Thursday, April 30, 2015

Trader Joe's Spelt Risotto With Vegetables and Chickpeas

This is one of the weirdest Trader Joe's products I've ever tried.

Let's start with TJ's own description, from a past issue of the Fearless Flyer: "It's a rich, creamy, risotto-like dish, where spelt -- the ancient grain also called farro -- replaces the rice. The result is both luscious and delicious. This is a vegetarian dish that's bursting with vegetables like pumpkin, zucchini, and turnip greens. The addition of garbanzo beans boosts both the protein and fiber level, and smoked provolone cheese gives the dish a lush, rich, and unique flavor that will make you think it was slow-cooked with ham or bacon -- we promise it wasn't."

And here's my description: It's basically globs of chewy (the label calls it "parcooked") wheat in a mild cheese sauce, with a few bits of vegetables thrown in. The proportions are nothing like shown in the photo above.

Now, who are you going to believe--me or Trader Joe's? The only adjective in the Fearless Flyer blurb I can agree with is "unique." I've never had anything like it.

It's not so terrible that I couldn't finish it. In fact, after the Nina dinner at which it debuted, I had it twice more as a side dish with my lunch, finishing off the bag. But it's weird. Who eats gloppy, semi-softened kernels of wheat in cheese sauce? Frankly, the main reason I kept at it was trying to figure out (1) how to describe it for this blog, and (2) whether there was something good about it that I had missed on first tasting. (No.)

Some people claim to like it. See favorable reviews here, here, and here. I do not understand these people. They may not even be of our species.

Will I buy it again? 

Are you kidding me, asking that?

Nina's View 

You know how Bob has his Top Ten for this blog? Well, I’m going to institute a new category/tag: Nina’s Bottom Ten, brought to you by Trader Joe’s Spelt Risotto with Vegetables and Chickpeas.

I don’t even know where to start. This stuff SHOULD have been delicious. But I knew I was in trouble the moment Bob set the serving bowl in front of me. The smell coming off it was atrocious.


It smelled toxic. It smelled as if the plastic handle of the pot they cooked it in had fallen off and melted into the sauce. Smoked plastic. OMG yuck. I actually checked the empty bag to make sure that there hadn’t been an extra sauce pouch (which sometimes TJ’s includes in their frozen items) that somehow ended up in the mixture and contributed its (non)savor to the dish.

I put a serving on my plate. I put a small forkful in my mouth. I thought to myself: “No, this isn’t possibly as bad as it seems!” I swallowed the first bite. I thought surely there must be some mistake, and so I put a second forkful in my mouth.

Nope. The mistake was mine. IN PUTTING THE SECOND FORKFUL INTO MY FACE. I am still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that Bob has apparently had it twice more and actually finished the bag. WHY?????? (Must be that from-another-universe thing.)

I am desperately hoping that when TJ’s describes this product as “unique,” what they mean by that is that they promise never, never, never to make anything even vaguely like it ever again. They proclaim this product was imported from Italy. Apparently the Italians declared war on the US at some point and I didn’t notice, because that’s the only excuse for unleashing this gunk on an unsuspecting population. It may, however, be a violation of the Geneva Convention—as calling this “food" is probably a Crime Against Humanity. For shame, Rome, for shame!

Look, I’m pretty open-minded about food. I like all sorts of stuff. Very few things are likely to land themselves on the newly inaugurated Nina’s Bottom Ten. But this item? This item has earned itself a spot on the lowermost rung of hell that is Spot 10 on the Bottom Ten List. It is going to take something incomprehensibly vile to push it up a notch onto the second rung.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Trader Joe's Free Range Chicken Broth

This chicken broth is fowl.


All right, I apologize for that. Please forgive me.

But this stuff is foul. Really unpleasant.

Now, to be fair, I wasn't in the best of moods when I tried it. I was on a 36-hour clear-liquid diet before a medical procedure. Basically water, clear juices, and Jello. But "broth" was definitely on the list the doctor's office sent, so I brought home a couple of selections from TJ's in the hope that they would provide a little protein--as well as some variety in what was otherwise destined to be a day of nothing but fruit flavors.

What I had imagined was that this would taste like chicken noodle soup--just without the solids bits. It was nothing of the sort. It's hard to describe what it tasted like, since I've never tasted anything quite like it. But it was unpleasant to both smell and taste. After a few spoonfuls, I added a bunch of salt, which improved it, but only marginally.

Is it fair to judge this by how it tastes alone instead of how it does when made into a real soup? Yes, absolutely. The back of the box clearly says, "READY TO USE: Just heat and serve! Delicious as a piping hot beverage, or for a quick light meal add...." So they are unambiguously promoting it for use by itself.

I'm kind of baffled by how it can be "fat free," as the package boasts, when chicken is the second ingredient (after water, obviously). Has TJ's genetically engineered the world's first fat-free chickens? You might think that the fat component would be one of the most important things. But apparently not in Trader Joe's opinion. From the taste, appearance, and mouth feel, I totally believe that it's fat-free. In fact, that might be precisely what's lacking between my expectations and the reality of it.

Will I buy it again? 

I hope to never again need a clear-liquid diet. But even if I do, this won't be on the menu. Pass the Kool-Aid, please.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Trader Joe's Haricots Verts

Why are these called "haricots verts" and not just "green beans"? I admit--I had to look it up. They're a variety of green beans that are longer and thinner than others. "They are also more tender and have a more complex flavor." So there ya go.

But I'm not sure I could tell a difference. They were certainly as good as any other green beans I've had. I'm not a big fan of that vegetable, however. I don't mind green beans, but I don't love them, so I'm probably not the one to ask which are better than others.

These were relatively expensive, though ($2.69 for 12 ounces), so they sure should be good ones.

Will I buy it again? 

I really couldn't tell any meaningful difference between these and the substantially less expensive regular TJ's green beans, so probably not.

Nina's View

J'adore les haricots verts.

They have a great texture when properly cooked, and a lovely green flavor. I think they look lovely too. It bums me that they are very expensive and also from Guatemala (brought up next door to the English Peas, I imagine). 

C'est triste. I cannot justify the expense except perhaps for une fĂȘte especiale.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Trader Joe's Tropical Carrot Juice Blend

Once more we wade into the murky, treacherous waters of a Trader Joe's "juice blend." This time the subject is kind of an odd one: "tropical carrot," two words that don't really belong together.

According to the list of ingredients, we have here water, carrot juice concentrate, grape juice concentrate, apple juice concentrate, pineapple juice concentrate, kiwi juice concentrate, lime juice concentrate, malic acid, mango puree, plus a few minor ingredients.

My first taste impression was "peach"--which, you may notice, isn't in there. I later decided that it was a little more mango than peach, but it was a close call. I'm still not sure what combination of juices added up to peach in my brain's sensory center.

You know what I never tasted at any point in drinking about 60 of the 64 ounces (with one serving going to Nina)? Carrot. Y'know, the thing in the name of the beverage. Go figure.

Will I buy it again? 

No. It wasn't nearly as bad as some of the other big-jug blends we've tried, but it was kind of weird, too sweet, and not particularly refreshing.

Nina's View

The best use I can think of for this vaguely tropical tasting beverage (unlike Bob I hallucinated a coconut flavor that wasn't there, not peach) is in an umbrella cocktail, with plenty of rum and ice. And maybe some bitters. 

Actually, that sounds pretty good.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Trader Joe's Raw Milk Smoked Cheddar Cheese

A smoky cheddar cheese was the first cheese I can remember really liking as a child. Because of the sensory memory of that, it's possible that I feel more fondness for this cheese than I would if I were evaluating it absent such nostalgia. But I do like it. It's mild yet flavorful. Of all the kinds of cheese I've bought from TJ's, this one slices the best with no crumbling, which makes it the easiest to pair neatly with crackers. It's not my absolute favorite (that title still goes to cheddar & guyere melange), but it's definitely one of the better ones--distinct, not just another ho-hum cheddar.

Will I buy it again? 


Saturday, April 25, 2015


This week's collection of links to news and other stories about Trader Joe's.

6 injured as driver smashes car into Los Altos Trader Joe's

Copycat recipe for Trader Joe's cookie butter 

Trader Joe's announces recall of some lots of Sweet Apple Chicken Sausage 

Cat likes Trader Joe's White Cheddar Popcorn (video)

Worst things to buy at Trader Joe's--sweets 

A definitive ranking of Trader Joe's craft beers 

My 12 favorite things from Trader Joe's 

Forbes rates Trader Joe's as 35th-best U.S. employer

What to buy at Trader Joe's 

I spent only $4 a day on food (focuses on shopping at Trader Joe's) 

Trader Joe's: Too much packaging 

Comparison test of several store brands of pasta 

Here's my nominee for Tweet of the Week:

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

Trader Joe's Blueberry Preserves Made With Fresh Blueberries

Though obviously meant as part of the same family as Trader Joe's cherry preserves and apricot preserves, the blueberry version seems quite different to me. Specifically, it seems much sweeter and more artificial. More sugar, less fruit. It's not to the point of being unpleasant, but easily reaches the level of being disappointing. I would never choose it over the cherry or apricot versions. That is not because I like blueberries less than cherries or apricots as a general rule, but because of how much more obvious and prominent the added sugar is.

Will I buy it again? 


Friday, April 24, 2015

Trader Joe's Hand Soap--Lavender & Chamomile

I bought this because I like the scent of lavender. Who doesn't? But there was an unknown component, because I have no experience with chamomile that I can remember. But lavender!

Unfortunately, it turns out that I don't like how chamomile smells, and here it dominates the lavender.

Worse, the consistency of this stuff is such that it doesn't spread easily around your hands.

Do not like.

Will I buy it again? 


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Trader Joe's Multigrain Tortilla Chips

I'm ambivalent about these--so ambivalent, in fact, that the first time I sat down to write this review, I couldn't make up my mind what to say, and decided that I'd have to have another bag of them.

Well, now I've done that, and I'm still not sure. Here's the problem: They're not exactly what I expect when I open a bag of corn tortilla chips. The "multigrain" constituents definitely add some personality and complexity. That tends to happen when you start with corn, then throw in some black bean flakes, flaxseed, cracked wheat, oats, barley grits, soybean grits, wheat bran, sesame seeds, buckwheat grits, corn grits, and millet. (Yes, those are all in these chips.)

But on the other hand, they're not nearly as distinct and interesting as other TJ's chips, like the quinoa/black bean tortilla chips, or the blue corn with sprouted amarinth tortilla chips, or the veggie/flaxseed tortilla chips. So they're in this odd neither-fish-nor-fowl neverland. If I want plain corn tortilla chips, these aren't quite right. But if I'm feeling like having something non-corny in my chips, these aren't quite the item, either, because they're still mostly corn. See the dilemma?

I do like them. They serve perfectly well for whatever you might want to use tortilla chips for. I'm just not sure they're ever going to be my first choice over several other TJ's products when I actually have to pick one off the shelves.

Will I buy it again? 

As the Magic 8-Ball says, "Outlook not so good."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Reduced Guilt White Corn Tortilla Chips

I didn't much care for these. They're dry, brittle, relatively tasteless. I wouldn't go so far as to compare them to cardboard, but they do not compare favorably to many of TJ's other tortilla chip offerings. If you really have to squeeze every gram of fat out of your diet, then these may well be close enough to "normal" to rank among the better choices available. (Caveat: I have not tried many reduced-fat chips, so I'm just speculating there.) But for me, I'll take my chances with the regular versions for the improved taste and texture.

Will I buy it again? 


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Trader Joe's Brioche Toasts

This was the latest in my ongoing series of "pick something new from the cracker section." Trader Joe's has so many, one can despair of ever trying them all--but that's OK.

I did realize from the picture on the box that these looked like nothing more than miniature pieces of dry toast. But "hope springs eternal from within the human breast," so I optimistically thought there would be something more to them.

There wasn't. Well, they're a little sweeter than typical toasted white bread. But other than that, just toast your own bread instead of buying these. Because I can almost guarantee that if you buy them, you'll end up wondering why you did.

Will I buy it again? 

Not as long as I own a toaster.

Nina's View

Remember the Melba Toasts

Well, these are the supersized melba toasts: but only the sizeand neither the flavor or likeability—has grown. The only thing even vaguely distinctive about them is the sweetness which is indeed typical of brioche. 

I suppose if you were making appetizers and you wanted to simulate little-itty-bitty cute sandwiches, these might work. But frankly that's the only possible excuse for them.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Joe's O's Pasta

I liked SpaghettiOs as a kid. As an adult, my pattern has been this: (1) Go a few years without eating any. (2) Notice them on a grocery store shelf. (3) Remember that I liked them as a child. (4) Purchase a can. (5) Eat the SpaghettiOs. (6) Be instantly and vividly reminded of how vile they are, and why I don't usually keep them around. (7) Eventually forget what happened in step 6. (8) Repeat. I've been through that cycle more times than I care to admit, because I am a slow learner.

But I guess the lesson has sunk in enough that I was wary of the Trader Joe's version of the same basic idea. I passed it by several times before tossing it into my basket one day, and then it sat on my shelf uneaten for close to a year before I finally decided to try it today.

And ya know what? It wasn't half bad. The sauce is tangier than I remember that of the more famous brand being. It didn't feel or taste like pabulum, like something meant only for the weird palate of a child. I had planned to have just half of the can as part of my lunch today, saving the rest for tomorrow, but I enjoyed it enough that it just kept going down, and before long was all gone.

I can't say that I loved it, or that I'm eager to have it again. I do recognize that I can make much, much better pasta with not much investment of time or effort. But it exceeded expectations simply by not being vile mush.

Will I buy it again? 

I have no plans to do so. However, it's entirely possible that at some point I will forget today's experience, and will decide that I ought to try that Trader Joe's SpaghettiOs stuff.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Trader Joe's Hamburger Buns

These are excellent--tied with TJ's whole wheat hamburger buns as the best available, as far as I know. They taste good. They are a little larger than most, so the patty and fixings don't spill out past the edge. Both halves are thick and substantial, so they don't get squashed down into wet, compressed bread-goo before you're done eating. They toast nicely, if that's your preference.

Will I buy it again? 

Definitely. In fact, unless somebody gives me a darn good reason to try an alternative, my only decision on hamburger buns in the future will be between TJ's white and whole wheat versions. They are equally good.

Nina's View


They toast beautifully. They taste just right. They stand up to a myriad of sloppy sandwich fixin's.



Saturday, April 18, 2015


This is the weekly compilation of news and other items related to Trader Joe's:

Mo Rocca interviews proprietor of "Pirate Joe's" on CBS Sunday Morning (video) 

Petition to ask Trader Joe's and other grocers to stop using palm oil in their store-brand products 

My favorite Trader Joe's products 

Taste test of 3 different versions of cookie butter ice cream 

Copy-cat recipe for Trader Joe's spinach and kale Greek yogurt dip 

Trader Joe's epitomizes one type of private-label shopper 

Trader Joe's announces recall of "A Dozen Sweet Bites" for undisclosed coconut 

Here's the Tweet of the Week:

Finally, instead of the usual cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag, we have a cute dog with its head in a Trader Joe's yogurt cup:

Trader Joe's Freeze Dried Raspberries

I love, love, love raspberries. Best fruit on the planet, period. I thought there was nothing that one could do with raspberries that I would not like.

I was wrong.

Trader Joe's freeze-dried raspberries are not good. I don't suppose it's TJ's fault, exactly. I think it's intrinsic to the idea. Dried raspberries just cannot be made good--or at least that is my presumption based on this product. It's an inherently flawed concept.

The best way I can describe these is by a comparison. If you've ever had a cereal like Cap'n Crunch "Crunch Berries," or any of the others that have "fruit" pieces made of flavored grains--well, that's what these are like. They feel like they're cereal, though with genuine raspberry flavor. It's a weird mix of signals that I find my mouth sending to my brain. The taste does not match the texture.

But the problem is not really the mismatch. That happens the first time you try any dried fruit, and you quickly get used to it and can enjoy it. The problem is in the texture itself. Most dried fruit retains some moisture, so that the product is chewy. The freeze-drying process they use for these raspberries does not. It sucks them completely dry. The result is that it feels like you're eating a hunk of, I dunno, maybe dust. The berries disintegrate in your mouth into what feels like dust. Dust with seeds. It's not just unexpected. It's not just weird. It's downright unpleasant.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I'm sorry to have learned that such a desecration of raspberries even exists.

Nina's View

When Bob told me he wanted me to try these, I asked: "But if you remove the juice doesn't that just leave the part of raspberries I hate the most, the little seeds that get wedged annoyingly in my teeth?"

No. It also leaves behind some vaguely fruitish back-of-the-tongue-sourness sawdust too.

UGH NO. What a terrible, terrible idea. SRSLY WHAT WERE THEY THINKING.

This is a product that should never have seen a shelf. 

Kill it. Kill it with fire.

Bob notes 

And with that agreement from my beloved, I cast Trader Joe's Freeze Dried Raspberries into the purgatory of the Bottom Ten list, that despised little collection--not limited to ten items, by the way--of the most repulsive, inexplicable products TJ's has had the temerity to foist upon its customers. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Trader Joe's Quinoa Cowboy Veggie Burgers With Black Beans & Roasted Corn

This is yet another in the seemingly endless series of attempts to make burgers out of something other than cows. I think that category can broadly be divided into the products that are trying to simulate ground beef, and those that are not. Trader Joe's has nothing that competes with MorningStar and Boca in the former group. I would call it their second-best entry in the latter group, after the excellent Pizza Veggie Burgers. These are much better, in my opinion, than the Vegetable Masala Burgers.

The flavor is, predictably, kind of a bland mashup of grain, beans, and corn, since those are the major constituents. It won't fool you into thinking it once mooed, but it's mild and inoffensive. It's so mild, in fact, that when it's topped with some cheese, pickles, and ketchup, I had a hard time telling what was underneath them. Put another way, these have much less of a distinctive flavor identity than either the pizza veggie burgers or the vegetable masala burgers. You may choose whether to think of that as an advantage or a disadvantage.

They hold together reasonably well. Of the four in the package, one broke apart as I was trying to flip it halfway through cooking, but the other three maintained their integrity during both cooking and consumption. I hate patties that disintegrate.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably once in a while, because I didn't mind them, and Nina seemed to like them better than I did--and better than the Pizza Veggie Burgers.

Nina's View

I like these. I think our reflexive habit of piling every known LOUD hamburger condiment onto these various veggie patties basically keeps them from revealing their essential nature and/or goodness.

Another time I think I'd have mine with some melted cheese/dairy-substitute-product and some lettuce and nothing much else. And I think I'd continue to like 'em just fine.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Trader Joe's Pizza Veggie Burgers

With a vegetarian girlfriend to cook for every week, I'm always eager to try any proteinaceous-looking item that can serve as an easy main course. The Pizza Veggie Burgers apparently joined the Trader Joe's lineup sometime in early 2013, though I had overlooked them on many trips through the store before they somehow caught my eye.

My first try at one of these, during a weekly Nina dinner, was not entirely pleasant, primarily because I had scorched them pretty badly. Though microwaving is an option, I thought they might be better done stovetop in a little oil. They probably are--but only if you don't burn them. D'oh!

But since then I've eaten the last two of the four in the box, prepared the same way, but without burning. My conclusion: I really like them a lot. It's not like you'll be fooled into thinking you're eating a pizza, but the combination of ingredients definitely evokes cheese pizza, what with the tomato, basil, and mozzarella. I still treated them as I would burgers, with pickles and ketchup, and I was very happy with the result.

Never once did I have a thought along the lines of, "Well, it's OK for a veggie burger, but I wish I were eating a real burger instead." (Which, I confess, happens with most veggie burgers.) Since they're not trying to trick you into thinking they're hamburgers, there is no disappointment when the effort fails.

The consistency is perfect: they don't crumble apart, yet there is no toughness at all.

The first two reviews I found in a Google search were similarly positive, with enthusiastic fans being made on first tasting:

Will I buy it again? 

Eagerly. But I'll be eating them alone, as Nina was not favorably impressed.

Nina's View

So, maybe by now you've read where Bob revisited his review of the Tomato Hummus

I feel very much the same way about these pizza burgers as I did about that hummus spread. Just a bunch of weirdly artificial tomatoish flavor, excessively rubbery texture, and nasty rear of the tongue cheesery vileness. 

So, other than that, Mrs. Lincoln—nope, just did not care for them one little bit.

I wonder whether Bob might revise his opinion of these in a few months' time. I am willing, as always, to try them again in case I was having an unhappy taste-buds attack of some sort. But I'm not hopeful that they'll make a better second impression.


Sometimes when our views are as far apart as they were for this item, a second sampling after the passage of some time moderates one of our views. It was not so here. Nina was a good enough sport to allow me to serve these burgers to her again a few months after the first time. Each of us had the same opinion as we did originally.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Trader Joe's Petits Palmiers

This was the second item that I learned (from the "Product Gangway" on the Trader Joe's web site) was scheduled for discontinuation. As with the sweet potato tortilla chips, I felt an obligation to try them while I still could.

They're OK, but I won't feel the same tinge of regret at their passing as I will the chips. I had never had or even heard of palmiers before. They're like a thin ring of cookie surrounding a heart-shaped slice of croissant, though the latter is dry rather than fresh and moist. Kind of an odd combination, but I warmed up to them. I liked them more as I got deeper into the bin, probably because I came to know what to expect. (I wish it weren't so, but my brain still balks at trying new things, and has to be convinced they're OK.)

These will disappear in July, so get some while you can if it sounds like something you'd enjoy.

Will I buy it again? 

No. They're not bad, but once was enough.

Nina's View

When I was a young person (back when dirt was new), a favorite treat from my local bakery was "elephant ears"—known to me later by their French name, "palmiers." They were buttery and flakey and crunchy and sugary—in sum: delicious toothsomeness. My Mom was pretty sweet-conscious, so they were a rare enough delight that I really enjoyed them when they were made available to me.

I also had them once in Paris, and of that experience we shall say no more than that—together with a cafe au lait—you have before you the food of angels. *sigh*

So I was simultaneously thrilled and saddened to learn of the imminently departing TJ's "Petits Palmiers."

Here's the thing, though. These weren't like my childhood goodies. They were much drier and crunchier, (hard, really) and had a bit of staleness to their shortening. Not bad, mind you, but not great. I would never buy them, even if TJ's were to keep them around, because despite their mediocrity they are precisely the sort of foodstuff I tend to consume mindlessly until it is all gone.

Bob notes: Nina is not the only one for whom these pastries conjure up wistful memories of France. See 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Tortilla Chip Rounds

I recently discovered that the Trader Joe's website occasionally publishes something called "The Product Gangway," a list of items that will soon be arriving, and items that will soon be discontinued. The latter is the more useful, as it gives fans of a product an opportunity to stock up on it for the last time. It also affords shoppers one last chance to try something they hadn't noticed before or had been putting off buying.

That last category describes me for these chips. I had noticed them many times, but always chose some other kind of chip instead. Frankly, I thought I would not like the taste of sweet potato in corn tortilla chips. But when I saw that they were going bye-bye, I thought I had better give them a shot while I still could. Y'know--for my legions of readers.

I'm glad I did. They are most excellent. In fact, they're among the very best tortilla chips I've ever had. The ratio of corn to sweet potato taste is just right, surprisingly harmonious and delicious. They are thick and solid enough to stand up to dipping in dense hummus without breaking, but not tough to bite into.

Now the problem, of course, is that I have fallen in love with something just in time to see it disappear--like Kate Winslet watching Leonardo DiCaprio slip off of their flotsam in "Titanic."

TJ's says that these chips are being replaced with a similar but improved version--angular rather than round, and with even more sweet potato flavor. I'm not convinced that either change would be an improvement, but I'll certainly give the new product a chance when it arrives.

If you've never tried these chips, don't waste any more time about it. TJ's estimates that their supply will be gone by mid-May. I'm going to grab a few more bags on my next grocery run. And I'm adding them to my Top Ten list--not quite posthumously, but pretty close, like the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Oscars being given to a director or star that everybody can see is on death's door.

Will I buy it again? 

At least once more. After that, who knows?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Trader Joe's Watermelon Cucumber Cooler

This is not a new product; it apparently came on the Trader Joe's scene about this same time last year. I'm guessing that TJ's is making a company-wide push to sell it again now as a spring beverage. This is based on (1) the large display of them I found last week at the Asheville, NC, store, and (2) a sudden surge in the number of people in the last two weeks who have taken to Twitter to say that they found this "new" product, or that they have bought it for the first time, or that they love it.

As for that last group of Twitterers, I think they have plumb lost their damn minds. Because this stuff is gross. According to the ingredients list, there is more sugar than either watermelon juice concentrate or cucumber juice concentrate. And it shows--it's disgustingly sweet.

Let us speak candidly: This is sugar water, with a little watermelon juice and cucumber juice thrown in. That is not what I want when I head to the refrigerator for a refreshing beverage.

It seems, however, that others disagree with me. The "Eating at Joe's" blog describes it as "a rare participant in the summer drink wars – a beverage that satisfies the sweet tooth, quenches the thirst, refreshes with cucumber, and goes easy on the sugar." The "Vegan Taste" blog "loved it" for its "fresh, sweet note of watermelon without being overly sweet." The author of the relevant post on the "What's Good at Trader Joe's" blog  couldn't get past the weirdness of drinking cucumber juice, but reported that his wife was "down with the cucumberiness" and thought it would be "perfect come summertime."

I think anybody who tastes this and finds it not overly sweet needs to go through some sort of government-mandated resetting of their sweetness scales.

Will I buy it again? 

No. Because it's gross and it shouldn't exist and the memory of it will make me mildly nauseated every time I pass the display in the store.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Trader Joe's Cubano Seasoned Wrap

I first had a "Cuban" sandwich at a restaurant in Florida, when Nina and I were there visiting one of her aunts a few years ago. If I had ever heard the term before that, I had not remembered it. I think I've had two since then, at different restaurants.

This morning I saw this item in TJ's prepared-food section while I was looking for something else, and I bought it on impulse. I had it for my lunch today.

I liked it--for a few bites. Then it all felt like too much. In particular, too much meat. As I've mentioned here before, I'm not a committed vegetarian, but I have substantially cut back on the amount of meat I eat compared to five years ago, and I don't miss it. I'm sure my long-term average meat eating is less than twice a week, and probably getting closer to once a week. Even then, it's usually as part of some larger dish, not the main constituent. As an example, I bought a steak at TJ's when the place first opened nearly a year ago, and it's still sitting in my freezer. So this wrap/sandwich thing was kind of an anomaly for me, in that it's stuffed with pork and ham.

I thought the flavors were very good. You get a lot of complexity between the tortilla, the two meats, the cheese, the pickles, and the mustard dressing. But it didn't sit well with me, for reasons that I'm having a hard time articulating and that are definitely personal to me, and not reflective of the food per se. I guess I can't put it more clearly than this: The idea of eating meat still has enough appeal to me that I could yield to a hunger-driven impulse to stick something like this in my shopping basket. But when it comes to actually eating it, I discovered that the appeal went away rapidly--even though every mouthful I took was tasty. Weird, huh?

Will I buy it again? 

It's not very likely. I think I'll remember this experience clearly for a good long time.

Saturday, April 11, 2015


This week's compilation of news stories and other tidbits related to Trader Joe's:

Trader Joe's versus Whole Foods for ease of shopping by the disabled 

Four Trader Joe's easy-to-make food mashups (video) 

Composer writes songs based on Trader Joe's product descriptions 

Best and worst products at Trader Joe's, volume 5 

Favorite vegan products from Trader Joe's 

My favorites from Trader Joe's 

"Trader Joe" answers your burning questions (video) 

How to get Trader Joe's to send you a gift card 

11 facts you probably didn't know about Trader Joe's 

A Trader Joe's meal plan 

Taste test of 16 wines from Trader Joe's 

This link goes to a podcast called "Not Another Podcast." Find Episode #44. From about 41:00 to 51:00 they sample and comment on four different TJ's snack foods, and from 1:09:00 to 1:20:00 they risk life and limb to navigate a Trader Joe's parking lot.

The Trader Joe's Tweet of the Week (which may or may not become a regular feature here) comes from my own part of the world, Asheville, North Carolina, and it speaks absolute truth:

The link takes you to this irrefutable photographic evidence:

(Actually, I'm pretty well convinced that just to live in Asheville requires owning a Subaru, and that the authorities will be coming any day to arrest me for noncompliance.)

And finally, this week's picture of a cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag comes from a YouTube video by Paula Poundstone:

Trader Joe's Kale Quinoa Salad

I saw this listed on Trader Joe's web site as a new product and decided to give it a try alongside a TJ's frozen pizza for a weekly dinner with Nina.

I kind of wish I hadn't.

As is typical of TJ's complete bagged salads, there are lots of ingredients: baby kale, shredded broccoli, shredded carrots, chopped red cabbage, radicchio, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, and dried cranberries, plus a packet of lemon vinaigrette dressing. But the leafy green stuff? All kale, all the time. Being "baby" kale, it's more tender than the "adult" variety, but it still packs a lot of bitterness--so much so that I was unable to taste, let alone enjoy, any of the other components. I honestly could not even taste the salad dressing. The signal my taste buds were sending was KALE KALE KALE KALE KALE KALE KALE KALE KALE.

I don't mind some kale. In fact, I'm a big fan of TJ's Cruciferous Crunch Collection tossed 50/50 with a bag of lettuce or spring mix. But that blending is cruciferously crucial, and it's completely absent here. This product badly needs balancing by replacing half of the kale with some type of lettuce or lettuce/spinach blend. Without that, as far as I'm concerned, the other eight ingredients might as well not even show up to the party.

Will I buy it again? 

No. It felt like a chore to make it all the way through one bowl of the stuff.

Nina's View

There's no disputing that there's a lot of KALE in this product. And that the additional items get lost in the shuffle. Except for the quinoa, which gets distributed on the damp KALE leaves and ends up looking like some sort of infestation. Not a particularly successful outcome. Bob is right that this salad would be improved by a significant dilution of the KALE quotient with other greens.

I feel, however, that there is one thing that this salad has going for it that the overwhelming majority of TJ salads do not: a very good dressing. The included lemon vinaigrette is most meritorious, and even makes the relentless KALE more tolerable (for me, anyway).

Friday, April 10, 2015

Trader Joe's Julienne Sliced Sun Dried Tomatoes In Olive Oil

I actually bought and used this version of sun-dried tomatoes before discovering the non-olive-oil version reviewed yesterday. Frankly, I'm not sure why this one exists. The taste and effect on whatever you put it in is the same, but it's a lot messier to use. To use these, I feel like I have to break out paper towels and sop up the messy olive oil before using them. If you were throwing them into something you were already cooking in oil, you wouldn't need to do that, but there's still the problem that the oil makes them tend to clump together. You can see that the jar pictured above it partially used. That's because it was in my refrigerator on the day that I decided to start this blog and took pictures of all the TJ's products I had on hand. It sits there still, and will probably end up just getting thrown out, because I always turn to the dry version. Like I said, I'm not sure why this version exists, or why anybody would choose it over the other. Maybe I'm missing something.

Will I buy it again? 

Not unless somebody explains why I should prefer it to the dry package form.

Nina's View

I honestly cannot remember whether I've had this TJ's version, but I can say pretty unequivocally that I prefer sundried tomatoes in oil to those that are just plain dried. They are easier to work with: they go better in soups, salads, sandwiches, and pizzas. They are tender and succulent not wizened and chewy. Their flavor is better carried by the bit of oil that comes along with them.

I have asked Bob to give me his jar if he doesn't want them anymore.

Editorial note: Nina forgot (I assume) that she had written the above, and later sent me a "Nina's View" on this item that was enough different that I think it's worth adding in here.

Nina's View

Yup, Bob is missing something. He is missing that sundried tomatoes in oil are not chewy and desiccated, but rather succulent and supple. That they blend much more nicely into other foodstuffs (bread, sauces, stirfries). Lightly drained, they are nicer in salads and sandwiches. The taste and effect are not in fact the same.

Here's the thing: you are not supposed to use sundried tomatoes in their excessively chewy dried-up form. You are suppose to reconstitute them to moist plumpness. When you do it with warm water, they get diluted in flavor. Preserved in oil, they retain the proper texture and full flavor.

Thus endeth the lesson.

(I challenge my beloved to a taste test on this topic!)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Trader Joe's California Sun-Dried Tomatoes Julienne Cut

Several months ago, I was making a recipe that called for sun-dried tomatoes. I had never purchased or used them before. I was amazed at how much sweetness they conveyed. Since then, I have used them on salads, as a topping on soup, and on tostadas. You'd think I'd learn what to expect, but I guess I'm a slow learner, because every time I get the same surprise at how radically they change the overall taste of whatever they're with--for the better. It has been one of the best and simplest enhancements I have made to my food life. I don't know how I got along 50+ years without them.

Maybe there are other brands of sun-dried tomatoes, and maybe they're all basically the same. I don't know and I don't care. I love these so much that I'm not even interested in trying any others.

Will I buy it again? 

I expect to never again be without at least one package available for use at all times.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


I had another all-Trader-Joe's dinner with Nina tonight. That's the last slice of a TJ's Organic Woodfired Sicilian-Style Pizza, TJ's Kale Quinoa Salad, TJ's Big & Chunky Applesauce, and TJ's Watermelon Cucumber Cooler. Though not pictured, we also had TJ's Popcorn With Herbs & Spices as a starter, and TJ's Petits Palmiers for dessert.

Snap verdict from me: Excellent, Icky, Bleah, Fail, Excellent, and OK, respectively. Full reviews in due course.

Trader Joe's Fruit Frenzy Bars

There's nothing complicated here: fruit mash (raspberry, lemon, and strawberry), with water and sugar, frozen onto a stick. I'm not sure it's possible to dislike these things. I keep some in the freezer and go to them when I'm craving something sweet but feel like I have been eating too much candy. Diluting the sugar into actual fruit at least allows me the illusion that I'm eating something that isn't pure rot to my teeth and metabolism--with fruity deliciousness to aid in the self-deception.

Will I buy it again? 


Nina's View

Brace yourselves, people.

Are you braced?


Okay, here goes: I like these. They are a summertime treat that I am happy to indulge in from time to time. Yes, they are sweet, but they are cold and fruity and most excellent in just about every way.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Trader Joe's Multigrain Blend With Vegetables

This product is exactly what you would guess from the photo on the package: a mix of grains (barley, spelt, three kinds of rice) and vegetables (corn, peas, carrots, zucchini), plus some added ingredients for flavor (vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, onion). And it works well--perfectly serviceable as a side dish.

I have previously described microwaveable frozen sides as being super easy to prepare. Well, they've done that one better here, with no heating required. That's right: the recommended preparation is to just let it thaw to room temperature and serve. Well, OK, you do have to open the bag at some point.

I served it that way the first time, on the theory that proper testing of a new item requires doing it the way the manufacturer suggests. I didn't like it. It just felt wrong, as if I had forgotten a step in my meal preparation. Fortunately, the label helpfully informs us that it can also be served hot or even chilled. I've had it twice more after that first time, microwaved both times, and it was much more enjoyable.

It is a little bland. You might want to perk it up with more salt and/or pepper, your favorite hot sauce, or lemon juice.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. I think it would be good to keep on hand as an all-purpose side dish. You could even add in a meat or meat substitute for an all-in-one main dish.

Nina's View

If you are bored with potatoes, so over pasta, plain rice gives you ennui, and can only cook quinoa so many times a week, allow me to recommend this frozen-up medley of stuff. It's good. I think it could be spectacular if appropriately tarted up and served hot.

It would also made a good base for a cool side-salad in summertime, again with an appropriately zingy dressing.

I would like to point out, with great happiness and pride, that my man is now thinking up recipe plans for meals (see, all-in-one main dish concept, above). KVELL!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Trader Joe's Grapeseed Oil

Maybe a year ago, Nina convinced me that I should use grapeseed oil instead of canola oil as my main cooking oil because it can be raised to a higher temperature without smoking. I bought a bottle of Pompeian brand at my local supermarket, and have had no problems with it.

Some time later, I noticed that Trader Joe's had its own private-label grapeseed oil, so I bought that. For a few months now, I've been alternating between the two products when I need to brown meat or a meat substitute product, stir-fry vegetables, or whatever. I can't tell any difference between them.

So it comes down to price. The Pompeian is $6.98 for 24 ounces, or 29 cents per ounce. TJ's is $3.79 for 17 ounces, or 22 cents per ounce. Winner: Trader Joe's.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. Until somebody gives me a good reason to use something else, this will be the cooking oil I turn to first from now on.

Nina's View

It's worth noting that there are probably also some nutritional arguments for preferring grapeseed oil to canola oil as well, although at higher temperatures they probably evaporate. So to speak.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A special note on Trader Joe's Gourmet Jelly Beans

Trader Joe's rather famously has iron-clad secrecy agreements with its product suppliers. Nobody is supposed to know who makes the stuff.

Yesterday I discovered an unusual breach in this wall of secrecy. Looking in on the #TraderJoes hashtag on Twitter, I noticed a series of tweets like this:

Clicking on the tweeter's timeline, I found that he sends out a spate of these tweets every once in a while. He seems to have a peculiarly keen interest in promoting this specific TJ's product. Why might that be?

Well, click on his profile, and you find this:

Ireland? Didn't I remember seeing that TJ's jelly beans carry a label saying that they are made in Ireland?

Why yes--yes, I did. Look in the lower left corner of this picture of the nutrition label, which I borrowed from the review of the jelly beans from the What's Good at Trader Joe's blog:

Furthermore, when I checked out the web page referred to in Mr. Cullen's Twitter profile, I found this:

Now, here's the front of the TJ's box as pictured in our review from last September:

You can see that every flavor in the TJ's box is listed among the 36 made by The Jelly Bean Factory, including such unusual ones as pomegranate, banana split, and strawberry smoothie.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, given this evidence, can there be any doubt about the identity of Trader Joe's jelly bean supplier?

Trader Joe's Strawberry Chia 100% Juice Smoothie

Really, Trader Joe's--we have got to have a talk about what "100% juice" means. Once you add chia seeds--which are not juice--you cannot legitimately call the product "100% juice." I assume that there is some bizarre FDA regulation loophole that allows this, but it's intrinsically deceptive.

That aside, this stuff was better than the one other time I tried a chia-seed juice. That was slimy and unpleasant. This is not. It's much more strawberry than chia. I was definitely aware that the strawberry was being intruded upon by some other taste, but I would not have been able to name it without looking at the label.

I guess overall I would categorize this as tolerable, but not good.

Will I buy it again? 

No. Juices and smoothies can be so much better than just tolerable. Why settle?

Saturday, April 4, 2015


Weekly compilation of news and other links related to Trader Joe's:

Trader Joe's versus Aldi as an example of the effects of gentrification 

What Trader Joe's does right 

11 facts about Trader Joe's that will make you love it even more 

What should I buy at Trader Joe's? 

Wegmans, Publix, Trader Joe's top Consumer Reports supermarket survey

Trader Joe's says don't freak out about arsenic in wine 

The 12 best vegan finds at Trader Joe's 

Staff's favorite snack items from Trader Joe's 

A rant about the TJ's phrase "reduced guilt"

9 ways to save money at Trader Joe's

An excellent and seasonally appropriate tweet, worthy of highlighting:

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

Trader Joe's Bean So Green

This is a frozen vegetable medley, the sort of thing that Trader Joe's has coming out the wazoo. It's easy to prepare--just microwave. It's mildly seasoned; it won't blow anybody away with bursts of flavor, but the TJ's Blandification Committee apparently took only small swipes at the product before releasing it.

My main complaint was balance, in that there were far more green beans than the other components, despite the package photo looking like roughly equal portions of everything.

The most notable thing about this item was our discovery of romanesco. Neither Nina nor I had been aware of this before. See those unusual pyramidal bits in the picture? That's romanesco--but the photo doesn't do it justice. It's the most astonishing-looking vegetable you've ever seen (or not seen, as the case may be):

Here's one beautiful photograph of what it really looks like:

(Thanks to the photographer for making this public domain. See here.)

It's fractal, with each of the big buds being made up of identical smaller buds, all of them having rows that correspond to the Fibonacci sequence. I can't stop looking at this. It's other-worldly.

Anyway, romanesco, we learned, is yet another cultivar of that amazing species Brassica oleracea. That's the species that, depending on which variety you plant, turns into cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, broccolini, and several other vegetables that most people think of as being entirely distinct entities. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that these are all the same plant. But they are.

Sadly, the romanesco in our package amounted to basically one bud apiece--terribly underrepresented. But it was enough to spark our curiosity about how two reasonably intelligent, informed people could have missed the existence of such a strange but beautiful vegetable through all our decades of eating.

How did it taste? About halfway between broccoli and cauliflower, I'd judge. But it was hard to say for sure, given only one decent-sized chunk to sample.

But remember--if you buy this item, you're not buying romanesco, despite me emphasizing it here due to its novelty. You're basically buying a bag of lightly seasoned green beans, with a few other token veggies tossed in.

Will I buy it again? 

I'm not planning on it, but I suppose it might strike my fancy again some day.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Frosted Toaster Pastries--Strawberry

This will be short and to the point. These are less sickeningly sweet and more like real food than their more famous Kellogg's counterpart. But they are not nearly as delicious as their TJ's shelfmate, the cherry-pomegranate variety, which is one of my Top Ten list.

Will I buy it again? 

Not as long as the cherry-pomegranate is sitting next to it, beckoning me.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Trader Joe's Freshly Made Original Hummus Dip

I am continuing Project Try Every Kind of Hummus On The Planet Except The Obviously Icky Ones Like If They Have "Onion" Or "Garlic" In The Name. I might need to work on shortening that.

Anyway, this was next in line as I plow through Trader Joe's lineup of hummus. The first one I ever bought was the "Tomato Basil Hummus Dip." It was clear why that was a "hummus dip" rather than "hummus," because its first-listed ingredient was tomato paste, not chickpeas. Here, though, I'm stymied on why they're qualifying "hummus" with "dip." Is it the absence of tahini? That's my best guess.

But I couldn't tell from tasting that this is anything other than pretty straightforward plain hummus. Flavorful and a little bit tangy with lemon. It seems very similar to TJ's original version of its "smooth and creamy" line, except, unexpectedly, maybe even smoother and creamier. I think I'd have to taste them side by side to discover any big differences; my memory finds none.

Will I buy it again? 

Sure. It's not spectacularly unusual or memorable, but a perfectly good plain hummus.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Trader Joe's Omega-3 Carrot Orange Juice

It's kind of startling to be reading the list of ingredients in the juice you're drinking and come across "anchovy and sardine oils," soon followed by "tilapia (fish) gelatin." But that's exactly what will happen if you read the label on this stuff as you swig it.

This experience will be especially unnerving if you thought that the proclamation "100% JUICE" on the front of the label actually meant something. Unless I missed something really fundamental in math class, if it's 100% juice, there isn't much room left for fish oils or fish gelatin.

None of this is to say that this juice is bad, exactly--just that it's unusual. I didn't detect any taste that screamed "FISH," even after knowing what was in it. But there was something kind of off. Maybe the fishy ingredients have little or no flavor contribution, and it was the apple and pineapple juices that accounted for the difference between the taste I expected and the one I got. Either way, though, I wasn't thrilled with the result. If I had been asked to guess the principal ingredients after a blind taste test, I probably would have correctly picked out orange, but I don't think I would have succeeded at guessing any of the other constituents--not even the carrot juice, which is supposedly the main thing in it.

I have occasionally found that some unusual juice blends grow on me after the first one or two samples, so I have waited until I completely finished this bottle to sit down and write about it. It didn't get any better.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I'd rather not even think about it any more.

Nina's View

This is some weird-ass juice. I did not care for it.

I will take my fish oil in either fish or capsule form, TYVM.

Go away with your fish juice.