Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Trader Joe's Hydroponically Grown Organic Watercress

This rather odd item showed up recently among the bagged salads in my local Trader Joe's. I bought it, even though I don't think I've ever eaten watercress and had no idea what to do with it. I figured that I could use the leaves sort of like a microgreen topping on salads--which is exactly what I did.

By themselves, the leaves have a little bit of bite to them. Nina supplied me with the perfect descriptor: astringent. But once mixed into a salad with lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli sprouts, carrots, pine nuts, and dressing, it was awfully hard to notice that they were even there, let alone appreciate a flavor enhancement.

Will I buy it again? 

Only if some day I'm making a recipe that specifically calls for it. That hasn't happened in the first almost 56 years of my life, but never say never!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Trader Joe's Chickenless Crispy Tenders

These are entirely satisfactory--but nothing more. Gardein's fake-chicken tenders are better in both flavor and texture.

Will I buy it again? 

I might if I'm in a situation where I need it and don't feel like stopping at a second grocery store. But it's the kind of thing for which I'll generally keep a package of the better brand in the freezer all the time, so this probably won't happen often, if ever.

Saturday, February 25, 2017


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

Shopping blindfolded at Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's customer personality types

4 things you should buy at Trader Joe's, and 3 you shouldn't

5 favorite kid snacks from Trader Joe's

Best tweets of the week:

Friday, February 24, 2017

Trader Joe's Carrot & Pea Vegetable Patties

As is often the case for TJ's frozen food products, the box suggests two alternative ways of preparing the contents: fry in oil or heat in oven.

I've tried both with these patties, and neither yields a satisfying texture; they're mushy in the middle either way.

The taste is nothing to write home about, either. It's been a while since we've heard from the Trader Joe's Blandification Committee, but this item is proof that the committee has not been disbanded.

I tried them with mango-ginger chutney. I tried them with traditional hamburger fixings. Neither was a good match. Maybe hot sauce would help?

The patties are also quite a bit smaller than most things billed as "patties." You can slap one on a hamburger bun, but it ends up looking like the diminutive beef patty in that famous Wendy's "Where's the beef?" ad:

Just about any way you look at it, this product is a big fat fail.

Will I buy it again? 


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Trader Joe's Golden Berry Blend

This makes for pretty good snacking material--as long as I don't think about the list of ingredients. Because if I do, I'm reminded that of the four fruits represented here, all except the raisins have been sweetened with added sugar. This is a fact that is not disclosed or even hinted at on the front of the package.

I love golden raisins, but I think I'd rather have them alone than mixed in with a bunch of sugared-up other dried fruits.

Will I buy it again? 


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Trader Joe's Mango Ginger Chutney

I've never bought any kind of chutney before this. In fact, if asked, I would have been able to give you only an extremely vague definition or description of what "chutney" was. I've probably eaten chutney as a condiment on something at an Indian restaurant a time or two, but I have no specific memory of it.

So my reasons for buying this were just that (1) it was on the new-products shelf, and (2) I attempt to buy virtually every new TJ's product, unless it's a food category that I don't ever eat or something I can be positive I won't like.

I had no idea what to do with the stuff. I tried it on a vegetable-patty burger, and it didn't work very well.

My next idea was better: a topping for fake chicken nuggets on a rice bed. I told Nina that this was what I'd be serving for her next dinner at my house. She came up with what proved to be the key contribution: add some lemon juice to make it into sort of a sweet-and-sour sauce.

I did, using a roughly two parts chutney to one part juice--and it was great! I seriously loved it. The mango comes through less specifically as mango and more as a general fruitiness. The ginger adds a definite bite and tingle, especially in a brief aftertaste. The lemon juice makes for a simultaneously contrasting pucker. There are some raisins scattered in the chutney for an interesting texture contrast. Overall, the combination perfectly tarted up the otherwise quite bland nuggets and rice.

Will I buy it again? 

Definitely. It's a new favorite thing in my life.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Trader Joe's Mandarin Oranges

I used to eat canned Mandarin oranges a lot when I was young--usually Three Diamond brand, I think. These from Trader Joe's seem identical to my memory of those. Maybe the syrup is a little less sweet, or maybe that's just my imagination working, as prompted by the "light syrup" on the label.

Will I buy it again? 

I doubt it. It had been at least 20 years since I had bought any canned Mandarin oranges before this. They're OK, but when I get a yen for something snacky, it's never this. But if I did suddenly develop such an urge, or needed Mandarin oranges for a recipe, these would do as well as any others.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Trader Joe's Alta Badia Cheese

Once in a while, I pick a cheese basically at random from the extensive selection at Trader Joe's. This was one. I think it was the featured selection for a while. I had never heard of Alta Badia cheese. The cashier noticed it in my basket and commented that it was really good and I'd love it. This doesn't mean much, because I'm pretty sure TJ's cashiers are instructed to make such a comment on at least one item in every customer's haul. But in this case he was right. I do love it.

It's sweet and creamy, a lot like Gruyere. It slices easily and neatly. I ate half of this block in one sitting.

Will I buy it again? 

Absolutely. It's a new favorite--so good that it's flirting with Top Ten status.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Special post: supplier found (probably)

As I've mentioned many times, I watch Twitter for the #TraderJoes hashtag. It's how I often learn of new products to try, and it's how I get the "best tweets of the week" feature for Saturday "roundup" posts.

A while back I started noticing an unusual number of posts saying that TJ's portobello mushroom fries were great. I'm not interested in this product, and the posts weren't especially clever, so I thought it was odd, but didn't pay much attention.

But it kept happening. So I decided to try to see whether all of these were coming from one account.

They were.

And so on. I counted 27 such tweets--basically one a day--since the phenomenon began in late January.

Now why would a food manufacturer go on a miniblitz promoting a Trader Joe's product? Can you think of any plausible reason other than that they are the manufacturer?

The TJ's portobello mushroom fries package says that it's a product of India. Would you like to guess where Himalayo Fresh has its manufacturing plant?

Going through the pains of being pioneers in Indian Food Industry, struggling through the natural impediments in emerging market and despite the world-wide economic gloom in 2009 they decided to take a quantum leap forward by setting up the large, diversified and integrated food processing plant in the state of Gujarat India. The new mega plant in full operation will make Himalya as the India's largest Premium frozen food Company.
(See here.)

Interestingly, there was one tweet from that same account promoting TJ's Vegetable Pakoras (reviewed here):

So I suspect that we've found the manufacturer for not just one but two TJ's products.

Incidentally, this is the second time that I've been able to make a reasonably solid determination of a TJ's supplier based on Twitter. See here for the first. This seems to be a tiny leak in what is usually a solid brick wall of secrecy, with neither TJ's nor their suppliers saying a word about their business relationships.

Sometimes you can identify a supplier by the suspicious similarity between a national-brand product and one sold by TJ's, such as the macaroni and cheese we investigated here. Sometimes you can tell because TJ's stores carry a non-TJ's-branded item, which then disappears and is replaced by an identical one with a new TJ's label, such as with several jams and preserves from E.D. Smith. Sometimes the information gets out when there is a manufacturer's product recall, and a bunch of store brands--including TJ's--all get named in the recall, such as last year's massive recall of frozen vegetables. This involved more than 350 products sold under 42 different brand names, but all coming from one manufacturer in Pasco, Washington.

But using Twitter to identify a TJ's supplier appears to be my own peculiar little innovation.

I replied to one of the tweets in this series asking if they were promoting TJ's products because they're the manufacturer.

There has been no response.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


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

The ten worst things I've eaten from Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's food finds worth seeking

If Trader Joe's stopped the Fearless Flyer, would you notice?

6 things you need to know about Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's best new products for February

10 unconventional foods for kids from Trader Joe's

Best tweets of the week:

And after a sad absence of the feature, here's the return of the weekly cute cat in (or at least next to) a Trader Joe's shopping bag, courtesy of Stacie McKnight of the Facebook group "Trader Joe's and other grocery hauls" (which you all are invited to join):

Friday, February 17, 2017

Jarlsberg Lite

I had this home and was opening the package before I noticed that it was not a Trader Joe's branded product. I chose it quickly, obviously without paying a lot of attention, and assumed that "Jarlsberg" was a term for a type of reduced-fat Swiss cheese, when actually it's a brand name. Oops. Oh well. I would have bought it anyway.

But it's among the most disappointing Swiss cheeses I've ever tried. It has enough flavor that I can tell it's Swiss, but just barely. I had to use two slices at a time on crackers to get a satisfying amount of cheese taste, which defeats the purpose of having it be low in fat.

It also had a pragmatic problem: the slices were all glommed together, very difficult to separate cleanly. This nullifies the advantage of buying pre-cut slices instead of a block of cheese. It would have been faster and easier to cut my own than to wrestle with the blob inside this package.

Will I buy it again? 


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Spindrift Sparkling Water--Lemon

I bought this at the same time as the watermelon version reviewed yesterday. As with that one, I forgot to photograph it. The picture above is from the manufacturer's web site.

This one is pleasant and refreshing--my second-favorite flavor in the line, after the grapefruit one.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not, even though I liked it, simply because I would always choose the grapefruit version over this.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Spindrift Sparkling Water--Watermelon

I forgot to take a photo of this before it was gone, so I've borrowed the above photo from this review.

Spindrift appears to have changed the characterization of its line of products from "seltzer" to "sparkling water" for unspecified reasons. I don't think it means any substantive change to what's in the can.

By either name, I liked the grapefruit one enough to try others. But then the raspberry-lime version was not nearly as good.

And now this watermelon one is even worse. It tastes much more like cucumber than watermelon. Apparently I'm not alone. The review from which that picture is taken says, "The watermelon tastes more like the rind than it does the red mushy fruit part." Exactly so.

If you want to try it in spite of my experience, some advice. When I poured a can into two glasses to share with Nina, the first half was colorless, then second half quite red. The watermelon juice seems to settle to the bottom. So invert the can gently a few times before you pour or drink it. But it's carbonated, so don't shake it too hard.

Will I buy it again? 


Addendum: Here's an explainer on the differences between seltzer, sparkling water, and club soda: http://mentalfloss.com/article/89396/whats-difference-between-club-soda-seltzer-and-sparkling-water

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Trader Joe's Raspberry Hearts

You get a surprise when you open this box: These are not single shortbread cookies, but sandwich cookies. The jam is not just that little dollop in the center, but a layer between the shortbread cookies. Like the old Certs commercials, they're two, two, two cookies in one! (Sadly, they contain no Retsyn.)

I like these even more than I thought I would, probably because they're a lot sweeter than most shortbread cookies. Let's face it: I'm easy to please. Throw some extra sugar in stuff, and I'm happy.

Will I buy it again? 

I wish I could, but, as George H. W. Bush might have said, it wouldn't be prudent.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Trader Joe's Chicken Burrito Bowl

New item; $3.49, serves one.

Based on long experience with Trader Joe's frozen-to-oven foods, I set the timer for 36 minutes, instead of the 25-30 recommended on the side of the box, and it proved to be exactly right. Hot throughout, just a bit crispy at the edges.

I liked the overall result a lot. It felt like just the amount I wanted to eat for my lunch. The level of spiciness hit the sweet spot between blandness and excess. The ratio of chicken nuggets, veggies, and rice/quinoa was pleasing. I really can't think of anything to complain about.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes, though with a caveat common to these posts--specifically, that I would buy it a lot more often if they made it (or made an alternative version) with TJ's own excellent vegan fake chicken. As it stands, my desire to minimize my intake of meats--even those that aren't as objectionable as beef and pork--will be the limiting factor in how often these bowls see the inside of my freezer.

Also: Canada, for Mexican food??? What, is Trump's wall already keeping things out from the south?

Saturday, February 11, 2017


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

24 of the best healthy Trader Joe's snacks

New Trader Joe's products for February

Best tweets of the week:




Friday, February 10, 2017

Trader Joe's PB&J Bars

I went to a friend's table-games night this week, and took along this box of bars to share and to get some varied opinions. Four other guests tried them with me.

The majority opinion: "They're kind of weird," in both taste and texture. One said they're too sweet. One said the peanut butter seems almost non-existent. On the plus side, one said that they're not great, but would probably be welcomed by those with limited choices in the granola-bar category because of issues with gluten.

My observations: 1. Compared to the actual product, the box photo looks like they injected about ten times the amount of jelly. 2. Far and away the most prominent component is the oat shell, which is the least tasty, least interesting part. 3. I thought the peanut butter and jelly parts were balanced about right with each other, but both needed serious beefing up in relation to the oat shell. 4. They're kind of weird.

Will I buy it again? 


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Trader Joe's Organic Creamy Cauliflower Soup

Sometimes when I debut a new TJ's product at one of my weekly dinners with Nina, we both try it at the same time, but silence prevails because neither of us wants to unfairly influence the opinion of the other. Then somebody breaks the ice.

Last night, with this soup, it was me. I mumbled, "This isn't very good." This implicitly gave Nina permission to reveal the emphatic opinion she had been holding back: "It's TERRIBLE!"

She had three or four spoonfuls before pushing the bowl away and refusing to eat more. I powered through the whole bowl. I was mostly trying to figure out what it was that I was finding so distasteful.

It basically comes down to pepper. I think it's specifically the plain old black pepper--which, though near the end of the list of ingredients by weight, is weirdly front and center in the taste department. Its prominence and dissonance with the other flavors reminds me of the famous Blue Oyster Cult sketch on Saturday Night Live. Except instead of "More cowbell!" somebody in the TJ's test kitchen was yelling "More black pepper!"

I first learned of the existence of this product from following the #TraderJoes tag on Twitter. The person who tweeted about it--Lara from Connecticut--wanted her opinion known here, and I promised to include it:

Will I buy it again? 


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Trader Joe's Organic Pasta--Fusilli

Perfectly good fusilli. I don't really feel any need for my pasta to be organically sourced, but I don't mind that it is, other than being a little more expensive.

Will I buy it again? 

Sure. I'm coming to prefer fusilli over ordinary spaghetti, and this is as good as any.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Trader Joe's Honey Butter Flavored Potato Chips

My mother used to make the most wonderful dinner rolls, topped with a honey-butter mix. So the phrase "honey butter" immediately gets my mouth watering with delectable memories. When I saw the first excited tweet from somebody discovering this new product on their Trader Joe's store shelves, I couldn't wait to try it.

Nina predicted that it would be either wonderful or terrible--nothing in between. I agreed.

We were wrong. It's in between.

The honey and butter flavors are strong and distinct, no shyness or subtlety to them. Which is sort of nice, considered alone. But in this particular context, it's wrong somehow. For me, I think it's the powerful sweetness. It just doesn't belong on a salty potato chip. The result is a pretty serious clash. It might work better if they toned down the honey to more like just a hint or a whisper.

I'm not saying they're terrible. They're not. They're just...off.

If TJ's added these same flavorings to dinner rolls, I'd be at the store waiting to hijack the delivery truck and stuff myself full of them until I exploded. But on a potato chip, the intensely sweet/salty combination just doesn't work.

Will I buy it again? 


Monday, February 6, 2017

Trader Joe's English Butter Fudge

I saw this little package on the new-products shelf last week and didn't know what to expect of it, but bought it anyway.

The instant I bit into one, I had a powerful sensory memory, though it took me a minute to figure out what I was being reminded of: maple sugar candy, which I haven't had since I was a teenager. There's no maple here, but that soft, granular texture that quickly melts in your mouth--that's the same.

Really the only ingredients in this candy are butter and several different forms of sugar. Which means, of course, that it's wonderful. How could it not be?

Nina ate one. I had two. We both scoffed at the package's claim of a serving size of four pieces. Ridiculously high, we said. And then the next night, when I was alone, I ate four--and did so again the night after that. It no longer seemed ridiculous. In fact, I could have eaten more.

With each of my three (so far; there's four pieces left as I write this) samplings, I grew to love it more, and I am ready to add it to my Top Ten list.

Will I buy it again? 

Tough question. I will definitely be tempted to buy it again. But if I ever yield to the temptation, it's going to have to be a rare treat. I don't have to wear a suit often, but when I recently put on the only one I have, I nearly popped it open with straining to hold my expanding waistline. I had to have a tailor let it out. So things made of butter and sugar, no matter how wonderful, cannot be a regular feature in my diet. I could get away with that sort of indulgence when I was younger. But with middle age, and the classic middle-age spread, not so much.

Saturday, February 4, 2017


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

Trader Joe's best 150-calorie snacks

New Trader Joe's products spotted on store shelves

6 essential Trader Joe's items for your watch party

Top 25 things to buy from Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's snacks for your wedding

Best tweets of the week:







Sadly, I'm still lacking in pictures of cute cats in Trader Joe's grocery bags, so none this week. However, I do have this series of tweets from a woman named Kat. So that's pretty close, right? (Read from the bottom up.)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Trader Joe's English Coastal Cheddar

Trader Joe's carries a bewildering assortment of cheddar cheeses. I first became interested in trying this particular one a few months ago when it was highlighted in this article about TJ's best cheeses:

I kissed a lot of cheddar frogs to get to English Coastal Cheddar, which shows lovely spring onion and rosemary tones. Like all TJ cheddars, it has a sweet foundation, but the allium and herbal flavors add a satisfying complexity.

Well, I don't have a sufficiently discerning palate to find all those components. But I was certainly able to tell that it's an unusual cheddar. It seemed to me simultaneously both sharper and more buttery than most. I also kept noticing a quality that I couldn't put a label on, but the description here of "herbal" seems about right.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes, occasionally, though it's not going to displace my favorite go-to TJ's cheeses.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Trader Joe's Chocolate Chunk Cookies

These are better than I expected. They're much softer than most commercial chocolate chip cookies. Why, they taste almost...fresh! Other than that, there are no surprises here.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not. I still prefer buying pre-made cookie dough and baking a few at a time so I can eat them right out of the oven. But if you're going to have store-bought chocolate chip cookies, these are a good choice.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Trader Joe's Dry Toasted Pignolias (Pine Nuts)

See here for a bit about the term "pignolia" and the culinary uses for pine nuts. This is my first experience with them, so I can't compare this particular TJ's preparation with any other pine nuts. But I find that I like them as a salad topping. They taste much like peanuts, but somewhat sweeter. These have no salt (or sugar) added, but they don't seem to need it as badly as peanuts do.

Will I buy it again? 

After finding that I liked them, I thought the answer to this would be a straightforward yes. They make for a cheap, easy, and tasty way to add some protein to a green salad. But then I looked more carefully at the nutrition information on the back. One 1/4-cup serving gives 4g of protein--but 20g of fat. Fat delivers 9 calories per gram; protein 4. So you're getting 11 calories from fat for every 1 calorie from protein here. This puts the brakes on my plans to have pine nuts be a regular staple of my salads. I think, then, that I'll put this item in my "occasional purchase" category.