Saturday, February 28, 2015

Roundup

For the first time since I started doing this weekly feature, this week I found no worthwhile news stories, blog posts, etc. All of the stories that I found via an ongoing Google News alert and the #TraderJoes hashtag on Twitter were about store openings, which I think are of interest only where they're happening.

However, I do still have my weekly cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag, this time in the form of a Vine video:






Trader Joe's Cinnamon Apple Snack Sticks



This is exactly the sort of unusual, never-heard-of-it-before product that is found in every nook and cranny of a Trader Joe's store, but nearly impossible to find anywhere else. I really had no idea what to expect when I spotted this bag and decided to give it a try.

The sticks are made out of a multigrain mix combined with apple puree. Besides the apple, I can detect only rice in them. Imagine apple-flavored rice cakes, and you'll be pretty close. Then there's a light dusting of cinnamon and sugar. The sugar portion is blessedly light--only 4 grams out of a 28-gram serving. The cinnamon is just right, complementing the apple without overpowering it.

I liked these--not enough that they're going to be a favorite, but they're a light, crunchy, pleasant little snack. I find that after a handful or two I've reached my saturation point of apple and cinnamon, which produces an auto-limiting effect. Unlike, say, TJ's caramel popcorn, which I tend to continue eating until the ambulance arrives to take me to the ER for a stomach pumping.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes, occasionally.


Nina's View


I like these too. They go great with applesauce.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Trader Joe's Snow Peas



I had never had snow peas before buying this bag, so I didn't know what to expect, and don't have a mental database against which to compare them.

I love the cooking instructions: Put the bag directly into the microwave oven. Don't even open it first! This sort of thing I can manage.

The flavor seemed to me basically like all peas. If there was a difference, it was lost on me.

I didn't like the stringy thing that goes down one edge of the pea pods. I noticed that Nina took the time to pull them out of hers. I just powered through them, figuring to add some extra fiber to my diet.

After the dinner with Nina, I had enough leftovers for side dishes of two more meals on my own. I did finish up the bag, so they obviously weren't inedible, but I can't say that I fell in love with them, either.

Will I buy it again? 

Maybe I'm such a troglodyte that I'm missing something grand here, but I think I'll stick with regular peas.


Nina's View

There were two problems with these snow peas. The first, and most egregious, is that they were simply too old. Baby snow peas are what is called for. If you're going to eat them once they are no longer baby, you MUST de-string them or they are tough and gross and, well, STRINGY.

The second is that steaming them—which is what happens when you throw the bag in the microwave—is not the way to bring out their best flavor or texture. Steaming makes them limp and soggy. NO. Just NO. Snow peas should be tender but slightly crunchy and toothsome, to bring out their sweetness. Stir-frying is the way to go.

And the baby ones are also perfectly delightful raw because they are already tender.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Trader Joe's Traditional Marinara Sauce



I didn't like this nearly as well as the tomato-basil marinara sauce. First, the taste was more generic, less distinctive. Second, it's moderately chunky. I was raised with well-blended pasta sauces. I freely admit that this is a childhood prejudice for purees being carried over much too late in life, but it exists nonetheless.

I'll eat it and be happy--just not as happy as I would be with a couple of other possible choices.

Will I buy it again? 

No.


Nina's View

I actually prefer this marinara to the tomato-basil version. (I have, however, recently sampled the roasted garlic version which is even better.) I grew up with actual home-made marinara, so I tend to favor a sauce with some texture to it.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Trader Joe's Macaroni & Cheese, Wisconsin Cheddar



TJ's has several varieties of macaroni and cheese. This one appears to be the most basic. We'll get to the other kinds later.

If you've had Kraft mac and cheese, this will be familiar. They are very similar, though TJ's has a little less chemical taste to the cheese. I've had it a few times, and it's always reliably good, if not especially interesting. Like all mac and cheese, I think it's better if you throw in a can of tuna.

Will I buy it again? 

Absolutely.


Nina's View

When Bob and I first met, I think it's safe to say we had virtually nothing in common food-wise. The one exception may have been that we both liked mac and cheese from the box. And, to compound the matter, with a can of tuna in it. You see? KISMET I TELL YOU. 

I concur with Bob that TJ's mac & cheese tastes less chemical (rather like the cheese crunchies compared to Cheetos, come to think of it), and to me that means it tastes better. I don't know whether it can possibly be cheaper than Kraft's, but even if it isn't, I think I prefer it enough to say bye-bye to the childhood brand.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Trader Joe's Lemon Ginger Echinacea



Before getting to how this stuff tastes, let me first address a beef I have about the labeling. Note that prominent on the front label is the claim, "100% JUICE." But after I got home and looked at the back of the label, I found that the list of ingredients includes, first, water for reconstituting the concentrates, then, second, "ginger root tea." Tea is not juice. If this blend contains tea--which is not juice--then it cannot be "100% juice." That is especially so if the tea--which, I remind you, is not juice--is the second most voluminous ingredient.

OK, so we know that Trader Joe's is willing to lie about what's in it. How does it taste? Like a lot of ginger--enough to burn as it goes down--and some bad lemon. By "bad" lemon, I mean very artificial-tasting.

The label tells me that after the tea, the next ingredients are apple and grape juice. I can't detect them, except as generic sweetness. Echinacea is the last ingredient listed. I can't taste it, or the honey, or anything else said to be in the mix.

The overall effect is certainly different from any other TJ's juice I've had so far, but not pleasant. I'm having my third glass of it as I write this, and it's still feeling like kind of a chore to finish it. I suspect that much of what remains will end up going down the drain, rather than into my stomach. It's not good.

Will I buy it again? 

Not a chance.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Trader Joe's Cookie Butter Sandwich Cookies



I have deliberately avoided all of Trader Joe's numerous varieties of cookie butter and products made therewith, out of fear that I would like them too much. Every time I see somebody on Twitter posting about a first tasting of the stuff, with an exclamation like "OMG this changes EVERYTHING!"--which happens pretty much every day--I feel that I'm missing out. Writing a daily Trader Joe's blog without having tried cookie butter seems sort of like being a movie critic who has never seen a Hitchcock film.

So I decided to ease into the cookie butter world--but gently, rather than going straight for the hard stuff that people love so much they start injecting it intravenously.

And speaking of intravenously, I think that's how they're going to have to deliver my blood thinners after I have the heart attack that these will induce. Yes, they're super-sweet, but I was even more struck by the butteriness. About ten seconds after my first bite, I could feel my cholesterol levels going stratospheric.

They are mighty tasty. But I had to stop after three--which for me is a pretty small serving of cookies when they're this small. The intensity of the sugar and butter hit was just too much for any more than that.

Will I buy it again? 

Not until after I get that long-postponed angioplasty.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Bar--Coconut Caramel



Three of the best words in the English language start with C: chocolate, coconut, and caramel.

What happens when you put all three of them together? Pure awesomeness.

This is simply the best Trader Joe's chocolate bar I've had, and one of the best from any manufacturer. The three main ingredients are balanced perfectly, and there's an obvious, though downplayed, bit of salt, too. (I generally think that the recent fad of salt with chocolate is way overblown. Just a touch is nice, as here.)

It's moderately expensive, at $1.99 for 3 ounces, but worth it.

My only complaint is that the sections don't break off cleanly. The chocolate breaks across sections, which are filled with the thick, liquid, caramel-coconut mix, thus making things messy.

In spite of that flaw, this is Top Ten material. Yum.

Will I buy it again? 

Surely.


Nina's View

Bob wondered whether I'd remember this chocolate, since I've been on a dessert moratorium for a while.

Oh yes. Yes indeedy I do certainly remember.

My mouth is in fact actually watering as I recall the very extreme level of tastiness of this particular chocolate bar. This is no small compliment as I am not an especially zealous chocolate-eater.

Maybe Bob will have some in the house when I next go to dinner. It could happen, right? I might kick my dessert-abstinence to the curb for a few squares of this fabulosity.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Roundup

This week's compilation of links to features about Trader Joe's:


A vlogger tries TJ's most famous products for the first time on camera 

Essential Trader Joe's products for surviving a miserable winter 

Bad syrah wine from Trader Joe's 

Best low-cost wines from Trader Joe's 

What Trader Joe's gets right about its branding messages 

What Trader Joe's knows about making your brain happy 

Sorry, but I bought the last box of Trader Joe's salted caramels 

Make your own speculoos cookie butter 

Waiting in a Trader Joe's line as a social experience 

Trader Joe's is #1 grocery store chain in customer-satisfaction survey 

Strong-arm robbery at Trader Joe's 


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




Trader Joe's California Golden Raisins



Goldens are my favorite raisins. I've had many brands over the years. Trader Joe's are at least as good as any of them, and better than most. They have the great advantage of consistency, with virtually no raisins that are shriveled, dried out, or sour.

With these available, I see no reason to buy any other brand.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes.

ADDENDUM 

A second bag I bought later was not nearly as good--lots more in this bag were hard, dried out, blackened, or otherwise nasty. So much for the advantage of consistency.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Trader Joe's Parmesan Pastry Pups



These are pretty ordinary pigs in blankets, except that they're tiny. The Parmesan cheese is all you can smell when they're baking, but, oddly, nearly disappears in the eating.

The Trader Joe's Blandifation Committee toned these down to nearly nothing, so you really have to add a little ketchup or hot sauce to have anything that you'll notice.

Will I buy it again? 

I doubt it. Too much meh. They're completely forgettable.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Trader Joe's PB&J Milk Chocolate Bar



Well, at the very least you have to give this much to Trader Joe's: a peanut butter and jelly chocolate bar is an interesting concept. Which is the entire reason that I bought it, even though I've never been a fan of the marriage of chocolate and peanut butter.

I guess I would have to admit that my selectivity about flavor pairings is arbitrary and not especially rational. Peanut butter and jelly? Excellent. Chocolate and jelly? Never tried it, exactly, but sounds heavenly. Peanut butter and chocolate? No, thanks.

Predictably, then, I didn't care much for the trio. It wasn't so awful that I couldn't finish it, but I kept thinking that the J would be better without the PB.

Will I buy it again? 

No.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Trader Joe's 12 Mushroom Mochi Potsticker Dumplings



I don't hate mushrooms as much as I do onions, but my tolerance for them is sufficiently limited that when they are some dish's main ingredient, I am virtually certain not to like it. I have not tried these. So I turn the entire review over to...


Nina's View 

Be still, my heart, be still.

I will admit out of the gate that these are unlikely to appeal to everyone as much as they do to me. Firstly, they are not at all like most people's idea of a potsticker—a dumpling made of a thin wheat-based pasta-like wrapper filled with vegetables and meat, generally prepared so as to have a crispy side and then steamed.

These are from the Japanese lineage of dumplings (hence: mochi). They are small, pillowy, and slightly sticky. It's a very particular texture, and you need to be prepared for it. You'll either like it or you won't. The filling is a savory mushroom mix that I find extremely tasty.

Unlike more conventional potstickers, you will not want a strongly-flavored dipping sauce (including vinegar, chili, fish sauce, ponzu etc.) with these. A few drops of light soy will do the trick.

I have just one complaint about this product and it's right up there in the title.

"12"

TWELVE??? ARE YOU KIDDING ME???

These are delicate, bite-sized morsels. AND THERE ARE ONLY TWELVE OF THEM. Which is totally nuts, because if you like these, you will want waaaaaaaay more than twelve of them.

So far, I've bought one box of these. I ate six at my first sitting and only iron discipline prevented me from preparing the rest and immediately devouring them. Next time, I doubt I will have that restraint.

Have mercy, TJ's, and give us a bigger quantity at a manageable price.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Trader Joe's Peruvian Style Chimichurri Rice With Vegetables



A friend in Minnesota suggested that I try this stuff. I had single servings of it with lunch a couple of times before finally including it in a dinner with Nina. I was ambivalent about the product from my first bite, and remain so still. Here's why.

The good: It's super easy to prepare--just dump some in a bowl and zap it, without even needing to add water. It's extremely zesty, and thus makes a nice offset to a main dish that is on the bland side. In the instant case, it was scrambled eggs and a very mild fake sausage, which needed to be paired with something eye-opening.

The bad: I think they went too far in spiciness. They not only did an end run around the Trader Joe's Blandification Committee, but then spiked the ball and victory-danced in the end zone. It is presumably the cilantro and panca pepper paste that is responsible here.

The ugly: It has "shallots," which is clearly a Communist plot to sneak onions into things without calling them "onions."

I guess the bottom line is that I think it's interesting and pretty good without being "must-have" exceptional. I still have reservations about it.

I think I might like this better if I diluted it about 1:1 with some plain white rice. Maybe I'll try that with the next bag. My Minnesota friend said that one of his family's favorite easy recipes is this to dump this rice into some TJ's tomato-red pepper soup. That might be interesting to try, too, as that soup is very mild for balance.

Here's a random review I found, from someone who is obviously a big fan of the stuff, just to give you another opinion.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably. Nina seemed to like it a lot, and I like making her happy.


Nina's View

The chimichurri rice, it is verri [sic] yummy. I like the idea of putting it in the tomato/red-pepper soup, especially now that cold weather is upon is. I think it would also make a nice addition to a bean salad in the summertime.



Monday, February 16, 2015

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Trader Joe's Rolled Oats & Chocolate Chips Fiberful Granola Bars



Granola bars are not my usual choice in snacks. But as I've mentioned several times, I needed a bunch of snacks for a recent two-week vacation with lots of time on a tour bus between destinations. My father was with me, and I was supplying snack food for both of us many of those days.

We both liked these bars. Chewy, a little crunchy from the rice crisps, not too much chocolate, filling. These would be excellent to take on a hike or bike ride, though not in an environment hot enough to cause chocolate melting to be an issue. Then I think you'd have a mess when trying to eat them.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Roundup

Weekly list of links to items about Trader Joe's:


The difference between Trader Joe's roses and boutique florist roses 

Where Costco and Trader Joe's buy flowers 

A primer on Trader Joe's clarified butter 

Favorite budget-priced wines from Trader Joe's 

Preparing a new Trader Joe's store for its grand opening 

Stop telling me how great Trader Joe's is! 


No cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag this week, but, instead, a cute cat with her head deep in a Trader Joe's yogurt cup:




Trader Joe's Organic Unsweetened Apple Sauce



This is the third Trader Joe's unsweetened applesauce we've reviewed here. We've previously covered the regular (i.e., non-organic) version and the Gravenstein version. Tonight I arranged for us (Nina and me) to taste all three side by side. It was eye-opening.

We agreed straightaway that there is absolutely no reason anybody should ever buy the regular version, even though it's the cheapest. I now think that my first review of it was overly generous. Compared to the other two, it's thin, watery (literally--you can see the water seep out from the edges as it sits in the bowl), and lifeless.

My experience generally has been that the organic and non-organic versions of a product are basically indistinguishable. You're not paying for higher quality, but for whatever peace of mind you derive from having reduced the use of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and GMO ingredients in the your diet and in the world.

The pair of this and TJ's regular unsweetened applesauce is a radical departure from that experience. These could not possibly have the same supplier; they are utterly different products. The organic one is sweet, flavorful, thick, delicious. It puts the other to shame.

It costs 20 cents more than the Gravenstein, our previous favorite. How does it stack up? Pretty well. I like it a little bit less, but only a little. It's quite a bit sweeter, a little less complex, definitely less distinctive. But it's really good, and only misses being the best applesauce I've ever bought by comparison to the one-notch-better Gravenstein.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not as long as the Gravenstein is available. But if the Gravenstein were to disappear from TJ's shelves, I would feel it only a small sacrifice to have to resort to this stuff as my second choice.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Trader Joe's Unsweetened Apple Sauce With Added Calcium & Vitamin C



I try to photograph every new TJ's product I bring home before putting it away. Once in while, one slips by me. That was the case here. I didn't notice that I didn't have a picture of it until I sat down to write this post, which is why you're seeing a partially used jar instead of a brand-new one. Oh well.

Anyway, as mentioned in yesterday's post, I bought this specifically to compare side-by-side with TJ's unsweetened Gravenstein applesauce. It seemed strange that one store would have two different unsweetened applesauces--why bother?

Now that I've tried them at the same time, I think the "why bother?" question should be asked of this one, not the Gravenstein. The latter is vastly superior.

To be clear, this stuff isn't bad. If I hadn't been trying it competitively against its shelf-mate, I would have judged it to be good.

But put it up against the Gravenstein, and it hasn't got a prayer. It's sort of like how a Corvette seems like a fine sports car, until you step out of it and into a Ferrari. The Gravenstein tastes fresher, more complex, more alive. Paradoxically, it is simultaneously sweeter and tarter than the one pictured here. It's also a tad more expensive--$2.29 for 24 ounces compared to $1.99 for 25 ounces here--but so much better that you shouldn't even stop to wonder if you should go for the cheaper one. Trust me: you shouldn't.

Will I buy it again? 

Not as long as TJ's puts the Gravenstein version on its shelves. All that this stuff did for me is reinforce my decision that the Gravenstein is the only applesauce I want in my house ever again.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Trader Joe's First Crush Unsweetened Gravenstein Apple Sauce


Little things bother me. To take the most immediate example, the name of this item is clearly written as "apple sauce" in large, all-caps on the front of the label, but then "applesauce" in smaller print on the back. Grrrrr. Which am I supposed to use when referring to your product, Trader Joe's?

As for more substantive matters....

Like all good Americans, I was raised with Musselman's applesauce, which, I realize in retrospect, has quite a bit of sugar added to it. I think the first time I had unsweetened applesauce was at Nina's house, shortly after I moved to Asheville. I remember being ambivalent about it--not because it was bad, but because it differed from my reference of how applesauce was "supposed" to taste.

I am not one bit ambivalent about this TJ's version. It is delicious. It's enough to convince me once and for all that good applesauce does not need additional sugar. The ingredients here are apples and water--full stop. If it can be this good, why throw in anything else?

By the way, if, like me, you are unfamiliar with Gravenstein apples, see here.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes indeed. Until I find something better (which I kind of suspect will never happen), this is my new first choice in applesauce.

Addendum 

After writing the above, I bought another jar of this. I also bought a jar of TJ's non-Gravenstein applesauce, so that Nina and I could try them simultaneously in a taste test. It was no contest, a blowout. (See tomorrow's post for more details.)

On the basis of a second highly satisfying purchase, I'm going to exercise my blog-owner's prerogative and elevate this to my Top Ten list. Yes, it's that good.


Nina's View

This is a truly superior applesauce. When I was growing up, occasionally my Mom would make homemade applesauce, which was AWESOME, and this stuff reminds me of the mom-goodness. What higher compliment can there be?


Addendum, December 8, 2016 

It's been nearly two years since writing this post. I stand by it 100%, including the Top Ten list status. I'm just writing to add that I can't count how many jars of this stuff I've been through since then. I am never without a jar or two in my fridge, and it's one of my most frequent snacks and desserts. I've never encountered a bad sample. It comes down to this: I never buy any other applesauce, and never will, as long as Trader Joe's keeps making this one.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Trader Joe's To The Power Of Seven Organic Juice Blend



I think this is the best juice I've had from Trader Joe's. It's completely fruity, with the seven different juices blended well enough that I thought the pomegranate and cranberry were most prominent, while Nina seemed to think the grape stood out most. There are no ingredients other than juices, all of which are organically sourced, and none of which are reconstituted from concentrate. At $3.99 for 33.8 fl. oz., it not what anyone would call cheap, but it's a far better buy than the three different "cold pressed" juices, which are $4.99 for 15 ounces.

This is excellent, excellent stuff--with a weird name. In fact, let's just go ahead and make this the first juice to join my Top Ten list.

Will I buy it again? 

Enthusiastically.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Trader Joe's Smooth And Creamy Classic Hummus



It has been an interesting discovery for me in recent months that I can not only tolerate hummus, but actually like it. I have been gradually working my way through TJ's assortment of hummus products, though skipping over the obviously icky ones.

I perhaps should have started with this, their plain-jane version. It is, as far as I can determine, just like the red pepper version, except without the red pepper sauce in the middle. Which is to say, it's perfectly fine, though a tad less interesting.

As a bit of self-education, I purchased on the same day at another store a locally produced hummus, also that maker's plain version, so that I could try them side by side. The TJ's was creamier, apparently containing more oil. The other brand had many more ingredients, obviously including more seasoning.

It was not difficult to tell that they were different, but it was difficult to determine which I liked better. I finally landed on the TJ's side, but not by a lot. I think it was mainly due to the smoother, creamier texture.

Will I buy it again? 

That all depends on my ongoing experiments to find out which kind I like best--because I might find something I like so much that I'll abandon all others. But if I had to stop experimenting now, then yes, this would be one that I would revisit.

Addendum 

It's been almost four months since I wrote the above, and my tastes in hummus have shifted hugely. I tried both this TJ's product and the locally produced one (Roots), and my impression was entirely different the second time. I strongly prefer the Roots version. Even more, however, I'm completely in love with several of their other varieties: black bean, roasted red pepper, hot chipotle, and mango sriracha. I'm now pretty much done with all TJ's hummus. I think the Roots stuff is incomparably superior. (So, if you see below, Nina was right all along--it just took a while for my experience with hummus to develop enough to recognize it.)


Nina's View

This is a bland, boring hummus. Despite having less oil than the other variety, it coated the tongue in a way I found unpleasant. I prefer my hummus to have an airier texture, and I don't mind if it's not totally smooth. This would probably never be a pick of mine.



Monday, February 9, 2015

Trader Joe's Basmati Rice Medley



OK, that is officially the worst product photo I've ever taken for this blog. My apologies.

I had never noticed this stuff on the shelves at Trader Joe's. Nina bought it and served it as part of a dinner she made for us. She had also eaten it by herself at least once before that.

I'm now thoroughly convinced that within Trader Joe's there is a team of people who are assigned to sample new foods before they go into full-scale production, and remove every last shred of flavor from them. I imagine that they are called the Blandification Committee. They write terse memos to the product managers: "Too much salt!" "I can still taste a bit of chicken. Try again!" "You put some spices in this, didn't you? Remove them at once." "Marilyn, did you think we would not notice the hint of pepper here? You're fired."

Fortunately, there are some TJ's products that escape the Committee's scrutiny, perhaps for complicated reasons that would be revealed by the company's organizational chart. Sadly, this rice medley was not among them. In fact, it appears to have commanded the Committee's full attention.

You might ordinarily think that a blend of different types of rice--including some wild rice--combined with some stray dried vegetables, would cook up into something with a delightfully complex blend of tastes. Here, though, you would be wrong. Somehow, the Committee managed to take those ingredients and wring every last bit of interesting or subtle flavor out of the final product.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I'm glad I didn't even buy it once.




Sunday, February 8, 2015

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Raisins



I bought this by mistake. I had intended to get another tub of my beloved milk chocolate covered raisins, and grabbed the wrong one. I didn't notice even after I got them home--until I put the first one in my mouth.

I don't mind dark chocolate generally. In many products, it works better than milk chocolate. This, however, is not one of them. The milder taste of milk chocolate simply blends better with raisins than does dark chocolate.

Will I buy it again? 

Not unless it's by mistake again.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Roundup

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


How Trader Joe's rocks customer service 

Good wines from Trader Joe's 

Three pieces on the recall of Trader Joe's pita breads: 1, 2,

Unexpected beauty product finds at Trader Joe's 

Taste test of 6 Trader Joe's nut/cookie butters 

Trader Joe's stoner snacks 

The scoop on cookie butter 

A story of children at Trader Joe's 


Finally, in lieu of a cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag, this week we have a cute dog begging for her Trader Joe's food:



Trader Joe's Organic Baby Broccoli (which isn't really baby broccoli)



Of course I was aware when I bought this stuff that it didn't look like ordinary broccoli. The head wasn't as big around, and the individual buds (is that the right word here?) were obviously larger. I just shrugged it off. Nina, though, wouldn't let it go, repeatedly insisting through dinner that no matter what the package said, this was not baby broccoli.

Now that I've looked into it a little bit, I'm inclined to agree with her. Here's a page from Green Giant on baby broccoli. And here's Wikipedia on broccolini. If the vegetable that we ate the other night isn't broccolini, it's such a perfect imitation that I don't know how to tell them apart. Ours even had the occasional yellow flower, just like the stuff pictured and described in that article.

That leaves the mystery of why Trader Joe's labels what is apparently broccolini as "baby broccoli." The Wikipedia page suggests a couple of possibilities: (1) The standardized UPC bar code for broccolini rings up as "baby broccoli." (2) "Broccolini" appears to have at least some trademark status. Is either of those the real explanation? I don't know.

Putting that aside, I couldn't tell from the taste that this was any different from any other broccoli. I could sure tell a difference in price, though: $3.29 for this 8-ounce package! Holy Crucifers, Batman!

Will I buy it again? 

I can't see any reason to pay that much for either broccoli or broccolini, unless it's gold-plated.


Nina's View 

Totally broccolini, which requires a very specific sort of preparation to be properly delicious. Whoever decided "baby broccoli" was an okay way to describe this contributed a complete fail to the food labeling business.

Were Bob to conduct a side-by-side taste test, he would find that they do, in fact, taste quite different from each other. But I'm guessing he's pretty much done with this vegetable.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Trader Joe's Baked Cheese Crunchies


The kindest thing I can say about these is that they're not as bad as the Reduced Fat Cheese Puffs. But are they as good as Cheetos, the product they're obviously meant to resemble and compete with? Not even close.

Will I buy it again? 

No.


Nina's View

My first question was "Where are the REGULAR cheese crunchies, the ones with all the delicious yummy flavorful FAT?!?"

Bob tells me there are no regular cheese crunchies, that TJ's is just saying that because they can't compare their product to Cheetos. This is a disappointment.

On the plus side: these are salty and cheesy and crunchy. They don't have that weird back-of-the-tongue semi-metalic tang of Cheetos, that almost kinda sorta tastes like vomit, but in a good way, if you know what I mean. They probably don't have the metric shit-ton of MSG that I'm sure Cheetos contain. They don't provoke the quasi-religious MUST HAVE MORE state of a fully engineered snack food. And hey, less fat (which may or may not mean fewer calories, I haven't checked).

But, y'know, I'll eat 'em. And be grateful that they're not so awesome that I can't put them away after eating a reasonably sized serving. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Trader Joe's Fireworks Chocolate Bar



These bars have been all the rage this week on blogs and Twitter feeds about TJ's. It's the latest, hottest (in more ways than one) novelty item in the store.

And with good reason. It's unlike any chocolate you've probably eaten before, and the experience is such a novelty that your first impulse is to grab the next person you see and say, "You've got to try this!" Why? Because you'll want to watch their facial expressions.

Two things set this apart from ordinary dark chocolate bars. First, it has dissolved carbon dioxide that pops in your mouth when you chew or let it melt. Yes, exactly like Pop Rocks when you were a kid, though not so intense.

Second, there's an afterkick of cayenne pepper. I thought it was odd how everybody describing these bars noted that the pepper only hits you late, long after the initial chocolate taste and the bubbling sensation. But they were right. I don't know what confectionary chemical magic was used to create this effect, but it's interesting, surprising, and delightful. And it's a serious, no-foolin'-around dose of pepper, not just a wimpy little puff of it. Whoever championed these things through the TJ's review and approval process must have slipped Mickeys to the members of the Blandification Committee; they would not approve. Brace yourself.

Frankly, I had thought that I would not like the combination of chocolate and cayenne. But I did. Not enough to elevate this bar into my chocolate hall of fame or anything, but it worked much better than I had anticipated as a flavor blend, the novelty aspect aside.

Will I buy it again? 

Not routinely. In fact, I assume, but do not know, that this is a seasonal item, and will be available only in the lead-up to Valentine's Day each year. But one bar a year to remind myself of the fun and novelty of it seems about right.


Nina's View

I like this a lot, and probably would have liked it even more if my pepper tastebuds hadn't already been over-exercised by a very peppery dinner. 

The "pop rocks" factor is gimmicky but fun. At first I thought it was just crispy rice bits, but as the chocolate dissolved against the roof of my mouth, I felt the distinctive tickle 'n' pop. The afterburner from the cayenne is smooth and not too hot, more about a warm glow than any flavor per se.  

The thing that makes this a real success, however, is the excellent quality of the dark chocolate and the soup├žon of salt in the mix. 

Good stuff. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Trader Joe's Chicken Noodle Soup With Veggies





I liked this soup. It's actually lighter than the above picture indicates (trouble with the white balance under a weird combination of fluorescent, incandescent, and sunlight through the window). In fact, for once the package gives a reasonably accurate depiction of the product--with the exception that the noodles are actually spiral rather than flat. (I assume they changed the formulation but didn't bother updating the photo.)

I'm not sure it's better than any of a number of other brands of chicken noodle soup, but it's perfectly fine.


Will I buy it again? 

Not regularly, but once in a while. In fact, I've already had it three times.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Stone Ground Blue Corn Tortilla Chips With Sprouted Amaranth, Quinoa & Chia Seeds



This is another contestant for the title of longest Trader Joe's product name.

These chips are the ones I've been pairing with the olive hummus. It's a good match, I think. The chips are substantial and thick. One gripe, though: the bag I purchased had way, way too many that were broken. Of course some always will be, but this bag had more broken than intact chips. I'm willing to assume that that's a problem that arose in the handling of this particular bag, not a problem intrinsic to their manufacture.

The chips are pretty, though still no match for the rainbow of the Veggie & Flaxseed Tortilla Chips. They're also less interesting and complex in flavor. I was unable to pick out anything except the corn base. That is, if the amaranth (something I had never heard of before seeing it on this bag), quinoa, and chia add anything to the taste, I missed it. I just ate two more with no dip before committing myself to that position, and I stand by it.

Still, I like them better than ordinary tortilla chips, partly because they're far more attractive, partly because they're thick and not brittle, partly because the seeds add a distinct texture upon chewing, partly because it's easy to believe that the three extra components makes them at least marginally more healthful than plain corn chips.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably, though not often. The main barrier to bringing them home more often is going to be their proximity to the ones I like even better. Good chips have trouble competing against great ones.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Trader Joe's Kalamata Olive Hummus



This is the third hummus I've ever purchased. It's still early in the process, but I feel myself turning into a hummus fan.

I didn't know what to expect from this. I don't eat olives. I don't mind the flavor of olives when mixed in with other things, but something about the texture of the fruit feels kind of icky.

Here, I think it melds really nicely with the chickpeas. But the best part is the tartness and acidity contributed by the lemon juice. The net result is that this is my favorite of the three TJ's hummus products I've tried. It makes me want to go back and try again the lemon hummus that Nina found at another local grocery store.

Will I buy it again? 

I have lots more kinds of hummus to try, both at TJ's and from other sources, but yes, I strongly suspect I'll come back to this one as at least an occasional one to bring home.


Nina's View

I like olive oil in salad dressing and in cooking, but I don't care for olives on their own. And I don't particularly care for extra oliveyness (yes, it's a word! okay, maybe not) in my hummus. Begone, I say.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Roundup

A day later than usual, here's this week's list of links to stories about Trader Joe's:


Trader Joe's chocolate mousse cake 

Students run business delivering Trader Joe's groceries 

Behind the scenes making the Trader Joe's float for the Rose Parade 

Four stories about Trader Joe's stores in the Northeast being mobbed by people preparing for the recent blizzard: 12, 3, 4


And finally, in lieu of the usual photo of a cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag, here's a VIDEO of a cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag! The relevant part is from about 1:35 to 3:35.


Trader Joe's Pork Rib Bites With BBQ Sauce



I saw a write-up of these in the Fearless Flyer and thought they sounded wonderful. Of course, everything sounds wonderful there. They have copy writers that could make me want to eat sand. "Not your ordinary sand. We searched deserts all over the world before finding this light, fine-grained, exotic Arabian blend, subtly infused with the essence of pure black oil, which has been percolating through it for millions of years."

Where was I? Oh yes, the ribs.

I found these less than impressive. First, they're difficult to eat. In many pieces, the rib is embedded, not sticking out, so you don't even know it's there until you bite into it. About half of them are better eaten with a fork, about half should be picked up with the fingers. It's awkward.

Second, the meat is much fattier than on most ribs I've had in the past.

Third, the sauce is overbearing--too thick, too sweet. Completely generic BBQ sauce, nothing subtle or different about it.

All in all, a disappointment.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I wish I could have liked this, because who doesn't love a good bit of barbecued rib now and then? But no.