Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Trader Joe's Handmade Flour Tortillas



Day 4 of Mexican Week. The first three have been not so good. Time for a winner! 



Perhaps I had seen these at Trader Joe's before. It seems likely, since they're right next to two other kinds of tortillas I have bought there (see here and here). But if I did, I would have instantly rejected them, for the simple reason that they're too big. I had fixed in my mind that tortillas should be about five inches in diameter, so that I can fit two of them onto a dinner plate. Narrow-minded? Guilty. But that's how I was thinking.

Then somebody raved on Twitter about these TJ's handmade tortillas, and how they will make you realize that all the other ones you've been buying are pathetic. (I've done a couple of searches trying to find that tweet, but can't. I'm sorry that I can't give appropriate credit.) Well, that certainly sounded like a gauntlet being thrown down. I had to give them a try.

I am soooooo glad that I did. The tweeter was right. These things have rapidly transformed my view of what tortillas should be. They are thicker than the average commercial tortilla. The shapes are irregular--almost as if they were made by hand. (Gee, ya think?) They bear little scorch marks where they were cooked. They have actual substance to them--thick and chewy. Most importantly, they have flavor.

I used to view the tortilla--and flour tortillas even more so than corn tortillas--as being just the vehicle for carrying some combination of Mexicanish components that I would layer on top of it. If it succeeded in transporting those ingredients to my mouth without falling apart and without detracting from my enjoyment of them, it had served its purpose. But I see now that I was missing out on how the tortilla could positively contribute its own excellence of taste and texture to the final product.

My Top Ten list (which, as regular readers surely know by now, is in no way limited to just ten members) is heavily populated with highly processed food products, such as cherry-pomegranate toaster pastries and raspberry tartes and gingerbread-molasses cookie dough. Which is, I think, as it should be. Those are the kinds of products that TJ's is famous for, the kind that people rave about, saying, "You have got to try this!"

But I'm also pleased to include in that list a few things that are extraordinarily simple, quiet products, mostly unheralded, but executed so perfectly that they have set for me a new standard in how good each kind of thing can be. These have included an applesauce, toilet paper, dried apricots, grapefruit juice, and tomato soup.

In that spirit, I'm adding these tortillas to my list. They are much more expensive per tortilla than the mass-produced ones that I've been eating all my life. (They're $2.99 for a pack of eight, to be exact.) But they are so much superior that after having eaten just four of them, I'm on the verge of saying I'll never buy any other kind again.

Will I buy it again? 

Oh, you and your silly questions!


Addendum 

I have bought and used these probably half a dozen times since writing the above, and I stand by it. Except to experiment with other TJ's tortillas for the sake of blogging about them, I have not bought any other kind of tortilla since discovering these.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Trader Joe's Refried Black Beans With Jalapeno Peppers



Day 3 of Mexican Week. 


No surprises here. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that there is one surprise: the jalapeno peppers add nearly nothing. They are either so few or so mild (or both) that it's almost as if there were none at all. After you taste black beans, you get a faint aftertaste of pepperiness--and that's it.

Will I buy it again? 

I've had two cans now, because when I sat down to write the review of the first one, I thought maybe I was missing something, and I set it aside until I could try them again. After a second one, I'm now comfortable saying that I was not wrong. So, no.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Trader Joe's Refried Pinto Beans Salsa Style



This is Day 2 of Mexican Week. 


I really didn't know what to expect from these. What is "salsa style" as applied to refried beans? I couldn't guess. So I avoided them for a long time even after purchasing them. It was always easier and safer to go for the plain refried beans. But when Nina was over for dinner one night and I was going to be making tostadas with beans and Soy Chorizo, I gave her the choice of several different kinds of refried beans I had on hand, and she choose this one.

Maybe it should have been obvious, but they're just like plain refried beans if you stirred in some generic salsa. Which is to say, a little spicier and livelier than the regular version, but not a radical departure.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not. When I make tostadas with Soy Chorizo (my preferred way), they don't need any more hotting up. When I make them without, there's another brand of spicy refried beans that I like better than this TJ's product.


Nina's View

To be honest, all I could tell about these beans when prepared tostada style was that they had a vaguely tomatoey undertone. I would not describe them as spicy in any way. Don't bother.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Trader Joe's Breakfast Burritos



This post begins a whole week of reviews of Trader Joe's Mexican food. 


First let me address the heating directions. I found once again that TJ's significantly understates the oven time needed. They say 10 minutes unwrapped, then 15-20 minutes wrapped in foil, all at 450 degrees. But that leaves these things just barely above room temperature in the middle. For my second one, I went 25 minutes in the foil, and that got it to warm. But they should be piping hot. If I were going to try again, I'd go for 30 minutes.

However, I'm never going to get the opportunity, because this product will never inhabit my kitchen again. Why? Blame it on the Blandification Committee. They finished their usual process, then hired some temp workers and had them work overtime on further blandification, trying to see just how far they could go down the road of utter lack of flavor in a food product.

But don't take my word for it. Here's how it was expressed by the "What's Good at Trader Joe's" blog four years ago:
Really, Trader Joe's? Really? C'mon. I'm just going to go ahead and say skip these and stick to whatever kind of breakfast burrito you can buy off the roach coach that pulls up to your office parking lot in the morning. It might not be healthy, but I can virtually guarantee it'll have more flavor. Sonia immediately proclaimed "These taste like cardboard." That says it all. They do. I'm not sure what process can prevent the natural flavors of eggs, potatoes, turkey bacon, and cheese from coming through at all, but TJ's has apparently discovered one. Honestly, to call these "bland" would be a gross understatement. I slathered my burrito with Cholula hot sauce and was able to finish it. Sonia finished hers, too, but only because she really doesn't like to waste food.
Or consider the similar assessment from the "Club Trader Joe's" blog, also from 2011:
I really like the idea of breakfast burritos! I really, really wanted to like these, but here again is another example where TJ’s goes a little overboard on the healthy food kick. These include “nitrite free turkey bacon”. OK, this stuff had no flavor what so ever. I couldn’t taste any bacon flavor at all! Then comes the lite shredded cheese. Again, no flavor. I couldn’t really tell there was cheese in it at all. Really all I tasted was some eggs and potatoes. I had to put a bunch of salt and pepper on them and then dip the burrito in some Trader Joe’s Salsa!
These people speak truth. It should not be possible to take a tortilla, eggs, potatoes, Jack cheese, and turkey bacon, and have the result taste like...nothing. But TJ's has done exactly that. OK, to be fair, I can taste a little potato and a bit of scrambled egg. But I never once noticed any cheesiness nor a bit of bacony anything in two of these bad boys.

It's a completely pointless, meritless product, worthy of a dishonorable mention in my Bottom Ten list.

Incidentally, if you ever want to taste the best breakfast burrito on the planet, try Hurricane's next time you're in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and ask for the "Breakfast Disaster Burrito." Trust me on this.

Will I buy it again? 

No. It's a disaster, and not in the nice Hurricane's way.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Roundup

This is my weekly compilation of news and other links related to Trader Joe's.


A story of finding (or not finding) peace of mind at Trader Joe's 

Trader Joe's makes the best coffee ice cream on the planet 

"Not Your Father's Root Beer" from Trader Joe's 

What's in your basket? 

Nine better-for-you beauty products at Trader Joe's 

Every Trader Joe's beer, ranked 

Trader Joe's introduces pumpkin-spice cookie butter 


For the second week in a row, there were no tweets worthy of being memorialized here. C'mon, people--step up your Twitter game!


Here's this week's YouTube video from "Trader Joe":





And finally, here's this week's cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag. But this one is a short Instagram video, so I have to point you to the page rather than embed it: https://instagram.com/p/7D-tyhLCi9/

Trader Joe's Pita Bite Crackers



Nina bought these and I had them at her house. Very good. Crisp, salty, tasty, very few broken ones.

Will I buy it again? 

Yep. I'm planning to make it the next cracker I buy, so that I can have a whole box to myself.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Trader Joe's Steak & Ale Pies


In form, these are identical to the Chicken Balti Pies, which were based on this product.

The first smell I got upon cutting open one of these pies fresh from the oven was onion, followed by beer. This was not a felicitous start, as I hate onions and don't drink beer. Fortunately, the prominence of those smells was not matched in flavor, as I could barely taste either component.

The contents are much like any beef pot pie, other than the ale. There are no surprises here; what you see is what you get.

Will I buy it again? 

No. My consumption of beef is down around once a month. That's not a self-imposed strict limitation or anything, just the practical result of making a bunch of grocery-store and restaurant decisions differently than I did a few years ago. If I were going to treat myself to one beef-based product from Trader Joe's, it would be the Shepherd's Pie, not this. In fact, even though I wasn't a big fan of the Chicken Balti Pies, if I had to buy and eat either those or these steak and ale pies, I'd go with the balti--first because they were at least modestly interesting and different from standard American fare, and second because chicken is less problematic than beef on a whole lot of parameters.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Trader Joe's Tuscan Pane



Instead of just more-or-less randomly picking some new kind of bread from the myriad choices at TJ's, as I often do, I searched specifically for this one after having seen somebody on Twitter rave about how it was her favorite.

It is not mine.

It tastes fine, though nothing to write home about--just ordinary white/Italian bread. The problem lies in the loaf shape. As I think you can see, it's heavily tapered at both ends, wide in the middle. This was not a deformed one; they were all like that. Maybe I'm too OCD-ish, but I like more uniformity in the size of bread slices, so that two pieces of toast aren't twice as much bread on some days as on others. Also, the slices are too thick here.

And look what surprise was waiting for me when I got about halfway through the loaf:




I'm willing to assume that this giganto tunnel was a one-off defect, not endemic to the species, but it still annoyed me enough that I don't want to give Tuscan Pane a second chance.

Will I buy it again? 

No.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Trader Joe's Les Salades Du Midi Butter Lettuce & Radicchio



This is the same as TJ's Butter Lettuce, but with radicchio thrown in, which has the salutary effect of adding both color and extra crunchiness. For that reason, I think I will generally prefer it over the single-ingredient butter lettuce. As with the spinach discussed yesterday, this stuff was looking, feeling, and tasting as fresh on the eighth day as on the first, which is, in my experience, a rare feat for something that is not laced with preservatives.

Will I buy it again? 

Yep. It's a solid basis for a salad.


Addendum

I have bought this many times since writing the above. In fact, I buy it nearly every week. I mix it with a bag of TJ's "Power to the Greens" (a mix of baby spinach, baby kale, and baby chard), added some sliced or shredded carrots, and that's my salad for the week.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Trader Joe's Les Salades Du Midi Baby Spinach



I like this spinach. I used some of it chopped up into a sort of improvised hash (scrambled eggs, spinach, peas, fake sausage, and sun-dried tomatoes) for a dinner with Nina. I then tossed the rest of it with a bag of TJ's butter lettuce and radicchio as a salad. In addition to being tender and tasty, it had the rather remarkable quality that the last bits of that salad were still looking as fresh on the eighth day as on the first: no wilting, no darkening.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. After this experience, I see no need to ever choose any other brand of bagged spinach over this.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Kosher Dill Pickle Spears



This is a new Trader Joe's product; see the company's description of it here.

This is another instance in which my difficulty is that a new product is going up against an entire lifetime of one specific competing product being ingrained as my Platonic ideal of what it should be. In this case, it's the Vlasic kosher dill pickle spears, which I've been eating since I was a kid. It's probably also important that those are just about the only pickles I ever eat, so I don't have laid down in my brain a broad range of what is acceptable in a pickle. In such situations, I have a hard time being objective, discerning "It's not as good" from "It's not what I'm used to."

The TJ's spears definitely taste fresher. They are crisper. They have more prominent garlic. It's entirely possible that if I had never had a dill pickle before, and came to a comparison test between these and the Vlasic without preconceived notions, I would judge these to be superior.

But I can't do it. A newcomer pickle would have to completely blow me away with its superiority to dislodge my deep prejudice in favor of the familiar, and TJ's couldn't do that.

Will I buy it again? 

I don't think so. But I hasten to add that I can readily see why somebody less tied to one specific pickle product than I am might judge these to be superior.


Nina's View

My boyfriend the philistine. (In fairness, I think if he were to buy and eat these exclusively for six months, he'd never go back to the previous familiar.)

These are really good pickles. They are much better than the flabby, slightly fluorescent yellow-green things you get from Vlasic. Ignore that Groucho-Marx-lookalike stork and his corny patter. TJ's FTW.

I wish they made a hamburger version of these, as I rarely put a spear on my plate. But yeah, I'd buy 'em, and you should, too.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Trader Joe's Salmon & Vegetable Croquettes



I learned of this brand-new product from the review on the "Trader Joe's 365" blog before the company itself had posted any information about it. (They have done so now; see here.)

(A digression: If you like Trader Joe's stuff and you're not reading STG's "365" blog, you're missing out. I love her breezy, funny, shoot-from-the-hip reviewing style. I want to help make her blog so popular that she feels compelled to continue doing it even after her planned year of writing is done.)

As you can tell from the package, these are little cakes made of salmon and vegetables. More specifically, it's salmon, breadcrumbs, egg, kale, mayonnaise, broccoli, soy sauce, scallions, lime juice, cilantro, chili sauce, chia seed, ginger, sugar, garlic puree, fish sauce, and sesame oil.

I fried them in oil and served them unadorned. They were OK, but I'm not in love with them. They held together pretty well through several flippings, just losing a bit of vegetable here and there. They make an easy source of combined protein and veggies.

Will I buy it again? 

Maybe once in a great while when Nina is coming for dinner.


Nina's View

I thought these were pretty good; I will probably add them to my shopping cart next time. They'd be better with fewer breadcrumbs, but you can't have everything. I can always hope that Bob's opinion of them will improve over time.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Roundup

This is my weekly compilation of news and other links related to Trader Joe's.

Trader Joe's queuing process saves you time 

Win a lot of Trader Joe's products here 

Episode 8 of the "Let's Talk TJ's" podcast (Try not to be driven crazy by the "y'know" barrage.)


Here's this week's YouTube video from "Trader Joe":





This week, for I think the first time, there were no TJ's-related tweets that I thought worth sharing. Between that and the paucity of web articles to link to, I guess everybody must still be on vacation.


Finally, here's this week's photo of a cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag, found here:


Trader Joe's Nectarine Slices and Trader Joe's Freestone Peach Slices




These are two brand-new items. See Trader Joe's own description of them here.

I eat a lot of frozen fruit, and most of it comes from Trader Joe's. See here, and especially here. I expected from these two new entries into the field the same kind of excellence I have come to expect from their other frozen fruits--and I was bitterly disappointed.

Caveat: I'm writing this after having eaten just one bowl of each, in order to speed an opinion to readers ASAP. But both of them were bad enough that I'm undecided whether I'll even try a second. Though there were a few good slices of each fruit, the majority were bad--hard, unripe, not sweet. The very first piece I ate from either bag was a nectarine slice, and the first thing I experienced was biting down into a large piece of pit. To use one of my father's favorite words, it was unprepossessing.

It's entirely possible that this is just a sampling problem--that by sheer bad luck I picked one bag of each item that was the rare dud, and if I went back to the store and bought more, they'd be excellent. But I'm not inclined to assume that and subject myself to more disappointment. I'll just stick to the frozen fruits that TJ's demonstrably does well: berries and cherries.

Will I buy it again? 

No.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Trader Joe's Unsalted Organic White Corn Tortilla Chips



I don't know if this is a relatively new product at TJ's, but I had never noticed it before my most recent shopping trip. I suppose it wouldn't be hard for something like this to hide among the overwhelming selection of tortilla chips the store carries. I know I've whined about this before, but I'm doing it again: There are WAY more kinds of tortilla chips than is reasonable, given tight shelf space in the typical Trader Joe's outlet.

I didn't even know that unsalted tortilla chips were a thing. When I noticed this bag, I thought, "Well, I'm going to be eating them with some strongly flavored hummus, so maybe they don't really need salt."

In this I was mistaken. Tortilla chips need salt. Let's just set that up right now as a Kantian categorical imperative: Tortilla chips must have salt.

And now that we've all agreed on that, this product should be banished.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I assume that Trader Joe's will heed the collective demand of humanity on this point, and never again sully the world with unsalted tortilla chips.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Trader Joe's Balsamic Vinaigrette


This post is, frankly, more about my own admittedly pathetic timidity over new food items than the product itself. So be it.

For virtually all of my adult life, the only salad dressings I wanted to use were the ones I had grown up liking, which were Kraft's Catalina and French, or products substantially similar to those two. As I've explained several times, a large part of my motivation to start writing this blog was to give myself ongoing pressure and incentive to try new things that I might otherwise pass by. Salad dressings were fair game. That was how I found TJ's Raspberry Vinaigrette, which is now far and away my favorite salad dressing, and a Top Ten item.

The balsamic vinaigrette, however, was not for me. I "knew" that balsamic vinaigrette was basically just oil and vinegar, which I had tried in various forms several times and never liked.

No, this dressing was for when Nina was visiting. I knew that the Newman's Own balsamic was her favorite dressing, so I assumed she would like the TJ's version, too. They're all basically the same, right? Wrong. She didn't care for it--too sweet. So I was about to throw it away. (This was before I had tried TJ's return policy, and discovered that it really is as hassle-free as they boast. I'm now becoming more liberal about returning items that I can't stand.)

Nina stopped me, saying that she thought there was a good chance I would like it. She knows my taste well enough that I take that kind of comment pretty seriously. She only says things like that when it's a considered judgment, not as a way of trying to goad or trick me into trying something that she just hopes I will like, or thinks I should like. It was enough to overcome my remaining resistance to the whole idea of balsamic vinaigrette. So I didn't toss the bottle after all.

My first try, I was uncertain whether I liked it--but it was at least clear that I didn't hate it, which is something. On second and third tastings, though, I decided that it was OK. It was a lot fruitier and sweeter than I would have imagined.

I have now used enough to finish off that original bottle, and I'm on my second. I rotate between it, raspberry vinaigrette, usually some more off-the-wall, non-TJ's fruity dressing, and the Catalina. But frankly, the Catalina is getting used less and less as time goes by, and I can imagine it dropping out of the rotation completely. I like it less just about every time I have it now. It's weird how tastes change.

I have tentatively tried a couple of other balsamic vinaigrettes after deciding that TJ's was pretty good, and I have not liked them as much. What sets TJ's apart in its favor (as I see it) may be precisely what causes Nina to like it less--the sweetness.

Who knows? Maybe I'll come around to sharing her perspective on that some day. After all--baby steps.





Will I buy it again? 

Yes--I already have, several times.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Trader Joe's Gingerbread Pancake Mix



I bought this back in December, which is the only time of year it's available, but didn't get around to trying it until this past week (April, as I'm writing this). But hey--at least the review will get published before next Christmas season, right?

Nina actually took charge of mixing up the batter and cooking the pancakes, while I attended to other parts of the meal--and she did it once at my place and once at hers, so she'll be better qualified to speak to the process of making them. I can only address the subject of eating them.

I thought they were surprisingly good for coming from a just-add-water mix. My only gripe was that the pieces of crystallized ginger were often too big and kind of jarring to encounter. If they were smaller and better dispersed, I would like them better.

I had them once with just butter, and they were fine that way. The second time I used some of Nina's homemade fruit syrup, which was also good. But they don't need added sweetness; they've got plenty of their own built in.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not, though more because of the difficulties in making them come out right than because of any dislike of the final result. One of these days I'd also like to try the coconut version, which I presume won't have the same problem with the crystallized ginger pieces.


Nina's View

This is one of the rare pancake mixes that don't ask you to add milk or eggs. It's also a mix that produces a batter which sticks like the dickens. Coincidence?

I like the flavor of these well enough, but the difficulty in producing easily flippable pancakes was a major disappointment. At first I thought it was just that I was unfamiliar with Bob's electric cooktop. But then I tried it at my place, with my gas range, and the outcome was just as frustrating.

One of these days I'll experiment with producing my own version of these, because I think it's a great idea. But the TJ's implementation has not won my seal of approval.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Hearty Vegetable Broth



I had this on my shelf for a few months before finally getting around to using it. I put it into a batch of this excellent slow-cooker recipe for a tangy black-bean soup. I had made it once before using Rachel Ray's brand of vegetable stock.

Bottom line: It so thoroughly disappears into the soup that I couldn't possibly tell any difference between the two brands when used this way.

Will I buy it again? 

Sure. It does the job just fine.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Trader Joe's Basmati Rice From India



Nina bought this and cooked some up as part of a dinner at her house. It was excellent--as good as any white rice I've ever had.

It comes in a strange bag, though. The resealable opening is not at the top, as on every other resealable plastic bag I've ever seen. Instead, it's about a third of the way down. This makes it stupidly awkward to pour out of. I cannot imagine why anybody thought this was a good idea.

Will I buy it again? 

Sure--but I'll probably empty it into a plain resealable food-storage bag as soon as it has been opened, to avoid wrestling with the idiotic bag design.


Nina's View

I have now cooked this basmati rice numerous times with excellent results. My excellent friend from India has pronounced her approval of this rice as being of very high quality. That's good enough for me.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Strawberries (frozen)



These are just like the frozen strawberries reviewed yesterday, except for being organically sourced. And more expensive, at $2.79 per bag.

They're also not as good. Perhaps that shouldn't have surprised me, but it did. There were a lot more berries that were small, discolored, mushy, and/or not very flavorful. Of course this might be a sampling error, since I have tried only one bag of each variety, but the difference was marked.

Will I buy it again? 

No. Spending more to get an inferior product is not my idea of good shopping.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Roundup

This is the weekly compilation of news and other links related to Trader Joe's.


Trader Joe's employee unofficial glossary of terms 

Actually, that whole site is the memoirs of a former TJ's employee: http://www.checkoutgirl.org/

What I learned in the wine aisle at Trader Joe's 

Shopping at Trader Joe's for gluten-free products 

Did you know that Trader Joe's has a xylophone built into every shopping cart? (Vine video)

Is Trader Joe's violating Idaho wine-distribution laws? 

Best Trader Joe's summer 2015 wine deals 

10 more Trader Joe's items you didn't know you needed 

Schools should be more like Trader Joe's 

How to enjoy Trader Joe's 

Note: That last piece is in Japanese. If you're using the Chrome browser, just click the "translate" button. Then you can read excellent prose like this: "It is very thankfully for Bebi-chan who do not sit in the waist." "And Some people are not handed me until say that (laughs) and candy look to the left, we got to find a stuffed toy." "Children fun, parents survive. It is exactly kill two birds with one stone of shopping." (Maybe it's just me, but I think Google Translate still has a ways to go.)

Here's this week's YouTube video from "Trader Joe":




Best tweets of the week:

1.



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


Trader Joe's Strawberries (frozen)



These are exactly as I expected them to be: large, plump, tasty. You just pour out whatever portion of frozen berries you'd like, give them about an hour to thaw, and eat. Yummy, and a bargain at $1.79 per package. Of course they're never going to be as good as the best fresh berries, but you can't keep fresh ones on hand all the time for those occasions when the strawberry urge hits, so these make a nice second-best option.

Will I buy it again? 

Definitely.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Trader Joe's Wisconsin Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese



This cheese was strange. Compared to the many other white cheddars I've had, it was strikingly lacking in flavor--and what flavor it did have was tainted by an unpleasant bitter note.

To make matters worse, it developed mold much more quickly than it should have. I have not noticed this being a problem before with other TJ's cheeses, though it seems to be a common complaint; see many comments here, for instance.

Will I buy it again? 

Nosirree me.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Pita Chips With Sea Salt



This may be the first product in my life for which I think the reduced-fat version is just as good as the original. They are tasty, crispy, and strong enough to pick up whatever you might want to dip them in. I did not taste-test them side-by-side with the regular version, but I enjoyed them every bit as much as I remember enjoying the originals.

This is a winner.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Trader Joe's Pita Chips With Sea Salt



These chips are a little dry, as you might infer from the boast that they have 50% less fat than potato chips. They definitely have more of a bready flavor than potato chips. They are really substantial--thick and strong, easily able to stand up to the densest hummus or other dip you might want to scoop up with them.

EDIT: I have bought them again since writing that and found it not to be true. In fact, they consistently and annoying broke off in the dense hummus that I like. I suspect this was batch-to-batch variation in the thickness of the chips. With only those two samples, I don't know which was the norm and which the anomaly.

I liked them. They'll never replace potato chips as the mainstay for snacking, or tortilla chips as the mainstay for dipping, but they're a nice change of pace. I do wish the package were bigger, though.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes--and there are other pita chip variants at TJ's that I want to try, too.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Trader Joe's Green Dragon Hot Sauce




This is a new product from Trader Joe's. The company's own description of this sauce is here.

First, a confession: I'm one of the worst people you could choose to write a thoughtful review of a hot sauce. I had never in my life either bought or used a hot sauce until I moved to Asheville 2 1/2 years ago. When I started having Nina over for dinner regularly, she requested that I buy some sriracha sauce for her to use. I did--but it was some off-brand, since I assumed they were all alike. Nina quickly but gently set me right on that point, and I soon bought her a bottle of the good stuff, the rooster sauce made by Huy Fong Foods. I have used a bit of it on occasion, when Nina breaks it out, but I've only used it once or twice on my own, and that has been when some Trader Joe's product turns out to be inedibly bland, and I'm trying to save it from being thrown away uneaten. See here, for instance. I do like it, but only occasionally, and only in tiny quantities.

All of which means that I have an incredibly limited repertoire of experience with hot sauces. I don't think I've ever even tasted Tabasco. So with that disclaimer....

Last night Nina was here for our weekly dinner. I made scrambled eggs, which I figured would make a nice neutral substrate on which to test this new TJ's sauce against the king of the hill, the rooster. I made a little squirt of each onto opposite sides of my plate, and alternated which I dipped a bite of egg into.

On the most basic level, the results are easy to describe: I liked the sriracha, I did not like the green sauce. I found them approximately equal in sheer heat factor. Beyond that, I'm basically incompetent to explain why. I probably just don't like the flavor of jalapenos much, and that's the major component of the TJ's stuff.

So this is the point at which I turn the microphone over to the reviewer with the far more experienced and discerning palate.

Will I buy it again? 

No.


Nina’s View

The sauce of green, it is tasty. And it is named after a dragon, which can also only be good.

In order to enjoy this, you must actively like 1) jalapeƱos (the real deal with some kick) and 2) cilantro. And as luck would have it, I do. Bob, not so much. In fact I’m willing to wager that it’s not so much the jalapeƱos that he dislikes in this sauce, but the cilantro.


I can think of many uses for this stuff: adding zip to a salad dressing, zinging up a taco, adding zest to a cole slaw, blending with rice and peas for a kicky pilaf, etc. I’m happy to give it a spot on the condiment shelf in my fridge.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Trader Joe's Apple Banana Fruit Sauce Crushers



This is hands-down the worst applesauce I have ever eaten. It is mushed so fine that its mouth-feel is that of baby food--no longer a puree, but a thickened liquid. The banana part tastes as if synthetic chemicals, rather than actual banana, have been added for flavoring. (That isn't actually so, but that's how artificial it tastes.) The pouches are an absurd way to deliver applesauce, besides being ridiculously unecologically sound.

I get that it's meant for kids, not adults. But this is not what you should be teaching your children to expect from applesauce.

It's one of the most appallingly bad products I've bought from Trader Joe's. It's a shoo-in to the Bottom Ten list.

Will I buy it again? 

No--nor any of the other three (I think) similar versions with different fruit combinations. If they were even mediocre, I might try the others just for the sake of broadening the scope of these blog reviews. But that's not sufficient motivation to get me to spend more money on something this wretched.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Trader Joe's Pineapple Juice



As David Letterman likes to say, "Phone the neighbors, wake the kids." We've found the real stuff here, and everybody ought to know about it.

Hidden among the many, many mediocre and just plain bad "juice" concoctions at Trader Joe's are a few true gems, and this is one of them. It's remarkable for its simplicity and purity: it's just pineapple juice, not from concentrate. It has not been mucked with in any manner. No tweaking or adulterating or sweetening or "improving" with added flavorings.

The result? Absolutely delicious. Every drop conveys the richness that it should, and nearly the freshness that you'd get by running a pineapple through your own juicer--though that would be enough of a challenge and a mess that it's probably worth a trip down to your local Trader Joe's to avoid the bother. Is it worth the $3.99 asking price? I sure think so.

When a TJ's juice product has only one entry in the list of ingredients, it's usually a winner. This pineapple juice and the equally excellent Grapefruit Sunset are the epitome of that general truth. Like the grapefruit juice, it deserves recognition of its excellence by placement in my Top Ten list.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes indeed. In fact, I'm already on my third carton.


Nina's View

I don't drink orange juice regularly with my breakfast any more. But if I did, I'd be sorely tempted to substitute this absolutely fantastic pineapple juice instead. So refreshing! So delicious!

This is very good.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Roundup

A weekly compilation of news and other links related to Trader Joe's.



People try Trader Joe's cookie butter for the first time 

15 Trader Joe's grocery staples for busy people 

GoPro attached to toddler's shopping cart at Trader Joe's 

5 products always in my cart at Trader Joe's 

Trader Joe's best gluten-free snacks 

They really want a Trader Joe's in Provo, Utah (cute YouTube video)

Episode 7 of the "Let's Talk TJ's" podcast 

The 8 treats you should buy at Trader Joe's 



Here's this week's YouTube video from "Trader Joe":





Best tweets of the week:

1.



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


Trader Joe's Perline Pasta & Prosciutto



I saw somebody praise this on Twitter and thought it sounded interesting. I had never noticed it on the Trader Joe's shelves, and, in fact, I had some difficulty finding it even when I was specifically looking for it.

It's the most unusually shaped pasta I've ever seen: like little bombs, or sacs not quite tied together. The pasta is partially cooked, so it requires just a couple of minutes in boiling water.

I ate it without looking at the ingredients to see the details of what I was eating; I took the label's drawing of a ham, wheat, and some nice veggies as sufficient information.

I liked it--a lot.

I was surprised not to find discrete bits of prosciutto. Instead, the pasta sacs are filled with an dark-colored paste, which I liked, but could not identify by either appearance or taste. Prosciutto paste? How does that make any sense? That's what prompted me finally to look at the list of ingredients. Then I figured it out: the prosciutto is ground up with bread crumbs, eggs, flour, salt, spices, sugar, butter, some vegetables, and beef broth.

But that reading also led me to discover the component that guarantees I won't buy this product again: veal. I'm feeling highly ambivalent about pork products like prosciutto these days, and using very little of them. But veal? I swore off that many years ago, long before meats more generally were beginning to makes blips on my ethical radar. Notice that on the front of the package, next to the appealing drawings of ham, wheat, and vegetables, there is no depiction of a calf wondering why he's being taken away from his mother and loaded into a big truck. Nothing alerts the consumer to that particular ingredient except the fine print on the back of the box.

In a way, maybe it's easier for me to know that now. Without it, I would have to contemplate buying this pasta again, placing on one side of the scales the memory of how delicious it was, and on the other my large and growing unease of using pigs as food. But when the adorable baby cow wobbles in, sits down on the scale, and looks at me with its big dopey eyes, well, suddenly there is really no difficulty to the decision at all.

Will I buy it again? 

No. And for once I'll add this: I hope you don't, either.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Trader Joe's Toffee Chips



I can tell you the first time I had toffee. I was a child--probably somewhere between 6 and 8 years old. I had been out trick-or-treating for Halloween, and I got a Heath bar in my bag. I bit into it. I did not like it. And I decided that toffee was an icky thing that I did not ever want again. Any future Heath bars collected in this manner were either thrown away or traded to siblings and friends for better candy.

I stuck to my guns for decades, refusing toffee on the rare occasions that it came my way. Because I knew that I didn't like it. Because I had tried it. One bite, one time. When I was 6 (or whatever).

But do you know how much I care about my readers? When I saw "Toffee Chips" pop up on the Trader Joe's "new products" web site the other day, I knew that my journalistic (blogaristic?) duties required me to set aside 40-odd years of prejudice and give it a fair trial for the sake of all of you. Accordingly, on my weekly TJ's run yesterday, I put it in my basket and brought it home. Nina would be over for dinner, and we could try it together.

Before opening the box, I told her how I already knew that I was not going to like it. She surprised me by saying that it was inconceivable to her that I would not like toffee--that, in fact, if I didn't like it, then everything she knew about my food preferences (which is a lot) was wrong.

So who would be right: Nina, or 6-year-old Bob?

Nina, of course. I did like these chocolate-covered toffee pieces. Half the box is covered (Trader Joe's likes to say "enrobed"; watch for that word on their packaging and in the Fearless Flyer, and it starts to become funny how they overuse it) in milk chocolate, the other half in dark chocolate. I had just one of each last night. My initial preference ran slightly to the milk chocolate side, but that may change with further tasting.

But man oh man, are these things ever rich! The butter quotient is off the charts. That, combined with the sugar rush they inflict, was so high that I, though usually quite tolerant of large quantities of fats and sweets, had to stop after two.

I'll come back for more, however. Because in the space of just a few minutes, I went from being a person who does not like toffee to one who does--thanks to Trader Joe's.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not. They're tasty, but just too rich for my blood, as they say in the poker world.

By the way, Nina didn't feel that she had anything she wanted to contribute to this post, but I think it's OK to tell you that she loved them--so much that they fall into the category of things she'll never buy because she would devour them all and then regret it.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Trader Joe's Golden Rounds Crackers



Here is another example of a product that nobody will ever refer to by its given name. The only sensible thing to call these crackers are "Trader Joe's Ritz." They are obviously designed to be a copy of the Nabisco product--and they succeed. It's been a couple of years since I last had the real thing, but I used to eat a ton of them, so I feel that I have a good memory of their taste, texture, and appearance. The TJ's product matches that memory so closely that I don't think I could tell the difference.

Which means: They're excellent.

Will I buy it again? 

Absolutely. They have reminded me why I used to love Ritz crackers so much. If I can get them cheaper through TJ's, it's an extra bonus.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Trader Joe's Popcorn With Herbs & Spices


Let's cut to the chase: This is the best popcorn I've had from Trader Joe's (excepting the caramel popcorn, which I think of more in the candy category than the popcorn category). In fact, it's the best bagged popcorn I've ever had from any source. I looked briefly at the list of the "herbs & spices" they sprinkle on, but I can't remember at this point what they were, and I don't care. I just know that they make for a lovely mix. Besides salt and butter, I think there are precious few things you can put on popcorn that make it better, but TJ's has somehow nailed a magic blend that really does. It also completely masks that inevitable background note of staleness that all bagged popcorn carries.

Let me confess something. Nina and I together ate maybe one-third of this bag instead of the more traditional appetizers I usually serve for our weekly dinner together. Then we had a full meal of pizza, salad, applesauce, juice, and some pastries for dessert. The confession part is this: After Nina went home, I immediately retrieved the bag and ate all of the rest of it, even though I had not one speck of hunger left. That's how strongly it was calling to me.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have another member of my Top Ten list (which, of course, is not limited to ten items).

For what it's worth, here is what the good folks at the "What's Good at Trader Joe's" blog had to say about this product, and here is TJ's own description, from the Fearless Flyer.

Will I buy it again? 

Just try to stop me.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Woodfired Sicilian Style Pizza



Someday I would like to have a chat with the people at Trader Joe's who decide on the final versions of product names. Here, for instance, I would have gone with "wood-fired" instead of "woodfired," and I also would have used a hyphen for "Sicilian-style." But they didn't ask me.

That aside, this might be the best frozen pizza I've yet tried from TJ's. The crust is the first thing I noticed that set it apart. Its taste and texture is such that I can actually believe it was wood-fired. There is even a bit of wood char on the bottom.

The toppings were not particularly evenly distributed, but I liked them anyway. The sauce is unusually spicy, which was a pleasant surprise, and different from other TJ's pizzas.

As an added bonus, the cooking instructions seemed to make it come out just right, a matter which is a frequent problem in other TJ's frozen products.

I suppose my biggest complaint is that it's smaller than most frozen pizzas. It was enough for two of us, given a couple of side dishes, but just barely. I wish they would add two inches to its diameter.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. It's a solid contender for being one of the best frozen pizzas I've had from any manufacturer.