend instead of three. Between (B) and (C), I like (B) a little bit better, but I'll keep getting both. As for (D), combine the extra cost with the dearth of strawberries, and I'm not likely to go for it very often in the future. To me it has no important advantage over the very similar (C).

*After writing this, I checked the prices the next time I was at the store, and have now added them above. I was surprised to find that (A) is a little bit more expensive than (B) and (C). I don't know why this would be the case. Maybe they do use a slightly higher grade of fruit for the one deemed "fancy." Or maybe the marketing folks just figure that people will be willing to pay more if they call them "fancy," when there's not any actual difference. I don't know. It's a mystery to me.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Trader Joe's Roasted & Salted Peanuts

You could argue that peanuts are peanuts. And you'd have a point. But then again, they're not.

I go through cycles with peanuts. I get reminded that they exist, buy some, eat them every day for a few weeks, then get kind of tired of them, and neglect them for weeks or months or even years at a time, until something reminds me that I haven't had them in a long time, and I binge again.

Many such cycles have taught me that there is a distressing inconsistency to most brands of peanuts, both the national brands (I'm looking at you, Planters) and store brands. One tin of them is wonderful, the next lacking in all flavor. Some tins are too salty, others not enough--even from the same manufacturer.

So what I especially like about this TJ's product is its consistency. I've been on a fairly prolonged nightly peanut indulgence--long enough to be on my third one-pound bag now--and they have been good throughout. I have had exactly one peanut that had an off taste, which I think is a remarkably low rate. They are all roasted and salted just right, from the top of the bag to the bottom, and from one bag to the next. And that's reason enough for me to make TJ's peanuts my first choice from this day forth.

Will I buy it again? 

Many times, I'm sure.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Trader Joe's Cinnamon Sugar Grinder

I know, I know. It's cinnamon and sugar. I could buy them separately (in fact, I have both on my shelves anyway), mix them together, and be good to go for a lot less money. But I don't. Actually setting aside time to find the right kind of container--one with a hole for pouring the resultant mixture--and look up the right ratio and then get it all shaken up just doesn't happen. Which is kind of strange, because I remember when I was a kid, my dad would put the cinnamon and sugar in an old jelly jar, and I thought it was great fun to get to be the one to roll and shake the jar until it was all smoothly blended together. Ah, the small joys of childhood. Sunrise, sunset, swiftly fly the years.

Anyway, I keep having good intentions along those lines, but no actual results. It has always been easier to grab "just one more" pre-mixed concoction from the grocery store, while promising myself, yet again, that I'll do the mix-and-shake thing next time I'm out. Here's the one I have on hand right now, for instance:

So that's what Trader Joe's is up against with their mixture in a grinder. Why a grinder? Because the sugar and cinnamon are in large crystals inside. Here's a close-up:

(OK, so cinnamon technically doesn't come in crystals. Whatever.)

Which seems cool and maybe a little artsy-fartsy. Until you actually put it into use. Then, not so much. Then it feels slow and seems like unnecessary work, when you just want to get to eating the hot buttered toast already. Also, it comes out a lot more unevenly than the McCormick:

It's kind of messy, hard to drop the mixture into a nice, even layer across the toast. And even after a pass through the grinder (which is built into the container), you end up with fairly large sugar crystals.

I've gone through this for about a dozen breakfasts now, and I'm not getting any more fond of either the process or the result. I thought it might grow on me, or I'd find a technique that made it come out better.


Will I buy it again? 


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Trader Joe's Alkaline Water + Electrolytes

I saw somebody on Twitter being all ecstatic to find that Trader Joe's now carries alkaline water. I asked him why he would want alkaline water. He did not reply.

But I know the answer: It's because he has fallen for a stupid scam, which claims that something terrible in your diet and/or environment is causing your body to be abnormally acidic, because of all the negative ions that are bombarding you, and that therefore you need to drink alkaline water to restore the correct pH. I don't know whether the good folks at Trader Joe's have fallen for this hogwash, but at least they have decided to capitalize on it. A pox on them for that.

For context: I completed medical school and residency, and then spent a good number of years practicing family medicine. Among many, many observations about the medical system that I collected was that quite consistently the smartest doctors were the nephrologists--the kidney specialists. It's a kind of esoteric specialty, and a difficult one to master, because the kidney is a frighteningly complex organ, capable of mysterious, nearly magical feats of biochemistry. In the context of that observation, consider this aphorism, which is common among those of that specialty: "The dumbest kidney is smarter than the smartest nephrologist."

Many crucial functions of your body simply will not work if your pH rises or falls below 7.4. Deviate, say, 0.2 units from that, and it's off to the ICU for you, and we're not too bullish on your prognosis. Deviate by 0.4 units, and, though you may not actually be dead, we'll start filling out the certificate in advance to save some time. With a few very rare exceptions (e.g., dialysis patients), if you're walking around and functioning, your pH is 7.4. Not 7.3 or 7.5. Seven. Point. Four.

How do I know that? Because your kidneys see to it. You'd die if they didn't. As your blood passes through your kidneys for waste removal, the kidneys at the same time selectively either hang onto or excrete various positive and negative ions to maintain your pH exactly where it needs to be. Sure, you might ingest some acidic foods, but the kidneys sense this and correct for it long before the deviation from ideal pH has any chance to cause any symptoms that you could notice.

Two basic points: (1) You have no ability to detect consciously what your pH is. (2) If the body relied on us to consciously monitor and adjust our pH, we'd all be dead.

All of which means this: When you drink water with a pH of 9.5, as this TJ's bottle claims to be, you are not correcting for an acidic pH. In fact, you are throwing a bunch of excessive positive ions into your system. There's no particular harm in this, since your kidneys can dump the excess into your urine just as fast as you can ingest it, so even a continuous pH monitor would never detect more than the minutest rise. (It's not just the kidneys. Your lungs get in on it even more quickly. You'll start breathing more shallowly--involuntarily, and without even noticing it--in order to retain more carbon dioxide in the blood, which acidifies it.) But alkaline water is not therapeutic in any sense of the word.

Still, I spent 99 cents on one bottle, just so that I could say I had tried it. I drank it last night, during a poker game at a friend's house. It tasted remarkably like...water. I could detect nothing aberrant about its taste. I also did not feel any magical sense that I had restored my woebegone physiology. I did not feel better, did not think better, did not gain any superpowers. In fact, I felt nothing at all. Oh, wait--that's not true. I felt LESS THIRSTY. Period.

Don't waste your money on crap like this. Drink tap water. If the tap water where you live tastes too awful to stand, get delivery of those 5-gallon bottles for a cooler, or buy the cheapest bottled water you can find.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I know better, and now so do you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Trader Joe's Low Fat Ginger Cats Cookies For People

Is it possible for ginger cookies to have too much ginger in them? Until now, I would have said "no"--and maybe even "hell, no." Now I'm not so sure.

These are so gingery that they leave a burning sensation as they go down. Which makes me think they've pushed it a tad too far.

Now, this doesn't make them inedible. It doesn't make me hate them. But it makes me eat fewer of them at a sitting than I otherwise would, because I have to drink a lot of cold water with them to douse the flames in my alimentary tract.

But really the biggest problem these cookies have is that they're competing directly against the luscious Triple Ginger Snaps, and that's not a battle they can win.

Will I buy it again? 


Monday, January 12, 2015

Trader Joe's Corn & Wheat Tortillas

I don't think I had ever had tortillas made from a blend of corn and wheat flour before spotting these on TJ's shelves and deciding to give them a try.

The taste is exactly what you'd expect--about halfway between plain corn tortillas and plain flour tortillas.

Since I have a fairly strong preference for corn tortillas, I can't see any advantage to these. There's nothing wrong with them, if that's what you like. It's just a matter of personal preference.

Will I buy it again?


Nina's View

I like corn tortillas and I like wheat tortillas, but corn tortillas are too corny and stiff and wheat tortillas are too bland and too fragile.

These are just right and I would buy them by preference.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Peppermints

If you like your peppermints mild--like, say, in Life Savers or Mentos--so that you can eat a whole pack of them at once, do not buy Trader Joe's Organic Peppermints. I think that eating a whole package of these would kill you.

OK, maybe not actual death, with the coroner and a funeral and gravestone. But it would surely have some sort of adverse effect. Because these things are really, really strong. They're in the same ballpark as Altoids. After one, I'm saying, "Wow!" After about three, my mouth is begging for mercy: "Please, good sir, no more!"

Don't take that as a put-down. It's not. I like them. But they are blow-me-down strong, and thus must be meted out slowly and carefully.

Will I buy it again? 

The current pack will last a long time, and it's not often that I get a craving for mints this powerful, but when the urge strikes me again, yes, I'll happily satisfy it with another little tin of these babies.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Weekly compilation of links related to Trader Joe's:

Review of Trader Joe's skin care products 

CNN feature on Pirate Joe's in Canada 

Trader Joe's announces winners of customer choice awards 

(Nothing that I voted for won. Rigged, obviously.)

Finally, this week's cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag:

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Powerberries

I should love these. They combine two of my favorite things: berries and chocolate. What's not to love?

But I don't love them. Not at all. In fact, I found them unpleasant in both taste and texture.

I have to wonder what it means for them to be made of "fruit juice pieces." How do you get a "piece" of a juice? Probably some sort of reduction process that turns the juice to solids, I guess. But whatever it is, I don't like the result. It has a weird off-putting flavor that's hard to describe. Worse, the texture has a strange grittiness. I suppose it's crystallization of the juices or something, but the mouth feel is just wrong, almost as if you're eating chocolate-covered sand.

I ate a handful after opening the bag, thinking that they might grow on me. They didn't. I haven't gone back to eat any more of them, and I don't think I will. I'm afraid the remainder of this bag is destined for the compost heap.

Will I buy it again? 

No, and it makes me sad that I can't like something made from berries and chocolate. Things are not right with the world.

Nina's View

I call these thing Fruit Duds.

I completely agree with Bob. This is a colossal fail, when it ought to be a slam-dunk win. What, oh what were the taste-testers at TJ's thinking with this one?

Other opinions 

For the second time in a row, I find that the "WGATJ" bloggers have about as different an assessment as can be imagined:

Friday, January 9, 2015

Trader Joe's English Peas

The first time I spotted these in the produce section, I passed on buying them because of the price--$3.49 for 10 ounces, which makes them about a million times more expensive than any other peas you can buy. Or something like that. (Math is hard.) But the second time they caught my eye, I thought, "Well, all right--JUST THIS ONCE."

If you're a little unclear on the differences between pea varieties, as I was, here's a nice one-paragraph explainer.

These peas are definitely nice--very flavorful. I accidentally undercooked them a bit, and they were still delicious.

But the price is going to remain a sticking point. The gardens of the world have not yet yielded peas so good as to be worth $3.49 for 10 ounces.

Will I buy it again? 

Only after I win the lottery.

Nina's View

I saw these peas in TJ's and almost bought them for myself. But I was brought up short by the price and by the fact that they are English Peas FROM GUATEMALA.

What is wrong with this picture?

I know I eat stuff imported from all over everywhere. I'm striving to do a little less of that. Things that have to get to me via refrigerated airplane? I'm pretty much over that.

Nonetheless, it must be said, the peas are awesome. I should grow some of those peas next year. Then they'll be cheap and local and angels will sing. (Or something.)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Trader Joe's Vegetable Medley

This stuff is so nearly identical to Broccoli & Cauliflower Duet that it feels like cheating to treat it as a separate post. It's the same thing, but with carrots added.

Once again, however, TJ's does right by the consumer and has a nice balance of the three ingredients. Other brands of the same blend stuff the bag with way too many carrots proportionately, which I assume is because they're cheaper.

So, as with the Duet, when I feel like having the trio, it will preferentially be TJ's whenever I can swing it.

Will I buy it again? 

Most assuredly.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Trader Joe's Potato Chips With South African Style Seasoning

I really had no idea what to expect with these things. I have had no experience with South African-seasoned foods on which to base even a guess what that might mean. However, between the time I brought the bag home and when I got around to opening it, I had come across reviews from both of the other two Trader Joe's blogs that I read regularly.

From Eating at Joe's:
The same qualities that make the South African Smoke Seasoning so savory on meat work against it here – it’s simply too salty and strong tasting for the simple potato chips. Divorced of a meat base, the seasoning has nothing to work off of. The result is sort of like throwing a handful of the seasoning directly into your mouth. It’s not that the taste of the seasoning is bad, it’s simply overpowering. When used on a grilled steak or hamburger, the smoke seasoning simply blends in to the complex profile of the flavors at hand. Here, on its own, it has the very strong taste of bratwurst, or as one taste tester put it, “burnt hot dog”. 
How much you’re going to like these chips, then, depends on how much you like that heavy, bratwurst taste, without getting the juicy bratwurst bite. This wouldn’t be as much of a dealer breaker if it wasn’t for the strength of the taste. Trader Joe’s isn’t mincing around here – each chip is blasted with a full on shot of seasoning that is close to overwhelming. These chips are best not eaten by the handful, but slowly, one by one, or not at all.
From What's Good at Trader Joe's:
In the end, these South African-inspired chippies taste closer to a run-of-the mill straightforward barbeque chip to me, which is kinda boring and not the exotic kick I was looking for.

I'm wagering this is not the fault of the spice blend itelf, but because it's on a chip, not a big ol'l chunk of carne. There's no real base for the flavor to blast off from. I've been too busy with some other spices and rubs at TJ's, but I *think* I've seen a South African seasoning blend on the shelf there which, if it's anything like this, would be a terrific pickup to rub on some chicken or fish or sausage or anything that can get all juicy on a grill. Instead, here, we're left with these light little dry crisps without much pop or sizzle. I think a little meaty gristle here could go a long, long ways - there's just not enough here for the seasonings to be able to really, fully express themselves.
I thought it was interesting that both writers thought that the seasonings would work better on meat than on chips, but while EAJ found them overpowering, WGATJ found them boring and lacking in "kick."

When I finally got around to trying them myself, my view was much closer to the former than the latter. I find them too intense. Not inedibly so; I'm still working my way through the bag, but it's taking longer than usual, because I eat a lot fewer of them with a lunch than I would regular potato chips.

I understand the comparison to more familiar barbecue potato chips, but it didn't seem quite right. I couldn't put my finger on the difference, but Nina could. At the risk of stealing her thunder in advance, I thought she nailed it when she said that they are less sweet but more smokey than barbecue chips.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not, but I'm not at all sorry to have tried them. The experience has piqued my curiosity for how similar seasonings on meat would be. Maybe someday I'll find out.

Nina’s View

Less sweet, more smoke than the typical BBQ chip. Which faithful readers may surmise falls on the favorable side of the spectrum for me.

True! But: the other reviewers are entirely correct. These seasoning are on the wrong type of chip. This blend needs a serious slab of potato to work off, not a thin wispy crisp.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Trader Joe's Shepherd's Pie

Like most of my Trader Joe's purchases, this was one that I did not plan to make. I was looking for something else in the freezers when it caught my eye. A version of shepherd's pie is one of my favorite dishes to make for myself, so I was immediately interested.

I liked almost everything about it. The size was just right. Preparation was heat-and-serve. The shredded beef was great, tasting just like I remember Mom's pot roast on Sundays after church. The vegetables were crisp, brightly colored, and had individually identifiable tastes (unlike many frozen pot pies, in which everything assumes a weird sort of flavor homogeneity). And, blessed relief, I only know that onions are an ingredient by reading the label; their quantity is sufficiently small and their impact sufficiently subdued that I encountered no hunk or pocket of onion that would have spoiled the whole thing. (The unofficial motto of this blog: Onions ruin everything.)

So why not an unqualified endorsement? The one off-putting characteristic was that the potato layer on top was grossly overwatered. Not only were the potatoes mushy--almost slimy--but the wetness trickled down into everything else, creating an unpleasant potato-water puddle at the bottom of the dish.

I did follow the heating directions, but I think next time I'll try exposing more of the surface to the oven, rather than just loosening the plastic overwrap an inch, as the package instructs.

If I can solve the problem of sogginess, this will completely replace my purchase of any other frozen pot pies. (I consider this in the same category, because whether the basic ingredients are contained in a crust or topped by mashed potatoes doesn't matter much to me.)

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. Must experiment with better heating methodology. There may be a winner waiting here.


After writing the above, I Googled to see if others had had a similar experience with excessive moisture. The first four reviews I found were these:

None of them described anything like the puddle I found, so I'm willing to assume that this was a one-off issue. The good news is that these reviews date as far back as 2006, which presumably means that this is a perennial good seller and won't suddenly vanish.


It's been a few months since I wrote the review above. (That's usually the case. I have such a backlog of posts that there's typically about four months between writing and publishing, except for when I push one to the front of the line for some reason, such as seasonal relevance.) I have purchased this item three more times since then. With the second pie, I cut off the transparent film corner rather than just peeling it back as the directions indicate. That did nothing, and the liquid problem remained--so it wasn't a one-off thing as I had speculated. For the third one, I removed the film entirely before baking the pie. That reduced the problem significantly, but did not eliminate it. For the fourth one, I did that plus I extended the baking time from the recommended 25-30 minutes to 35 minutes. That almost did the trick. Next time, I'm going to 40 minutes, and I think I'll have it licked.

I remain of the opinion that once the excessive wetness of the product is conquered, it's the best item of its genre I've ever found on the market.

Another update 

Yep. 40 minutes made it turn out just right. I liked it mucho. I would buy and eat lots more of these, if it weren't for my sense of guilt over the beef. I'll keep their purpose limited to an occasional treat.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Trader Joe's Pear Tarte

After deciding that the Trader Joe's raspberry tarte was the best thing in the store, we naturally were eager to try its sibling, the pear tarte. The verdict: It's good, but not great. I would rather have this than most other desserts, but it's not in the best-of-the-best, to-die-for categories.

Will I buy it again? 

That's tricky in this case, because it's so similar to the raspberry version that the occasions or moods that would trigger buying one would equally trigger buying the other--but the raspberry is so much better that it's hard to see myself ever going for the pear instead. But maybe if I were bringing a dessert to a dinner where I knew raspberry wouldn't go well, or if they stopped making the raspberry one (heaven forbid!), or if it were temporarily out of stock, then, sure, I'd happily have the pear.

Nina's View

The pear tarte est une grande déception. The raspberry tarte is so good because the fruit is exquisitely ripe and full of flavor. The pears, by contrast, in the tarte we had were NOT perfectly ripe (a little too hard) and not especially flavorful. This created a mouthful of sweet blandness. 

I would give this dessert a second tasting, on the chance that we got a subpar sample. But only one, because RASPBERRY TARTE.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Trader Joe's Raspberry Tarte

Sometimes words fail to convey how good something is. If you're lucky, sometimes a picture will do the job instead--you know the old saw about a thousand words. For Trader Joe's Raspberry Tarte, I think the highest compliment I can pay it is this: It is every bit as good as that picture on the box makes it look.

I think the photo may slightly exaggerate the volume of berries, but not by a lot. I'm having to go by memory from several months ago rather than look at a current sample, because I don't have one.

In fact, this is the first instance on this blog where a product photo taken in the store instead of at home does not indicate an item I don't want to buy. I do want to buy this, again and again and again. However, given how rich it is, I fret that I can't eat a whole one by myself before it would go bad, even given a few days, and Nina has sworn off desserts other than plain fruit for the time being. So for now, I'll just have to let my mouth water as I sadly walk by the frozen-dessert case at TJ's.

As I do so, I shall remember fondly the three of these things that Nina and I have consumed in the past. I shall remember worrying that our ecstatic moans would alarm the neighbors that a porn producer had set up shop in the apartment, were those noises not muffled by mouthfuls of perfect, ripe berries.

Not only is this a shoo-in to the Top Ten list, I believe that, if pressed, I would name it to my Top One list. That's right--I think it's the single most wonderful thing from TJ's I've ever had.

Will I buy it again? 


Nina’s View

It makes me very, very sad that my current dessert moratorium is depriving my beloved of this OMG FABULOUS NOM NOM NOM product.

I have suggested to him that he could cut slices out of the frozen item and thaw them individually, but for some reason he chooses not to do this. I do not wish to get into a kerfuffle on the subject, because all it will do is make me want THE DELICIOUSNESS I MUST HAVE IT NOW OH GOD HOW CAN I BEAR THE DEPRIVATION MUST EAT GIMME NOM NOM NOM NOM.


Yeah, it’s that good. The key to its extreme wonderfulness is that every single one of the raspberries is at the height of ripe, succulent, aromatic, full-flavored, tongue-tingly perfection. That, and that it’s pretty much impossible to botch preparing this thing. You don’t need to heat it. Just defrost and consume.

The best. Really.

Saturday, January 3, 2015


Weekly list of stories and other links related to Trader Joe's:

Love for Trader Joe's Block Red Shiraz 

Trader Joe's sriracha bacon jerky 

Trader Joe's rapid Florida expansion in 2014 

Trader Joe's float in the Rose Parade:

Trader Joe's Brandy Beans

My girlfriend has twice seen this box sitting on my counter and twice mentioned that it seems like something she wouldn't expect me to have purchased. And she's right--it's completely out of character. I have never tasted brandy and thus have no reason to think I would like it. In fact, since I have never found a form of alcohol that I like--and hence don't drink--there is every reason to assume that I would not like brandy, or candy filled with brandy. So why did I buy this? All I can say is that it was different than anything I had ever seen before, it intrigued me, and I yielded to impulse.

Now that I've tried a few, I wish I had thought it through more. I don't like them. The filling is a thickened liqueur that mostly tastes of ethanol, with a little sweetness, and a vague fruitiness if I really think hard about what I'm tasting.

My primary impulse while eating these is to ask, "Why is there booze in my otherwise nice candy?" Some part of my brain is aware that the answer is, "BECAUSE YOU BOUGHT A BOX OF CANDY WITH BOOZE IN IT, MORON!" But that doesn't stop the other part of my brain from asking the question. It just seems wrong.

Will I buy it again? 

Not unless I have a stroke or surgery that kills off the part of my brain that will try to remember what a bad idea it was to buy it the first time.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Trader Joe's Reserve Brut North Coast Sparkling Wine

Nina was here for our weekly dinner Wednesday night, which happened to be New Year's Eve. That morning I was in Trader Joe's to pick up some salad, juice, and chips. The store had an endcap display of these bottles, which triggered a memory of seeing somebody post a picture of the same stuff on Twitter with a comment about how good it was. On an impulse, I decided to add a little bubbly to the evening's festivities.

You should probably know that I come very, very close to being a classic teetotaller. I just don't drink alcohol. If my entire lifetime consumption of alcohol were given to me all at once, I would not die (though I undoubtedly would be pretty unhappy the next day).

To the best of my recollection, I have had exactly two tastes of champagne before. (I realize that the French snoots object to using "champagne" as a generic equivalent of "sparkling wine," but I don't care. Let them sue me.) For New Year's Eve of 1999, going into 2000, my then-wife wanted a really nice bottle of champagne, so I bought her a $110 bottle of Dom Perignon. For the sake of comparison, I also bought the cheapest champagne I could find, which was some mass-produced $5 swill. I tried them side by side that night. Even being a complete naif to the genre, it took maybe one second of each of them being on my tongue to know with 100% certainty which was which.

I tell you that story, because the severe narrowness of my champagne experience leaves me with limited flexibility in how to describe the Trader Joe's bottle. The most economical version of the review is this: it brought to mind the $5 swill of 15 years ago.

A slightly fuller description is this: it was harsh, acidic, completely lacking in any fruitiness, unpleasant, rather like drinking carbonated vinegar.

Despite that, having shelled out $9.99 for the experience, I kept at it, in the desperate hope that it might taste better as I had more of it. It did not. I stopped after two small glasses. The second was the one I had poured for Nina, which was still almost full, missing only the few sips she consumed before declaring the stuff too nasty to continue with. (Will she add this to her list of Nina's Worst? You'll have to read on to find out.) I stopped after those two glasses, because by then I was feeling dizzy and lightheaded. I also noticed that I was making bad decisions, such as almost putting the cat's food in her litter box instead of on her food tray--and having a second glass of icky champagne.

Will I buy it again? 

Two-thirds of the bottle ended up poured down the kitchen sink. I think I can find better uses for a $10 bill than that.

Nina's View 

Good champagne is one of life's true pleasures. The tiny bubbles that tickle the tongue and yet evaporate in the mouth even before you can swallow them. The golden color, the mellow yet elevated essence-of-grape bouquet. The creamy smoothness and toasty warmth of an excellent white wine that has somehow been kissed by angels. 

In my youth I drank Freixenet and Korbel because they were inexpensive. Right up until I had some actually good bubbly.

I have had some lovely champagnes in my time. I drank an exquisite but moderately priced Taittainger at a celebratory dinner with my mother in a Parisian bistro. For years I kept a bottle of Veuve Cliquot (affectionately known as "The Widow," about $45 with the striking orange label) in my fridge in anticipation of the unexpected joyous occasion. I was always glad to have it on hand when something worth popping a cork occurred—like the arrival of an out of town visitor or, y'know, a really pretty sunset.

I always wanted an excuse to try a bottle of Perrier-Jouet Fleur de Champagne (now apparently called "Belle Époque"), if only so I could keep the beautiful art nouveau bottle. Alas, I was never able to come up with the dosh and the occasion at the same time.

These days there are any number of cavas and proseccos and crėmants and California champagnes that are perfectly delightful and affordable champagne equivalents. They may not be fancy appėllation controllėes, but they're entirely acceptable festive alternatives that do not taste as if they were derived from fermented hog swill.

So, although I'm hardly what you'd call a connoisseur, I have had some experience with the good stuff.

And, Senator, this Trader Joe's swill is not the good stuff. In fact, it's probably some of the nastiest wine that has ever passed over my tongue. It gave Bob instant wino-breath.

It was so awful, in so many ways, that I don't even know where to begin. Think of every way in which a wine could be good and then take the inverse. That.

Which is why I was thoroughly flabbergasted when not only did Bob finish his glass, but he actually asked for and finished mine. WTF? I cannot fathom why a functional teetotaler would choose voluntarily to inflict this bilge on his nigh-virgin taste buds. OH THE HUMANITY.

I must beg my beloved from now on to only sample truly fine alcoholic beverages. I will serve as taste-tester, if I must. Since the devil's drink is such a rare sip, let's make sure it's worth the sin, shall we?

P.S. Bob wondered whether I'd add this to my 10 Worst List. I'll confess I considered it. But I'm not going to, because IT'S NOT EVEN WORTHY OF THE BOTTOM RUNG on the Ladder Of Awfulness. Putting it on the list would be suggesting that it is truly worth comparing to other champagnes in some way, which it is not. I banish this beverage to the outer darkness of oblivion.

We shall not speak of it again.

P.P.S. It's just barely possible that we got a "corked" (i.e. spoiled) bottle of this wine. I'm not about to run out and buy a bottle to find out, however. Life is too short.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Fruit Wraps

Fruit wraps aren't usually my choice of snack, but these were sitting in a display near the checkout, so I did the impulse-purchase thing, just as the dastardly store planners had hoped I would do.

I didn't think the apple-banana flavor combo worked. It wasn't exactly nasty, but something that I can't quite put my finger on was off-putting.

But the trio was redeemed by the apple-raspberry (by definition, anything with raspberry in it is good) and the apple-strawberry. Both very tasty.

However, I'm still not a big fan of the whole genre. I still find the texture to be kinda of weirdly indeterminate--sort of jelly-like, but not quite, but also not really a solid. I used to like fruit roll-ups, though I haven't bought any in ages. I don't even know if they're still made. I liked that they were a thin yet substantial and chewy layer. That was a pleasing texture. These fruit wraps are, I dunno, kinda sticky-gummy-soft in a not particularly pleasant way.

Nice taste, not nice texture. My feelings about these items are precisely why we have the word "meh."

Will I buy it again? 

Maybe someday, if the impulse hits me. But I can't see them ever climbing above the lower rungs of acceptability in my snack-preference ladder.