Saturday, October 31, 2015

Roundup

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


Trader Joe's promotes giving out vegetables for Halloween 

10 healthiest frozen foods you can buy at Trader Joe's 

10 best buys at Trader Joe's 

A shopping guide for pumpkin lovers

Trader Joe's 24 best pumpkin products ranked 

It's the season for pumpkin madness 

Differing consumer perceptions of Trader Joe's and Whole Foods 

Drinking cheap at Trader Joe's: A guide 

The pumpkinification of America: A rant and review 

Episode 11 of the "Let's Talk TJ's" podcast 

15 Trader Joe's grocery staples for busy people 

Four grocers that are grabbing budget-conscious consumers 

5 favorite pumpkin items from Trader Joe's 


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




Best tweets of the week:

1.

2.



3.


4.



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


Trader Joe's Halloween Mini Cupcakes



These are the same as Trader Joe's regular mini cupcakes (which I have had, and reviewed, but the post is forthcoming--stuck in the long queue), except with special holiday-themed decoration. They're surprisingly good for industrial cupcakes--sweet and moist and tasty, with a good balance of cupcake to frosting. I can eat a lot of them. But I suppose what's most important is just that you know to look for them very, very soon, because they're obviously not going to be around for much longer.

Will I buy it again? 

Sure--next year.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Trader Joe's Flash Pasteurized Apple Juice



I wish I had a better sensory memory. It fails me again and again. On several occasions while writing this blog, I have compared Product B to my memory of Product A, then later compared A and B side by side. Almost every time, these two processes reach different conclusions, because I just can't call to mind with vividness or specificity a recollection of what something tasted like when I ate it weeks or months before.

It happened again with this juice.

I went to Trader Joe's intending to buy the Honey Crisp Apple Cider that I liked last year. I had been reminded of it by this glowing, 5-star review at the "Trader Joe's 365" blog. But then I came across this "flash pasteurized" apple juice in the refrigerated case first, and the temptation to try something new beat out my desire to renew an old pleasure.

I drank a few ounces of it every morning for a few days and was really liking it. I was thinking that it was a serious contender to displace the HCAC as my all-time favorite apple juice. Quite obviously, this required a face-to-face showdown. So back to the store I went, and last night with my weekly dinner with Nina, I poured us side-by-side glasses of HCAC and flash-pasteurized.

I had imagined this battle as the contest between roughly equal titans, like Ali versus Frazier. Godzilla versus King Kong. But it turned out to be a completely unfair, one-sided fight, more like Godzilla versus Bambi.

The flash-pasteurized is excellent apple juice; let there be no mistake about that. It's a far cry better than the clear, boring, too-sweet apple juice that you usually get in a typical grocery store. (And even from TJ's.) As I said, when I was just drinking it in isolation, my impression was that it was among the best apple juices I've ever had--and it is.

But put it next to the HCAC, and it pales. The HCAC is just more rich and pure, like what you would get if you took the trouble to juice apples in your own kitchen. In fact, last night's taste test leads me to conclude that, even though I praised the HCAC in my original review, I didn't give it enough love. I am now going back and updating that post to reflect my new judgment that it deserves to be on my Top Ten list. I think it is to other apple juices what TJ's Gravenstein applesauce is to ordinary applesauce: so far superior that when they're available, you'd be a fool to choose anything else.

My next TJ's trip, I'm going to pick up about three jugs of the HCAC so that I can still be enjoying it occasionally during the long months it's out of season and unavailable.

For another perspective on the flash-pasteurized, see this seven-product comparison.

Will I buy it again? 

If it's available all year, when HCAC isn't, then yes. But I think (don't quote me on this) that it's available only in autumn, like the HCAC. If so, then no--I would never choose it.


Nina's View

So, I'm not a huge fan of Honey Crisp apples. And yet, the Honey Crisp Cider is a winner precisely because it tastes exactly like an apple (albeit not my favorite variety). Not like apple juice from a jar, but like an actual apple. This is enough to make it stand way ahead of any random blend. Short of using your own juicer, this is about as close as you're going to get to essence-of-apple.

I really wish they made a Gravenstein apple juice, because I much prefer the character of the Gravenstein. Ya listening, TJ???


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Trader Joe's Chocolate Mousse Pumpkins



Amid all the Trader Joe's pumpkin madness I've seen on Twitter, Facebook, and TJ's blogs, I had never seen anybody mention these things, so it was quite a surprise to encounter them on the baked-goods table at the Asheville store Tuesday. The one seasonal item that nobody else has discovered yet!

I really didn't expect much of them. I thought they were likely to be cheap-tasting, oriented to kids' palates, and immediately forgettable. But they looked fun to try anyway. The worst that could happen would be that I'd get to amuse myself telling you how bad they are.

But--SURPRISE! They're quite wonderful. As the label says, the base is a rich, moist chocolate cake, topped with a bit of chocolate mousse. There's no pumpkin, except for the shape and coloring of the exterior coating.

I assume these will be available for only a very short time, so if this description appeals to you, get thee to the nearest TJ's post-haste and find them while you can.

Will I buy it again? 

If he has the time, Doctor. If he has the time.*


*Random, gratuitous Star Trek reference. Google it.


Nina's View

These get points for being better than expected, but then get points taken away for not having any pumpkin or pumpkin spice flavor at all—which, if done right, might actually have been delicious.

They are okay, maybe even slightly better than okay, but do not rise to the level where I'd ever consider buying them myself.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Trader Joe's Green Plant Green Food Juice Blend



This is the most unappetizing color I've ever seen in a juice. It looks like swamp water. I used to work in a hospital, so I've seen lots of people with gastric suction tubes, and the stuff that gets pulled out of stomachs looks a lot like this juice. It's so gross that it made me seriously hesitant to taste it.

Once I did, however, it wasn't as bad as I had anticipated. What with the spirulina, barley grass, powdered broccoli, etc., I had guessed that it was going to be in the lawn-clippings taste category--and the brown-green color did nothing to dispel that assumption. But it's actually more sweet than grassy. The dominant flavor is the peach puree, which is the second ingredient, after the apple juice that seems to form the base of nearly every Trader Joe's juice variety. Supposedly, there is pineapple juice and mango juice also present, but I can't taste them.

For having ten different ingredients that should each contribute a distinct flavor, the end product is bizarrely one-note, namely a weird peachyish-but-not-quite-really-peach thing. To use a musical analogy, this isn't a harmonious chord, with identifiable individual components, but the kind of sound you get by mashing your hand down on a bunch of adjacent piano keys.

It's not the worst juice we've had, but it's generally unappealing.

Will I buy it again? 

Never.


Nina's View

Oh, ugh. Must we have something that resembles primordial muck in our glasses in order to feel good about ourselves?

I think not.

Bob's description of the flavor is correct, but leaves out the most important thing about this juice, which is that absolutely nothing about it tastes fresh. The vegetables are presented in the form of POWDERS. The juices are from concentrate. Any pretense of healthfulness is just out the window from the overall staleness and lack of luster.

If you want some fine-tasting green sludge, get the cold-pressed expensive juices. They might even be good for you. Maybe.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Superfood Pilaf



I made no deliberate attempt at a theme week here, but for the third day in a row, I'm reviewing a product that I fully expected to like, and then didn't.

After I served it for the first time as a side dish in a dinner with Nina, the leftovers just sat in my refrigerator. Every day I looked at the container and considered reheating it with lunch, and every day I decided instead on something else. After about a week, I stopped trying to fool myself into believing I would eat it, and threw it out.

Why? I think it's the balance. Specifically, too much kale. Kale is OK as part of a salad (or soup or casserole or whatever), but here it's just too dominant. And for me, that transforms what should be a pretty good mixture into one that falls just below the threshold of wanting to have it again.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I'll eat it if Nina has it at her place, but I think if I bought it for myself, it would once again just sit in the freezer forever, with me repeatedly picking other things that I like better.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Tropical Fruit Blend



I have enjoyed several of Trader Joe's frozen fruit medleys (see here), and usually have one or more of them in my freezer at all times. They make for excellent late-night snacking--no preparation other than thawing for about 45 minutes, and much healthier than the candy I would otherwise be tempted to snarf down.

Given that I like all of the constituent fruits in this "tropical blend" (though I'd like to ask when strawberries became "tropical"), it seemed like an easy win for TJ's.

Not so much.

In the other medleys, the individual pieces of fruit were separated from the get-go; you just pour and let thaw. But in this one, they were glommed together in big, ugly hunks that I had to break apart.

Far worse than that, however, was that the final result, after thawing, was unappealing in almost every way. The banana pieces especially were, well, just gross--brown, shriveled, mushy, soggy, and lifeless:



The mango, pineapple, and strawberry weren't so bad, but they were nothing special. Frankly, the awfulness of the banana was like the proverbial bad apple spoiling the whole basket. Who would want to eat that glop?

This product is a major fail, Trader Joe's.

Will I buy it again? 

I'm not even going to finish off what's left of this bag. Maybe the rats in the landfill will enjoy it.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Trader Joe's Champagne Pear Vinaigrette With Gorgonzola



This falls into the category of "things that by rights I ought to like--but actually don't." It seems like a great idea. After all, I like other fruity vinaigrettes--raspberry, strawberry, cranberry, pomegranate. So if we assume that the champagne is basically a white grape juice added to a pear vinaigrette, and then they've thrown in a little cheese, it's all stuff I like. Winner! At least in theory.

But not in practice. I tried this on four salads, spaced several days apart, and never liked it. On the fourth one, I gave up, decided I never wanted to have this again, and the bottle became one of only a handful of items I have returned to the store for a refund because it was that or throw it away.

(While the young lady was writing out the refund credit slip, I said, "This stuff sounds like it should be really good, but it just isn't." She had kind of a grim look and replied, "Yeah, it's not great.")

It bothers me that I can't put a finger on what it is that I didn't like. It was not the pear component, which is clearly the dominant note. There was something else in the background that struck me as really unpleasant, and I didn't recognize it. I've never had Gorgonzola cheese, so I'm suspicious that that was the culprit. But it's just a guess.

Will I buy it again? 

Nosireebob.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Roundup

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


Funny review of TJ's Pecan Pie Filling in a Jar 

Review of TJ's bourbon barrel aged maple syrup 

Review of TJ's pumpkin spice cookie butter 

Rating Trader Joe's household cleaners 

Trader Joe's has become the world's biggest pumpkin spice panderer 

5 best foods to try during Trader Joe's pumpkin palooza 

Trader Joe's snacks power rating 

Three reasons you'll love shopping at Trader Joe's 

Big rig carrying Trader Joe's produce overturns on freeway 

The man documenting every pumpkin-spice product in existence 

James Lileks on the opening of a new Trader Joe's 


Best tweets of the week:

1.



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





No cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag this week. Instead, here's a cute dog in a Trader Joe's grocery cart:


Trader Joe's Mac 'n Cheese (frozen)



I'm not sure how Nina and I have gone so long without trying this. After all, we're both long-time macaroni-and-cheese lovers, and it's one of Trader Joe's perennial best-sellers. But we finally indulged at dinner last night.

I went for the oven method rather than the microwave method, on the theory that it's generally better. In this particular case, I'm sure it is. The oven gave a lovely and delightful slightly crispy browning to the top of the cheese, which is layered on top of the pasta. As usual for TJ's freezer-to-oven products, heat it longer than the box recommends. It specifies 25-35 minutes. I say go for 40.

I liked the result a lot. The cheese is far better than any boxed product. As you can see from the labeling shown in the photo above, it's a combination of cheddar, Swiss, Gouda, and Havarti.

It will satisfy all your cravings for fat--this stuff is loaded to the gills with butter--and salt. No wonder I see people on Twitter saying it's the most comforting of all comfort foods.

The one disadvantage of this product over box mixes is that it's harder to customize it with your own added ingredients the way I like to do. But if you can skip that, I think this is about the best mac & cheese you can buy at a store.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. I don't think I'll have it become my go-to mac and cheese, primarily because I could feel my arteries clogging with every bite of the cheesy, buttery pasta. But I did finish my portion craving more, so I think it's an itch I'll have to scratch once in a while.


Nina's View

As a person attempting to reduce dairy intake, this product is by its very nature essentially a no-go. But even if it weren't, I'm not sure I'd rave about it. Granted, it gets a nice golden crust. And it's appropriately—nay, luxuriously—cheesy.

But it's also quite bland. The vaunted cheeses just don't register with me. And it's rather goopy.

I think, all in all, I'd rather have the boxed Organic Mac 'n' Cheese. (I know, I'm shocked too.)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Trader Joe's Steamed Chicken Soup Dumplings



This is Trader Joe's newest product; see the company's announcement of it here.

I hesitated to buy this, because the main ingredients, after chicken and water, are "onion" and "green onion." (This is a distinction without a difference. All onions are equally noxious and evil weeds.) But one must make sacrifices for one's loyal readers.

As they were cooking in the microwave, onion dominated the smells that were emanating. This was not a good sign. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that onion did not overwhelm the chicken in flavor as it did in aroma. They were actually pretty tasty.

However.

1) There was zero soupiness. All the liquid was gone by the time I ate them. The dumplings have little holes in them. Some of the liquid part of the soup spilled out into the tray during cooking. The rest spilled out into the bowl I dumped them into. Note to Trader Joe's: holes are not conducive to retention of fluids.

2) The dumpling part was kind of rubbery.

3) The six dumplings in one box constitute one serving. $2.99 seems a little pricey for what you get.

4) You end up throwing away a metric ton of packaging.

Not that it's important, but I have to add this side note: The cooking directions on the box weirdly specify microwave time of "1.45-2 minutes." No, not 1 minute and 45 seconds, but 1.45 minutes, which is 87 seconds. I assume it's just a typo, and they intended to put a colon instead of a period between the 1 and the 45. But I wonder how many people will pull out calculators to figure out how many seconds that is.

Will I buy it again? 

Even though I rather liked the taste, that's a no. As I've said many times, my threshold for how good a meat-containing product has to be for me to put it into my regular diet keeps going up. (I make exceptions for trying new things to write about.) These don't pass muster.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Trader Joe's Reduced Fat Cheese Puffs



Shortest possible review: Ick.

Slightly longer review: They taste like stale cardboard coated with vaguely cheese-flavored sawdust.

Will I buy it again? 

Only if I'm lobotomized and therefore lose both my sense of taste and the memory of how nasty these things are. Gimme back my Cheetos Puffs!


Nina's View

This was a surprise. I expected to dislike these.

1. I am not a huge fan of cheese puffs to begin with. They are basically cheesy, salty, styrofoam-textured squiggles. I'm down with the cheesy and salty portions of the program, but the styrofoam texture has always left me kind of cold. The official brand name version of these additionally has a kind of rancidy cheese flavor which tends to pile up at the back of my throat.

2. I tend to approach any product labeled "reduced fat" with skepticism. Especially one whose whole livelihood (as it were) depends on mouthfeel. Mouthfeel is 97.3% carried by fat (that's a scientific fact I just made up). Reduce the fat, enfeeble the mouthfeel. (Another aphorism I just invented.)

The key to liking these—or at least not hating them—I found, was to not eat them in temporal proximity to anything else. Ok, maybe a glass of water, but that's it. Because their flavor is modest. They are demurely cheesy, and humbly salty. They have the classic styrofoam crunch. While I did not find them compulsively, addictively edible as I do some other snack items (*cough*CapeCodpotatochips*cough*), I did find them palatable, especially as they did not have the rancid, chemical, back-of-the-tongue paste thing going on.

Would I actually buy them myself? Nope.

Would I eat them if I were in the mood for a snack item and nothing I liked better were available? Mebbe.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Trader Joe's British Style Crumpets--Cinnamon



You can see at a glance that these are basically the same as TJ's plain crumpets, but with a little cinnamon added. So see that earlier review, imagine the same thing with a medium helping of cinnamon, and you'll know what to expect here.

They're good. The dose of cinnamon is about right. But even though I'm generally a fan of cinnamon, I finally decided that it doesn't work especially well here. I prefer the plain version.

Other views 

What's Good at Trader Joe's blog: "At $2.49 for six, this product is simply brill. Sonia gives them 4.5 stars, and I give 'em 4. Really, really darn good. Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10."

Rebe with a Clause blog: "I had my first one this morning and I'm in love.

Shannon's Lightening the Load blog: "The cinnamon flavor is very mild, it just kind of lingers in the background – it is no where a “BAM! Cinnamon” flavor. I enjoyed them warm and slightly crisped out of the toaster, spritzed with spray butter. I found they were yummy and simple in this manner."

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not, but only because I liked the plain ones better.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Popcorn With Olive Oil


This is perfectly decent for bagged popcorn, but nothing special. In fact, it's kind of boring. Not because there's anything wrong with it, but because it's just popcorn. I can't tell that being cooked in olive oil instead of something else makes any meaningful difference in the final product, though that may be just because I'm a troglodyte.

If I'm going to buy a bag of popcorn instead of make my own, I want it to be something I can't easily concoct myself--like the wonderful TJ's caramel popcorn, or the nearly-as-wonderful TJ's popcorn with herbs and spices.

Will I buy it again? 

Not for myself. I suppose that if somebody asked me to bring some sort of commercial popcorn to a party or something (not that this ever happens), this would be a fine choice. Other than that, I don't think it has a place in my life.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Trader Joe's Root Juice



This is the newest product from Trader Joe's. The company's description of it is here.

Let me introduce you to this juice the same way I first heard about it, which was via this tweet:


Then came this one:


And ya know what? They're right. It TASTES LIKE DIRT!

In case you're wondering, those three capitalized words do not constitute my highest recommendation for juice.

But it does have one redeeming virtue: It looks so much like human blood when sitting in a clear glass that you could used it as fake blood on Halloween.

Will I buy it again? 

Sure--as soon as "tastes like dirt" becomes a compliment.


Nina's View

The first sip of this is DEFINITELY earthy. Sips 2 to the end get more and more palatable. By the bottom of the glass I actually kind of liked it. The vampiric appearance contributes to the whole Halloween-y liquid-dirt experience. This is not something I see myself running out and buying regularly, but I can imagine one day waking up with a mysterious craving for it (and an aversion to garlic and sunshine).

It seems like exactly the sort of oddball concoction that could also be a pregnant woman's yen.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Bisous De Provence Lemon Verbena Triple Milled Soap



I saw somebody on Twitter mention how she loved the way the "lemon soap" from Trader Joe's made her bathroom smell. I had never noticed any such product there, but I searched the shelves on my next trip. This bar was all I found that might have been what she was talking about. I bought it, though I didn't even know what "verbena" was. (You can educate yourself on that point here, as I did.)

I like this better than the other two bath soaps I've bought from TJ's (see here and here). It smells nice, it rinses off cleanly and easily. My only nitpick is that the bar is too big to grip comfortably, at least when it's new.

Will I buy it again? 

Maybe once in a while as a change-up from my regular Dove. But it's a lot more expensive, and I don't like it any better, so it's not going to become a staple. Unlike the tweeter who got me looking for it, I don't care if my bathroom smells of lemon.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Roundup

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

We tracked down over 60 pumpkin items at Trader Joe's 

Three twists on pumpkin spice latte

Which Trader Joe's item rocks your world? 

What I learned working at Trader Joe's 

The pumpkinization of everything 

Episode 10 of the "Let's Talk TJ's" podcast 

Trader Joe's favorites 

4 easy Trader Joe's meals 



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





Best tweets of the week:

1.



2.


3.


And finally, I'm temporarily out of cute cats in Trader Joe's grocery bags, but here's a cute dog in a Trader Joe's grocery cart:



Trader Joe's Blueberries (fresh)



I've always been leery of Trader Joe's fresh produce. One of the most frequent gripes about TJ's that you see following the #TraderJoes hashtag on Twitter is people photographing the fruits and vegetables that rotted or went moldy much faster than one would reasonably expect--or, even worse, were that way in hidden areas as soon as they were unpacked and inspected at home. And my own rare experiences with the produce there have not been great.

However, the strawberries that I picked up last week were pretty good, so I decided to take a shot at some blueberries. Now, I have to wonder exactly where these came from, because the label says "Product of USA," but traditional blueberry season isn't until late summer. (I bought these and am writing this in May.) Maybe there are places, like in California, where they can grow blueberries in several crops per year. Or maybe they're grown in a greenhouse and somehow forced into season. I don't know.

Anyway, these were perfectly decent--not a badly shriveled, rotten, moldy, or sour one in the bunch. They were more tart than other blueberries I've had before. I don't know whether to attribute that to being out of season, the specific variety, or just random variation. It wasn't quite what I expected, but I didn't find it unpleasant.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. I'm pleased to have had two consecutive good experiences with TJ's fresh fruit.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Trader Joe's Tangerine Juice


I don't think I've ever had straight-up tangerine juice before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. However, among the Trader Joe's juice line, this is one of the rare one-ingredient products, which, experience tells me, means that it's probably good.

And it is. It's more intense than all but the freshest orange juice, but less sweet, with a bit of tartness. I don't have a lifetime of tangerine juice experience against which to compare this as I do with orange and grapefruit, so it's hard to know where to place this on the spectrum. However, using what we learned about orange juices, I'd venture a guess that (1) a genuinely fresh-squeezed product would be even better than this, but I don't even know if such a thing even exists in the commercial grocery world, and (2) short of that, this not-from-concentrate version, with no adulteration, is probably about as good as you can buy.

It's not cheap, at $2.99 for one quart, but it gives you a very nice burst of citrusy flavor that's a little different from your average orange juice.

Will I buy it again? 

Not regularly, but once in a while as a treat, with pleasure.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Trader Joe's Sprouted Multi-Grain Bread



This is excellent bread--hearty and substantial, with real heft, texture, and flavor. I thought it made superb toast. As a sandwich bread, I liked it a little less, because it was so distinctive that it detracted somewhat from the innards of the sandwich.

Will I buy it again? 

No. Why not, when it's so good? Because it has one fatal flaw: the slices are too small. The loaves are kind of weirdly made to be both narrow and short, so that there's less bread per slice than I like. It's midget bread. Which is unfortunate, because if the loaves were normally sized, it would be one of my favorite varieties from TJ's so far.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Pretzel Twists




This is Day 11 (!) of an extended New and Seasonal Products Week--and the last. Tomorrow we can finally get back to our regular programming. 


I'm using two photographs of this product because, for the first time ever, I honestly can't tell which is the front of the package and which is the back.

This is a brand-new product at Trader Joe's, not yet announced on the company's web site.

I found it in the store Monday morning, and that evening I took it to a friend's home poker game so that I could get an assortment of opinions about it. Ten of us sampled them. I seemed to like the pretzels more than most people did. I kept munching on them, while most others took one or two and then quit. Nobody admitted to having any sensitivity or aversion to gluten.

They need a little more salt, but they're not too bland. My first impression of the taste was that they're a lot like Crispix cereal, which is like a blend of Rice Chex and Corn Chex. This shouldn't be surprising, since to avoid gluten they're made of rice, corn, and potatoes. They are surprisingly crunchy--more so than most regular pretzels--yet not brittle, and that quality makes up much of the pleasure of eating them.

We had two outlier opinions. At the good end, one guy liked them enough that he said he would fork over money to buy a package on his next trip to the store. At the bad end, one guy said that he would buy them only "if they were the last pretzels on earth."

But by far the majority opinion--held by eight out of ten of us (including me), if I counted correctly--was that they're not as good as regular pretzels, but good enough that we'd be happy they were available if we had an issue with gluten that precluded eating the traditional variety.

It's difficult to make good gluten-free substitutes of products that are primarily based on wheat flour. That Trader Joe's could get 80% of an arbitrary sample of taste-testers to give these pretzels even that modest level of endorsement is, I think, a pretty good accomplishment.

Will I buy it again? 

No. But if you have gluten sensitivity and you've regretted not having pretzels to munch on, I think you may have something to rejoice about today.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Trader Joe's Assorted Belgian Chocolate Pumpkins



Yet another brand-new item at Trader Joe's; here's the company's own introduction to it.

These look elegant and scrumptious, but in the end they disappoint. I tried four of the five varieties, leaving the coffee one to Nina, since I don't like anything about coffee.

The salted caramel and crispy milk chocolate were OK. The vanilla cream and dark chocolate cream I didn't care for at all.

I was continually annoyed by the severe mismatch between the identification key on the back and the actual colors of the candies, which made it nearly impossible to guess which was which.

As a final gripe, this is a lot of packaging for nine small candies.

Will I buy it again? 

Nope.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Tortilla Chips



I thought these would be a lot like the recently introduced Sweet Potato Tortilla Chips--except, y'know, with pumpkin in place of sweet potato.

Nope. Not even close.

The difference is made primarily by the addition of cinnamon and nutmeg, which change the overall flavor profile much more than would the simple substitution of pumpkin for sweet potato--and not in a good way. I like cinnamon and nutmeg, but they seemed completely out of place here.

Also, the chips seemed a lot more brittle than most tortilla chips. They kept breaking off in my hummus, instead of scooping the stuff up neatly.

Will I buy it again? 

No. This one is a fail in my book.


Nina's View

The trick with these chips is to banish from your sense-memory anything have to do with tortilla chips. These are not hardly at all corny. Once you do that, you may find some merit in them. I wish they'd dialed back the cinnamon and nutmeg a wee bit, but I was surprised that I found it mostly pleasant.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Trader Joe's Ghost Pepper Potato Chips



Due to the ongoing proliferation of new stuff from Trader Joe's, we are forced to bump our regularly scheduled programming and continue New and Seasonal Products Week for at least three more days--and maybe even more after that, depending on what else comes out. Now on Day 8. 


Brand-new TJ's product; see the company's description of it here.

This is one that I wanted to try the instant I first saw somebody from LA tweeting a photo of it. They always get the good stuff first! I had to wait several more days before my store in North Carolina had it available.

It was worth the wait. These are wonderfully tasty chips. A bit on the oily and salty side, but man, the flavor! It's powerful and peppery, but not knock-your-socks-off. And it's not just heat, but a blend of several different peppers. There's some inconsistency, so that one chip will be mild, and another will smack your eyes wide open--but that's OK. In fact, it seemed kind of like part of the adventure.

If you're having a bland sandwich for lunch, I think these would be just the thing to have on the side to prevent terminal food boredom.

A TJ's employee told me that these were a seasonal item, available for only a short time, despite having none of the obvious hallmarks of the rest of the autumn/Halloween lineup. Get 'em while you can.

Will I buy it again? 

Definitely.


Nina's View

Okay, first off, the whole notion that you'll be doing something death-defying in consuming these chips—just no. The amount of actual 50-kajillion-Scoville ghost pepper action in these babies is pretty minuscule. You're going to get a little bit of heat going, but it's not going to raise your cranial lid.

My general objection to the whole ghost pepper hype is that ghost peppers pack huge firepower, but not so much flavor. HabeƱeros at least have a nice fruitiness to them. TJ's has solved this problem by blending them with other types of chili and black pepper. But Bob is right, the result is nicely flavorful, almost a little smoky, with a nice slightly bitter edge.

They are too oily, but I like the lattice texture and the extra fattiness helps the pepper float out into your mouth in a nicely emollient fashion. These are eminently edible. I will not be buying them because I have no self-discipline and the bag is *really* large.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Roundup

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


My favorite 20 Trader Joe's products 

Trader Joe's pumpkin-spice products, rated from worst to best 

Story about the writer's brother, who works at Trader Joe's 

17 kid-friendly finds at Trader Joe's 

Trader Joe's great on prices and snack choices 

Trader Joe's versus Sprouts on produce prices 

Trader Joe's announces recall of Coconut Cranberry Granola 

Best pumpkin picks from Trader Joe's 

5 things you should buy at Trader Joe's 

Daily dose of pumpkin 

Trader Joe's 12 best pumpkin products 

Top ten figure-friendly food finds from Trader Joe's for the fall 

Expert rates Two-Buck Chuck 

We tested all the pumpkin spice products we could find



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





Best tweets of the week:

1.



And finally, the cute cat of the week is this 9-second video clip.

Trader Joe's Autumnal Harvest Creamy Pasta Sauce



We have arrived at the end of New and Seasonal Products Week--except that we're going to need to extend it, because a few more items have rolled in. More about this tomorrow. 



This is a new product; the company has not yet posted its own description of it.

I don't force myself to buy and sample every new product that Trader Joe's puts out. There are things that I'm just not interested in, or know I will hate, and I don't bother.

Once in a while, though, I'll buy a new product even though I'm pretty sure that I'm going to dislike it. I'm usually right.

But then come those rare occasions when I'm Mikey in the old Life cereal commercial, shocking everybody, including myself: "He likes it! Hey, Mikey!"

This was one of those moments. I looked at the main ingredients: tomato puree (good), pumpkin puree (OK, but does not belong in pasta sauce), butternut squash puree (ditto), heavy cream (ditto), carrot puree (ditto). Nope. Not gonna like it. But it didn't have anything that I consider so awful as to be a dealbreaker. So I bought it.

And then I poured it on my pasta and took a bite. Wow! It's good! It's really good!

In fact, I think it is now my second-favorite TJ's pasta sauce, after the humble tomato-basil marinara.

Will I buy it again? 

Knowing that it will soon be pulled from the shelves until next fall, I'm going to buy two more jars on my next shopping trip. Maybe three.


Nina's View

I liked this more than I expected to. It's not bad at all. It has a fair amount in common with TJ's vodka sauce, which I have enjoyed. Still, I'm staying away from the dairy products, so I'm unlikely to pursue this any further.


Addendum, October 30, 2015: 

TJ's finally posted an introduction to the product. See here.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Trader Joe's Halloween Joe Joe's Cookies



New and Seasonal Products Week is flying by--now on Day 6. This one has been around for several years, but only available in the autumn. 



I grabbed these from the Trader Joe's shelf, thinking they were pumpkin-flavored Joe Joe's, and didn't realize they weren't until I looked more closely at the package as I was about to take the photograph above. The only "pumpkin" thing about them is the design on the chocolate cookie. The orange color of the filling is from annatto. As far as I can tell, other than those two cosmetic changes, these are identical to regular Joe-Joe's. I compared the ingredients list side by side with the regular Joe-Joe's in the store, and they were identical, except for the annatto.

This presents me with a dilemma--a contradiction. Because before it dawned on me that these were probably identical, for all practical purposes, with regular Joe-Joe's, I found that I liked them a lot. As in, completely delicious. As in, even--may the Snack Gods not strike me with lightning for saying this--better than Oreos.

Why is this a problem? Because here's what I said about regular Joe-Joe's when first reviewing them:
These are not nearly as intensely sweet as Oreos, and thekind of chocolate and vanilla flavors are quite far afield from what Oreos have taught you to expect, though I lack the vocabulary to describe exactly how they differ. What I can tell you is that I had a strong initial dislike: "These aren't Oreos! WTF?" 
However, after a while, I got used to the difference. When I stopped expecting Oreos, I found that I could accept these on their own terms, and even enjoy them. I don't think they're nearly as good; given a straight-up choice, I'd go with Nabisco every time. But if Oreos ceased to exist, I would buy a box of these once in a while and like them--though it would still be with a melancholy wish that they'd bring back the original.

Now I'm stuck with trying to figure out whether my taste has evolved as rapidly as it appears, or if there is, in fact, some substantive difference between these two products that I'm missing.

I may have to go back to the store and buy a package of each, and try them together. It's a tough job, but dammit, somebody has to do it. I did a quick search (which I should have done before), and found this on TJ's web site, which pretty much confirms that I'm going to find them tasting identical.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. I have to, you see?


Addendum 

On my next trip to the store, they were all out of the Halloween Joe Joe's. But I brought home a box of regulars, and they do indeed seem to match my recent memory of the Halloween ones. If I can get a box of Halloween ones, I'll try to check them side by side.


Special note for fellow anal-retentive types

Are you an attentive enough reader to notice the typographical inconsistency in the name of this product? There is no hyphen between "Joe" and "Joe's." (I'm setting aside for now the problematic question of the function of that apostrophe in all of the product names discussed here.) Regular Joe-Joe's have a hyphen. Pumpkin Joe-Joe's have a hyphen. Gluten-free Joe-Joe's have a hyphen. Candy Cane Joe-Joe's have a hyphen. WHY IS THERE NO HYPHEN IN HALLOWEEN JOE JOE'S?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Joe-Joe's



We are now up to Day 5 of New and Seasonal Products Week. This is not new, having been introduced last fall, but it is only seasonally available. 



I didn't mind the flavor of these. In fact, it's rather nice. But they are just way too sweet. The sweetness hit like a sugar bomb on first tasting. I've had more on two subsequent days, and the bombing feels a little less intense, but it's still excessive.

Will I buy it again? 

No.


Nina's View

Yearning to adopt a needle-based lifestyle? Eat these cookies.

There may be some flavor buried in there (personally, I think it's some stray aromatics coming in via the nose), but it's negligible. All I taste is sugar sugar sugar sugar. Which is too bad, because conceptually this is a good idea. In practice: run like the wind.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Trader Joe's Fall Harvest Salsa



For Day 4 of New and Seasonal Products Week, we present an item that fits both categories. 


This is a brand-new product from Trader Joe's. See the company's description of it here.

Allow me to get straight to the point: This is the best store-bought salsa I've ever had.

Now, that declaration, while true, deserves a caveat--which is that I have not been a salsa kind of guy. I have purchased, before this, exactly one jar of salsa in my life, and that was to keep on hand here for when Nina comes over. I have, however, sampled several at parties, dinners, and so forth. And of course I have salsa on tacos and burritos and as a chip dip when I'm eating out at Mexican restaurants. It's just that when it comes to jars of the stuff from stores, I have never encountered one that made me want to keep eating it until the jar is empty. This one does that.

It brings a whole new twist to the genre, what with the pumpkin and squash and fruits and veggies. You would think that such things would doom it to being untrue to its salsa roots. But they don't. The first taste impression remains a moderately hot, peppery, distinctly tomato-based salsa, with the flavors of the special autumnal ingredients only kicking in after that first impression. The wizards at TJ's have concocted something really special here, and they somehow did a complete end-run around the Blandification Committee.

We had it with TJ's outstanding Organic Corn Dippers (review to come), which I thought made a superb combination.

Here is a concurring opinion from the good folks at the "What's Good at Trader Joe's" blog.

This is tasty enough that it's making me rethink the whole salsa-in-a-jar thing. Have I been missing out on a whole category of yumminess, like I was with hummus for my entire adult life? This may require some exploration.

It's so good that I'm seriously considering adding it to my Top Ten list. I'm going to hold off a bit though. I'm still in the throes of ecstasy from having just tried it. And I want to hear what Nina has to say.

[Edit: OK, having seen that the passage of 24 hours since we ate it has not dimmed her enthusiasm, I am proceeding with the Top Tenification of this lovely salsa.]

Will I buy it again? 

Oh, yes. Next TJ's run, I'm going to take home several, knowing that this will disappear from shelves without advance notice as soon as the Christmas stuff starts coming in.


Nina's View

Oh was I skeptical! I looked with disfavor upon this jar. I envisaged pumpkin-spice flavored salsa and I was all about the NOPE. Nopety-nope. Gag. Will not eat. The fact that the number one ingredient listed is pumpkin just upped the negatory attitude. And then the inclusion of honey and sugar. NO WAYZ, I sez to myself.

But since Adventure Bob had these on the menu as an appetizer offering, who was I to say HELL TO THE NOES? Try it I must.

If you're anything like me (and I admit that it's a lot less likely than I used to believe), you'll be pleasantly surprised by how good this stuff is. It does NOT taste like pumpkin spice in any way. It's NOT too sweet, although it is certainly not as sharp as most salsas. Bob and I ate half the jar in short order. Had dinner not been in the offing, I would have helped him finish it off.

This item is not for salsa purists. It's almost a chutney. But it's darn tasty. Go getcha some.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Carrot Coconut & Ginger Soup



This is Day 3 of New and Seasonal Products Week. 


I think this is a new Trader Joe's product. I had looked over the refrigerated soup selection many, many times without seeing it before, and the selection there is small enough that I feel reasonably confident that I would have noticed it. Also, I find nothing online about it anywhere, whereas with any product that has been around for more than a few weeks, lots of descriptions and photos come up in a search. (TJ's has long had a similar but non-refrigerated product: carrot ginger soup, without the coconut. Clearly not the same thing, but it's all that comes up in a Google search.) However: There has been no new-product announcement on the TJ's web site, and I saw no "new product" sign on the shelf at my local store the way they usually do for new things. So I remain slightly uncertain about its newness.

Anyway, if you haven't tried this, you're not missing much. It's dull. The carrot component is reasonably prominent. But I had to try hard to find any ginger flavor. And I could not detect any coconut--which is the part I was most looking forward to--no matter how hard I tried to convince myself that it was present.

One-note. Boring. Forgettable.

Will I buy it again? 

No.


Nina's View

Short version: Nina's Bottom Ten has a new denizen.

Longer version: Oh ugh. I actually expected to like this. I like carrots. I like ginger. I like coconut. I can easily envisage a soup with all those ingredients that is yummy.

Senator, this is not that soup.

I don't know whether the carrots in this batch were unusually bitter, or there was some other colossal fail in preparation here, but I found this basically inedible. I had three spoonfuls and gave up. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Trader Joe's pumpkin



This is just a reminder that among all the pumpkin-flavored products you can buy at Trader Joe's, you can also get actual pumpkins. And not just ordinary ones (though they have those, too). You can get unusual ones. I bought this one this morning. It's BLUE! Who ever heard of blue pumpkins????

See the beautiful and unusual one we got last year here.

Trader Joe's Magic Beans



This is Day 2 of New and Seasonal Products Week. 


This is a brand-new product from Trader Joe's--so new that it's not even shown on the company's web site yet. [Edit: Now it's up, here.]

These are lovely little morsels of goodness. You've got three different colors, though they don't seem to be of different flavors. Perfectly simple: chocolate outside, and crunchy "nougat" inside. I didn't know that nougat could be crunchy, as my only life experience with it is in things like Three Musketeers bars.

They are delicious and satisfying. Go buy some.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes.


Nina's View

You know those fairy tales where the country bumpkin trades away his family's one and only cow for a bag of magic beans, and everyone is very cross with him, but then it all works out in the end, happily ever after, etc? Well, THESE ARE THOSE BEANS, except they aren't actually magical and they are for immediate consumption, not planting (which would be a waste).

I will confess that I am in the middle of a Carb Rage, what with the autumnal season and all, so my usual lack of excitement over chocolate is at a low ebb. This causes me to look with more than usual favor upon products of the (cacao) bean at this time. Still, I expect that had I encountered these at a different quadrant of the calendar, I would still have found them appealing.

Made in France. Need I say more?

The best thing about them is that they are not a compulsive munchable. They are rich and satisfying, so three or four make a perfect serving size. I elevate them to Nina's Top Ten.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Trader Joe's Broccoli & Kale Slaw



Stop the presses! Last week saw such a profusion of new and seasonal products that I had to relegate a whole week's worth of pre-written blog posts to a later date, in order to make room to tell you about the more urgent stuff. We have seven days of reviews of products that are brand new, only seasonally available, or both. For lack of a catchier moniker, let's call this NEW AND SEASONAL PRODUCTS WEEK. 


This is a brand-new product at Trader Joe's. See the company's description of it here.

The chopped broccoli was fine. The kale was fine. The dried cherries and blueberries added a nice bit of fruity sweetness to the mix. I don't much like almonds, so that component was a negative for me. The dressing was OK.

So I didn't actively dislike much of anything about this. Yet the whole left me unimpressed. I'm not sure I even have a coherent reason. It's just that I kept looking at it on my plate and not wanting to eat more of it. I finished a normal serving size, but more through a sense of resignation to it than liking of it.

Will I buy it again? 

No.


Nina's View

The dressing was dire.

The mix was okay.

The rest of it is in my fridge and will be served mixed with some tender greens to Bob when he comes to dinner tonight. With better dressing.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Roundup

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


We tried all of Trader Joe's pumpkin-spice products 

Best new Trader Joe's products 

16 Trader Joe's foods you need to discover and hoard

Episode 9 of the "Let's Talk TJ's" podcast 

40 pumpkin products from Trader Joe's 



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





Best tweets of the week:

1.



2.



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


Trader Joe's Mildly Spiced Organic Vegetable Burritos



This is Day 7, the end of Mexican Week. 


I am once again confounded by the apparently inconsistent labeling of Trader Joe's products with the "V" vegan symbol. As you can see, the label explicitly claims this to be "dairy free," and it certainly has no meat in it. I have scoured the ingredients list and found nothing from animals or eggs. Yet it doesn't carry the "V," and TJ's does not include this item in their published list of vegan products. I'm stumped.

Anyway, I found this to be better than I had anticipated. A burrito with no cheese and no meat or meat substitute seemed, well, kind of an odd and dubious proposition. But a large part of the reason for this blog is to push myself to try things that I would otherwise shy away from, so into the basket the package went.

I'm glad for it. The burritos are quite tasty. They're as spicy as I would want them to be, despite the "mildly spiced" claim. You've got your green bell peppers, green chilies, cumin, jalapenos, cilantro, and oregano. The tomatoes and tomato sauce are by far the most prominent constituents here. The label claims that they have also included onions, potatoes, and broccoli, though I failed to detect any of them by sight or by taste.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not, because there are other burritos I like better. But if I encountered these somewhere else, I'd be happy to have another.


Nina's View

All frozen burritos suffer from texture issues. The insides go to mush, the wrappers dry out or get gummy and tough. It's just not an ideal way to prepare this food.

In contrast to Bob, I did not care for these at all. The only thing distinguishable on the inside were corn kernels, everything else was a uniformly and spectacularly uninteresting paste. The sauce was entirely unremarkable.

We can do better, people.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Trader Joe's Really Expensive Authentic Handcrafted Chicken Burritos



Here we are at Day 6 of Mexican Week. 



I saw somebody on Twitter giggling about the funny name of this product. I wasn't sure whether to believe it at first. Even given Trader Joe's well-known penchant for quirky product names, would they actually put "really expensive" in the name of an item?

Yes. Yes, they would. I Googled the name, found this review, and knew that I had to try me some.

Let's first clear the air about that "really expensive" descriptor. They're not. This package of two (each one of which is plenty for a meal) costs $2.69.

Are they great? No. They're merely adequate. I heated them in the oven, which I'm sure gets better results than the microwave method. As a result, I got a nicely browned tortilla wrap with no sogginess, and even heating throughout. But they had had a working over by the Trader Joe's Blandification Committee. There's nothing to offend the taste buds, but nothing to excite them, either.

Will I buy it again? 

I won't rule it out altogether, but I'm not planning on it.