Trader Joe’s Southwestern Style Chicken Poppers

Trader Joe's Southwestern Style Chicken Poppers

TJ’s looked at single-color tortilla chip coatings and said, “No, we can do better than that.”

What is a popper? The jalapeno popper is a thing certainly. Is it a class of things? Is it so different that we can’t consider it simply to be an “appetizer”, an “hors d’ouever” or even a “bite”? What makes cheese-filled jalapenos deserving of the name, but not – say – bacon-wrapped water chestnuts? Sadly, this is beyond the scope of our article today. Suffice to say that if the only requirement to be a popper is that you enjoy popping them in your mouth, then Trader Joe’s Southwest Jalapeno Poppers most definitely fit the bill.

Trader Joe’s has developed for us this tasty new appetizer to grace our plates at sporting events, birthday parties, themed get-togethers, or generally anytime you want people to come over and eat up all your food.

The southwestern popper is a combination of white chicken meat, roasted corn, black beans, diced jalapenos, spinach and jack cheese all rolled up and melted together a meatball-sized glob of mini-Mexican dinner. This glob is more or less held together by a coating of red white and blue tortilla chip crumbs because hey, why not, Trader Joe’s probably has a ton of left over tortilla bits from their bags of Red White and Blue Tortilla chips.

The result of all this are some really good, bite-sized, finger food appetizers that will be eaten up as soon as you set them out. Each popper is, essentially, just one-mouthful of chicken burrito – an idea so simple that it’s shocking Taco Bell hasn’t been doing it for years. It’s all the classic Mexican food ingredients you love (meat, cheese, beans, et al), but instead of bothering to wrap them up they’ve just been left at the bite-size level – perfect for picking up ‘twixt thumb and forefinger and, dare I say it, popping.

If there’s anything not to like about Trader Joe’s Southwester Style Chicken Poppers it’s that they don’t really hold together well. Look at that picture on the box again – notice that there are no toothpicks sticking out of them. That’s because a toothpick would be about as helpful for picking these up off the plate as an acetylene torch would be for picking up marshmallows. The tortilla crumb coating just doesn’t bind the contents very well at all, and even after a good long bake in the oven these poppers are still given to falling apart at the end of a fork.

That means that poppers are really meant to be finger food – but for such a snackable morsel, that’s not really a big problem. Just be sure to buy a couple boxes if you plan on entertaining – they’ll go fast.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yup, these appetizers are both filling and tasty.

Would I Buy Them Again: I might set some out for the Super Bowl party.

Final Synopsis: Bite-sized burrito balls, minus the wrap.

Trader Joe's Southwestern Style Chicken Poppers - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Southwestern Style Chicken Poppers – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s 100% Pure Coconut Water – Single Origin

Trader Joe's - 100% Pure Coconut Water Single Origin

Trader Joe’s – 100% Pure Coconut Water Single Origin

I’m used to seeing coconut water peddled in large cartons, usually with some sort of semi-novel tetra-pack packaging – so coming across Trader Joe’s new 100% Pure Coconut Water in a tiny little 12 oz plastic bottle was a surprise. Even more surprising was the $2.99 price tag. Wait – seriously? Doesn’t Trader Joe’s already peddle a 750ml box of Pure Coconut Water for that exact same price? Just feet away on a nearby shelf? Do they really expect me to pay more than twice as much for the same amount of coconut water? They must think this is some seriously good stuff.

As I talk about in my earlier post on coconut water, Trader Joe’s made me a coconut water convert. Yes, I still think it tastes sort of weird and is painfully trendy – but it’s also an absolutely amazing (and natural) way to get massively hydrated. So I’m more than willing to be receptive to TJ’s new take on coconut water – but with this sort of price differential they going to have to make one hell of a case.

When you crack this bottle open and take a sip, the first thing you’ll notice is that it is actually pretty similar to Trader Joe’s other coconut water. This certainly puts it leaps and bounds ahead of many of the commercial coconut waters on the market (Zico, VitaCoco, etc, etc, etc) but doesn’t exactly make the case for that bigger price tag. Sure, there are some subtle taste differences that can be dissected – this Single Origin Coconut water seems to go down a little “smoother” and seems to taste a little fresher – but this is largely splitting hairs.

So if they taste the same, why the big price difference. That, of course, is because of the “single origin” quality, featured on the label. As TJ themselves explain on the side, each bottle is derived from a coconuts grown only in Thailand, with 1.5 coconuts going into each bottle. Hence the “single origin” label. While that may be somewhat underwhelming  (defining “single origin” as originating within the same general country doesn’t particularly impress me), they also make use of a cold water method of pasteurization called HPP or high-pressure processing, thereby avoiding high temperature pasteurization which degrades the nutritive qualities inherent in the water

Basically, at this point, I could get into exactly what that entails – but it matters less than what Trader Joe’s is really trying to do with all this fancy labeling. True coconut water purists – those who turning to coconut wateras a lifestyle choice  – pay considerable attention to the origin and method of pasteurization of their water. For instance, this blog post goes into depth at great length about the various  virtues and sins committed by coconut water bottlers. Trader Joe’s new 100% Pure Single Origin Coconut Water is Trader Joe’s response to these concerns – a coconut water targeted at the discerning coconut water drinker.

While that’s all well and wonderful, what does it mean to someone like me who already enjoys Trader Joe’s existing coconut water offerings fairly well, and technical discussions of pasteurization processes very little. For that person, you can safely ignore this little bottle and continue to purchase the big carton, as usual. You can imagine the difference between these two as something like the difference between Perrier bottled water and Arrowhead. By all means, go for the Perrier if you fancy yourself a bottled water connoisseur, or have the money to spare. For everyone else, the difference between the two will be less than the pressure on your wallet.

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Only to serious coconut water enthusiasts.

Would I Buy It Again: I’ll be sticking with TJ’s other coconut water.

Final Synopsis: An ostensibly higher-quality coconut water meant to target the discerning coconut water crowd.

Trader Joe's - 100% Pure Coconut Water Single Origin - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s – 100% Pure Coconut Water Single Origin – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Organic Sriracha and Roasted Garlic BBQ Sauce

Trader Joe's Organic Sriracha and Roasted Garlic BBQ Sauce

Regardless of anything which follows – just know that I love the hell out of this bottle design.

After reviewing Trader Joe’s fantastic new Sweet Sriracha Bacon Jerky the other day, I was more than eager to give Trader Joe’s Organic Sriracha and Roasted Garlic BBQ sauce a shot. Trader Joe’s obviously has it in their mind to revolutionize the sriracha game. Not content deal with the Hoy Fong foods status quo, TJ’s started off by shaking things up with their own brand of tangier sriracha. The sweet sriracha bacon jerky escalated things to a whole different level entirely – setting the stage perfectly for an organic, sriracha based BBQ sauce. However, while this BBQ sauce is good, it’s not going to knock your socks off or anything.

The first thing I should point out is, despite getting top billing in the name, this sauce doesn’t taste like sriracha at all. Oh, sure, it’s spicy – very pleasantly spicy without being too hot in fact. However, that spiciness simply doesn’t have any of the signature fire or tang of sriracha. In this case, it really feels like Trader Joe’s simply decided to replace the generic word “spicy” with a more buzz worthy keyword.

The second thing I should point out is that it isn’t really all that garlicky. There is definitley garlic in it, but the garlic is hidden beneath the much stronger flavors of the BBQ sauce, mostly noticeable just as it touches the tongue, then just peaking up around the edges after that. Much stronger than the garlic taste is the sugary sweetness of the sauce. In fact, the sauce is about a third molasses and sugar, so when it comes to the aftertaste there’s not really any zing, just the cloying, lingering aftertaste of syrup.

So I praise this BBQ sauce with a caveat. For a BBQ sauce, it really is pretty good – spicy, sweet and bold, with just a subtle hint of garlic to mix things up. For a “sriracha and garlic” BBQ sauce, however, it doesn’t really deliver on the billing. If you’re looking for a sweet and spicy BBQ sauce, you’re not going to regret picking his one up. If you’re looking for something with a garlic kick, however, or something that pays homage to the South East Asian fire of real sriracha, you’re probably better off just picking up a bottle of the rooster sauce by itself and whipping up a glaze on your own.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: I might – it’s a good sweet and spicy sauce, if that’s what you like.

Would I Buy It Again: Too sweet for me – I prefer something more like Trader Joes’s Carolina Gold.

Final Synopsis: Not much sriracha or garlic, but still a good BBQ sauce.


Trader Joe’s and the Organic Carrots of Many Colors

Trader Joe's and the Organic Carrots of Many Colors

Look at all dem crazy colors!

I don’t usually go trolling the Trader Joe’s produce aisle for products to review, unless I see something particularly eye catching – like a cruciferous crunch or some kale sprouts – and to be honest I wasn’t planning on reviewing Trader Joe’s Organic Carrots of Many Colors when I bought them.

Two things changed, however. One, I noticed that Trader Joe went ahead and inserted the classic conjunction-article pair “and the” into the product name, which by itself is crazy enough to write about, but more importantly, two, I really liked them.

I know – I’m as surprised as you are. After all, aren’t we just talking about carrots here? Regardless of the fact that there are some with different colors, aren’t they all just basically still the same? Isn’t this just another, somewhat feeble, marketing gimmick to try and move root vegetables? Well yes and no. Yes, because yes – despite some very subtle taste differences, these carrots are all functionally the same. But also no because, as I discovered, a plate of colorful carrots is actually more enjoyable to eat.

First of all, yes this bag really does contain carrots of many colors – from pale yellow through a range of oranges, to red and purple. If this spectrum of carrot colors comes as a surprise to you, then you may be even more surprised to know that for the vast majority of the existence of the carrot orange was in the minority. It’s only in the modern age that orange overtook every other color for carrot supremacy, a change that is directly linked to the reign of William of Orange in 16th century Europe. You can educate yourself more at the online World Carrot Museum (and I certainly urge you to), or read my short version way back on the Trader Joe’s Beet and Purple Carrot Juice post.

These various colors of carrots don’t actually correlate to any difference in taste, and only very subtle variations in nutritional content. What they do provide, however, is a really stunning medley of colors. The external colors of these carrots is striking enough – but once you’ve skinned them each carrot becomes even more startlingly vivid. The pale yellow carrots become brilliant yellow, the red carrots are as bright as strawberries, and the purple carrots reveal not just a deep regal purple, but also a core of pale yellow that runs the length. Sliced and diced on my chopping board, ready to be added to a hearty soup, the carrots really did look better. Even if the taste was indistinguishable they livened up the dish, and made the prep process more fun – qualities of presentation that were just as enjoyable as the taste of the food.

Will this carrots change the way you think about carrots? No. But it will change the way you look at them.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes – why limit yourself to boring carrots?

Would I Buy Them Again: I would, I really liked the flair they lent to the presentation.

Final Synopsis: Taste like regular carrots, but look like a million bucks.

Trader Joe's and the Organic Carrots of Many Colors 2

Cut up and looking pretty, next to some heirloom potatoes. Notice the purple carrots with white cores. Wild!


Trader Joe’s Complete Salad – Baby Spinach with Cranberries, Candied Pecans, Miner’s Blue Cheese and Raspberry Vinaigrette.

Trader Joe's Complete Salad - Baby Spinach with Cranberries, Candied Pecans, Miner's Blue Cheese and Raspberry Vinaigrette

Did someone say they wanted MORE SALAD?!

When I reviewed Trader Joe’s first entry in the Complete Salad series, the Harvest Blend Salad, I didn’t expect them to bring a second salad onto the scene so soon. No on could be more delighted than I, then, to see Trader Joe’s Baby Spinach Complete Salad sitting on the store shelves.

Their first, pumpkin intensive salad had it all – a hearty selection of green, seeds, interesting veggies, and pumpkin infused croutons all tied together with a good dressing. While that’s by no means unique for Trader Joe’s, what was new was the serving size – a mountainous 14 oz all packed up in one big bag. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that I’m a man who enjoys a big, plate filling, entree-level salad, but even I declare these giant Complete Salads to be too big for a single sitting. It’s a true concession by Trader Joe’s to salad lovers who just can’t get enough of that Trader Joe’s goodness.

While the portion size is certainly equally impressive, the Baby Spinach salad attempts a much different flavor profile than the Harvest salad. The keywords here are “light” and “refreshing”. The tart cranberries, sweet pecans and tangy blue cheese all make up the grace notes to the huge bed of leafy baby spinach and light and zesty vinaigrette. The berries, nuts and cheese crumbles come in good sized portions, but not so much that they drown out the springy, leafiness of the spinach greens or high, bright notes of the vinaigrette. I’ve never been a big fruit vinaigrette fan, and if you aren’t either you might want to consider tossing the included pouch and using some of Trader Joe’s own Champagne Vinaigrette, or your own favorite, instead.

This Baby Spinach salad is of classic construction, but it’s not the most amazing salad you’re ever going to have. Between the two, I much prefered the bygone Harvest salad, with it’s richer nuttiness and pumpkin tones for an overall more substantial eating expereince. That was a meal, whereas this Baby Spinach salad is more of an accompaniment to a meal. This point is very much driven home by the fact that there is no protein of any sort included with the salad. It’s refreshing, a good palette cleanser, but not an entree in it’s own right.

And that’s just fine – taken as a side dish, this salad delivers on all accounts. It’s a strong, workman like salad that’s unlikely to offend anyone, and is even given a bit of needed elan by the addition of fancy candied pecans. If you’re having company over, or just want to serve something with your chicken, this salad can easily serve 3-4 in style. If you’re looking for a quick meal in and of itself however, (as suggested by TJ’s “Quick Meal” emblem on package) plan on bringing your own meat to the table.


The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: Yes as a side dish, no as an entree.

Would I Buy It Again: Sure – it’s perfect for dressing up a dinner.

Final Synopsis: A salad kit that has everything you need to feed a whole table – except for the protein.

 

Trader Joe's Complete Salad - Baby Spinach with Cranberries, Candied Pecans, Miner's Blue Cheese and Raspberry Vinaigrette - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Complete Salad – Baby Spinach with Cranberries, Candied Pecans, Miner’s Blue Cheese and Raspberry Vinaigrette – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Sweet Sriracha Uncured Bacon Jerky

Trader Joe's Sweet Sriracha Uncured Bacon Jerky

Spicy, sweet glazed bacon. And also its jerky. Its everything.

Guys, you never know what you’re going to get in this world. Case in point, Trader Joe’s Sweet Sriracha Uncured Bacon Jerky. Just look at this stuff – it could so easily be the worst thing or the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life, and there’s simply no way to tell. I mean, let’s just look at the name for a minute here. “Sweet Sriracha”. Already we’re in trouble. Sweet sriracha? Sweet? I’ve had some sriracha in my time, I’ve even reviewed Trader Joe’s own take on sriracha, but I’ve never had sweet sriracha. We’re two words in and I’m already completely out to sea.

Let’s press on.

“Uncured Bacon Jerky”. Alright, that didn’t stick – let’s try it again. “Uncured Bacon Jerky”. Nope, nothing. I have no idea what that phrase means. Bacon jerky? Bacon? Jerky? Do they mean dehydrated pork slices? If so why don’t they say “pig jerky” or “pork jerky”. Do they actually mean dehydrated bacon slices? Isn’t that just bacon? Isn’t bacon already the crispy, salty, dehydrated form of bacon? What is going on here? Am I loosing my mind? There are no two words in the title I can put together and have them make sense.

Look, I could go on, but there’s really no amount of words that are going to untangle this very confounding string of words. I guess we’re just going to have to crack the bag open and have a taste. And you know what, folks? If you do that, you are going to be absolutely floored by one of the most delicious, most addictive, downright tongue delighting foods Trader Joe’s has to offer. This bacon jerky is a sweet and spicy blast of terrifically chewy, sticky, bacon that you can eat straight from the bag and be delighted by the whole while.

Bacon jerky, by the way, is apparently a thing. It’s when you take bacon and marinate it in a bit of savory spices. In this case, the spices are the incredibly addictive sweet sriracha sauce – basically Trader Joe’s standard sriracah sauce, but toned down to a much milder level of hotness. Into this plenty of white sugar and honey have been mixed to make a sweet glaze with just enough fire to get your lips smacking.

The bacon itself is TJ’s standard “no nitrate added” uncured bacon, and its served up here in long, thin strips that stick together in one big gooey pile. To quote Lays, I bet you can’t eat just one. Bacon by itself is good enough, but add a sweet & spicy glaze to it, and you’re talking about an unbeatable experience.

The only mark against it is the presentation which, in gooey bag form, is less than stellar. Even then, I couldn’t keep my fingers from teasing off strip after strip and gobbling it down. If you happen to prefer something more refined, Trader Joe’s suggests using it in place of regular bacon on your BLT, or crumbling it onto salads, or even over mac and cheese.

Really there’s no way to go wrong with this stuff. These spicy, honeyed slices of portable, ready-to-eat bacon are winners from start to finish.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not to orthodox Jews, but other than that yes across the board.

Would I Buy It Again: I’m not sure I would trust myself with another bag.

Final Synopsis: An evolution of the bacon experience that everyone should try!

 

Trader Joe's Sweet Sriracha Uncured Bacon Jerky - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Sweet Sriracha Uncured Bacon Jerky – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Broccoli Florets

Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Broccoli Florets

Fried broccoli. Strangely, not an oxymoron.

I’ll admit I was very excited when I first saw Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Broccoli Florets. Sure, there’s the obvious reason why – they’re insane. I can see someone going out and frying up a bunch of broccoli in palm oil – maybe an unhinged zealot misinterpreting a Biblical passage or a space alien taking its best guess at replicating human behavior – but to then go out and try and sell those fried florets? That’s downright brazen.

As I say though, that’s not the main reason I got excited when I saw these. The main reason is that I had high hopes they might be a healthy, maybe even tasty, alternative to my potato chip cravings. Alas, this isn’t the case. While the broccoli florets are tasty, in their own fashion, they are by no means healthy.

Let’s examine both of these surprising facts.

Tasty? Yes, definitely tasty – for a given value of tasty at least. The first thing to keep in mind is that these fried broccoli florets have exactly three ingredients – broccoli, palm oil and salt. If you buy these, you should expect them to taste like broccoli, and I certainly was. If you enjoy the taste of broccoli, you’ll find it we’ll preserved here – not at all depleted or ruined by the frying process. As for salt, there’s only a dash, to the tune of only 55mg of sodium (2% your daily value) for the entire bag. Trader Joe’s is content to let the hale, hearty taste of the broccoli speak for itself, and it does.

Taken alone this basic taste wouldn’t be very interesting, but the eponymous “crispy crunch” greatly helps it along. Each floret is dry, crunchy and enjoyable in it’s own right as an interesting texture experience – with a light taste and a mellow, green aftertaste. It’s not the taste sensation of the year, but if these florets were anywhere near as healthy as broccoli, they would be plenty tasty enough to justify a regular purchase as a healthful snack food replacement. That brings us to our second fact.

Healthy? Not at all. Our little 1.4 ounce (40 gram) bag of broccoli may only have 220 calories, but 130 of those calories, more than half, are from fat. That’s 15 grams of fat total, for 23% of your daily value. Of that 6 grams are saturated fat – 30% of your daily total! Shocking for broccoli, I’d say.

Let’s compare that to an equal serving of Trader Joe’s Kettle Cooked Olive Oil Potato Chips. 40 grams of that has only 200 calories and 10 grams of fat. Leaps and bounds healthier! The only real advantage they have over potoato chips is that the broccoli retains its nutrients, packing in a pretty decent amount of vitamin C, along with some vitamin A, calcium, and iron.

Without the health factor, there’s no reason to pick up these fried broccoli florets. They taste good enough – but not good enough to warrant that level of fat, when simple raw broccoli florets dipped in a little ranch dressing is not only healthier but far tastier to boot.


 

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: No real reason to.

Would I Buy Them Again: I can’t imagine I will.

Final Synopsis: Fried broccoli that is less healthy and less good tasting than the raw stuff by a wide margin.

Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Broccoli Florets - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Broccoli Florets – Nutrition Facts


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