Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Trader Joe's Longboards Organic Tortilla Chips

Day 4 of chips, chips, and more chips!

These chips are ordinary white-corn tortilla chips, with two exceptions. First, they are less salty (note the "low sodium" designation on the package). Second, they are unusually shaped; intact ones are roughly the shape of a surfboard. Hence the name.

But I had to specify "intact ones" there, because there were so few. Maybe 10% of the chips were intact, the rest just broken pieces. So if the shape is the big selling point--and it appears to be--it is completely nullified by the handling that they receive, or that at least this particular bag received.

The copy on the back of the bag says, "Ever try to get a gnarly salsa dip going and end up with a broken chip? Bogus, right?"


Will I buy it again? 

No. Even if they had all been in pristine condition, I found after trying a bunch of them that I still prefer round chips for dipping in my hummus.

Nina's View

So, I liked these. I like the shape for dipping—less slop onto the fingertips, especially if you double-dip. They are super-basic chips with a nice, corny flavor and a pleasant but not harsh crunch. I didn't even find them too low on salt.

I can't comment on the percentage of broken chips, because I didn't really notice. But I will say I'd like them less if they were broken, because the whole special selling point of these is the shape.

Hang ten, brah!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Trader Joe's Baked Blue Corn Tortilla Chips Salted

If you're paying attention, this is three days in a row of posts about tortilla chips. Don't worry--this isn't becoming an all-chips blog. But TJ's does have a wide variety to explore, and with my new-found love of hummus, I've been buying every kind of hummus I can find, and making chip purchases concomitantly.

Compared to TJ's fried blue corn tortilla chips (see yesterday's post here), I like these a little bit less. But that is only because they are kind of on the delicate side. They break too easily when dipping, and crumble when bitten into. It's not a fatal flaw, but I wish they were less brittle. With a tiny sample of just one bag, my impression is also that there are a higher percentage of chips broken in manufacturing and shipping.

 I appreciate that they are lower in fat, and that they've managed to churn out a baked-chip product that needs no apology for sacrificing taste to achieve that. They're delicious.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes, though probably less often than some others that I've fallen in love with.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips

Yet another excellent product in TJ's extensive line-up of snack chips, this time using blue corn. I don't know that that conveys any particular advantage, other than being a little more interesting to look at than ones made from the more common yellow corn, but I don't object.

The only thing I don't like about these is the large size combined with triangular shape. That combination makes them somewhat more awkward for dipping and eating than is the case for smaller or rounder chips. But taste, saltiness, texture--all just right.

Will I buy it again? 

Definitely. There's lots of hummus in this world waiting to be eaten, and a man's gotta have some good chips to do it with.

Saturday, March 28, 2015


This week's compilation of news, stories, opinions, and other links related to Trader Joe's.

Trader Joe's responds to lawsuit alleging high levels of arsenic in one of its wines 

Eight must-haves from Trader Joe's 

"Joy Sandwich" podcast, on the experience of a trip to an empty Trader Joe's 

My ten favorite Trader Joe's products 

Comparison test of sriracha sauce: Huy Fong Foods vs. Trader Joe's 

How good are Trader Joe's beers? 

What are your favorite things at Trader Joe's? 

Book review: I Heart Trader Joe's Vegetarian Cookbook 

I think I've linked to this before, but it came up on my Twitter feed again this week and is worth a repeat look: The Trader Joe's song 

And finally, in lieu of the usual picture of a cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag, I bring you this delightful Twitter post from one Jackie Miller:

Trader Joe's Quinoa And Black Bean Infused Tortilla Chips

How far we've come from potato chips--or even from run-of-the-mill tortilla chips. Now corn isn't exotic enough, so they're incorporating black beans and quinoa. At least they are at Trader Joe's.

Fortunately, this is one instance where the exoticification process has resulted in an improvement. These are truly excellent chips. They have the baseline corn flavor, but the other ingredients add interesting new flavors and complexity. They're just salty enough, not oily at all. The hexagonal shape is both convenient for scooping up some hummus and easy to bite into, or pop into one's mouth whole. And they're attractive, to boot.

I find nothing not to love here. I rate them only a hair's breadth below my all-time favorite chips, TJ's veggie/flaxseed tortilla chips--and there were times I was chewing on one and thought that they might even be a mite better. They're a serious challenger, anyway, and worthy of elevation into my Top Ten list (which, as I feel I need to occasionally remind readers, is in no way limited to ten items).

Will I buy it again? 

I already have, and will many more times, I'm sure.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Trader Joe's Petite Peas

Nina bought and cooked these. We both ate them. They were petite. And they were peas. They were very pea-y. The end.

OK, the truth is that I never know what to write in reviews of common items like this. They're functionally indistinguishable from any other brand of frozen petite peas you might buy, and probably have a fair degree of variability in quality from one batch to another, making generalizations difficult.

All I can say is that this particular bag on this particular day was as good as any I can remember.

Will I buy it again? 

Sure. It's just a matter of price and convenience, and TJ's usually excels at both.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Trader Joe's Vegan Mozzarella Style Shreds

This was the final component in our homemade pizza last week. I've got plenty of real cheese on hand, but Nina has been trying to reduce her use of milk and milk products, so I decided to contribute a bit to that effort by trying this product.

I knew that there was something very off in the taste of the pizza (especially in the leftovers on the second day), but I wasn't sure how to assign the blame, between the underdone crust, the fake spicy ground beef sprinkled as a topping, and the fake cheese. As mentioned yesterday, the sauce was excellent.

It all became clear a couple of days later when I made myself two tostadas: tortillas with refried beans and more of the fake beef. On one I put this fake mozzarella. On the other I put some leftover TJ's Mexican cheese blend.

The difference couldn't have been more stark. It became abundantly clear that the off flavor I had noticed in the pizza was coming from this non-cheese. I wasn't sure how to describe it until I went searching for other reviews, and found this direct comparison of the TJ's product against another vegan mozzarella substitute--specifically a brand called "Daiya," which I had not heard of before. In the reviewer's words, "It tastes like Parmesan cheese mixed with mayonnaise mixed with foot. It is atrocious." A commenter on that post added, "I tried it on a pizza. Ugh, what a disappointment! I managed to eat it without vomiting, but I am wondering if the strange churning in my gut two hours later is a bad sign. I am throwing out the rest...."

I, too, ended up throwing away half of the tostada with the TJ's fake cheese. It was that bad. In retrospect, I think the yumminess of the pizza sauce is what made the pizza palatable in spite of having this ickiness on it. Once that was no longer present, and the full taste of the "shreds" was unmasked, it was inedible.

I threw away the rest of the bag, and hereby add this product to my own little hall of shame, the Bottom Ten list.

Will I buy it again? 

Good lord, no. But the review linked above and comments on it make me want to try the Daiya brand.

Nina's View

I am indeed trying to cut down on the amount of condensed cow-pain I eat. I've been trying all sorts of substitutes and have been generally dismayed at how lame (at best) or disgusting (at worst) they mostly seem to be so far.

My only encounter with these shreds were on the pizza Bob made, which was not a rollicking success in general but in which the fake cheese receded so far in flavor as to not register at all one way or the other.

I am prepared to take Bob's word at it that it's pretty awful.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Trader Joe's Pizza Sauce

As you might guess, this was the sauce that we put on the pizza crust discussed yesterday. It was the best part of the pizza--sweet, tangy, and flavorful.

Will I buy it again? 

I don't make pizzas at home often--it's been years, in fact--but when I do again, this will be my first choice for the sauce.

Nina's View

I concur. This stuff is pretty good. In fact, Bob said he had no plans for the leftover sauce in the tub and so I took it home and mixed it with some leftover marinara sauce I had and that made a vary nice combo.

I would willingly try it on my next (homemade) pizza crust.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Trader Joe's Ready To Bake Pizza Dough

I had recently tried and liked a mildly spicy fake ground beef (not from Trader Joe's). I thought it would be a good addition to a cheese pizza. I had seen the basic components for homemade pizza at TJ's, so I decided to try to make one for a weekly dinner with Nina.

It was a pretty good idea--in theory. In practice, not so much.

The issues:

I don't have a rolling pin, so despite my best efforts, the crust was terribly uneven in thickness, and only vaguely roundish.

I also don't have a pizza stone or anything else really suitable for the task. I used the only thing I had, which was a large cookie sheet. As Nina pointed out to me, the problem with this is that it's specifically designed not to transmit too much heat to the undersurface of what's on it, which made it take much longer to brown the bottom of the crust than the directions suggest.

Compounding those problems, the instructions on this package of dough call for baking at 350 degrees, which even to my novice cooking sensibilities seemed like a temperature more suited for cookies or reheating casserole than baking a pizza.

The net result was that even after baking for quite a bit longer than the package recommends, I took one bite of the result and realized it was undercooked. It still had a distinct taste of "dough" rather than "crust," and the top bit of it was oozy.

I think this product would probably work fine if (1) you have the proper equipment, and (2) you're willing to experiment to find a combination of time and temperature that works better than TJ's dubious prescription.

Will I buy it again? 

Doubtful, unless it's to make a pizza at Nina's house. She has both a rolling pin and a nice pizza stone.

Nina's View

I was quite impressed by the spectacularly UNSUCCESSFUL nature of this product. The failure was definitely not Bob's. But I make my own pizza dough (generally), so I can just whizz on past it at the store.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Trader Joe's Roasted Butternut Squash, Red Quinoa, and Wheatberry Salad

I was going to type in the complete list of ingredients to show you how mad this salad is, but instead I think it will be easier just to show it to you:

Even if you ignore the sub-constituents (e.g., the spices they added to the butternut squash), that's eleven major components, plus the dressing. I got the feeling while eating it that if I looked closely enough, I'd find an itty-bitty kitchen sink.

It was all just too much for me. I couldn't even get a handle on what I was eating. This bite is mostly goat cheese and cranberries. The next is mostly wheat and spinach. The one after that is mostly arugula and almonds. So confusing.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I'm still reeling from the first one.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Yellow Corn Tortilla Chip Rounds

Most of the TJ's products that grab my attention are the sorts of things that you just won't find anywhere else--the kind of madcap product that makes you wonder, "Who thought up this thing?"

But once in a while I discover something in the store that is so plain it seems out of place. This is such an item. The number of different yellow corn tortilla chip brands on the market must be, I dunno, about a billion. Do we really need another one?

In this case, yes. The fact that these are organic will matter to a lot of TJ's shoppers, though it's mostly irrelevant to me. What I care about is that these seem perfect. The size, shape, crispiness, and thickness are just right. They managed to get just the right amount of salt and oil. The flavor is a lot richer, less artificial and one-notey (it's a word!) than in most similar products I've had in the past *CoughTostitosCough*.

There's nothing exotic here. But if you want a simple corn tortilla chip done exactly right at a reasonable price ($2.69, to be exact), here's what you've been looking for.

Will I buy it again? 


Saturday, March 21, 2015


This week's news and other items related to Trader Joe's.

The 12 vegan foods from Trader Joe's that everybody loves 

Trader Joe's announces recall of raw walnuts 

15 fun facts about Trader Joe's 

Lawsuit claims high levels of arsenic in some Trader Joe's and other wines 

But Snopes is deeply skeptical about that arsenic claim 

Class-action lawsuit against Trader Joe's alleges age discrimination 

Favorite gluten-free items from Trader Joe's 

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

Trader Joe's Blarney Scone

I freely admit that I bought this purely because of its cute name. Even with low expectations, it's a disappointment. It's unsweetened. It's crumbly. The caraway seeds add an odd taste. It's just dense soda bread with some raisins. And it's freakishly enormous for something calling itself a scone--20 ounces.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I wish they had used the opportunity of the clever name to sell real scones.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Trader Joe's Baconesque White Cheddar Popcorn

This is a brand-new product at Trader Joe's. On Tuesday I saw my first photo of it as somebody's excited new discovery on Twitter. I bought it Wednesday morning and tried it with Nina before dinner Wednesday evening. It's exactly the kind of madcap, whimsical, "who thought of THAT?" product that makes shopping at TJ's so much more fun than anywhere else.

They emphasize all over the package that there is no actual bacon in this product; hence the "-esque" in the name. It is safe for vegetarians, though not for vegans. The "bacon" is just smoke flavoring.

I liked this stuff. I liked it more than I expected to, frankly. I had thought that the idea of bacon flavoring on popcorn was going to be a mismatch. And I suppose it still might be--because I would argue that what's here is not bacon flavoring so much as smoke flavoring. I think that one is primed to experience it as bacon-y by the package labeling. It's very hard to accurately say what one would experience in a different state of mind, but my guess is that without such priming, in a blind taste test, the average consumer would identify this as more smoke than bacon.

That aside, however, it's quite tasty. The popcorn, white cheddar, and smoke/bacon all play nicely together on the taste buds. I don't think it's the bee's knees, or good enough to become the standard against which all popcorn is to be judged, or anything like that. But for an unusual, unexpected new treat, it's a hit with me. And my guess is that it's going to become wildly popular.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. And I think I'll include it in my next care package to my family members who, sadly, live too far from a Trader Joe's to sample their products regularly.

Nina's View

Hmf. Baconesque flavored popcorn did not strike me as a good idea. And despite having hoovered down a substantial portion of this product, I'm still not sure it's a good idea.

I disagree with Bob that it takes mostly like smoke. I have a hearty dislike for faux smoke flavor, generally. This tastes like faux  bacon flavor, which I tolerate because it allows me to have things like vegetarian "bacon." No one is ever going to actually mistake it for the real thing, but it'll do for my purposes.

My first taste of the baconesque popcorn was sort of ick. But I kept plugging away (I'm noble like that), and pretty soon I had developed a taste for the stuff. Probably the thing I like least about it is the white cheddar powder component.

Yeah, go try some. You'll probably end up eating half the bag at a go like we did.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Trader Joe's Frozen Concentrated Organic Orange Juice

I admit it: I can't tell one frozen orange juice from another unless somebody arranges for two of them to be in front of me at once and I can compare them directly. Short of that, I mix the stuff up, taste it, think, "Yup, that's orange juice all right," and move on to other thoughts.

Which means that this particular product works fine for me, but I can't comment intelligently on whether it's better or worse than any other.

Will I buy it again? 

The "organic" part means little or nothing to me in the context of juice, so this reduces to a commodity item. I'll buy it if TJ's is the store I'm in next time I need frozen OJ, or I'll buy it from another store if that happens to be more convenient. Whatever.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Trader Joe's Old-Fashioned Cinnamon Grahams

It's been many years since I bought graham crackers, but boy oh boy did I ever love them when I was growing up. So when I spotted this tub on the TJ's shelf, my reaction was a rush of ecstasy: nostalgia combined with my love of cinnamon. I anticipated an improvement on perfection.

I should have known: it's impossible to improve on perfection, by definition. I was underwhelmed by these cookies. The cinnamon was tepid, and seemed to conflict with the underlying graham, rather than enhance it. Overall I didn't mind them, but every single one that went in my mouth felt like a disappointment compared to what I thought this combination ought to be.

And one serious gripe: This tub was horrible to open. It wasn't just the first time, but every damn time! It took me probably eight or ten sittings to finish up the cookies, and I never got the lid off in less than a minute. It just doesn't budge. It's fundamentally different in design from the many superficially similar tubs I've had from TJ's before, with various cookies and candies in them. I can't remember any TJ's container that has proven so stubborn to open repeatedly. A pox on that.

Will I buy it again? 

Sadly, no.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn

Over the last two weeks or so since this product first hit Trader Joe's shelves, I must have seen a dozen people on Twitter posting under the #TraderJoes hashtag, proclaiming that they are addicted, or that it's the greatest snack food ever. So I had to try it.

Apparently, I'm the only one who doesn't like it. I find them too hard and crunchy. It feels like my teeth are going to break.

I've never liked the partially popped kernels from a batch of popcorn. The idea of packaging a whole bag of them seems perverse.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I'm not even going to finish this bag. Fortunately, I have a friend who likes them.

Nina's View

So close. Allllllllllmost. But no.

Here's the thing: I've always been partial to the partially popped popcorn kernels. They are the treat at the bottom of the bag or the pot.

But these don't do it for me.

1) They are not partially-popped enough. They are tougher and harder than they should be. 

2) They have a bogus reconstituted "butter" on them, which gradually turns into a sticky yet slimy film on your fingers as you eat. It tastes fake. 

3) They taste stale, not hot 'n' fresh, which is how partially popped popcorn should be.

Valiant effort TJ's… but no. Away with you.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Trader Joe's Wild Salmon In Yogurt & Mint Sauce With Orzo Pasta, Spinach & Zucchini

Doesn't this look intriguing? Inviting? Surely there's about a 95% chance that "wild salmon in yogurt and mint sauce, with orzo pasta, spinach, and zucchini" is more interesting than whatever you made for dinner last night, right?


First, consider how it actually looks, compared to that package photo:

(That's half of what was in the package, after baking per the directions. The other half was on Nina's plate.)

Can the salmon be said to be "in" yogurt and mint sauce if there is so little of it that it looks like--well, this is a family-friendly blog, so you can use your own imagination as to what that sprinkling of white stuff on the fish looks like.

How about flavor?

Sadly, the Trader Joe's Blandification Committee spent weeks, maybe months, crafting this dish to their view of perfection--which means extruding every last bit of flavor out of the thing. Without exaggeration, it was the most taste-free salmon I've ever had. I detected exactly zero taste of either mint or yogurt. That mess underneath was gelatinous pasta with some green stuff mixed in. The box says the green stuff should have been spinach and zucchini, but when it has no flavor at all, who can be sure?

I think the only thing that can be said in its defense is that it isn't too expensive: $4.79 for a two-person portion.

In every other way, this is a monumental Trader Joe's fail.

Will I buy it again? 

Not on your life.

Nina's View

Well, this was a gigantic disappointment.

ZERO EVIDENCE OF ANY YOGURT/MINT SAUCE in the actual serving. The orzo tasted vaguely green but was distressingly mushy. The salmon was a big goose-egg as well, in flavor and in texture.

The only reason this entree qualifies as serving two is because I disliked it enough to not finish it. If it were good it would be a decent sized single serving.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Trader Joe's Cinnamon Schoolbook Cookies

I had noticed these cookies at TJ's several times while picking up tubs of Triple Ginger Snaps. I had never bought any for what I now recognize was a pretty silly reason: They reminded me of Alpha-Bits cereal, and while I don't mind Alpha-Bits, I didn't think cookies tasting like cereal would be very good. That's probably a sound conclusion, but built on the terribly faulty premise that the way something looks will govern how it tastes.

Recently a TJ's flyer featured these cookies, so I decided to cast off my silly assumption and give them a try.

I'm glad I did. I don't love them the way I do the ginger snaps, but they're pretty good. They're somewhat like snickerdoodles, though less buttery, and more crisp. And shaped like letters, for no discernible reason. They're so small that it's easy to eat a whooooooooooole lot of them before you notice that the cookie level in the tub has dropped dangerously.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably once in a while, though not something I'm going to make a point of keeping on hand regularly.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Trader Joe's X-Tra X-Tra Sharp New York Cheddar Cheese

This is excellent sharp cheddar cheese. It's flavorful and it slices nicely without falling apart. These are my two prime criteria. It's got to be easy to get onto crackers, and taste good once there. I'm not that hard to please.

My only disappointment was, I guess, one of failed expectations. That is, the name of the product led me to believe that it would somehow be profoundly different from other sharp cheddar cheese, of which I've eaten approximately 90 billion tons in the past. I couldn't find that it was. I'm not sure that a side-by-side taste test of this versus, say, Cracker Barrel or Cache Valley brands of sharp cheddar would show much of a difference. On the other hand, I haven't actually conducted such a test, and my sensory memory is sufficiently undeveloped that I could be totally wrong in that guess.

As long as you approach it with expectations of a very nice sharp cheddar, but not anything genuinely unique, I think you'll be happy with it.

Will I buy it again? 


Nina's View

Meh. This is not at all "extra extra-sharp." Cracker Barrel's extra sharp is much sharper, and—if memory serves—more flavorful too.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


I couldn't title this post "Trader Joe's Shamrock," because this isn't a Trader Joe's branded item. But I did buy it at Trader Joe's, so it's fair game for a post. I put in the scare quotes because Nina disputed whether this plant was really a shamrock, on the grounds that "shamrock" is just another word for "clover." And, it turns out, she's pretty much right about that. What I bought is an oxalis, probably oxalis acetosella--which is sometimes called a shamrock (and commonly given as a gift for St. Patrick's Day), but shouldn't be.

I don't know how to review or evaluate this, except to say that it's kind of pretty. I've never had such a plant before. It was an impulse purchase yesterday. I wonder how long it will last, between my ineptness with plants and my herbivorous cat.

But if nothing else, now you know where you can buy a "shamrock," which is more than you knew two minutes ago, right?

Will I buy it again? 

I think once as a novelty will be plenty.

Trader Joe's Sesame Melba Round Crackers

These are, as you might expect, just tiny pieces of toast. The Trader Joe's Blandification Committee exerted its full influence over this product. It's not that they taste bad, just that they have next to no flavor at all. If all you want is a neutral vehicle on which to carry a slice of cheese to your mouth, these will do the job. But you deserve better than that.

Will I buy it again? 

No. The world is too full of delicious and interesting crackers to waste time and money on dull ones.

Nina's View

Melba cracker: why? I have never understood why anyone could be bothered with melba toast. It is unutterably dull. They are just flat, unseasoned croutons. Life is too short for this nonsense.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Trader Joe's Julienned Root Vegetables

This is a brand-new Trader Joe's item. I hope it ends up selling well so they keep it around.

As you can see on the package, it's a frozen medley of carrots, beets, parsnips, and sweet potatoes, cut as if they were French fries. They're very tasty--mildly seasoned, without having been worked over too hard by the Trader Joe's Blandification Committee.

A word of caution, though: I think the baking instructions go too long. I followed the directions exactly the first time, and they were overcooked. I reduced the baking time by two minutes the second time, and they were still overdone, with a few burned ones. (It's not the fault of my oven; I have an oven thermometer that I check regularly, so I know its heat settings are accurate.) Also, even with a non-stick cookie sheet, the finished veggies were more adhered to the metal than I like, and it took a fair amount of scrubbing to clean it. The second time out, I used Pam, even though it seemed strange to do so on a non-stick surface. They all slid off cleanly and easily.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. I wasn't such a big fan that I'm going to go on a rave here, or make it a permanently stocked item in my kitchen. But it makes an attractive, nutritious, easy-to-prepare side dish, so I'm confident it will feature in future dinner plans.

Nina's View

I like these, but I agree that the preparation instructions are probably not the best. I would preheat the cookie sheet in a hot oven (maybe 400ºF), toss the veggies with a very little bit of high-smoke-point oil (grapeseed is my go-to), and then cook them as briefly as possible 'til done.

It's a nice mix.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Trader Joe's Corn Tortilla Flatbreads

There are some food categories that Trader Joe's has in such mind-boggling variety that one can hardly hope ever to try them all: Dried fruit. Trail mix. Bread. Juice. Cookies. Salsa. Cheese. And right up there with those is crackers. Every time I finish one kind and go shopping for the next, it's like playing eeny-meeny, but with so many choices that not even conjoined twins with polydactyly could hope to finish the rhyme. So I basically head to that section of the store and grab the first thing I see that I haven't tried before. Sometimes that works out great: see Some Enchanted Cracker. Sometimes, not so much: see Water Crackers--or these.

To their credit, they're attractive, conveniently sized, protectively packaged. They break cleanly without falling apart. In short, they work well physically as a vehicle for whatever you wish to put atop them.

But no perfection of form can compensate for the worst possible sin a cracker can commit: They're strong on the onion. You may have figured out by now that I have a deep, intense, soul-loathing for all things oniony. That includes these crackers. I knew from the first bite that they had the foul ingredient, which I quickly confirmed by looking at the list of ingredients. I thought I could perhaps power through it, just this once, since they are otherwise quite nice crackers. I ate half a dozen of them with some lovely cheese, but just could not stop hearing my mouth shout to my brain, "ONION! GET IT OUT OF HERE!"

If TJ's ever decides to market a new variation on this product, "Onion-Free Corn Tortilla Flatbreads," I'm gonna be all over it.

Will I buy it again? 

Onion, spelled backwards, begins and ends with a big fat NO.


On March 4, somebody posted on Twitter a gripe that her favorite crackers--these--had been discontinued. I have not confirmed that, but if you fail to find them in your local TJ's, that may be why.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Trader Joe's Fresh Mozzarella Cheese Sticks

I saw somebody on Twitter say that this was her new favorite snack. The only times I've had mozzarella sticks previously has been the breaded and fried kind you get at restaurants as an appetizer, with pasta sauce to dip them in--and even those I've had only a couple of times, because of the fat content. But I've liked them well enough that I decided to try the TJ's version.

I wish I hadn't. The cheese is rubbery and tasteless--nothing like any cheese I've had before. It left a bitter aftertaste. And despite each stick being individually wrapped, there was so much oil that it dribbled down my hand and onto the table and chair, leaving weird, solid, whitish globules when it dried. These things are awful. Nasty. Repulsive. Easily and instantly a candidate for the worst thing I've ever bought from Trader Joe's.

I have purchased roughly 400 different items from TJ's, and this is going to become only the third one that I have returned for a refund because of it being inedible.

It's so bad, in fact, that it is prompting me finally to do something I should have done long ago: institute an official Bottom Ten list (which, like the Top Ten list, will not be restricted to just ten items). I've gone through old posts and added the following to that list retroactively:

Cherry Pie 

Peanutters Peanut Butter Cookies 

Tomato & Basil Hummus Dip 

Veggie Chips Potato Snacks 

Alkaline Water Plus Electrolytes 

Dark Chocolate Covered Powerberries 

Reserve Brut North Coast 

And on Nina's behalf, I have taken the liberty of adding to the Bottom Ten list two items that I have not tried, but that she found to be unforgivably bad:

Organic Turkish Apricots 

Fresh Rice Noodles 

Will I buy it again? 

I tried to think of something wittily nasty here, but I'll just leave it at "no."

Saturday, March 7, 2015


Last week, there were no stories to link to. This week, we have a profusion of them!

Provo and Orem compete to attract the next Utah Trader Joe's store 

Trader Joe's: Elementary school rules apply 

6 secret gems in Trader Joe's frozen food aisle 

Grocery stores competing to attract the healthy-food shopper 

Review: Mini stroopwafels from Trader Joe's 

Diary of a woman obsessed with the grand opening of a Trader Joe's 

Local news food reporter tries Fireworks chocolate bar on air 

Rivals look to take down Whole Foods and Trader Joe's 

First visit to a Trader Joe's 

Big name wine at a little price 

5 ingenious ways to use Trader Joe's tomato soup 

Survey of food bloggers names Trader Joe's tied for #1 grocery store ranking 

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

Trader Joe's "Just Sauce" Turkey Bolognese

This is frozen pasta sauce, with turkey. Just in case that's not obvious from the package. (To tell you the truth, I wasn't entirely sure what I was buying when I tossed it into my basket.)

There's not much of it. The package says it contains three servings, but that's laughable. I poured it on some leftover quinoa, and ate the whole mess in one sitting. I am not a big guy, do not have an outsized appetite, and did not feel stuffed to the gills after the meal. So three servings? Please.

I'm afraid the Trader Joe's Blandification Committe took a whack at this product before it was released. Maybe two or three whacks, to be absolutely sure they had banished every last bit of flavor from it. It's the most boring, generic pasta sauce I've had in years.

It also commits the sin of misusing the turkey. Adding a protein source to pasta is one of the easiest places I've found to replace meat with a plant-derived substitute and not feel any meaningful loss. As I've said before, I'm not committing myself to vegetarianism, but where I can make such a substitute and not miss the meat, I'm eager to do so, for a variety of health, environmental, and ethical reasons.

The flip side of that is that when I do eat some meat in that context, I want it to have purpose--that is, to be clearly present, flavorful. To be meaty. Here, however, the bits of turkey have been so thoroughly blenderized into the sauce that they are not even identifiable. If you're going to have turkey in your pasta sauce, dammit, have it be in big, flavorful chunks. Let me know it's there. Let me savor it, since I don't do it often. This product is a complete fail on that count.

Will I buy it again? 

No way.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Trader Joe's Rosemary Italian Style Crackers

These are very nice crackers. In basic taste and texture, they're rather like saltines, but infused with a subtle smell and taste of herbs. Lovely.

Where they differ from saltines is in size. I never knew crackers came this big. They're about the size of a brick--a very flat brick. (Actual measurement: 4 x 7 1/2 inches.) This presents a couple of problems. First, they get broken in the package. Nina and I have had these twice now, and both packages had several crackers broken in multiple places before even taking them out. In the store, several boxes had the front cracker badly broken. I avoided those, but found broken ones behind the intact front one when I opened the package at home.

The second problem is that they don't fracture cleanly or where you want them to. There are no perforations. You're kind of on your own to try to reduce them to more manageable chunks. Then, if you're using them as a vehicle for slices of cheese, as I have been, you have to cut those slices to match the cracker fragments. It's all much less than ideal.

If TJ's reformulated them as something like "Mini Rosemary Crackers," about the size of ordinary saltines, I would be enthusiastic about them. As they are, I'm not eager to buy more, just because of the hassles involved in getting them from box to mouth. I realize this is very deeply into the category of "first world problems," but it also seems to me one that could easily be solved by the manufacturer.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes, though not as often as I would if they fixed the problems of size and breakage.

Nina's View

I love these so much I don't care that they break in inconvenient places. I can easily eat an entire box in a single sitting.

I believe Bob to be entirely incorrect in his description of these as being like saltines in texture. They are nothing like saltines. Saltines have a sort of interior flakiness to them that these do not have at all. They much more closely resemble matzoh.

So good. Must run out and get more.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Trader Joe's Lemon Pepper Seasoning Blend

I've never been a fan of pepper. I never, ever taste something and think, "A little pepper--that's what this needs." For the six years that I lived in Las Vegas before moving to Asheville, I didn't own a pepper shaker or any pepper to put in it. I only bought a small McCormick pepper grinder here when Nina requested to have it available for when she's eating here.

But I do like lemon. I actually prefer lemon to butter on vegetables like broccoli. Not quite everything is made better with lemon, but most things are.

So when I saw this stuff in the store the other day, my thought process was approximately this: "Hey, if they have lemon and pepper mixed together, maybe I'll use it for the lemon part, and discover that the pepper part improves the flavor of my food, too." In the basket it went.

I tried it tonight on some scrambled eggs and on some green beans. I detected no lemon. Zero lemon. Nada limones. Pas de citrons. I tasted pepper, and while it's not a dealbreaker, I didn't like it any more than the few times I've used it in the past.

Disappointing, but not terribly surprising.

Will I buy it again? 

I think it's very safe to conclude that this small bottle will constitute a lifetime supply.

Nina's View

If you hold the bottle up to your nose you can get a whiff of lemon zest and lemon oil. Barely. It didn't make it to my taste buds when applied to some green beans and some scrambled eggs. Maybe the bottle needs a bit of shaking? Maybe you could taste it if applied to something totally bland? (Please note: neither the garlic nor the onion mentioned in the ingredient list amounts to anything either. Note that Bob didn't complain "AND IT TASTES LIKE ICKY ICKY ONION." Because it doesn't.)

Whatevs. Not worth whatever premium they are charging.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Trader Joe's Soy & Flaxseed Tortilla Chips

My first reaction to my first bit of one of these chips was, "This is stale." Soon Nina convinced me that they were not, in fact, stale; that was the soy component conveying an unfamiliar flavor.

Once I got past that mental barrier, I had no problem with these chips. But they suffer by comparison with their close cousin, the superb Veggie & Flaxseed Tortilla Chips. The latter are both more flavorful and prettier.

Will I buy it again? 

I can't. I'll always be too tempted by the multicolored Veggie version sitting right next to it on the store shelf.

Nina's View

I do not like these. They have an icky mouthfeel. I blame the soy, which does indeed impart a flavor which reads as "stale." Go away, soy chips.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Trader Joe's Mega Crunchy Salad With a Bite

I almost can't believe I even bought this stuff. I had never heard of adzuki beans or jicama, and I still have only the vaguest idea what they are. But on some trips to Trader Joe's, I just get overcome with a compulsion to TRY ALL THE THINGS!

When I buy a TJ's prepared salad that comes with its own dressing, I always use it, rather than my usually preferred dressings. I want to get the whole experience that their chefs have put together for me, and judge it as a gestalt, rather than as individual components.

I did that here, and it may have been the salad's undoing. The cilantro dressing was, I dunno, off somehow, and I think it may have been what spoiled the overall experience for me. I tried a bit of each of the many ingredients of the salad separately, and found none objectionable. But when put all together, it just didn't work. It was too much, as if the final product was trying to be too many things at once, with the components not playing nicely together. Like an unrehearsed orchestra or something.

Will I buy it again? 

No. It seems to have been a bold, interesting culinary experiment, but I think it was not a successful one.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Soft Wheat Bread

This is kind of peculiar wheat bread. It's much lighter than most, and noticeably sweeter. Neither quality is endearing. In fact, I found both to be kind of off-putting.

The sweetness was so prominent that I checked the label. First three ingredients, in order, are organic wheat flour, organic whole wheat flour, and organic cane sugar. So I was not imagining things.

Weird is sometimes good; different is sometimes revelatory. Not here.

Will I buy it again? 


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Trader Joe's Salt & Vinegar Potato Chips

I've never had any variety of vinegar chips before. But I liked these--definitely a change from the usual ol' chips.

However: Boy howdy, you'd better like vinegar! It is by far the dominant taste here. I thought it would probably be a little background flavor, a nice second fiddle to the potato. Nope. It's the star of the show, bold, bright, and right up front in the spotlight.

Somehow, this product escaped the ministerings of the Trader Joe's Blandification Committee.

Will I buy it again? 

A niche product like this will never be my main go-to potato chip. But as an occasional change of pace, yes, I would definitely have them again.

Nina's View

This is what happened when Americans heard about British fish and chips, which are frequently served with malted vinegar to sprinkle on. Of course in Britain, "chips" are actually what we call "french fries." But someone clearly misunderstood and so we got these.

For what it's worth, I like them. I'm generally a fan of vinegary flavors and these are no exception.