Trader Jose’s (Trader Joe’s) Avocado’s Number Guacamole

Trader Joe's (Trader Jose's) Avacado's Number Guacamole

Let’s party indeed.

I’ve heaped some pretty high praise on the names of a few Trader Joe’s products before – but as of this moment those items are dead to me. There’s only room in my heart for one truly amazingly named product and the throne now belongs to Trader Jose’s Avocado’s Number Guacamole. Truly, I can’t imagine it will ever be deposed.

Avacado’s Number Guacamole is awesome for many reasons.

  • One, it’s guacamole and guacamole is amazing.
  • Two, the name is a play on the esoteric mathematical measurement “Avagadro’s Number”, better known to most as the number of atoms in one gram-molecule of hydrogen and commonly jotted down by housewives, accountants, etc as 6.0221413e+23 .
  • Three, this guacamole has five avocados in it. That’s a lot of avocados!
  • Fourth and finally (and best) there is a picture of good ol’ bug-eyed, limp-haired, shyster-looking Amedeo Avagadro himself making the dry proclamation: “Let’s party. ‘Arriba.’ ”

Simply, wow.

Before we get to the guacamole itself, which is quite tasty, we’ve got to spend a few minutes just looking at what the hell is going on here. First, lets just try and wrap our brains around the international gumbo we’re knee deep in here. The guacamole is a Trader Jose’s product, being a traditionally Mexican food of course, featuring the picture of, and named after, an Italian who doesn’t actually have anything to do with Avagadro’s number other than the fact that a Frenchman decided to name his discovery after him in 1909. So that’s one thing.

Yes, despite the slick looks of Mr. Avagadro, he’s only loosely connected with Avagadro’s number. The number in question, the above mentioned 60221413e+23, is one of the cornerstones of modern chemistry and physics – the number of atoms in a conventional unit of measurement called the mole.

The mole, and by extension the number, is essentially a way for us to talk about infinitesimally small and rather fidgety atoms on a reasonable and realistic scale. In 1909 a future noble prize winner and current Frenchman named Jean Baptiste Perrin coined the term to describe his work, naming it in honor of the Italian Amedeo Avagadro. Our man Avagadro lived and died back in the 19th century and amused himself by calculating the volume of gasses, thereby laying the groundwork that lead up to Perrin’s discovery, but had nothing to do with the number that bears his name per se.

Two things bother me about his gucamole. First, it only has five avocados in it which, while pretty good for guacamole, is certainly less than the 602,214,130,000,000,000,000,000 avocados (AKA six hundred and two sextillion, two hundred and fourteen quintillion, one hundred and thirty quadrillion) that the name suggests will be in it. I’m willing to let this slide in this case, seeing as that making the name more truthful would require each man, woman and child on Earth to pick a few trillion avocados first, and that’s just too long to wait for guac.

Really, this guacamole is pretty good. It comes in two separate 8 oz tubs, each one individual sealed. In order to cram in as many avocados as they did, Trader Joe’s has left in the occasional big, uncut chunk. When I say big, I mean big – think potato-chip sized. This really isn’t that bad of a thing – I found that it gives you something to break up the monotony of the otherwise featureless smooth greenness, something to really shake you up and make you confront the reality of your dip.

On the other hand, I did find Trader Joe’s Avacado’s Number Guacamole a bit on the salty side. This wouldn’t present a problem if you were eating it with unsalted chips, but when combined with salted tortilla chips its just a little too salty to really enjoy.

The other thing that bothers me about this guacamole is that Trader Joe’s was willing to go out there for the whole “Avocado’s Number” thing, but just left “mole” and “guacamole” sitting on the table. This is your once chance to ever make a “mole” related guacamole pun, and you missed it TJ! All you had to do was put a hyphen in “guaca-mole” up in the title and say something like

“Don’t ask us how many avocados are in this guaca-mole, ask our friend Amedeo.” Really, really disappointing work there Joe, but otherwise fine.

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, especially to physicists who like word play.

Would I Buy It Again: Yes, but I’d use unsalted chips next time.

Final Synopsis: A good guac with an excellent name.

Trader Joe's (Trader Jose's) Avacado's Number Guacamole - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s (Trader Jose’s) Avacado’s Number Guacamole – Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Cobb Salad

Trader Joe's Cobb Salad

A salad named for some guy named Cobb.

I love salad, but so often it mystifies me. For instance, why do salads always cost more than the surf ‘n turf at restaurants, and why has no fast food chain been able to create a salad that tastes better than a pile of anemic grass clipping with woody chicken strips on top? But of all the salad imponderables, I’m most perplexed by the salads that manage to pack in more fat and carbs than the grossest monstrosities ever to shamble out of Wendy’s R&D department.

Now, Trader Joe’s Cobb Salad isn’t the worst offender on the block (that honor belongs to the 800 calorie candied pecan and blue cheese salad) but it’s still a serious fat delivery system.

Now, yes, before we get going, I am fully aware this is a cobb salad we’re talking about – never high on anyone’s list of healthy noshes. Nevertheless, this is one deceptively hefty salad we’re talking about.

Trader Joe’s bring you by-the-book cobb salad with no real surprises here. Grilled chicken breast, bacon crumbles, ripe blue cheese, some tomatoes, and of course, a sliced hard boiled egg, served with a side of hearty ranch dressing.

What, no olives and anchovies? No sir, I’m afraid not. Perhaps Joe was afraid of turning off the 98% of the population that can’t stand the two of those things together. The salad attempts to compensate for this by bringing in a second cheese in the form of some musky gorgonzola. At any rate, with a run down like that you’re going to expect a certain amount of fat, etc. And, in fact, in some ways this salad isn’t that bad. Only 380 calories, with dressing, and a quite satisfactory 10 grams of carbs.

Just below the surface, however, lurks some shocking stats – 250 calories out of 380 are from fat – that’s 28 grams AKA 43% your daily recommended amount. Combine that with the 47% of your daily cholesterol limits, and you might start to think twice.

Normally, salads that suffer from such unhealthy nutritional profiles are under the sway of a fatty dressing. That’s true here – to some extent. The ranch kicks in 12 grams of fat, but even without it you’re still talking about 42% of your cholesterol.

None of that would be so bad, if only the dressing was better than it is. A far as ranch dressings go, this is actually a really nice version. This clearly isn’t something taken from another brand’s mass produced bottles. The ranch in this salad feels downright rustic – smooth and creamy, sure, but swimming with full-bodied herbs that season the ranch and give it some real character. It practically feels home made.

That said, it doesn’t really work in this salad. This ranch is too mild for such a robust salad as this. It’s a gentle butter milk ranch that disappears into the background of each bite, and while there’s much to be appreciated in subtlety, it leaves you wondering why you’re pouring 12 grams of fat into your arteries if you can’t even taste it.

Just like the Artichoke and Hearts of Palm salad from the other day, I’d recommend a dressing substitution. Chuck that tub of ranch (or save it for a future occasion) and drizzle on a little of Trader Joe’s Light Champagne Vinaigrette. Not only is it much, much healthier, and tastier but the creamy zing of the vinaigrette really plays well against the savory and salty flavors of the bacon, eggs, and cheese.

With the dressing switched out, this cobb salad does better – but it didn’t wow me. It’s not bad – just very average. The tomatoes taste like tomatoes, the lettuce tastes like lettuce, and everything else just sort of tastes pretty okay. Like Trader Joe’s Cowboy Bark, I feel if you’re going to sit down and eat 28 grams of fat, you should enjoy the hell out of it. Trader Joe’s has some great salads and some healthy salads – this one is neither.

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: It’s not bad, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Would I Buy It Again: Not if I want to lose any weight.

Final Synopsis: A standard cobb salad without anything to recommend it by.

Trader Joe's Cobb Salad -Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Cobb Salad -Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Uncured Black Forest Bacon

Trader Joe's Uncured Black Forest Bacon

Despite repeated phone calls, TJ’s is staying quite on how the bacon is cured, what’s in the dry rub, and whether the pigs are actually from the Black Forest. That raises more questions than it answers, Joe.

Bacon week continues with Trader Joe’s Uncured Black Forest Bacon!

This has been a banner week for me. The transition from a baconless existence to a world of delicious bacon has left me unnaturally giddy and elated. Not just one, but two different kinds of suberp, praise-worthy bacon have glorified my breakfast this week. Trader Joe’s Uncured Apple Smoked Bacon we already covered, and by gum if you don’t have some of this in your pantry already then I don’t know what you’re doing with your life. Today we take a look at Trader Joe’s other delicious bacon – Black Forest Bacon.

Is the Black Forest bacon delicious? Absolutely – it’s a nice thick cut of fatty, smoky, slightly sweet bacon that is almost too good for this earth. Is it better than the Apple Smoked Bacon? That’s a trickier question. Where the applewood smoked bacon comes out the gate strong with plenty of razzle dazzle, Trader Joe’s Uncured Black Forest Bacon offers a more sophisticated and nuanced bacon choice. 

Tastewise, these bacons are playing quite different games. The apple smoked bacon has set out to dominate the world of smokey, strongly seasoned bacon and it has done exactly that. In a side by side taste test, I’d have to choose the the apple smoked bacon, no question. But real life isn’t a taste test. When it comes to a bacon you’re going to turn to every morning, you don’t necessarily want the intense flavor and smokey aroma of the apple smoked bacon day after day. In the same way that you don’t always turn to the maltiest beer, or the sweetest soda, Trader Joe’s Black Forest Bacon provides a more nuanced alternative.

The taste of the black forest bacon is still as absolutely delicious as the apple smoked bacon, but plays up the “cured” side of bacon over the smoked side. You’ll notice the rind of spices on each slice forms a sort of natural crust once cooked, almost like a honey baked ham, and the raw sugar in the rub gives this bacon just a hint of sweetness. The taste is overall much broader than the apple smoked bacon, a little sugary, a little smokey, and lots of rich meaty flavor.

Two other factors enter into the comparison: nutrition and price. The Black Forest Bacon is actually the healthier choice, despite the sugar rub, with 70 calories a slice, and 45 from fat. That’s still 5 grams of fat per thick slice, but that’s better than the 7 grams of fat in each apple smoked slice. Pricewise, Trader Joe’s Black Forest Bacon is the more expensive option, $4.99 / 13 slice pack – a dollar more than the apple smoked variety.

Like the apple smoked bacon, the black forest bacon is also “uncured”, meaning no sodium nitrate or commercial curing salts were used in the process – nothing but the natural nitrates found in sea salt and celery power.

The takeaway is, on the balance these bacons are equally good. If you’re only an occasional bacon eater, the apple smoked version is probably the better choice – given it’s bigger flavor and worse nutritional profile. If, on the other hand, you’re snacking on bacon all the time, you might want to go with the more nuanced, and slightly healthier, black forest bacon.

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, but try Trader Joe’s Apple Smoked Bacon first.

Would I Buy It Again: I already have.

Final Synopsis: A delicious bacon for frequent bacon eaters.

Trader Joe's Uncured Black Forest Bacon - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Uncured Black Forest Bacon – Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Uncured Apple Smoked Bacon

Trader Joe's Uncured Apple Smoked Bacon

God bless you, apple wood smoking process. You’ve done it again.

To date, the only bacon I’ve had from Trader Joe’s has been the healthy, if middling, Turkey Bacon. In fact, so devoted have I been to the concept of being healthy while eating bacon that turkey bacon is the only bacon that I’ve ingested for the last two years. So biting into Trader Joe’s Uncured Apple Smoked Bacon was like a spelunker emerging from cloistered subterranean depths to thrust his head into the sunlight again, like a skin diver coming up for air after a crushing 120′ dive, like Dr. Manette emerging from the Bastille to be recalled to life. It was, to be blunt, really good.

This is, quite simply put, some knock-out bacon. And it’s not like I haven’t had bacon before guys. I was raised on Oscar Meyer brand, I enjoy a slice or two with the occasional Denny’s Grand Slam, but there was never anything really and truly memorable about the long train of sizzled bacon slices that came before. Certainly nothing to make me buy into the still white-hot bacon mania that has gripped the nation lo these past few years.

Folks, I’m telling you this bacon has turned me all around.

I’m going to start out with my one quibble, my one insignificant little quibble, then commence with the waxing rhapsodic. The bacon, as you can see above, is all layered on top of each other – not fanned out as in most bacon packages. This makes it a little more difficult to pull the bacon slices apart – especially considering how marbled with thick bands of delectable fat they are.

Manage to pull off a couple thick slices of bacon, however, and you are in for a treat. The smell, by itself, is enough to get you drunk. It’s almost hard to find a bacon in this country that isn’t “applewood-smoked”, or “mesquite-smoked”, or appended with some other marketer-inflated appellation that means, essentially, nothing at all. Believe me when I tell you that this bacon has been smoked – really and properly smoked. It smells so richly of the savory curls of smoldering wood that you will swear you’re smoking it yourself as you cook it. It smells so good you’ll have to fight off the urge to shove raw strips of meat into your mouth with both fists.

Once your nose has feasted to satisfaction, it’s time to take a bite. Friends, every promise that the sizzle and smell of that bacon made to you the taste more than delivers on. Is it fatty? Yes, tremendously fatty – packing in 7 grams of fat per slice, but it is deliciously essential fat, fat which enriches the smoky meat with melt in your mouth, hug-your-tongue flavor. It is a lot of fat, but that, of course, is God’s way of keeping us from eating bacon all the time, non-stop. If you have room in your diet for a little extra fat, this is a fantastic way to spend it.

It’s all so wonderful, that it’s impossible for me to fully describe to you with mere human words how much this bacon pleases me. To top it all off, this wonderful apple smoked bacon is uncured and nitrate-free.  Delicious and nitrate free? What else needs be said?

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, please buy this bacon.

Would I Buy It Again: As frequently as my diet allows.

Final Synopsis: The tastiest, store bought bacon I have ever eaten.

Trader Uncured  Joe's Apple Smoked Bacon - Nutrition Facts

Trader Uncured Joe’s Apple Smoked Bacon – Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Chicken and Roasted Beet Salad

Trader Joe's Roated Beet and Chicken Salad

I should replace this crappy picture with a better picture, but why bother? It’s just beets.

Sure, I tried beet salad once. Once. At the time I compared it to gelatin made from dirt, and nothing in the intervene months and years has done anything to convince me otherwise. So it was in a perplexed, slightly surreal haze that I found myself buying Trader Joe’s Chicken and Roasted Beet Salad.

Why am I buying this?, I thought, bemused, as if watching myself in a dream. Why am I paying this quirky sales clerk good money, money which could literally buy me anything, on beets? Have I truly gone mad at last? Sitting at my kitchen table, staring into the unsealed maw of this uncouth salad, it seemed the only likely answer.

I’m willing to admit that I have never eaten any beet and liked it. Certainly not in their rawest, beetiest form. I can boast that I managed to get down about a pint of Trader Joe’s Beet and Purple Carrot Juice a while back, before realizing that, no, this is terrible. Beets really have no place in my life, and I no place in a the life of beets. It’s an arrangement I think we’re both happy with.*

If you, gentle reader, have managed to make space in your heart for this ignoble root vegetable, than you are a better fellow than I, and I would ask you to keep in mind that I’m prejudiced against these things from the start.

This is a terrible salad. I’ve never really had a bad salad from Trader Joe’s, other than, you know, the ones with all the salmonella in them, but their Chicken and Roasted Beet salad blazes new downward territory. It’s not just the beets which are the bad part of this salad, that much was to be expected. The rest of the salad mix contribute as much to this stinker as the beets. It’s as if the salad engineers at TJ’s just gave up while putting it together.

“It’s got beets in it,” they probably said to themselves, pausing to let out a long, defeated sigh, “It’s not like anyone’s ever going to eat it.”

The salad mix here involves a very nice, snappy mixture of greens, but that one high point is defrayed by a couple factors. One, despite being a big 10 oz. salad, there’s not much in the way of greens or chicken in it. Two, it’s packed with a pungent, yet bland fetid cheese. There’s almost as much feta in here as there is chicken. I’ve got nothing against feta, per se, I think it’s a fine cheese, but this particular feta is on the mild and squeaky side. Cheese in a salad should be the highlight, not the grist you have to chew through.

That leads us to the beets themselves. Though unheralded on the packaging, this salad actually comes with two, count ’em two, kinds of beets – red beets and white beets. Isn’t that a pleasant surprise! All too aware that leaving beets in prolonged contact with wholesome food will ruin it, both kinds of beets come packaged in their own individual tubs. It’s these tubs, plus the considerable water weight of the beets, that accounts for the bulk of this salad. Such a sad waste of space.

The beets themselves are typical beets, which is to say: wet, cold, lumpy, drab, unpleasantly musky, and repulsive to the taste. It’s amazing to me how something can be so bland, yet so disgusting at the same time. Mother Nature must have been in a particularly creative and dark place when she came up with beets. It was probably the same day she figured out slugs.

All that said, Trader Joe’s did choose a good dressing to pair the salad with. The balsamic vinaigrette is well formulated, hitting all the rights notes of viscosity, acidity and sweetness. It does a good job highlighting the flavorful notes of the salad while masking the weaker ones. Good, but not good enough to rescue the salad from the beets.

In the end, if you, like all right minded people, dislike beets, then avoid this salad. For good measure, maybe consider avoiding any salads it happens to be touching as well. If, on the other hand, you don’t mind beets then why not eat this, as it appears you’re willing to eat anything.

*I take all this back in the face of borscht, which is one of the most delicious soups in existence. How such a charming son came from such a damned sire, I can’t imagine.

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend This: Ha ha ha.

Would I Buy It Again: Ha ha ha ha ha, no.

Final Synopsis: A subpar salad with some beets thrown on. It’s like someone was trying to get fired.

Trader Joe's Roated Beet and Chicken Salad - Nuitrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Roated Beet and Chicken Salad – Nuitrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Gone Bananas

Trader Joe's Gone Bananas

The serving suggestion involves laying them on top of a half-eaten, non-chocolate banana? You have gone banana’s Trader Joe’s!

Apparently, Trader Joe’s has gone bananas…one bite at a time, which sounds harrowing but, going by the package graphics, actually seems to be quite a wacky adventure. Admissions of madness aside, someone at Trader Joe’s must have a pretty damn good idea what’s going on, because these chocolate-covered, frozen banana bites are delicious. Munch-tastic I might even say.

The strangest thing about this this banana snack is that we don’t see it in freezers across the nation. Covering sweet, frozen banana in a thick coating of sweet milk chocolate is as brilliant as it is tasty but, outside of certain episodes of Arrested Development, it’s rare to see a really good frozen banana in this country. Let’s get on this, America! The Bluth’s don’t have a monopoly on frozen banana stands – they don’t even really exist!

The second strangest thing about Trader Joe’s Gone Bananas is the very non-traditionally Trader Joe’s packaging. The Trader Joe’s MO is generally something austere, psuedo-victorian, and plastered with at least one bit of vaguely congruous stock clip art – an approach they take to everything from minestrone to salmon jerky. This package, on the other hand, is bold, features an honest-to-goodness product shot and a playfully cartoon-ish sock monkey. I keep having to look at the Trader Joe’s label to remind myself that it’s really a Trader Joe’s product.

But a Trader Joe’s product it is, and it’s one of the simplest products they have on the shelf. Exactly two ingredients go into it, bananas and chocolate. Thankfully they decided to go with milk chocolate instead of trendier, and more problematic dark chocolate. The result is a sweet, thick chocolate shell, that gives way to a surprisingly sweet and creamy banana core. It works together so well that there’s no need for anything else – between the two you’re taken on a voyage of mingling, complex flavor with every bite-sized bite.

As the cute name, cute packaging and bite-sized portions may suggest, this is a great snack/desert for kids. The portion size is easy to control and, as far as deserts go, it’s a natural and healthy alternative to more sugary food. The only real caveat? The frozen bites tend to stick together in hard to separate clumps. Letting them thaw a little helps get them apart, but leave them out a few minutes too long and they start to go mushy on you. Get distracted or pulled out of the room and you might come back to find that you’ve got some soft, chocolate-covered banana lumps on your hands.

That said, these still aren’t exactly health food. Four of these little bites packs in 130 calories, 70 of that from fat. In fact, one serving has 34% of your daily saturated fat allotment. That’s not unexpected for something with so much chocolate in it, and all else considered it can still boast that there are only 14 grams of sugar per serving.

Really though, the sell here is on the amazing taste. I’d buy these again even if they were twice as bad for me. In fact, for those of you looking to get really decadent with it, Trader Joe’s has published their recipe for the Gone Banana’s Split – a gooey, sweet mess of chocolate covered banana goodness.

 The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes – these are great for kids or adults.

Would I Buy It Again: Absolutely – they’ve got it all figured out.

Final Synopsis: Who would have thought simple chocolate covered banana bites could be so good?

Trader Joe's Gone Bananas - nutrition facts

Trader Joe’s Gone Bananas – Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Lemon Chicken and Arugula Salad

Trader Joe's Lemon Chicken and Arugula Salad

Nice colors. Looks rather like the flag of Sri Lanka.

I’ve always been intrigued by Trader Joe’s Lemon Chicken and Arugula Salad, squatting in the lower reaches of the salad aisle, mostly because I assumed it had a big piece of salmon on it. That particular misconception came about due to the unusually enormous salmon pink bag of spicy pimento dressing that lays, slug like, on top of the salad mix. While there’s no salmon on this salad, what it does have to offer is tasty and intriguing.

This is, as Trader Joe’s itself is quick to point out, a Moroccan style salad. Morocco is home to many types of salads, both hot and cold and beet derived, and while this isn’t a traditional type of Moroccan salad per se, it does bring together many wonderful, traditionally Moroccan spices. These include parsley, mint and smoked paprika, all of which show up along side the lemon zested chicken.

This medley of spices is mixed into a bed of couscous and red quinoa that makes up the unspoken third component of this chicken and arugula salad. It’s anyone’s guess why the grains didn’t make it into the title, they’re certainly the most notable part of the salad. The arugula is perfectly acceptable and the lemon chicken is nicely lemoned, but it’s the couscous and red quinoa mix that infuses it with rich and savory flavors, in addition to adding a little exotic texture. Add to this a scattering of sweet currants, and you’re talking about a complex combination of flavors that could easily go all wrong. Fortunately, Trader Joe’s manages to strike a good balance here. The simple flavors of the zesty lemon chicken and the stridently piquant arugula are foregrounded here, with the other more nuanced tastes leaping out at you from the curtains from bite to bite.

This leads us, as all human inquiry must, to the spicy pimento dressing. My first reaction to this dressing was, really? A dressing made out of pimentos? What did they do with the rest of the olive after they got the pimentos out? It turns out, however, that the pimento is more than just the hilarious name for a specific type of olive stuffer, it’s a little red pepper with a life all it’s own. The pimento is a smallish chili pepper, rather like a dwarfish, heart-shaped bell pepper, known also by the name cherry pepper. In the world of chili peppers, as we all know, there’s no rating so important as your place on the Scoville scale. While the juggernauts of the chili world, the ghost peppers and scotch bonnets and such, battle it out for position Supreme Pepper President at the top of the scale, the pimento suffers the indignity of having one of the lowest ratings on the books, ranking below even the banana pepper.  Life in pepper school must have been hard for the poor pimento.

All this means that, despite being billed as such, this dressing is not particularly spicy – at least not in sane quantities. TJ’s seems to be suffering from the same spicy dressing over compensation here as they did with their seaweed salad. The single bag included in the tub could easy cover two to three salads of equal size. It’s a bold paring for such an already complex dish, but the creaminess and mild fire only add to the intrigue rather than detract from it – just be sure to play it on the safe side when putting it on.

On a final pimento note, it is my understanding stuffed green olives are made by a hydrolic pump shooting the pimento into each olive, blasting the olive pit out the other end at the same time with what, I am sure, is a very satisfying noise. While that has no bearing upon this dish, I just wanted to share that rather striking image wit you.

More than anything, Trader Joe’s Lemon Chicken and Arugula salad reminds me of TJ’s other quinoa salad – but unlike that one, this salad fails to fill you up. Once you remove the dressing packet, there’s not a whole lot left in the salad tub – just a handful of knotted arugula leaves, a little hill of couscous and, depressingly, a tiny portion of chicken. If this salad was a little more robust, I’d be a frequent buyer. As it stands, it’ll have to be content to exist as a savory side dish to go along side a larger meal.

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, but not as a meal in itself.

Would I Buy It Again: Probably someday, when I’m not too hungry.

Final Synopsis: A savory, Moroccan inspired salad that’s a little on the small side.

Trader Joe's Lemon Chicken and Arugula Salad - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Lemon Chicken and Arugula Salad – Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Spiced Chai


Trader Joe's Spiced Chai

We’re either in India, or that elephant is one freaky-deaky hippy.

After rebuffing, then falling in love with, then losing Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend Tea, I nearly leapt with joy when I saw Trader Joe’s Spiced Chai on the shelf. Could it fill the hot drink void in my life? Certainly I’ve enjoyed just about every cup of chai I’ve ever drunk, so it was hard to imagine that a Trader Joe’s tea wouldn’t manage to clear that rather low bar. I’m delighted to report that Trader Joe’s does manage to hit that rather easy target, and earns a few bonus points to boot.

The first thing to know about chai tea is that chai literally means “tea” in numerous languages, so any time you say “chai tea” you’re actually saying “tea tea” and that’s just silly so, you know, knock it off.

Trader Joe’s nimbly side steps this common error by naming their tea Spiced Chai, which is a very deft bit of wordsmanship. They avoid the sort of nit-picky redundancy grammar jerks like me enjoy pointing out, while simultaneously being exactly technically correct (seeing as this is a spiced tea) and drops in a neat descriptor that makes their chai sound quite tasty. I go pretty hard on TJ’s marketing wonks around here, but whoever came up with this one deserves a sweet cash bonus.

The chai we commonly think of in America is more accurately called masala chai, or “mixed-spice tea” in Hindi. Like most folk foods, such as ajvar, there isn’t one official spice mix that makes up “real” chai. Despite that, Trader Joe’s chai mix would undoubtedly pass snuff on chai wallah carts up and down Assam. No sooner do you flip open the box then that redolent, nose-twitching bouquet of bewitching spices bursts out, screaming chai left and right. Trader Joe’s Spiced Chai hits upon all the usual chai notes – cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, star anise – and adds their own special mix of nutmeg, roasted chicory, black pepper and vanilla bean. All this is mixed into the background of a very satisfactory black tea from the original stomping grounds of masala chai, Assam.

I ran this tea two ways – with milk and straight black. Both ways satisfied. You have to give the bag a good long steep to be sure – at least 6 minutes, particularly when mixed with milk – but once you do the strong, complex spiciness of the chai blooms to fill the cup wonderfully.

The least I can say about TJ’s Spiced Chai is that it delivers exactly what it promises. There aren’t any surprises here, but there don’t need to be. The tea is flavorful and warming, and priced at only $1.99 for 20 tea bags. What more can you ask for?

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes indeed.

Would I Buy It Again: At least until Harvest Blend comes back in season.

Final Synopsis: A great way to get your at-home chai fix.

Eating At Joe’s – Best of 2013

Hi, folks. Hiya.

We’ll we did it – we managed to crawl, skip, flounce, trudge and otherwise make our way through to the end of one more year. Congrats, man! Let me be the first to give you a firm handshake and a hearty slap on the back.

I, like you, experienced many new and wondrous things in 2013 – many of which came from the well-stocked larder of our good friend Trader Joe. 96 new and wondrous things, to be exact. I hope you enjoyed reading about them as much as I enjoyed eating them, which would mean, I suppose, that usually you thought they were really good, but sometimes they were just weird, and occasionally there were a couple stinkers.

In any case, the end of the year is a time for retrospection and in that spirit I’ve assembled my Best of 2013 list. These are not, necessarily, items that were new to Trader Joe’s in 2013, just items that were new to me. It was hard reducing this list to a mere 10 items, and many worthy items were left off simply for the sake of space. Nevertheless, I’d recommend any of these items to you with minimal to no reservations. If your New Year’s resolution is to splurge more on food, consider yourself set.

Please, go forth, eat and prosper in the new year!


Trader Joe’s Speculoos Crunchy Cookie Butter

It’s Cookie Butter, what more can I say. Hopefully they’ll come out with an even newer type of cookie butter in 2014 so I can put it on the list again. Well, a new type other than Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter and Cocoa Swirl which, while tasty, couldn’t fill regular ‘ol Cookie Butter’s shoes.

Trader Jose’s (Joe’s) Pizza Al Pollo Asado

One of the most genuine surprises of the year. I have low expectations in general for frozen supermarket pizza, let alone pizza that stunt casts it’s crust for a corn mash. This quasi-pizza was a delightful taste sensation from the word go.

Trader Joe’s Roasted Butternut Squash, Red Quinoa and Wheat Berry Salad

I’m a lover of salads, so Trader Joe’s is something of a Mecca for me. Out of all the delicious salads to choose from, however, I found myself returning to this one again and again. The bold, contrasting flavors and textures made this the salad to pick up when I was tired of “normal” salads. Plus the nutritional profile is nothing to sneeze at.

Trader Joe’s Hake en Papillote

Not just an education in a unique way to cook fish, but a delicious and satisfying entree to boot. More than just a tasty dish, Hake en Papillote was one of those rare meals that somehow transcends from frozen dinner to classy.

Trader Joe’s Grilled Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary Chicken

My personal most-bought dish of 2013. Nothing fancy, just a workman like dinner for a tired man, but one that left never failed to make me sit up and pay attention to the bright, savory flavors packed in that unassuming plastic tray. A life saver on more than one occasion.

Trader Joe’s Vegetable and Grain Country Salad

I’m still not sure if this is really a salad, but if s0 it was the tastiest salad I ate all year from Trader Joe’s – and that includes the Spinach and Bacon Salad! There’s a sort of countryside simplicity to this salad that absolutely belies the rich flavors and satisfying heartiness you get from it. Another frequent purchase of mine.

Trader Joe’s Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate

The first and only time I’ve had to go back and add an update to a post. I started off cold toward this cold brew concentrate, but a couple weeks of drinking it and I was hooked for good. All the wonderful flavor and caffeine of a bold coffee with none of the acidity. You won’t get it until you try it. Simply smooth.

Trader Joe’s Balela / Trader Joe’s Dukkah

Even I’m surprised by balela’s inclusion on this list. A sort of Mediterranean-ish dip/salad made with whole chickpeas, the mellow tang of this dish has lingered on my tongue for months since I bought it. It’s a little expensive for few ounces you get, but it’s worth it.

Dukkah is the other  Mediterranean-ish dip I tried this year that never really left my mind. Where balela is probably good just for a single meal, the hearty nut and spices mix of Dukkah is perfect for any party or big dinner where olive oil and bread are present. Turns pre-appetizer bread into a whole new thing.

Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend Herbal Tea

Like the cold brew coffee, this tea snuck up on me. I may be a little flip about the packaging in my review, but the spicy sweetness of this herbal tea has kept me coming back for more. My little stockpile of tea bags is running low already, and it is with fear in my heart that I await the seasonal disappearance of this wonderful, winter tea.

Trader Ming’s (Trader Joe’s) Kung Pao Chicken

I never knew that Kung Pao Chicken had such an interesting history until I started looking into it for this post. Just as interesting, the way Trader Joe’s managed to make such a refined tasting dish so easy to cook. Like the Hake in Papillote above, this entree may come frozen in a bag, but once you take your first bite you’ll feel like a world class chef.

That’s it folks for me folks, and that’s it for the year. I’ll see you in 2014 – until then, be bold, be adventurous, and try some new things!

Trader Joe’s Ruggedly Adventuresome Cowboy Bark

Trader Joe's Ruggedly Adventuresome Cowboy BarkWell, we’ve seen some good names from Trader Joe’s before, but Trader Joe’s Ruggedly Adventuresome Cowboy Bark may take the cake for over-the-top product naming. Some marketer somewhere is recovering from a spraining their brain muscle after coming up with this one.

Calling a pretty standard chocolate bark “cowboy bark” to begin with is already a wildly out of the box move – it’s not like there’s anything particularly “cowboy” about this chocolate bark in the first place. In fact, a decadent, dark chocolate treat sprinkled with cookies and toffee is one of the harder things to imagine a weather-beaten cowboy pulling out of his saddle bag on the range. Consider that, on top of this, they’ve added not just a self-aggrandizing adjective, but a totally unnecessary adverb as well and you’ve got my attention.

I really wanted to like this chocolate bark -not just because I’ll seize any excuse to buy junk food again and again, but because almost nobody is tossing adverbs into their food titles anymore. Chunky Chicken Noodle Soup is a dime a dozen, but good luck finding a can of Superbly Chunked Chicken Noodle Soup. Who doesn’t feel for the poor, overlooked adverb, ignored step-child of the parts of speech family? Who doesn’t wish they encountered more deftly modified adjectives on their daily errands? I definitely do.

So it’s got a good name – a crazy name, but a good one. It seems like we’re dealing with a shoe-in for next years best of list, right? After all, it’s dark chocolate with toffee, pretzels, Joe Joe’s Oreo Cookie knock-offs, peanuts, almonds and, to top it all off, a sprinkling of salt – what’s not to like?

The problem, as you may perhaps have guessed, lays in the dark chocolate base. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but dark chocolate is not a confection to be tossed haphazardly into just any dish that you’d normally use milk chocolate in. Dark chocolate isn’t just some joke of a candy you can slather on whatever, dark chocolate is a high-yield plutonium warhead to be deployed only after considerable soul searching. Use it too frequently or in too great a quantity, and nothing else you add to it is going to matter. Case in point, despite the tantalizing selection of toppings included on the bark, you only taste two things – dark chocolate for days, and a hint of salt. That’s certainly not bad – dark chocolate dusted with salt is a wonderful treat – but it makes the rest of the bark vanish into pointlessness. If Trader Joe’s was simply selling a bar of “dark chocolate with salty bits” I’d be singing it’s high praises – as it stands, there’s little reason to waste your calories on Oreo cookies and toffee you can’t taste. It’s a pretty good snack, but it’s not going to blow you away, and certainly isn’t worth the money when there are some many other amazing treats at TJ’s.

Trader Joe’s, I’d love to see a milk chocolate version of this that lets the rest of the flavors shine through – until then, there’s no reason to come back.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: It’s okay, but there are better buys out there.

Would I Buy It Again: Not until there’s a milk chocolate version.

Final Synopsis: A great idea, drowned out in too much dark chocolate.

Trader Joe's Ruggedly Adventuresome Cowboy Bark - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Ruggedly Adventuresome Cowboy Bark – Nutrition Facts