Thursday, December 31, 2015

Trader Joe's Carrot Ginger Oat Bran Muffins

Muffins are only a tiny, rare part of my diet. I bought these purely because I noticed them sitting in the store and found the name intriguing. Who puts ginger in oat bran muffins? Trader Joe's--that's who.

The ginger is noticeable from the get-to. It adds what I'd call a brightness to the otherwise fairly bland and dull background of oats and oat bran. The carrots, however, are more to be seen than tasted, and they're in the unattractive form of long, limp shavings. They could be left out with no loss, and perhaps some improvement.

Look closely at the label and notice what a scam TJ's is pulling with the nutrition information. Four muffins in a container, but a claimed eight servings. That's right--Trader Joe's is trying to get away with claiming that a serving size is half a muffin, which is akin to Frito-Lay claiming a serving size of one Lay's potato chip. When you mentally correct for that obviously deliberate bit of deception, you find that each muffin here packs 300 calories, 70 of which come from fat. I'm assuming that's the canola oil at work, since I see no other meaningful fat source among the ingredients.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not. I liked them, but not so much that I'm suddenly going to become a regular muffin man. And those fat and calorie counts make me worry about turning muffins into a muffin top of my own.

Nina's View

Oh hells no.

Gummy. Nasty not-quite-cooked oatmeal texture. Heavy like lead.

To be completely fair, they were day-old (or more) by the time I sampled mine. But even if I extrapolate backward and subtract some sogginess and staleness, it still adds up to a big fat NOPE.

It does make me challenged to make some very yummy ginger-carrot-oatmeal muffins that don't suck. But I try to do as little baking as possible when it's 90ºF out.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Trader Joe's Pineapple Juice (canned)

Trader Joe's pineapple juice in a carton is so good that it's on my Top Ten list. This stuff looks like it should be the same, except in cans instead of a refrigerated carton. The only external hint that they are not, in fact, the same stuff packaged differently is that the carton is labeled as a product of Thailand, the cans as a product of the Philippines.

Nina and I tasted the two products side by side. (I did not mind one bit purchasing another carton of TJ's pineapple juice for this experiment.) There is definitely a difference. The one from the carton is superior in every way. It's sweeter, richer, and fresher. I thought that difference was real and fairly easily discernible, but not dramatic. Nina--well, I'll let her tell you her opinion.

A 4-can pack costs $2.99 for a total of 33.8 ounces, compared to $3.99 for a 64-ounce carton, which means that the good stuff is both better AND cheaper per ounce.

The only advantages of this form pertain to storage. The cans will keep longer, don't need refrigeration, and are obviously more convenient for dispensing small amounts at a time--e.g., to drop one in a lunch bag. The steel cans are also more readily recycled than the cartons. If these considerations are not dominant factors for you, then don't bother with the cans.

Will I buy it again? 


Nina's View


Away with you, unbright, stale, metallic, watery, bad-tasting pineapple juice. 

People, there is no contest here. None whatsoever. Do not buy these cans. Get the stuff in the carton, which is delicious, and if you need to travel with it put it in a thermos. Problem solved!

You're welcome.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Trader Joe's Caribbean Fruit Floes

I had never noticed these in the Trader Joe's before, but my local store had set up a special display of them in a freezer case on an aisle cap, so I brought a box home.

I really didn't know what to expect, since "floes" doesn't communicate much. All I knew was that they were some sort of fruit bars.

Well, here's what they are:

In form, they're just like the Fruit Frenzy Bars. But I don't like these as much. What makes the Fruit Frenzy Bars outstanding is that each of the three segments is a single, intense fruit flavor. Here, they're all blended together, so you get a general fruitiness, but it's hard to pick out specific components. A bit of strawberry here, a bit of mango there, but it's mostly a homogeneous blend.

I would probably like these more if I didn't already know how nice it was to have the fruits separated in the competing product.

Will I buy it again? 


Nina's View

I do not care for mangoes. This had mango chunks in it. Game over.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Trader Joe's "This Cranberry Flavored With Other Natural Flavors Walks Into A Bar..."

I'm torn about this product.

I liked the bars. In fact, my initial reaction was that they tasted even better than the non-seasonal varieties--blueberry and strawberry.


It was also instantly obvious that this is not what cranberries taste like--way too sweet for that. A quick look at the list of ingredients explains it. The first three components of the filling are "brown rice syrup, sugar, cane syrup." Put a bit more bluntly, that would be "sugar, sugar, and more sugar." There is absolutely no trace of what should be the natural cranberry tartness.

In case that's not enough sugar for you, move on to the ingredients in the shell, and you'll find that the list begins with "organic wheat flour, dried cane syrup, invert cane syrup." In other words, "flour, sugar, and more sugar."

The list of ingredients in the filling also helps explain that mysterious clause not found in the titles of the other similar products: "flavored with other natural flavors." After the three forms of sugar, we find apple powder, glycerin, modified food starch, water--then, finally, cranberry juice concentrate, pectin, "natural flavor," citric acid.

Each bar has 140 calories, 25 of which are from fat, 8 from protein, 52 from sugar, and 52 from other carbohydrates. (I realize that means 3 calories are missing. I assume this is from rounding errors in the nutrition information.)

So basically Trader Joe's managed to appeal to my nearly insatiable sweet tooth. I guess you can consider that a success of sorts. They do taste good. But there are no cranberries here, and precious little of anything that ever came from a cranberry. And tons of sugar.

That's not what I want from a breakfast/snack bar.

Will I buy it again? 


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Cherries

These are not the "cordial" kind of chocolate cherries, with some sweet liquid and a maraschino cherry inside. They're just partially dried sweet cherries with chocolate coating. The layer of chocolate is much, much thicker than one usually finds in chocolate-covered fruits. I didn't care for that aspect of them. I would like them better if the chocolate were just a couple of millimeters thick. The super-heavy coating meant that the dark chocolate completely dominated the flavor profile. Though I could notice the cherry texture easily, the cherry flavor was hard to find, which I found disappointing.

Will I buy it again? 

Not unless they reformulate the chocolate/cherry ratio.

Saturday, December 26, 2015


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

10 best Trader Joe's items for holiday joy 

A story of holiday kindness at Trader Joe's 

Best tweets of the week:


And finally, in lieu of a cute cat in a Trader Joe's grocery bag, here's a cute dog eating Trader Joe's yogurt:

Trader Joe's Polenta Provencale

This is delicious. It's little balls of cornmeal (with texture rather like gnocchi) in a cheesy, creamy sauce, mixed with spinach, peas, and diced tomatoes. Calling the sauce "spicy" is a stretch. It's extremely mild--but I like it as it is, and wouldn't want it to be spicier.

I think it's a little short of being so wonderful that I'd put it in my Top Ten list, but it's very good.

Will I buy it again? 

I already have, and expect to do so again many times.

Nina's View

This is yummy, with a nice blend of vegetables to go along with the polenta nuggets. It tastes like warming winter food to me, but I would eat it any time of the year. I wish the sauce were not dairy-based.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Trader Joe's Winter Wassail

Merry Christmas!

Apologies for this photo. I sat down to write this review and discovered that I had somehow missed taking a picture when the jug was unopened.

Sadly, this is yet another in the long line of juice blends from Trader Joe's that qualifies for Nina's apt descriptor, "Melted lollipops." After water, the second ingredient is sugar, and that shows in how overly sweet it is. It took Nina exactly one sip to reject it as undrinkable.

The spice blend is actually quite nice--when you get to it. The problem is that it comes in fairly large flakes, so it all quickly settles to the bottom of your mug, and you only get to taste it in the last couple of swallows, unless you keep a spoon handy and keep stirring before every sip.

The label endorses using it both cold and hot. Heated, it is definitely better--or, more accurately, it's less bad. The sweetness somehow seems less obnoxious, more muted, though that can only be a trick of perception, not reality. The issue of the dregs remains, of course.

Will I buy it again? 


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Trader Joe's Butternut Squash, Beet & Goat Cheese Ravioli

New Trader Joe's item. See the company's description of it (and a much better photo than mine) here.

I bought this package not only because it's new and I feel an obligation to report on it, but because it's attractive and intriguing. Who puts squash, beets, and goat cheese into ravioli???

The flavors of the first two components are surprisingly subdued, to the point that I found it hard to taste anything except the pasta shell and the cheese, unless I really concentrated. But that worked for me, since I like cheese a lot more than I like either squash or beets. Physically, they held together pretty well, with only one piece splitting open in the pot of boiling water.

We had them with just butter. The package recommends olive oil. A traditional pasta sauce would probably extinguish any chance of tasting the individual ingredients.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. I probably wouldn't just for myself, but Nina liked them, so I think they'll make a nice occasional part of dinner when I cook for her.

Nina's View

I think this was a really canny bit of recipe-jiggering. The sweetness of the butternut squash is perfectly balanced by the earthiness of the beets, and the cheese makes a nice third note. No fireworks in the mouth, but definitely in the comfort-food realm. The aesthetics of the ravioli are quite lovely.

A nice brown-butter or sage butter or herbed butter or lemon butter sauce would be best here—something savory to contrast with the little bit of sweetness.

Another interesting twist would be to try deep-frying them. They might make really tasty appetizers that way.

Recommended. Of course I'm not buying for myself because: cheese. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Trader Joe's Chocolate Marbles

If you're still undecided on a Christmas gift for a chocolate lover, consider a box of Trader Joe's Chocolate Marbles. They're attractively packaged, expensive on a per-piece basis ($4.99, or about 42 cents each), and delicious. Nina pointed out that both are from France and that they look suspiciously like TJ's Magic Beans, so we're thinking they're from the same manufacturer.

You get two each of six different flavors: almond, hazelnut, chocolate mousse, coconut, caramel, and crispy cookie. I liked the last four approximately equally, with the mousse and caramel being standouts; the two nutty ones not as much.

One minor complaint is that they're hard to get out of the container, because they're held so snugly in place. Nina discovered the trick: push on the tray from underneath.

Will I buy it again? 

Close call--but probably not. Not because I didn't like them, but because there are other chocolates I like even better, and these are kind of pricey. But I'd be delighted to receive another box as a gift.

Nina's View

Agreed: these would make an excellent "hostess gift." I like them a lot. For me, the standout was the almond praline, although it doesn't taste all that much of almond. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Cremes

Nothing wrong with these puppies. Dark chocolate outside. Soft, minty, gooey inside. Crushed candy cane bits stuck to the top.

But the truth is, it's hard to mix chocolate and peppermint and not end up with something pretty good. You could surely find 8 billion other such concoctions. Yes, I'll eat all of these and be happy doing so, but I find nothing about them that sets them apart from any other chocolate/mint candy I've ever had.

Will I buy it again? 


Monday, December 21, 2015

Trader Joe's Spicy Salami Spread With Tomato Paste & Spices--Nduja

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

What you see is what you get: a meaty, spicy, tomato-y spread. Though such a thing seems like it couldn't possibly exist, this is actually spreadable salami.

I liked it even more than I thought I would. In fact, I loved it. I put it on crackers, and ate and ate and ate. Delicious. I had nearly half of the container before I stopped myself, but I was left wanting more.

It's so good, in fact, that I would put it on my Top Ten list, if not for one thing. And if you've been a regular reader, you can probably guess what that one thing is: my slow but sure long-term movement away from eating meat, especially beef and pork. I enjoyed this stuff tremendously, but I could be every bit as happy using Soy Chorizo in its place, or any of the three spicy varieties of the superb, locally made Roots brand hummus (hot chipotle, mango sriracha, or Thai coconut curry). And those things I can do without guilt while reading Charlotte's Web, or watching "Babe," or looking at YouTube videos of cute pigs.

Will I buy it again? 

No, because pigs.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Trader Joe's 100% Blueberry Juice

For once, Trader Joe's seems not to be misleading buyers with a juice label. This really is what it claims to be: blueberry juice, full stop. Yes, it's reconstituted from concentrate, but that's forgivable, as it is the only way it's possible for bottled juice to be (1) available all year, and (2) affordable.

In contrast to so many previous juice purchases from TJ's, this one tastes like the real stuff. It's clearly not sweetened, and blueberries are not the naturally sweetest of fruits, so this doesn't taste like blue Kool-Aid. (That's a good thing, you know.)

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. It's a relief to find a rare gem like this hidden among the costume jewelry that is most of the TJ's juice aisle.

Saturday, December 19, 2015


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

9 best holiday gifts from Trader Joe's 

Trader Joe's announces recall of all lots of Triple Ginger Brew 

Let's Talk TJ's podcast #14 

17 tips to save time and money at Trader Joe's 

Trader Joe's exploding ginger beer bottles explained (maybe) 

Best tweets of the week:



And finally, here's this week's cute cat dog in on a Trader Joe's (insulated) grocery bag:

Trader Joe's Butterscotch Shortbread Wreath Cookies

This review is getting expedited publication, because it feels urgent to advise you to--as the saying has it--run, don't walk, to your nearest Trader Joe's and plunk down the steep but oh-so-worth-it $5.99 for a tall box of these cookies, brought to you from Scotland.

I had anticipated ordinary shortbread cookies with something akin to Nestle's butterscotch chips in them. I was wrong. They're much, much better than ordinary, and worlds away from anything that has ever borne the Nestle's label. If somebody served these to me at a holiday party and told me they had made them at home, I would believe it. Nothing about them says "factory." They taste of unusual quality in every bite, every crumb. Rich, buttery, bursting with flavor, delicious--even decadent.

I seriously want you all to go buy some, so that the bean counters at TJ's headquarters decide that these are worth the shelf space to bring back year after year. I don't put many seasonally restricted items on my Top Ten list, but these have made the cut. They're that good.

Will I buy it again? 

As often as my cardiologist will let me.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Trader Joe's Just Beets With A Splash Of Lemon

New product. Not exactly traditional TJ's December roll-out material, is it?

It's beet juice. It's tolerable, but nothing that I want to subject myself to again.

I thought that the "subtle earthiness" on the label was a warning that it would taste like dirt--just like the rather vile Root Juice. Nope, it didn't. So it's got that going for it, which is nice. But I still don't like it.

Will I buy it again? 


Nina's View

This is one of those things that, on first tasting, seems entirely skippable. Until you take another sip, and then another. I find that there's something subtly addictive and appealing about beet juice.

I say, give it a chance. You might find that you like it.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Trader Joe's Hand Stretched Rosemary Breadsticks

These breadsticks have a really nice texture--crunchy on the outside, light and delicate on the inside, with a wee bit of oiliness. I also like how varied they are in length, and in caliber along the length. I'm prepared to believe that they really are hand-made.

The flavor, though, is a little off. The rosemary is subdued. With my first one, I thought it tasted somewhat stale. As I had more on subsequent days, however, I didn't notice this--or maybe I just got used to it.

I thought heating them a little in the microwave might improve the taste, but it didn't.

Will I buy it again? 

In the end, I find myself sort of liking them, but not enough for a second go-round.

Nina's View

Texture: nice.

Flavor: did not like. Oily, stale, faint rosemary.

Ick. So promising, so failing.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Trader Joe's Chocolate Liqueur Cherries

This is just one of many, many sweets that Trader Joe's has on sale primarily intended as Christmas gifts. There are way more than I'll ever be able to review.

These are like other chocolate-covered cherries, except that the thickened liquid between the chocolate and the cherry is liqueur. The description of the manufacturing process on the box is a little hard to follow, but if I understood it correctly, the liqueur is somehow a byproduct of the cherries themselves.

I love chocolate-covered cherries, but these didn't do much for me. As with the Brandy Beans last year, I apparently have to be viscerally reminded once in a while that I really detest the taste of ethanol. (Slow learner.) That's the first flavor that hits me upon biting into one of these, and I just want it to be sweetness, not booziness.

However, mine is a distinctly minority view. I took the box to my weekly home poker game Monday. Five people tried them, and they were a hit all around. So there's that.

Will I buy it again? 


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Trader Joe's Virtuoso Lip Balm

I've been using this for a few months now. I'm not thrilled with it. My whole adult life I've used one particular ChapStick product. It's one that they have now discontinued, so when my current supply runs out, I'll have to find a replacement. But it will be a while; I stocked up on them. Anyway, this TJ's product will not become my new standard lip balm. The physical aspects of it are fine, but I don't like the spearmint flavor. I find it mildly irritating, and the scent that emanates from it for the first few minutes it's on is not pleasant. Purely subjective impressions, obviously. Your mileage may vary.

Incidentally, this is the only product I've seen from TJ's that is labeled "Trader Johann's." Are there others?

Will I buy it again? 


Nina's View

50% Organic?

How is *that* supposed to be meaningful or special? It could be half plutonium and half mint and it would be 50% organic. Fifty percent organic is exactly useless in determining whether a product is healthy or effective. This is marketing BS run amok. 

Meaningless crap like this makes me despair of the human race. And by crap like this I mean the US Senate voting today on whether or not human beings are contributing to climate change—as if a VOTE was going to determine the truth of the matter.


(I agree with Bob about the lip balm. Too minty. But it does soothe.)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Trader Joe's Cauliflower Gratin

This is another in the line of ready-made side dishes that Trader Joe's rolls out for the holidays.

I can't recommend it. It's entirely edible, but disappointingly bland--apparently the latest victim of the Trader Joe's Blandification Committee. By some perverse bit of modern food science, they have manage to make both the cauliflower and the cheese sauce virtually tasteless. I would seriously prefer to eat just good cauliflower--plain--cooked for two minutes in the microwave oven.

Will I buy it again? 


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Special report: Milanos versus Crispy Cookies--the jury verdict

Editor's note: You may have heard last week that Pepperidge Farm is suing Trader Joe's for trademark infringement. See here and here for details. 

Using our exclusive time machine, we here at Exploring Trader Joe's have traveled to the future to obtain a copy of the verdict form from the ensuing trial, with questions written by the judge and answered by the jury. We present it here in the public interest. 

Does the defendant's product name duplicate that of the plaintiff's product? 

No. They are not even both called "cookies." The only word in common is chocolate. We find that the word chocolate is not covered by the plaintiff's trademark.

Does the defendant's packaging duplicate that of the plaintiff's product? 

No. They are both sold in bags. So what? The bags are not made of the same material, and are only approximately of the same size. No reasonable consumer could mistake one for the other.

Is the defendant's use of a photograph of a fluted paper cup on its product's packaging meant to suggest "Pepperidge Farm cookies" to the average consumer? 

Yes, without question. We base this conclusion on (1) the fact that the Trader Joe's cookies are not even packaged with such a paper cup, so there can be no other purpose to showing one on the package, and (2) everybody knows that Pepperidge Farm's Milanos and other cookies are so packaged. Therefore, the Trader Joe's photograph, labeled as a "serving suggestion," means that Trader Joe's is telling its customers, in effect, "Buy our cookies. Then buy some Milanos. Throw away the Milanos, put the Crispy Cookies in the Milanos paper cup, and serve them that way."

Do the defendant's cookies physically resemble those made the plaintiff? 

No--or, more precisely, only in the broadest possible terms. They are both pale-colored cookies, longer in one dimension than the other, sandwiching a layer of chocolate. But that's about it. The plaintiff's claim that the defendant's product is "mimicking an overall oval shape" is absolutely refuted by the photographic evidence submitted by the defendant:

We the jury respectfully suggest that counsel for the plaintiff review a grade-school math textbook and re-acquaint themselves with the definitions of "oval" and "rectangle."

As the picture shows, the two products are also distinguished by differences in color, with the Milano being both more uniform and more yellow, while the Crispy Cookie is closer to white, with distinctly browned edges.

Furthermore, we note that even in profile the two products are readily distinguishable, as shown by the photograph we ourselves took during jury deliberations:

The chocolate layer in the defendant's product is so much thicker that anybody could tell them apart at a glance, from any angle of viewing.

Does the defendant's product duplicate the taste and texture of the plaintiff's product? 

Again, only vaguely. The Milano is more of a traditional shortbread, more floury than sweet, while the opposite is true of the Crispy Cookie. The latter is crunchy; the former more powdery and delicate. But what most readily separates them is the prominence of the chocolate. In the Trader Joe's cookie, it is thicker, richer, creamier, and generally more pronounced than in the Pepperidge Farm cookie. In other words, the chocolate is the selling point for TJ's; the cookie is the selling point for the PF.

We note, incidentally, that exactly one-half of the jurors expressed an overall preference for the defendant's product, and one-half for the plaintiff's. The difference split cleanly between those with a stronger versus weaker general liking for chocolate and sweetness, which are both more prominent in the Trader Joe's product. We conclude that this variety in preference proves that the two products are indeed substantially different, despite some superficial similarities.

With the indulgence of the court, the half of the jury that prefers the Trader Joe's product would like to put into the record a small gloat, by noting that the TJ's product is only $2.79 for 7.5 ounces of cookies, while the Pepperidge Farm product is $3.69 (according to the evidence presented at trial) for a measly 6 ounces of cookies. This half of the jury adds, respectfully, neener neener neener.

Did the defendant intentionally attempt to imitate the plaintiff's product? 

No, not as that question is worded. We believe that the defendant did, in fact, note the commercial success of the plaintiff's product, and set about to come up with one that would be comparable, but not identical; one that would appeal to consumers who had already found that they liked Milanos. However, in creating its cookie, Trader Joe's introduced sufficient elements of distinction in the name, packaging, appearance, texture, and taste to make it a substantially different product overall. No reasonable consumer could mistake one for the other, after having been exposed to both.

What is your final verdict? 

We unanimously find for the defendant.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


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

An investigation into who makes 11 Trader Joe's products

The 30 best new Trader Joe's products of 2015 

Why Trader Joe's needs to stop being so secretive 

5 vegan Trader Joe's items you can only buy during the holidays 

Legal scholar says Pepperidge Farm unlikely to success in suit against Trader Joe's 

Comparison of Pepperidge Farm Milanos and Trader Joe's Crispy Cookies 

For just $250, throw a Trader Joe's holiday party for 20 people 

The Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Stars song:

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:

Trader Joe's Southwestern Style Chicken Poppers

I saw reviews of this peculiar item on both of the other Trader Joe's blogs that I regularly read (see here and here), and decided they were worth a try. I made two lunches out of them, having six at a time.

Liked but did not love.

I thought they held together surprisingly well, given that the outer coating is just tortilla crumbs of three different colors. I used a fork. I found them to be two-bite propositions, not one-biters. They did not fall apart eaten this way. However, some of that may be due to the fact that I baked them longer than recommended. I have had such consistent problems with TJ's freezer-to-oven directions resulting in cold, underdone foods that I now routinely add five minutes to the longest recommended oven time. That habit may be why I got crunchier, more substantial outermost layers than others have reported.

The taste is fine, but not to die for. Sort of generically southwestern/Tex-Mex. I could not separately taste the main ingredients--chicken, jack cheese, beans, spinach, and corn. It was just a flavor mish-mash.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not. The reason here has as much to do with my particular life situation as with the product per se. As I've mentioned frequently, I'm slowly moving to less and less meat in my diet--especially beef and pork, but also poultry. I'm not at a point of swearing off eating animals entirely. But I am at a point where I feel that each such choice should be a deliberate, conscious one, not just a habitual matter of "this is what I've always eaten." And that, in turn, means that when I decide to indulge, it at least ought to be for something I really, really enjoy. These chicken poppers do not pass that test.

Trader Joe's makes a decent chicken substitute, in both strip and nugget form. In these poppers, the chicken flavor is already so overpowered by the jalapeno peppers and other constituents that I can't clearly identify it--so why not replace it with the plant-based version? I probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference, and I'm guessing the same would be true for many others.

If TJ's did that, my answer would change from no to yes. I liked them enough to have them again if I didn't have to have a conversation with my conscience in the process.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Trader Joe's Les Salades du Midi: Champs Elysees

I've had this several times. I think the best way to describe it is that it's TJ's most basic, generic bagged salad--assuming you want something other than just lettuce. There's nothing interesting about it, but it's unlikely to contain anything that anybody in your family won't like. It's what I pick when I want something well-known and unadventurous.

There's a problem with this and other TJ's bagged salads: Sometimes they look fine in the store, but they're apparently on their last legs of freshness, and by the next day the contents are wilting and sad-looking. This happens even when I'm careful to look through the offerings and pick only the best-looking ones with the latest sell-by date on the package. This happens maybe one out of three or four times. My impression is that it happens somewhat more with TJ's than with similar products from other grocers, but I certainly can't claim to have tracked the phenomenon closely enough to have any good evidence for that impression. See here for the experience I had with TJ's "Organic Herb Salad Mix."

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. It's boring but predictable (with the caveat explained above).

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Trader Joe's Trader Potato Tots

A recurring problem with Trader Joe's frozen foods, afflicting most though not all of them, is that the baking directions meaningfully underestimate the cooking time actually required for optimal preparation. When faced with a new freezer-to-oven TJ's product, I now routinely add five minutes of bake time, and even that often proves to be insufficient.

That was the case with these tater tots. The instructions call for 20 minutes at 400 degrees, turning once halfway through. I did that, but added five minutes to the second half. And it wasn't enough. They were still barely cooked inside. So they went back in for another five minutes, and that STILL wasn't enough. They were hot and edible then, but basically mushy inside and out. The chief joy of tater tots is in the texture--specifically, getting a crispy outer layer, with a firm but yielding inside. These completely failed in that regard.

Lest you think that my troubles are due to an oven with a faulty thermostat or unusually long warm-up time, let me assure you that (1) I keep an oven thermometer hanging from the top rack of the oven, and it always closely matches the setting I've dialed in, and (2) I always check to be sure the oven is fully to temperature before putting the food in and starting the timer.

Nina suggested that the next time I should try making the last ten minutes at 450 degrees instead of 400. I decided to do even more than that: 10 minutes at 400, then 15 minutes at 450. The result? Perfection! The Trader Joe's tots suddenly went from being boring, lifeless disappointments to as good as any tots I've ever had. They were so good that I didn't even stop to think to squirt some ketchup on my plate for dipping, which is how I usually eat them. I was snarfing through them too fast to stop for any such amenities.

Will I buy them again? 

Yes indeed. I WANT MORE TRADER JOE'S TATER TOTS--but only if they are heated according to the secret formula described above. Otherwise, I don't want them.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Trader Joe's Organic Peas

Perfectly acceptable, meaning they were exactly what I have come to expect frozen peas to be. I'm not sure there's a lot of difference among brands. These are as good as any others.

But do we really need to import peas from Austria?

Will I buy it again? 


Update, May 11, 2016: 

I have bought many bags since. Today I noticed that they now say "Imported from Denmark." So now my question is, Do we really need to import peas from Denmark?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Trader Joe's Sipping Chocolate

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

Don't let the extravagant claims on the box fool you. This is just powdered hot chocolate mix. The thing that sets it apart is directions for use that make it much, much more concentrated than standard hot chocolate. But the result is so intense that it's almost undrinkable. If you instead follow the alternative directions for just "hot chocolate," you get good but not extraordinary hot chocolate. 

We also tried making it using soy milk. That was OK, but not creamy enough to be really enjoyable. 

Will I buy it again? 

I don't think so. It's not special enough to warrant being recommended over many other similar products. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Trader Joe's Garlic & Butter Mashed Potatoes

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

I like mashed potatoes, but I don't like cooking and mashing them. So I've long been one of those lazy Neanderthals who use instant. These are pretty much like every other, except for having a mild garlic component added. Since I'm not a fan of garlic, I'll never again choose these over Hungry Jack, Ore-Ida, or some similar product. However, I do like the pouches inside the box for making less than the whole amount; saving the rest of the ones that are just flakes inside a box is a pain. I wish the brands I usually purchase would adopt this practice.

Will I buy it again?


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Trader Joe's Cornbread Mix

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

I very much liked Trader Joe's Pumpkin Cornbread Mix, and since this is basically the same, sans pumpkin, I anticipated liking it, too. And I did.

I overcooked it a bit. The other two things that needed time in the oven for our Thanksgiving dinner both required 400 degrees. This specified 350. But I don't have two ovens, and time constraints precluded doing them sequentially. So I baked the cornbread at 400, with the other items, guessing at how much I should shorten the time to compensate. It wasn't perfect.

I liked the result anyway. Great flavor, good texture (a little dry, though I'm blaming myself for that). And super-easy to make.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. I get a hankering for cornbread only once or twice a year, but when the urge hits, this will be my first choice for a mix.

Nina's View

I'm always skeptical of mixes. Cornbread is one of the things that are actually pretty easy to make from scratch, and so I cast an extra-dubious eye on this product.

I found the flavor of this cornbread rather flat and uninteresting. It had no fresh sweetness to it, no depth of corniness. Perhaps if it had not been quite so dry I would have liked it better, but I'm guessing probably not. 

Imma pass on this one in future.

Saturday, December 5, 2015


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

A story of kindness at Trader Joe's

Vote for your favorite Trader Joe's products 

Silver Lake Trader Joe's parking lot attendant injured in bicycle accident 

Federal judge dismisses lawsuit claim over Trader Joe's "soymilk" label

Pepperidge Farms sues Trader Joe's for trademark infringement 

"Let's Talk TJ's" podcast 

How Trader Joe's sells affordable goods 

Best tweets of the week:




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

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Ice Cream Super Premium

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

This is pretty good ice cream, though little about it suggests "pumpkin" to me. "Pumpkin spice," sure, but not "pumpkin." That is, the nutmeg/cinnamon/clove combination comes through much more strongly than actual pumpkin. However, as soon as I set aside my pre-formed ideas of what pumpkin ice cream would taste like, I found that I could enjoy it. It's soft, rich, creamy, and quite tasty. We had it on the side of slices of apple pie, and that turned out to be an excellent pairing of flavor profiles.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not. It's enjoyable, but nowhere near the top of my range of preferred ice cream flavors. There's also a volume problem; Nina visits me for dinner once a week, but eating most of any ice cream I buy will still fall to me alone, and a quart seems like a lot to get through (and a lot of premium butterfat clogging my arteries). I prefer pint-sized cartons.

Nina's View

Meh. Pumpkin spice, with a vague back-of-the-tongue hint of pumpkin. It went well with the apple pie, but I can imagine no other reason to seek this out.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Trader Joe's Fire Roasted Vegetables With Balsamic Butter Sauce

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

This was the biggest fail of my Thanksgiving meal.

First fail: I picked it without adequate scrutiny of its contents. A glance at the picture on the front made me think it was mostly carrots and green beans and potatoes. It's actually mostly peppers and mushrooms, both of which I'll put up with but don't really like. It also contains a lot of pearl onions, and I think by now we all know how I feel about onions.

Second fail: I was trying to assemble a meal entirely of Trader Joe's products that neither Nina nor I had had before. But it turns out she had had this on her own previously--without telling me. She's sneaky like that. She seems to think that just because she's an adult and has her own house and income, she can buy and eat groceries all by herself without providing her boyfriend with an itemized list of what she's getting. Have all women become this uppity???

Third fail: I cooked them on the stove with the full recommended amount of oil, without stopping to think that that amount is for preparing the entire bag, while I was cooking only about one-third of the bag. The result was way, way too much oil, which I then had to strain off. Even after doing so, the veggies were left too oily.

Fourth fail: I just didn't like the taste of even the few components that I normally like. Caveat: I think the accumulation of the previous fails seriously predisposed me to a dim view of the product, so that I didn't give it a fair trial.

Bottom line: Ick.

Will I buy it again? 


Nina's View

Clearly I am utter failure as a girlfriend. It's true that I did not mention I'd had these vegetables before. I have and I like them. My beloved's summation notwithstanding, they are not ick. They are yum.

They're at their best when served over something that can soak up the rather nice balsamic sauce. I enjoyed the flavor they added to the rather undistinguished mashed potatoes [review forthcoming]. Rice would also suit nicely. Or a thick slab of some nice artisanal bread.

It must be noted that Bob was SO sure he wouldn't like this that he prepared a minuscule quantity of this stuff, of which I ate by far the majority. I think if he were served many such items blindfolded, without the opportunity to be prejudiced in advance by the identification of things he knows he doesn't like, he would actually enjoy this mix.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Trader Joe's Apple Pie

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

I had serious misgivings about buying this, given our unpleasant experience with the Trader Joe's cherry pie. But Thanksgiving dinner isn't complete without pie, so an all-Trader Joe's Thanksgiving means a Trader Joe's pie.

Fortunately, this is nothing like the cherry pie. (Except, y'know, that they're both pies.) As the most noticeable difference, look at how thick it is in that second photo above! I've never seen so much apple crammed into a pie before--either commercial or homemade.

Second, it tastes good. Now, that requires a little caveat; it depends entirely on expectations. Had I made this myself, I'd be proud just for not having screwed it up in some major way. If my mother had made it, I'd say she was off her game. If it had come from a small, neighborhood bakery, where everything is made by hand, I'd be disappointed and pick a different source for my next one. But for a mass-produced commercial product, it's surprisingly good.

Will I buy it again? 

Probably not--even though it's about as good as you can expect from such a product. But I have two fine bakeries within a mile of my house, so when I want a really nice pie, that's where I'm going to turn instead of any grocery-store item. Put another way, this was a reasonably successful experiment, but I don't think it's the way one should buy pies.

Nina's View

I pretty much concur with Bob's assessment. This item would, however, be greatly improved by ten minutes in a nice hot oven. That would relieve the crust of its pasty, flabby quality and put a little bit of a tan on it and impart some flakiness.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Trader Joe's Cranberry Sauce

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

I had planned to buy either Trader Joe's fresh cranberry sauce or their cranberry-orange relish--both refrigerated products--as I have seen both of them praised by their fans many times. But when I got to the store Wednesday morning, the day before Thanksgiving, they were sold out of both! ARGH! The all-Trader-Joe's meal plan was in jeopardy! But a helpful employee apologized for the situation, and helpfully suggested that I try this instead, which he referred to as their "shelf-stabilized" cranberry sauce. I took it.

There's nothing in it except cranberries, sugar, water, and pectin--which led me to expect it to be like the famous canned cranberry sauce that comes out in a solid, gelatinous whole, with the indentations of the can still molded into it. Now, there's nothing wrong with that stuff; both Nina and I are among the millions who like it. But it's more like cranberry Jello than anything substantial, like, y'know, actual food.

This, surprisingly, was not like that. It has real cranberries in it, which makes a big difference in both taste and texture. You spoon it rather than slice it. It's an excellent accompaniment to the turkey-less roast we had.

Will I buy it again? 

Eventually, sure. But I buy cranberry sauce only about once a year, and I'm determined to try TJ's more-famous fresh products, so it will probably be a good long while before I revisit this one.

Nina's View

I LIKE cranberry sauce—jelly, really—out of the can (Ocean Spray FTW). It is the One True Accompaniment to a Thanksgiving meal.

This stuff has a nice flavor, but I don't enjoy the deflated tough cranberry skins in the mix. I've never liked those. Ever. This product did not change my mind on that question.

I am willing to try the various fresh relishes because those have a completely different texture and raison d'etre. I will not return to this cranberry sauce.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Trader Joe's Sparkling Apple Cider

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

I usually have one or two bottles of a sparkling juice (apple or grape) per year. I most often have purchased either Martinelli's or Welch's. I wasn't even aware that Trader Joe's carried such a product until about two weeks ago when my daily Google News alert about TJ's brought me this Washington Post comparison test. The TJ's product scored second highest, and was the cheapest of the lot. Naturally, it immediately took a place on my Thanksgiving dinner menu.

Without comparing them side by side, I can't be sure whether it's a little better or a little worse than the two brands I usually buy. But it's close enough that I didn't care. Any of them will do, I think, as a non-alcoholic, festive-feeling substitute for champagne. Nina and I polished off the bottle in one sitting.

Will I buy it again? 

Yes. Maybe for New Year's, I'll get the other two and try them all together. Or maybe instead I'll try the other sparkling juices in the TJ's line (pomegranate, cranberry) that I noticed while looking for this one.

Nina's View

Bubbly apple juice. Perfectly acceptable, entirely unremarkable. On the other hand, I separately bought and drank this stuff: Henry Hotspur's Hard Pressed for Cider. It is delicious and just a wee bit alcoholic.