Friday, April 29, 2016

Review: Trader Joe's Hatch Valley Salsa

In his book McCarthy's Bar: A Journey of Discovery in Ireland, writer Pete McCarthy says — and I'm paraphrasing here — that if you discover a bar with your name on it, then you absolutely need to visit. So with that in mind, I was extremely excited to find a jar of salsa featuring my last name on it.

To be quite honest, I don't think I'd ever even heard of the Hatch Valley chile peppers until just a few months ago. I'm trying to make up for lost time and find out what I can. As with any specialty food item, there's a festival devoted to the pepper. Even NPR has an interesting look at the pride that surrounds growing and serving peppers from New Mexico.


All of that aside, let's take a look at Trader Joe's Hatch Valley Salsa. Does it have some heat? Oh yeah. It's got plenty of it, but it's not so overwhelming that it renders everything else inedible. The salsa is more than just heat, as it has tomatillos and a hint of lime and garlic.

If you're used to salsa that's red, then this will definitely switch things up a bit. The salsa comes in a sort of pea-green color, but don't let that stop you from grabbing some chips and digging in. (As you may know, Trader Joe's has other green items that are absolutely awesome.) Well, actually, you can't. The salsa is packed in a vertical glass jar, making it almost impossible to dip a chip. That's something I can't stand about many of Trader Joe's salsas; they should make it easy for people to scoop without having to use a spoon!

This salsa brings the heat in a great way.

Verdict: This is a colorful and spicy addition to your typical chips-and-salsa routine. Four out of four Hawaiian-print shirts.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Review: Trader Joe's Island Salsa

When it comes to salsa, I sometimes feel that Trader Joe's can be...iffy. I love, love, love the tried-and-true Salsa Autentica, and you'll read my thoughts on the Hatch Valley Salsa tomorrow. But some of the, I don't know. That's why I was nothing short of suspicious when I saw samples of Trader Joe's Island Salsa at "my" store the other day."There's a lot going on here," I thought, as I saw that it had mango and pineapple and green bell pepper AND red jalapeno peppers and other ingredients. I sometimes feel that Trader Joe's gets carried away with what should be a basic item and adds one or two extra and unnecessary ingredients.

Island Salsa

But you guys. YOU GUYS. This is totally worth it. The salsa has a sweet-and-sour-with-a-dash-of-heat thing going on, and it's awesome. It's a one-two punch of flavor, and I have to admit that I actually ate the salsa straight out of the cup after I took the picture below. Without chips, I might add.

The jar states it's a chunky salsa, and they aren't kidding. There are hearty pieces of mango and pineapple, which I appreciate because I think it presents a lot better than an indistinguishable slurry of ingredients.

The Island Salsa was great by itself and with tortilla chips, and I'm sure it would work as a sort of dessert salsa if you want a bit of heat.

The only flaw is, once again, the packaging. I feel salsa should be packaged in a jar that's more horizontal than vertical so you can dip right out of the jar. That's probably the only thing I'd change.

Verdict: Where have you been my entire life? Four out of four Hawaiian-print shirts.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

When you're stuck in a rut

Do you ever feel that you tend to purchase the same things, more or less, every single week? You might have a few changes, like picking up a new-to-you cereal or a different type of chip. But in general, you might find that your shopping list is rather predictable. It's the same-old, same-old of "milk-bread-cereal-bananas-the right kind of peanut butter" etc., etc. Kind of boring, right? But for the most part, I'm a "grab what I need and get out as soon as possible" type of shopper. Gone are the days where I could wander the aisles of a grocery store and take my time reading labels. Grocery shopping is just one more thing that needs to be squeezed in.

On that note, I have found that I'm still in a bit of a rut. I'll pull an item out of cupboard and think "Ah ha! I'll write a review of this product!" Only to discover that I did actually write about the product a few years ago. My blog has more than 225 posts, so this has happened more than a few times. To that end, I've decided that I need to branch out and try something new! I might also try a few revisits of products I've reviewed previously. I feel that some of the products have changed in the last few years, anyway.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Review: Trader Joe's Honey Wheat Pretzel Sticks

This may be considered blasphemous to some, but I am indifferent to pretzels. The thin stick types are OK, I guess, I definitely hate those thicker twisted ones, and baked ones are just fine. So I wasn't wild about trying Trader Joe's Honey Wheat Pretzel Sticks.

Honey wheat pretzel sticks

These pretzel sticsk are fine. They're fine, I'm fine, we're all just fine. I think they're a bit too sweet, to be honest, and they taste strange if you're dipping them in any sort of savory dip or spread.

A pretzel stick on a teacup saucer for scale

What surprises me is the serving size. There are only about 10 pretzels in a serving, which seems kind of small to me, maybe? And that I could totally see myself eating more without thinking too much of it. I feel like I gripe about this a lot, but I think the packaging could be a bit better for this product. You have to open the bag veeeery caaaarefully or else it rips. In general, though, the pretzels are good for a quick snack, and I do tend to have a bag or two on hand.

Verdict: Two out of four Hawaiian-print shirts.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Review: Trader Joe's Scandinavian Swimmers

When it comes to sweets, you really can't wrong with what's available at Trader Joe's. I've had more than a little luck with the selection of candies, chocolate bars, and other assorted sweet items and desserts. Pick a bag of almost anything, and while you might not fall in love with it, it will at least satisfy your sweet tooth.

 Pack these on your next road trip.

That's what brings us to Trader Joe's Scandinavian Swimmers. These are gummy fruit snacks in the shapes of lobster (red), seahorse (yellow), dolphin (blue) and rockfish (orange). I thought they were tasty, but without much of a distinguishable taste. Like, you know how you can tell pretty much identify Starburst flavors blindfolded? Not so much with these. They're good, and I'll definitely buy these again in the future, but I didn't feel any of the flavors stood out.The shapes, though, are adorable. The lobsters even have mini claws!

Back of the pouch.

Lately, I feel that Trader Joe's has been hitting it out of the ballpark with the packaging of some of their products. The package for Scandinavian Swimmers is no exception, as it is in a plastic pouch with a resealable zippered closure. These things make a difference!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Around the web: Trader Joe's round-up

It's time once again to take a look at the news of Trader Joe's from around the web. Let's see what everyone's saying:

*Four writers from BuzzFeed tried different health and beauty products from Trader Joe's. I agree with their take on the Moisturizing Cream. They should have also tried the deodorant (you can read my review here) and the Citrus Shampoo (my review is here). (

*Westfield, New Jersey, is getting a new Trader Joe's. (

*What's the best grocery store in the U.S.? It's...not Trader Joe's. (The Ballinger Ledger)

*Fellow TJ's review blog What's Good at Trader Joe's reviews the Moroccan Style Mint Tea. (What's Good at Trader Joe's)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Trader Joe's Gift Ideas: The Sweet Tooth Edition

I am often* asked which products from Trader Joe's would make great ideas for a gift. Let's say, for example, you'd like to create a themed gift basket and want to include just the right snacks and treats. What's one to do? In this edition of Trader Joe's Gift Ideas, we'll take a look at the assortment of products that will satisfy just about every sweet tooth. Let's get to it.

If the gift recipient loves chocolate, then you'll want to take a look at the assortment of chocolate-covered candies and other delights. Trader Joe's has gone all-in on options for chocolate, and that's good news for you. You can't go wrong with just about any of the chocolate items packaged in solid clear plastic tubs. (The tubs with flat lids are also excellent for packaging in a basket or box, too.) I've had the chocolate-covered espresso beans, as well as the peanut butter cups and chocolate-covered s'mores (I apologize I do not have the exact name in front of me). Do you want more of a quick pick-me-up? Then the chocolate candy bars are always a hit. Other options include the chocolate cowboy bark.

Add this to your next gift basket.

Fruit Candies
I am not quite sure how to categorize this next set of candy, so bear with me. But in this category, you can stock up on the Organic Pops (and you can read my review here), as well as the Mango! Mango!, Gummy Bears, and Gummy Tummies Penguins.

Dips and Spreads
If you're looking for something a bit different, then consider checking out Trader Joe's assortment of sweet dips and spreads. The Cocoa Almond Spread can add a bit of decadence to your gift basket, and the Speculoos will likely be a hit, too. While you can certainly eat the dips on their own (or so I've been told), you can also pair them with Trader Joe's brioche toasts (these are usually found with the other crackers) or honey graham crackers.

You can still find a few things for the gift recipient who prefers to bake. Trader Joe's Chocolate Chips are by far some of the best I've ever eaten and can elevate a plain old batch of cookies to the next level. While you're at it, pick up the vanilla extract, too. It can make the ingredients in a baked sweet just sing.

And there you have it! Do you have any suggestions that will make a great gift for someone with a sweet tooth?

*OK, this has happened exactly twice.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Review: Trader Joe's Cowboy Bark

I want to make a bunch of lazy jokes along the lines of "Yeehaw! You should round up some Trader Joe's Cowboy Bark" or something, but let's not and say we did.

Everything that is worth eating is in this bark.

 Instead, allow me to confess that I actually had to purchase a second bag of Trader Joe's Ruggedly Adventuresome Cowboy Bark, because the first time I opened a bag, I pretty much inhaled everything. "Oh, I should take some pictures and write a review of this," I thought, then decided I'd rather eat a second helping of bark instead of grabbing my camera. I mean, usually I can manage some semblance of self-restraint and pause to at least take a picture, but not this time. Oh, no, my friends. I ate this bark like it was my job. Which, given that I have a review blog, it sort of is!

The back of the package. This is a thrilling caption, right?

Let's get on with it. The bark hits all the right notes of salty and sweet, with a chocolate foundation topped with pretzels, Joe Joe cookies, and, I dunno, toffee and some other stuff. It's delicious and can be deceptive in size. It packs quite a bit of sweetness in a relatively small serving, so watch yourself, is what I'm saying. However, it does feel that there are almost too many things on the bark. One more ingredient, and we'd be in "Whoa, slow down!" territory.

The bark comes in assorted sizes. This piece was placed on a tea saucer for scale.

Thankfully, Trader Joe's did right by the packaging, as the bark is packaged in a stand-up resealable pouch to keep everything fresh. I am saying this in theory, though, as you might find that you can polish off a bag within a few days. At least, that's what a friend told me. Yes, that's it. A friend, who is definitely not me.

The only flaw is that you can get a lot of crumbs at the bottom of the package. But don't despair; just sprinkle it over a scoop of ice cream or pudding, and you're good to go. 

Verdict: Four out of four Hawaiian-print shirts.