Monday, November 30, 2015

Trader Joe's Butternut Squash Parmigiana With An Amaretti Crunch

This is the second of ten consecutive days of reviews of the things Nina and I tried at our all-Trader-Joe's Thanksgiving meal. 

I had never noticed this item in the store, but a couple of weeks ago my friend Jessica Welman gave me a heads-up that I should try it, so I decided to include it in our Thanksgiving feast.

I'm glad I did. I'm kind of so-so on squash generally, but it turns out that if you add cheese and a sweet/nutty crunchy topping, it's great! I definitely liked it better than the butternut squash and spinach gratin that we had a week or so ago.

Once again, Trader Joe's cook times are on the low side. I gave it 5 minutes more in the oven than recommended, and it still wasn't hot and needed some last-minute microwaving before serving.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. It's an excellent side dish to the fake-turkey roast reviewed yesterday.

Nina's View

There were a couple of mild annoyances with this dish. It had frozen in a sloshed position, so the cookie crumble topping was unevenly distributed. It needed extra heating (I'm not sure the TJ's timing is to blame here. Bob's oven was filled with stuff, and this was crammed up against other dishes. That means it probably didn't get the proper air circulation for heating through), but it had dried out in the oven, so it was a little chewer/tougher than it ought to be. The flavors were nice. 

Due to cheese content, I won't be buying this, but it was a nice side dish for our meal.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Trader Joe's Turkey-Less Stuffed Roast With Gravy

This is the first of ten consecutive days of reviews of the things Nina and I tried at our all-Trader-Joe's Thanksgiving meal. 

I saw this last year around the holidays and almost bought one, but I was put off by its size--it says it feeds eight. But when I decided to do Thanksgiving dinner for us this year, and to do it all with products from Trader Joe's, I knew this had to be the main course.

While looking online for other reviews in order to know what to expect, I ran across somebody mentioning this very similar product from Gardein. If you compare the size, ingredients, and general appearance of these two items, I think you'll agree that it's highly likely that Gardein is the manufacturer for TJ's. (They're not identical, but close enough that I strongly suspect TJ's asked Gardein to make a few tweaks to the original product to be sold under the TJ's label.) This was good news, because Nina and I have had several meat-substitute products from Gardein, and they are uniformly excellent.

This proved to be no exception. I don't think it will fool anybody into thinking it's turkey, but it's good. The protein is a combination of soy and gluten. It comes with vegan gravy, which I thought was the best part, enhancing both the roast and the mashed potatoes I made on the side.

Given TJ's known propensity to understate cooking times, I baked this for 50 minutes instead of the recommended 40-45. It came out just right that way.

It stuck to the roasting pan more than I anticipated. If I did it again, I would give the pan a spritz of Pam before cooking.

The stuffing allegedly contains cranberries, but I couldn't detect any.

All in all, a success.

Will I buy it again? 


Nina's View

I thought this was really quite good, if a tad bland. Were I preparing it, I would amp up the flavor profile a little with some herbs. But the texture is excellent and the gravy is very nice. This makes an entirely acceptable main course for a celebratory meal.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


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

Holiday feast costs 22% more at Whole Foods than at Trader Joe's 

Turning down Trader Joe's was good move for cookie maker 

Trader Joe's holiday survival guide 

Best tweets of the week:





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

Trader Joe's Wild Grapevine Wreath

I lucked out, and get to review this without buying it. The woman who lives in the apartment next to mine hung this one up, with the store label still on it! (I don't think she even knows that I do a Trader Joe's blog.)

It's certainly rustic, and has a sort of found-art beauty. It has no aroma, which you might see as an advantage if you're sensitive to smells, or a disadvantage if you want your holiday wreath to smell like pine.

For me, the thing just looks a little too Jesus-crown-of-thorns-y, even though there aren't any actual thorns, and it's at least twice as big around. I suppose you could dress it up with some brightening elements that would reduce or eliminate that issue.

But you know what bothers me the most? It's this: Trader Joe's has a guacamole named "Avocado's Number,"* carrots named "Trader Joe's and the Carrots of Many Colors," bran muffins named "Moral Fiber," and fruit bars named, "This Strawberry Walked into a Bar." Yet this same company completely failed in the product naming process here. Because this item absolutely should have been called "The Grapes of Wreath." Case closed.

Will I buy it again? 


*If you don't get the joke, see here.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Trader Joe's Caramel And Dark Chocolate Popcorn Crunch With Almonds, Pecans, Walnuts And Cashews

Nina bought this and together we ate about half of the package after dinner last week. Once again, I'm really not the guy to be reviewing this, since I consider nuts something to be tolerated when necessary, but never enjoyed. (I know. I'm weird. Don't judge.)

Some of the popcorn is caramel-coated, though I don't think it's the same formula as the wonderful TJ's caramel popcorn. This part was OK.

Some of the popcorn is coated in dark chocolate. I didn't care for this much. I just don't think popcorn and chocolate go together well.

Some of what appear to be chocolate-coated pieces of popcorn turn out to be chocolate-coated nuts. This should be illegal.

Will I buy it again? 


Nina's View

This was a purchasing FAIL on my part. I was beguiled by the festive packaging, highlighting caramel and chocolate, and didn't read the curly fine print. "Bob likes caramel popcorn and chocolate, I bet he'll like this!" says I to myself. ("And I'm sure I can choke down a few bits myself.")

Once I got it home I saw my error, but I served it up, caveats and all.


Tasty sugar. And chocolate. And nuts. And salt.

I'll be finishing this up. My thighs are not amused.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Trader Joe's Turkey Pot Pie

Happy Thanksgiving!

I noticed this item in the refrigerated case in mid-October while looking for something else. I had never noticed or heard of it before. Maybe it's available only seasonally--I don't know. But since I only rarely buy products that contain turkey, I thought it would make a good blog post for Thanksgiving Day.

Now I kinda wish I were back to my days of ignorance of this item--because it's really, really good. Big chunks of turkey breast, flaky crust that browns beautifully in exactly the specified time, cornbread stuffing (the only kind worth eating), some veggies (onions present, but muted enough that they can be ignored). And, not noted in the product description on the cover, cranberries, which add a perfect amount of fruity tartness.

Officially this makes 2 1/2 servings. Unofficially, I ate half of it, and could have gobbled down the second half, in spite of having had some applesauce, broccoli, and potato chips with my lunch at the same time. But I realized that doing so would take me past full into the "uncomfortable waistband" zone, so I resisted the temptation, and saved the second half for the next day. Nevertheless, that's how successfully it left me wanting more.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes, dammit. TJ's has thrown another obstacle in my slow, meandering path toward true vegetarianism. If I'm lucky, I'll discover that this is available only in autumn, and I will have to resist temptation for only a small part of the year.

Update, January 7, 2016 

I had another one of these this week. It was quite different--and not nearly as good. Some of the difference is probably because I heated this one in the microwave instead of a regular oven; let me suggest that you not do that. But even accounting for that, the composition seemed different. Specifically, I found less cornbread and more onion. I suppose this is just some batch-to-batch variation, but I was not happy about it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Trader Joe's Thanksgiving

Nina has done Thanksgiving for us in both of the previous Novembers that I've been in Asheville. She didn't sound enthusiastic about cooking again this year, so I volunteered.

My plan was to have everything on the menu come from Trader Joe's, and, as an additional challenge, have them all be things that neither of us has tried before. After quite a bit of fiddling with the list, I settled on the items above.

Note 1: I didn't have any specific vegetable item in mind, but I knew that there were many in the frozen section that we hadn't tried before. The "Fire Roasted Vegetables" was the first one I saw that looked like it would work.

Note 2: I had planned to get either the Fresh Cranberry Sauce or the Cranberry-Orange Relish, but my store was out of both of them, dammit. I had to settle for the jar of rather ordinary-looking cranberry sauce, which probably won't be as good. Oh well.

I'll probably do nine consecutive days of posts about these products starting within the next couple of weeks. Maybe I'll call it "Thanksgiving Review Week."

Happy Thanksgiving!

Trader Joe's Butternut Squash & Creamed Spinach Gratin

This is another in an array of prepared side dishes that Trader Joe's releases this time of year to make holiday feast preparation easy. Nina bought it and served it as part of our dinner a few days ago.

For me, squash and spinach are both in the "I'll eat it, but I won't ever really like it" category. This prejudice makes me a less-than-ideal reviewer here. But with that caveat, I'll say that this combination was among the better ways to dress them up that I've encountered.

Will I buy it again? 

No. But I won't balk at eating it again if it's on the menu.

Nina's View

Ah the blandishments of the tasting station at Trader Joe's… I would never have bought this were it not for that little paper cup with a forkful of this in it FOR FREE. I have a life-long struggle with the idea of rejecting free food. Not gonna do it (except for the meat stuff and those few things I'm actually allergic to).

So, yeah, this has cheese in it, and I wouldn't have bought it otherwise, except: FREEEEEEEEE taste!

I tasted and it was tasty. I thought Bob might like it, and was pleased to find that it fell into the non-icky category for him.

The end of the story is not so happy, however. My first bite, at TJ's was "Oh, yum!" My next serving, at home was: "Yeah, this all right." My third serving, of leftovers, was "Yeah, not so much." I don't think this was because it had somehow degraded from sitting in my fridge for a day. I think the product's weaknesses just became more and more evident.

My biggest objection is to the thin-sliced treatment of the squash. It would be better as a puree. Maybe. Or little tiny diced chunks. Whatever, the texture (they're going for a 'lasagna' type presentation) is just not right. And the flavors never really meld as much as they should.

So, even if it didn't have dairy in it, I wouldn't be buying it again. But *you* might like it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Trader Joe's Apple Cinnamon Goat Cheese

I like cheese. I like apples. I like cinnamon. The question is, will I like them together?

The answer: Not so much.

As you can see from the photo, this extremely unusual cheese has big chunks of apple coated all over the outside of the cheese. The apple chunks are cooked to softness and held together with some sort of sweet, sticky, cinnamon sauce.

There are mechanical problems: It's hard to slice the cheese because of the chunks of apple getting in the way, so you end up knocking them off, which defeats the purposes. You have to either use really large crackers (Some Enchanted Crackers are big enough), or cut the slices into quarters. The whole thing is kind of a sticky mess.

Then there are taste problems: The cinnamon-apple combination is so sweet and strong that the underlying cheese is completely overwhelmed. It's the same problem I had with the cinnamon-Toscano cheese, except made even worse by the additional presence of the apples and their sweet binding sauce.

It's definitely interesting and different from any other cheese I've had before. If you're at a party over the holidays and the host has a cheese sampling tray where this is one of the options, by all means give it a try, because there's probably nothing else like it anywhere. But after curiosity is satisfied, I don't think this is worth having.

Will I buy it again? 


Monday, November 23, 2015

Trader Joe's Sprouted 7-Grain Bread

In case you can't read the fine print on the label, it says, "A mix of freshly sprouted whole grains of wheat, oats, rye, barley, corn, rice and millet with wheat flour. Lightly sweetened with honey and molasses, each slice is sure to satisfy."

I like this. It's flavorful, complex, chewy, substantial. It's not quite as good as TJ's sprouted wheat berry bread, but it's close.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, though, this is another loaf that fails to measure up to standard size. Why does Trader Joe's have such a difficult time understanding that we Americans are used to certain minimum dimensions for slices of bread with which to make our sandwiches?

Will I buy it again? 

Maybe once in a while to revisit it. But I would usually take home the other sprouted-grain bread in preference to this.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Trader Joe's Corn Pudding

It's corn, eggs, milk, cream, butter, cheese, flour, sugar, basil, salt, and black pepper. How could it not be good? (I choose to ignore the fact that it also contains a small amount of the foul weed, onion.)

It's rich, sweet, yummy, decadent. A side dish that you just zap in the microwave and serve has no right to be good enough to earn a place in my Top Ten list--but that's what it has done.

If you still have a hole in your Thanksgiving menu, and you're not sure what additional side dish to have, pick up a carton of corn pudding. Unless you have guests who won't eat dairy, it's a guaranteed hit. Caution: Serves only two people, so you may need several packages.

Will I buy it again? 

It's probably not healthy for my cardiovascular system, but yes, dammit, some sacrifices must be made for the good life. I think that Trader Joe's rolls this out only around Thanksgiving, so maybe its seasonal scarcity will save me.

Nina's View

This is a really splendid example of convenience converging with comfort food. Yes, you could make this, and it probably would be relatively easy to do. Or, you could just buy the package and throw it in the microwave. Yes, you'll be adding to the nation's landfill overflow. Yes, there's probably more fat and salt in it that is strictly good for you. Your own version would definitely be healthier and less hard on the environment.

But you're not going to make your own, are you?

I thought not. So, if you're a dairy-eater, you're going to like this. (Maybe one of these days I'll try to make a vegan version of this. It will probably not be anywhere as good. But guiltlessness has a flavor all its own (for me, anyway).)

Saturday, November 21, 2015


This is my weekly compilation of news and other links related to Trader Joe's. It was an unusually busy week.

Trader Joe's mentioned in Sunday's "Bloom County" comic strip 

"My Trader Joe's Things" song 

Easy chicken soup recipe with Trader Joe's ingredients 

Trader Joe's put Thanksgiving on a chip 

Trader Joe's snacks power ratings 

Trader Joe's Thanksgiving hacks 

Trader Joe's ranks high in customer loyalty 

How to get your products into Whole Foods and Trader Joe's 

Two-ingredient Thanksgiving dishes from Trader Joe's 

Ten things you didn't know about Trader Joe's products 

Trader Joe's healthy grocery list 

Comparison test of sparkling apple ciders 

Ten easy, 3-ingredient, vegan meals from Trader Joe's 

Funny review of Trader Joe's "Taste Test of Caramels" 

TJ's frozen vegetable samosas 

Cost comparison, Trader Joe's versus Costco 

Best Trader Joe's Thanksgiving foods, ranked 

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

Best tweets of the week:







And finally, in lieu of a cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag, I bring you this short video of a cute cat enjoying his Trader Joe's scratching pad (but I can't embed it, so you'll have to click through):

Trader Joe's Kung Pao Noodles & Sauce

I knew there was trouble as soon as I snipped open the packet of pre-cooked noodles. The directions said to empty them into the box, then pour in the sauce from its separate packet, and microwave the whole mess. The problem was that the noodles were so glommed together and so fragile that trying to separate them with a fork (as the instructions also dictated) basically meant shredding them.

The resultant texture was distinctly gloppy, not nice at all. But I was pleasantly surprised that they tasted better than they looked and felt. If I were served the same dish, but with al dente noodles instead of mushy ones, I'd be a happy man. And, blessedly, this product somehow escaped the scrutiny of the Trader Joe's Blandification Committee. There's honest-to-god spices and flavor here.

I get that they're making a trade-off in favor of convenience and speed--made sufficiently obvious by the box crowing "Ready in 2 minutes!" But this is a case where I would rather take a few more minutes to cook them right than to have them NOW. If I were buying this to zap in the employee room on a work-shortened lunch break, however, I might be glad for the time saving, and forgive the texture of the noodles.

Will I buy it again? 

No. However, I purchased at the same time a second, similar item, this one with satay flavoring. I anticipate feeling roughly the same about it.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Trader Joe's Handmade 100% Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas

I love, love, love Trader Joe's Handmade Flour Tortillas. These I like somewhat less. They taste just a little too "wheaty" for my preferences, and I find the color a bit off-putting. Having not compared the two products side by side, this might be a trick of my bad memory, but I also get the impression that these are somewhat tougher.

Will I buy it again? 

I think I'll just stick with my favorites.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Trader Joe's Dress Circle Crispy Crunchy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I don't get the relevance of the "dress circle" part of the name, so don't ask.

Trader Joe's calls these "crispy crunchy." I would call them "dry and crumbly." Also "bland."

Munching on one of these is more like eating uncooked oatmeal than like eating a cookie.

There are a few raisins, but you have to look long and hard for them.

Will I buy it again? 

No. I've had just half of the tub, and I'm done with them.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Trader Joe's Shredded 3 Cheese Blend

As the package indicates, this is a mix of shredded mozzarella, Monterey Jack, and cheddar. It's OK, but nothing special. It's mostly pretty flavorless. If all you want is a topping to convey a general sense of cheesiness in taste and texture, this will do the job. But you have better choices out there. My current favorite is Sargento's "4-State Cheddar."

Will I buy it again? 

I haven't been too excited about any of the TJ's shredded cheese blends that I've tried. But if that's where I am when I need a package, I'll get any one of them and be OK with it, though my preferences lie elsewhere.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Trader Joe's Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes With Cranberries & Pecans

Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of sweet potatoes*. Or of maple. Or of pecans.

So why would I put a product like this in my Trader Joe's shopping basket? Because my millions** of readers will be starting to plan their Thanksgiving dinner menus, and they will all want to know, "What does Bob think of this?"***

I pointed out this important function to Nina over dinner this week when we were first sampling this dish. She gently suggested that one who doesn't like the main ingredients in a product might not generate the most useful review of it for people who do. Sigh. I suppose she's right--again.

Kind of predictably, I didn't like this much. The sauce is too intensely sweet for my taste (which is saying something).

I sent the leftovers home with Nina. With any luck, she'll provide a more helpful perspective to our millions**** of readers.

Will I buy it again? 


*That is not to say that I actively dislike them. I don't. I don't mind having them when somebody else serves them to me, but I never buy them for myself, and never order them in a restaurant.

**By which I mean "dozens."

***No, I have NOT been formally diagnosed with megalomania. Why do you ask?

****See ** above.

Nina's View

I liked this dish when Bob served it, although it needed more cooking than suggested to render the potatoes tender, and I found it a little too sweet (shocker, I know!). But I liked it even better when I ate the leftovers over the next few days.

I served half of it over some Melodious Blend, and the sweetness was tempered by marrying with the savory seasoning of the lentil/bean blend.

Then I made a breakfast "hash" by sautéing a little red onion in coconut oil, browning some unsweetened coconut shreds, adding the sweet potato leftovers, and putting a fried egg on top. So very, very good.

I'll buy this if it's still in the store next time I go.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Trader Joe's Fat Free Balsamic Vinaigrette

Having recently discovering that I like Trader Joe's regular balsamic vinaigrette, I decided to try their fat-free version.

I was pleasantly surprised. If I taste the two dressings alone, on a fingertip, I can definitely tell which is which. This one is somewhat sweeter in taste and (obviously) less oily in mouthfeel. But when dribbled onto a salad, the difference mostly vanishes. I think this one is a little less flavorful overall, less fruity, but it's not a difference that I notice unless I'm actively paying attention. I'm just about as happy with either one.

Will I buy it again? 

I already have. I think I'll keep alternating between them for a while. If I eventually develop enough acuity of taste to really notice something lacking in the fat-free variety, maybe I'll abandon it. But for now, since the difference doesn't catch my attention, it seems an easy way to eliminate a little bit of unnecessary fat in my diet.


In the several months since I wrote the above, I have gone through three bottles of both this the regular version. In the rotation with them are my beloved raspberry vinaigrette, plus whatever non-TJ's salad dressing I'm auditioning. I continue to like both TJ's balsamics very much, and approximately equally.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Trader Joe's Sriracha Potato Chips

Brand-new item; the company has not yet posted information about it.

These are the hottest potato chips I've ever eaten. I think they're a couple of notches up the scale from the ghost pepper chips. For me, that's a deal-breaker. The ghost pepper chips were at the top of the heat scale for me, in terms of what I think works in a potato chip. These sriracha chips are hot enough that I eat one or two, then have to take a break, or even drink or eat something else to dehottify my mouth before there's any chance of enjoying more. I do like the flavor--but I would like it much more if the heat weren't such a seriously limiting factor.

Will I buy it again? 

No. Pass me the ghost pepper chips, please.

Nina's View

There is only one true sriracha sauce: Huy Fong Rooster Sauce. Call me a corporate shill if you must, but that's just the truth of it. These chips do not taste like Rooster Sauce. They are too vinegary. They lack garlic and sweetness. They are just not right.

Away with you, faux sriracha pretenders! Your hotness is not sexy because your flavor is lacking.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


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

My 10 favorite things at Trader Joe's for empty-nesters 

A $7 dinner with ingredients from Trader Joe's 

Blue-collar wine from Trader Joe's 

Lazy girls week of healthy eating a la Trader Joe's 

Best Trader Joe's products of all time 

26 Trader Joe's desserts you'll want to make love to 

Grocery showdown: Trader Joe's versus everyone 

Trader Joe's recall notice: Butternut squash triangoli 

Trader Joe's new November items 

Episode 12 of the "Let's Talk TJ's" podcast 

Frozen food favorites from Trader Joe's 

Woman sues Trader Joe's for $1.1 million 

Is Trader Joe's really cheaper than other grocery stores? 

Couple accused of stealing credit cards at Trader Joe's where they work 

Best tweets of the week:



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

Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Gelato

I first heard about this product on the "What's Good at Trader Joe's" blog, here. It was elevated into their rare "pantheon" status, reserved for the very few, very best TJ's products: "It still gets 4.5 big stars from me. Sonia gives it a perfect 5. Don't take our word for it. Wait for the spring/summer if you must, but this is a product that needs to be tasted to be believed." That sounded like something I needed to try. Immediately. So I did.

It is pretty darn good, though I didn't love it as much as other reviewers. It's amazingly smooth and creamy. The flavor reminded me strongly of those Kraft caramel cubes wrapped in plastic that I used to get by the handful at Halloween when I was a kid--with a little salt added. Speaking of which: I'm not a big fan of mixing salt in with candy and other sweets, but here the salt component is so muted that it doesn't bother me at all.

This is exactly the sort of oddball yet delicious product that I love Trader Joe's for. Yeah, I'm sure some other company somewhere makes something similar. But if for whatever reason you suddenly thought that you'd like some salted caramel gelato, and you had to guess which grocery store was most likely to have such a weird thing, you would just know that TJ's was your best bet, right? And as icing on the cake, even if you could manage to find such a thing somewhere else, it's unlikely that another store could beat the TJ's price (which in this case is $4.99).

Will I buy it again? 

Despite liking it, the answer is probably no. But that's only because it's so rich that a single scoop is about all I can manage at a time, and therefore a quart is much too much; I'll get tired of eating it long before it's gone. Now, if they came out with a pint-sized container, that could get me to buy it more often.

Nina's View

So so so so so sweet. And rich. And sweet. And really really rich.

Bob is correct, it is too much of a muchness. If they would swirl this together with a high-quality vanilla, you might have a winner.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Trader Joe's Unfiltered Cranberry

I didn't hold out much hope for this product, given what we have learned to recognize as ominous words on the label: "flavored," "juice blend," and "from concentrates."

But it turned out to be OK. It distinguishes itself primarily by the use of cranberry puree. That makes it physically thicker than most cranberry juice blends, which somehow makes it feel more substantial. Maybe it's just an illusion, but I liked it.

As with most TJ's juice blends, they tip the recipe too heavily in favor of the white grape juice that is used as a sweetener. I would prefer more cranberry, less grape; more tart, less sweet. But I can live with it as is.

I haven't served it to Nina, and I won't, because I know that with one sip she would reject it for being overly sweet.

Will I buy it again? 


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Trader Joe's Low Calorie Cranberry Juice Cocktail

Cranberry juice, all by itself, is pretty stern stuff. The tartness is more than most people like. So juice manufacturers rarely sell it straight; they make it into cran-apple, cran-grape, cran-raspberry, and other similar blends. Or, less overtly, they quietly mix in some blend of sugar or apple or grape juice as sweeteners, and sell it as "cranberry juice cocktail."

Trader Joe's here has an interesting twist on the latter formula. They've taken cranberry juice (from concentrate, reconstituted with water), and added fructose (the principal form of sugar found in most fruits) and stevia.

The result produces a somewhat unusual and unexpected mix of experiences. The cranberry flavor seems both full and natural. But it lacks almost all of the tartness usually expected with straight cranberry juice. The sweeteners have been added to a level that they dampen the tartness almost into oblivion, yet don't make the result taste flagrantly sweetened.

Part of the dampening effect is probably due to nothing more complicated than dilution. The label says that this blend is 34% juice. I don't think that means that the cranberry juice concentrate has been reconstituted with roughly 2:1 water. I think it means that nearly two-thirds of the contents is water above and beyond what was needed to reconstitute the concentrate.

I found the overall result a bit disconcerting and distracting. When I'm drinking a more typical cranberry blend, I understand that the cranberry tartness has been eradicated by either the sugar or the other fruit juices, so it makes sense. But here, it tastes like only cranberries, yet without the expected tartness AND without the obvious sugar to explain its absence. It's kind of as if you bit into a lemon, and found all the expected lemon flavor, but it was somehow magically not sour. Not unpleasant, but unfamiliar--maybe even disorienting.

I've finished off this large bottle of the stuff, and still remain kind of conflicted about it. It's nice to have cranberry juice all by itself instead of a cran-X blend, without having it sugared up to within an inch of its life. But at the same time, it felt like, I dunno, sort of cheating somehow, like something was missing--specifically the tartness. Without it, cranberry juice feels incomplete. I guess I'm an oddball in that I kind of like the put-hair-on-your-chest tartness of straight-up cranberry. If I'm going to have cranberry juice unmixed with some other fruit juice, well then, give it to me pure, raw, strong, and bold. I can handle it.

Will I buy it again? 

I'm not sure.

Nina's View

This is a perfectly good cranberry-ish juice. Bob's right, it is less tart that your typical cranberry juice cocktail. But it's also substantially less sweet and has a lower calorie load. To me, this is an acceptable trade-off. I consider this quite drinkable as is, but less useful as a mixer.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Trader Joe's Comte Cheese

This was another unplanned, nearly arbitrary cheese selection. The sign next to this said that it was the French equivalent of Gruyere, which I love, so it seemed an easy win.

And it was. I'd be happy to have this in my refrigerator anytime. However, its flavor is considerably less intense than what I remember of Gruyere.

This may be the most perfectly slicing cheese I've ever had. You can slice it as thin as the sharpness of your knife and your manual dexterity allow, and it will never crumble.

Oh, and the old copy editor in me nearly blew a fuse when I noticed the apostrophe usage on the label:

"Cow's" as a plural? Really, Trader Joe's? If you're going to do that, then why not at least be consistent, and make that bit in the center of the circle "from cow's not treated with rBST"?

Will I buy it again? 

It's ethically difficult for me to support with my purchasing power such an abomination of punctuation. But I liked the product inside the wrapper enough that I will pretend that it doesn't bother me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Trader Joe's Mini Gingerbread Men Cookies

This item is not to be confused with one of a very similar name reviewed here. This is a bakery product, not boxed. Because of that, I expected these cookies to be better than the boxed ones. They're not. They're softer, but that's their only advantage. The boxed version is more intensely gingery and has a better proportion of icing. I also think these bakery cookies are too large to be called "mini."

They're certainly not terrible. I ate them all, and my worst thought was only that they were not as good as they could and should be.

Will I buy it again? 


Trader Joe's Dried Berry Medley

I have mixed opinions about this mix. The dried cherries are excellent--sweet and flavorful. I could eat them all day. The dried whole strawberries are a novel thing to me. They're pretty good, though they seem to lose a lot of their natural sweetness in the drying process. The blueberries are a disappointment. They're little blebs of slightly bitter chewiness with little to no blueberry flavor.

Still, on several occasions I found myself eating a lot more of this than I set out to do. I kept thinking, just a little more. Then a little more. And a little more after that. It was mainly the super-yummy cherries that kept me willing to eat the so-so strawberries and the sad blueberries to get to them.

I see that Trader Joe's sells bags of dried Bing cherries. I guess I'm going to have to try that next.

Will I buy it again? 

It depends. If the dried cherries alone are as good as the ones in this bag, then I think I would always choose that over this. But maybe they're different and not as good, in which case I may well come back for more of this medley.


This wasn't supposed to publish when it did. I meant to move it out of the queue to make room for the post about the gingerbread cookies, but apparently I forgot that step in the process. I didn't even notice that two posts went up at the same time until a couple of days later. Oh well. Might as well leave it now. I just add this note in case anybody wonders why a random day had two reviews instead of the usual one.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Trader Joe's Chocolate Lava Cakes

I've had a few lava cakes in restaurants, and have loved them. I was alerted to the fact that TJ's sold their own version by this enthusiastic review at the "Eat at Joe's" blog, and eagerly bought a box on my next shopping trip.

My experience, however, was markedly different from his. They are as chocolaty as the EAJ blog promises. But I just didn't much care for them. The chocolate tasted generic, commercial, mass-produced. The whole thing reminded me of a microwaved Hostess Ding Dong with a squirt of Hershey's syrup in the middle.

I could not bring myself to use words like "delicate" or "creamy," as the box does, nor "rich and intense," as EAJ does. The words that spring to my mind are more like "adequate," "tolerable," and "disappointing." I have no cogent explanation for why I found them so much less rewarding than EAJ did.

Will I buy it again? 


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Trader Joe's Asian pears

I don't think I had ever heard of "Asian pears" before coming across this promotion in TJ's "Fearless Flyer." It uses words like "enticing," "perfect," and "flavorful."

Those are not the words I would choose. I'd go with "hard," "dry," "tasteless," and even "inedible."

I'm generally reluctant to review produce items here, because there is so much variability that no sample may be representative--and I repeat that caveat here. In fact, I'm willing to grant that the two I bought probably are not representative, because if they were, nobody would ever buy them.

I peeled and cut into the first one just a couple of days after bringing them home. It was dry as a bone--like slicing into, I dunno, a tennis ball or something. Absolutely juiceless. And hard, maybe about the firmness of a raw carrot. I can't remember now whether I spat out the first bite, or gritted my teeth and swallowed it, but the rest of the fruit went straight into Nina's composting.

OK, I thought--I just had not allowed it to ripen sufficiently. My bad.

So I let the other one sit for another ten days or so. I was checking it for ripeness every day or two, using the same criteria I have learned for other pears. But when I told Nina that it seemed to be making no progress, she informed me that they don't ripen the same way. So I decided to go at it.

It peeled easily and at least showed some leakage of moisture while being peeled--a good sign. The firmness had gone down, too, but was still kind of like an apple, rather than the usual softness of other pear varieties. Unlike the first one, I had no difficulty chewing and swallowing the first bite, but like the first one, I had no reason to take a second. It completely lacked any sweetness or any fruitiness. If you took an apple and somehow removed its sugar and all taste of apple, this is what you'd be left with. I have no desire to eat such things, so the second Asian pear got tossed, too.

Will I buy it again? 

Maybe I screwed up. Maybe I bought two bad examples. Maybe I'm too uneducated in how to determine peak ripeness and in how to prepare the fruit. So maybe it's all my fault. But my first two experiences were so terrible that I'm not tempted to repeat them, unless somebody presents me with some powerfully persuasive reason to believe that my next experience would be one helluva lot better.

Nina's View

In my opinion, Asian pears are and always have been a waste of cellulose and water. They are basically just sugar water with some texture and a vague hint of flavor. I have never understood why anyone prizes them—even in Asian cuisines where texture plays as big or bigger a part in food than flavor.

While I think these were probably sub-par samples, even the most exquisite Asian Pear holds no appeal for me. Begone, misbegotten "fruit," I will have none of you!

Saturday, November 7, 2015


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

Navigating the crowds in New York City's Trader Joe's 

10 things I love about Trader Joe's 

Best and worst pumpkin products at Trader Joe's 

Trouble at Trader Joe's 

What is it about Trader Joe's? 

The Mad Bear goes to Trader Joe's (30-second video)

Another blog dedicated to reviewing Trader Joe's products has recently emerged: Plus, I stumbled across yet another Trader Joe's review blog that publishes regularly, and has for over a year: I wonder how many more are out there that have still somehow escaped my attention.

Best tweets of the week:





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. (Note that this was posted late on October 31.)

Trader Joe's Multigrain Crackers

The first time I tried these was with TJ's muhammara. Nina was having the same, and she quickly pointed out how much sweeter the crackers were than the Pita Bite crackers, which we were just finishing up. I had not noticed that characteristic, and couldn't detect it even after she mentioned it. Perhaps it's because my palate is still a shamefully dull instrument--or perhaps it was because of the sweetness of the muhammara.

Later, however, I tried them with slices of a mildly flavored cheese, and almost immediately I could see what she meant. There was an unmistakable flavor of sweetness coming through--and it didn't mesh well with the cheese. A glance at the list of ingredients confirms the suspicion: Sugar is #3, after flour and oil.

I had hoped that these would be good general-purpose crackers. However, I think that the oddly prominent note of sweetness limits their use. Whatever you're putting on them basically has to be sufficiently strongly flavored to mask that--unless, of course, sweetness is a trait that you like in a cracker.

Will I buy it again? 

No. They have a nice texture, and are strong enough to hold whatever you want to put on them, without being tough to bite into. But crackers are not where I want to be tasting sugar.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Trader Joe's Soft 10 Grain Bread

I like many multigrain breads. They tend to be more complex and interesting than plain wheat bread.

Not this one. For reasons I can't identify, it felt and tasted completely generic, bland, and uninteresting. It was soft, as promised, though that's generally true of any bread sold as a sliced loaf. I usually don't like seeds on the outsides of crusts. They fall off messily, they litter the bottom of the toaster, they get stuck between my teeth, and they make the crusts have a concentrated taste that is different than the rest of the slice. This product was no different in that regard.

Will I buy it again? 


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Trader Joe's Quiche

This is a two-in-one post--and you didn't even have to wait for a double-coupons day to get it!

Trader Joe's actually sells three varieties of quiche in this product line. The third is spinach and mushroom, which I was quite sure I wouldn't like, so I skipped it. Nina and I each ate half of the two versions shown above.

Both of them had nice crust and nice texture throughout. Surprisingly for a TJ's freezer-to-oven product, the baking time made them come out exactly right. (Most such TJ's things require more time than the instructions specify.) The size was just right for one serving.

I had the "Mexicaine" one first. What makes it Mexican? Not much other than green chili peppers. If tasted blindfolded, I never would have identified this as even remotely Mexican. It tasted like basic quiche, with maybe a tad more spiciness than usual, and maybe more cheese. I liked it just fine, but it was nothing to write home about.

The broccoli version was less successful. It is indeed chock full of chopped broccoli. (Because of that, its calorie count is lower--460--than the Mexicaine's 500. That's what happens when you replace cheese with a vegetable, I guess.) But I quickly sensed the presence of my personal kryptonite ingredient, the dreaded onion. I started looking, and soon found a little cube of what I felt confident was, in fact, the offending matter. I checked the box, and sure enough, there it was in black and white: "dehydrated onion." Bah! Some day I will be an absolute despot, and will by royal decree rid the world of this foul, noxious plant. But I'm not quite there yet.

Will I buy it again? 

The Mexicaine yes, the broccoli/cheddar cheese/ONION no.

Nina's View

Raise your hand if you are surprised that I think Bob has this backwards.

The Broccoli one is yummy, with good clearly-identifiable flavors and pleasing textures. The Mexicaine is quite dull and one-note. I'm not buying either because: cheese.