Trader Giotto’s (Trader Joe’s) Organic Pesto Pizza with Tomatoes and Broccoli

Trader Joe's Organic Pesto Pizza

Hoo boy – that’s some broccoli alright.

When the Trader Joe’s R&D wonks get bored with putting pumpkin in things, they must just start drawing ingredients out of a hat and dare each other to make food out of them. How else can you explain Trader Joe’s Organic Pesto Pizza with Tomatoes and Broccoli, the most unusal use of pesto since their Quinoa Pesto.

Trader Joe’s pesto pizza looks like any of their other frozen pizza offerings on the surface, but quickly breaks the mold. In place of a tomato base, it instead uses a rich and savory basil pesto. On to this they layer mozzarella cheese, tomato slices and, strangely, little broccoli florets. Not content to stop there, they replace the standard wheat crust with a crisp, sourdough crust.

Trader Joe's Organic Pesto Pizza 2

Surprisingly, this all somehow works.

The result is a rich-tasting, slightly sour, slightly acidic pizza with plenty of crunch – and surprisingly that works. Each bite is bright and fresh, with a little bit of “zazz” not normally found in the gooey, salty pizza world. Why they added the broccoli I can’t say (this element could have easily been substituted out for a more traditional veggie in my opinion – mushrooms for example) but the pesto base is brilliant, and what ultimately brings the pizza together.

I’ve never had a pesto based pizza before, but it fills each bite with that savory, oily, flavorful taste that really works well with the thin, crispy crust and milder toppings. Although billed as a pizza, this just as easily could be viewed as a pesto-topped flatbread with veggie toppings. The pesto is really the star of the show here, making each bite a savory delight and justifying its otherwise bizarre existence.

The rest of the ingredients are fine – the mozzerlla is sufficient, the tomatoes are a welcome little change to the texture and mellow out the flavor, and the broccoli is forgettable. As a carnivore, I would have preferred some meat on this. Even despite the all veggie topping selection it still misses out on the “Vegetarian” tag for some reason. That said, it still manages to fit in 11 grams of protein per two slice serving, so that’s not bad.

As made clear in the product name, everything in the pizza is laudably organic – from the wheat flour to the olive oil. This is an improvement over the previous incarnation of this pizza, Trader Joe’s Pesto Pizza, which had all the same toppings and was something like 90% organic already. Not an earth-shattering change, but nice. Organic designation aside, the only real reason to pick this up is for the novelty of the pesto. It’s an intriguing take on pizza, and it’d be interesting to see Trader Joe’s introduce some more varieties down the line.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, the pesto is good and the broccoli isn’t as scary as you might think.

Would I Buy It Again: Sure, though I might get some prosciutto to throw on top too.

Final Synopsis: A straight forward pesto flatbread with plenty of zip.


Trader Joe’s Brewed Ginger Beer

Trader Joe's Brewed Ginger Beer

Trader Joe’s is going to teach you a thing or two about ginger sodas.

There’re ginger ales, then there’re ginger beers, and then there’s this. Trader Joe’s Ginger Brew is an intense, carbonated ginger drink unlike anything else I’ve ever had – and I’ve drunk a liter of Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Brew.

There are a lot of types of ginger drinks in the world – ginger ale, ginger beer, this stuff, each one offering its own take on the complex, nuanced spice of ginger. Growing up on the ubiquitous Royal Canadian brand of ginger ale, I remember being absolutely gobsmacked the first time I tried a bottle of Reed’s Jamaican Style Ginger Beer. Never had I suspected that ginger soda could be so intense – never had I dreamed that someone would dare!

Since then I’ve warmed up to the idea of extremely gingery soda. Not a beverage you enjoy so much as explore – a sippin’ drink. The whiskey of the soda world. But even I was taken aback by Trader Joe’s Brewed Ginger Beer – a real ass kicker of a ginger soda that doesn’t let you off the hook just because you wanted to drink something sweet.

TJ’s Brewed Ginger Beer has the same intense ginger flavor of the seasonal Triple Ginger Brew, but adds in a mixture of lemon and lime, as well as a proprietary mix of natural flavorings and extracts – additions that are quite visible in the sediment that settles onto the bottom of the bottle. Not that you’ll be able to pick these flavors out from behind the fierce wall of extra ginger gingeriness that blasts you in the mouth.

However, it’s not just the ginger that makes this drink so unique, it’s the bitterness. Lurking behind the first blush of sweetness and the sharp slap of ginger there is a hard, bitter burn – like a hint of tonic water. That shocker is what sets this brewed ginger beer apart from other’s of it’s ilk. Of course bitterness isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in fact, in this case I actually think it’s a nice touch, adding an extra dimension to the already complex play of flavors without being unpleasant to drink..

Trader Joe’s Brewed Ginger Beer certainly feels like a manly ginger ale, earning the bold nautical imagery TJ’s throws on the label. It’s so manly, in fact, that I can’t help but think about using it as a mixer in alcoholic drinks. Any ginger soda will work for your Dark and Stormy (dark rum and ginger ale), Moscow Mule (vodka and ginger ale) Horsefeather (whiskey and ginger ale) or Ginger Shandy (beer and ginger ale), however Trader Joe’s Brewed Ginger Beer’s complexity and not-too-sweet delivery is a natural choice for adding extra depth to your drink.

This may not be the most quaffable ginger soda in the world, but if you’re looking for a good ginger beer to savor, or an high-class mixer for your cocktails, it’s tailor made for you.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: To certain refined palettes, I wouldn’t hesitate.

Would I Buy It Again: Yeah, along with some more dark rum.

Trader Joe's Brewed Ginger Beer - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Brewed Ginger Beer – Nutrition Facts

Final Synopsis: A strong, slightly bitter ginger beer with a lot of complexity.


Trader Joe’s Maple Water

Trader Joe's Maple Water

Tree sap – your new hydration solution!

“Would you like some tree sap?” “How about a nice cup of tree sap?” “Why not quench your thirst with this big glass of tree sap?”

No matter how you phrase it, drinking tree sap just doesn’t sound all that appealing. And so it was with literal jaw-dropping surprise that I picked up Trader Joe’s Maple Water from the store shelves this week. “What is this, like, water with maple syrup in it?” I thought to myself. That would sure be weird.

Weird indeed, but not as weird as the truth. Maple water is so called because it is the literal water that trickles out of maple trees when you try and make syrup from them. It’s literally tree sap. Check out the ingredient list if you don’t believe me – ingredients: maple water (sap). Trader Joe’s Maple Water is pure maple sap that comes directly from trees – for real.

So the obvious question is, what does maple tree sap taste like?

Well, not like much actually. Twist off the cap of the cardboard tetra-pack carton and take a swing, and you’ll end up with a big mouthful of water with a faint sweetness and a very faint maple syrup taste. It you want to try and replicate this at home, pour a big eight ounce glass of water then add about half a teaspoon of maple syrup to it. We’re talking that level of almost low key sweetness and subtle maple flavor.

Goddamn shocking folks. I had assumed this was going to be some kind of sugary summertime drink – a substitute for  lemonade or watermelon cooler. Instead, this maple syrup product is being marketed as a complete source of re-hydration. Yes, maple water is being positioned as the new coconut water.

Okay, Let’s break this down.

The first thing to understand is that maple tree sap is completely unlike sticky, viscous pine sap. In its natural state, as it rises up the tree trunk in early spring, it runs free and clear at 98% water by volume. It’s this very same sap that is literally tapped into in order to make maple syrup. The only difference is that maple syrup is crated by boiling off the excess water until only the sugars remain. If you had the will, and enough cartons of maple water, you could boil up your own maple syrup on the stove at home.

While drinking unrefined maple sap has a history stretching back to the pre-colonial Indian tribes of the north east, the recent resurgence can be tied to the tireless merchandising machine looking to fill the newly lucrative health drink market. With the success of coconut water, it’s no wonder that maple sap is being introduced into the marketplace with trendy boxes and high price points.

So is it actually any good for you? Well, that remains hard to prove. The copywriters are certainly straining themselves to prove it so, bringing up such facts as a cup of maple sap contains more manganese than a cup of kale. Manganese, guys, manganese – someone hold me back!

Maple water does have a couple nice features – half the sugar and calories as coconut water, 25 calories per serving as opposed to 100, as well as being an allegedly rich source of anti-oxidants, although it lacks the potassium and electrolyte content of coconut water. But the real benefit, it seems to me, is in cultural cache.

If you’ve ever felt pangs of envy as the box of organic coconut water you brought to your barre cardio class was made to look downright boorish by someone else’s box of organic single-sourced coconut water, this may be the product for you. Just envision the looks on everyone’s faces when you pull out a box of honest to god tree sap. People are going to lose their goddamn minds.

Just make sure you’re cool enough to actually pull it off. Maple water is close enough to the ever racing edge of absurdity that you’re going to have to handle it with absolute self-confidence to avoid looking ridiculous. Maybe practice in the mirror at home a couple time first.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: To social status seekers and the genuinely curious, yes – to everyone else, no.

Would I Buy It Again: I see no need.

Final Synopsis: This pricey carton of drinkable tree sap is probably just a fad.

Trader Joe's Maple Water - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Maple Water – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Spicy Ranchero Egg White Salad

Trader Joe's Spicy Ranchero Egg White Salad

Egg salad, one of the few foods that can be this lumpy and still look appetizing.

Vamos, mi amigos, to a land where healthy egg salads are mixed with some sort of bland salsa. Vamos!

Yes, today I’m review Trader Joe’s Spicy Ranchero Egg White Salad – a riff on the classic egg salad which, one, tries to make it a little less heart-clogging by cutting out all the mayo and cholesterol and, two, tries to spice it up a bit. TJ more or less succeeds on the first count – this is damn healthy by egg salad standards – but fails rather badly on the second front.

The most famous appearance of the word ranchero is, of course, in another egg dish – the breakfast classic huevos rancheros. While ranchero simply means “rancher” in Mexican Spanish, it has come to culinary signify putting a bunch of salsa all over something – in the same way that “California” has come to mean putting a bunch of avocado all over something, and “Denver” has come to mean putting a bunch of ham, onions and green peppers all over something. The culinary world is a crazy world.

Given the pedigree of the word ranchero, and the additional use of the word “spicy” right in the title, you might expect this egg salad to be, well, spicy. It is not. In fact, Trader Joe’s Spicy Ranchero Egg White Salad doesn’t really taste like much of anything at all, other than a mild spiciness that stops in just long enough to tap you on the tip of the tongue, then vanish off into nothingness. It’s probably the least spicy thing I’ve ever tried that could still be (technically) referred to as “spicy”.

It’s not just that it lacks spice – this egg salad lacks zing, zip and even zazz. If you pick it up it should be for the nutritional value alone, because there isn’t much to talk about in way of taste. Of course, it’s precisely because it has any nutritional value that it scores so low on the flavor side of things. There are only 50 calories per serving – and one serving is half of the container. Without tangy mayonnaise or rich egg yolks, this egg salad doesn’t have much to dazzle you with.

It seems like that would be all the more reason for Trader Joe’s to spice it up with some poppin’ peppers or fiery hot sauce instead of leaving it to languish in mild, in offensive blandness. Alas.

If you’re looking for a high-protein, low-calorie filler food, this may not really be a problem for you. The egg salad has 7 grams of protein per serving, only 2 grams of carbs and no cholesterol. As long as you don’t mind the low flavor payload, and the typically lumpy egg salad texture, this can help you hit your diet goals – just don’t expect to be wowing any Mexican ranchers with it.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not unless you already have a plan on how to fancy it up.

Would I Buy It Again: I might – it’s healthy enough and inoffensive enough to be a last minute meal option.

Final Synopsis: A barely spicy egg salad with some healthy attributes.

Trader Joe's Spicy Ranchero Egg White Salad - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Spicy Ranchero Egg White Salad – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Almond Stuffed Meski Olives

Trader Joe's Almond Stuffed Meski Olives

Olived!

And so we return to the world of stuffed olives, with Trader Joe’s Almond Stuffed Meski Olives. The last time we traipsed into these briny grounds was with Trader Joe’s Seriously Stuffed Peppers with Olives, Capers and Garlic which – now that I think about it – one, isn’t technically a stuffed olive but an olive which has been stuffed into something and two, didn’t actually involve brine. Damn, so close.

As the above paragraph may indicate, yes – I am currently drunk. Not just because it’s before noon on a Sunday, but actually and in fact for very important research reasons. You see, when I bought this intriguing sounding olive garnish I though there might be something really interesting going on with it. As it turns out, they are pretty much just olives stuffed with almonds – not too much to add. So to up the ante, as it were, I’ve been making martinis.

Unlike the stuffed peppers, or some of Trader Joe’s other stuffed offerings, I was relieved to find these weren’t packed in oil but just your standard salty, olive brine. Another relief was to discover that the meksi olives themselves are shockingly mild. When I think of green olives, I think of the pimento stuffed cocktail variety found, most frequently, at my grandmother’s house during get togethers. Salty little bastards that kick your butt after about one and a half olives.

In comparison, Trader Joe’s stuffed meski olives are gentle delights – briny, to be sure, but mild enough to munch away on by the handful. Certainly mild enough to be broadly appealing to party goers. Stick some toothpicks in these and I’d you’ll have yourself an intriguing hors d’oeuvre.

Whether this mildness of taste is a property of the stuffed almonds or not, I couldn’t say. In either case, they certainly make a nice accompaniment. The nuts are a touch bland, but they balance out the stronger flavor of the olive while lending it some considerable heft and crunch – something to really chew on, rather than pop in the mouth.

Overall, it’s a little olive revelation – I’d never considered buying olives as a garnish before, but I’d certainly think about picking these up again in the future.

Of course, when it comes to garnishes, there’s one other famous use for olives – the martini. Trader Joe himself suggests tippling it up with these olives right on the label – either as a cocktail garnish, or with the brine for a dirty martini “like no other”. See, it all comes full circle.

While TJ doesn’t go on to substantiate that last claim, I just so happened to have enough gin and vermouth laying around the house to consider putting that claim to the test.

So here I am, sipping on an extremely dirty cocktail, essentially attempting to savor olive brine mixed with a punishing liver toxin. It is only as I lift it to my lips that I remember, oh yeah, martinis are terrible. Or they certainly are the way I prepare them. 6 parts gin to 1 part vemouth, per the standard recipie, with 5 or 6 spoonfuls of olive brine. Simply terrible – like a punch straight to the liver. There actually seems to be more in the glass each time I sip from it. Hundreds of ounces of harsh gin (top shelf, Beefeater – absolutely murderous) with a sassy little olive flip.

If only I could stop drinking it. Of course, Momma didn’t raise no quitters.

At any rate, I subscribe to that school of thought which says, if a lot of people like something, but I personally don’t see any merit in it, I’m probably missing something. Maybe it’s just an acquired taste? and polishing off this glass will clarify my understanding? However at this point, three quarters of the way down, it seems unlikely. I suppose it doesn’t help that I prepared it in a big honking wine glass.

A dirty martini “like no other”? No, I’m afraid I can’t independently verify that. Brine-wise, this seems to be just as good as any other olive brand you might like to pick up. In terms of garnishes, however, I’d have to give it an enthusiastic thumbs up.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes – a very gentle and tasty olive.

Would I Buy It Again: I never thought I’d say this about stuffed olives, but yes.

Final Synopsis: These olives are good, and I’m drunk.

Trader Joe's Almond Stuffed Meski Olives - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Almond Stuffed Meski Olives – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt

Trader Joe's Peanut Butter & Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt

A good idea in theory…?

Your first impression, when you hear about Trader Joe’s new Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt, might be “That sounds gross.”

I’m proud to say that I’ve based this blog on the idea that sometimes even the most bizarre or outlandish sounding food products – even partially popped popcorn kernels or a red wine and milk chocolate drink, can astound and delight an eater who approaches the world with an open mind. Not this time though. Trader Joe’s new Peanut Butter and Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt looks and smells and tastes terrible. Just really awful.

Yeah, I know that probably doesn’t strike you as an astounding verdict or anything, so before I start systematically eviscerating this poor, hapless product I thought I’d take a moment to find some praise for it – faint though it may be.

Kudos – kudos I say! – to Trader Joe’s for not giving a good goddamn what anybody else in the world thinks. There was zero demand for a no fat, peanut butter and strawberry jelly flavored greek yogurt. Exactly zero people were standing around demanding this mash up of a soggy sandwich and a tasteless  dairy culture, but someone at Trader Joe’s was sure as hell going to give it to us any way.

“Who the hell cares!” someone at TJ’s is probably bellowing even now, chomping on a cigar butt and gesticulating forcefully, “I said make some goddamn peanut butter and jelly flavored greek yogurt, and stock it on every store shelf nationwide!”

“Sir, the PB&J greek yogurt is a complete flop! No one is buying it!”, no doubt come the cries.

“So what!” our fellow at Trader Joe’s shouts. “Now fill this sushi with quinoa and start baconizing all this popcorn, and why isn’t there any rosemary on these toffee sunflower seeds?!”

Anyone can play it safe. It’s the bold innovators who deserve the acclaim. Long may you thrive, Trader Joe’s!

That said, this yogurt is really dreadful. I really wanted to like it, even in the face of the atrocious sounding name, if for no other reason than the packaging is kind of cute. Sadly, the contents don’t live up to even this promise. Peanut butter and greek yogurt have similar textures, I had reasoned, maybe it’ll be rich and creamy and sweet and – nope. Nope, none of that. It’s not even peanut butter colored – just sort of a dismal gray.

Well, I thought, maybe the strawberry jelly is sort of included as a fruit-on-the-bottom type sweet surprise that – nope. Nope, no jelly on the bottom. Instead, the peanut butter and jelly flavors have blended into each other, along with the tart, plain greek yogurt. Shockingly, the ingredient label shows that real strawberries have actually gone into this. Shocking, I say, because they are impossible to discern in this undifferentiated gray mass – neither in texture nor taste.

The PB&J sandwich is an American classic. This yogurt tastes nothing like it – only the vaguest elements of peanut butter are detectable, and only the faintest taste of strawberries shows up. If you have ever soaked a PB&J sandwich in skim milk until it started to fall apart, then tried to eat it, that is pretty much exactly like what you are getting here. All you really end up tasting is a blur of tartness, muddled with hard to place indistinct flavors. It may only be $0.99, but even that is asking too much when Trader Joe’s offers such a wide range of far tastier nonfat greek yogurts.

I remember figuring out that mushing together everything in my lunch bag was a bad idea back in Elementary school. Trader Joe’s has done an excellent job of reminding me why.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Nope.

Would I Buy It Again: Not unless I feel like wasting food.

Final Synopsis: Theoretically, a peanut butter and jelly infused greek yogurt. Practically, a gross, gray glob.

Trader Joe's Peanut Butter & Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter & Jelly with Nonfat Greek Yogurt – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Premium Extra Sweet Strawberries

Trader Joe's Premium Extra Sweet Strawberries

Now we’re talking!

Know who loves a good strawberry? Everybody. Sweet, red, plump, fragrant and delicious – this time of year strawberries are overflowing the shelves of our local supermarkets and piling up at quaint roadside stands.

Know what sucks though? Have you ever brought home a batch of big honkin’ strawberries, only to bite into one and be completely let down. Plump, red and fragrant sure – but just not all that sweet. Certainly not sweet enough to scratch that summertime strawberry itch. You might luck out with a perfectly batch from your local farmer’s market, but supermarkets are notoriously bad about selling you huge strawberries that taste more tart and watery than sweet and delectable.

Enter Trader Joe’s Premium Extra Sweet Strawberries – a direct answer to the millions left wanting by subpar strawberries. These ruby red fruits promise you succulent, sweet supping with their deep red coloration and wonderful fragrance – and it’s a promise they deliver on.

This is not the sort of strawberry that you’re used to seeing in the supermarket, even at a Trader Joe’s. You’ll find them (while they last) in the produce section next to Trader Joe’s two other varieties of strawberry – regular and organic. Both the regular and organic strawberries have the usual bright red color you expect, which makes the deep red of the Premium Extra Sweet Strawberries much more striking. You won’t notice any white patches on these burgundy beauties – they’re dark red from stem to tip.

Side by side comparison - ordinary Trader Joe's strawberry on the left, Premium Trader Joe's strawberry on the right.

Side by side comparison – ordinary Trader Joe’s strawberry on the left, Premium Trader Joe’s strawberry on the right.

In fact, they’re a little too dark red. While every batch of strawberries has a few soft spots in it, you’ll notice that most of the strawberries in this “premium” batch are a bit on the soft side. While that may not sound ideal, it’s an unavoidable quality of these sweeter strawberries – the higher sugar content means they have a shorter shelf life and are more prone to going squishy than their firmer, lower-sugar counterparts.

If you don’t mind your strawberries a little on the soft side, they’re well worth the extra thirty cents per pint – these strawberries are notable sweeter and more flavorful. Even the duds in the bunch are a bit sweeter than your ordinary strawberry, while the softer, darker red ones are positively bursting with strawberry sweetness – not a hint of tartness to be found.

While the softer texture may make them a little hard for some people to enjoy straight from the box, they’re certainly ideal for cooking with. Slices of these very sweet strawberries will elevate your shortcake, spongecake or ice cream to premium levels.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes, so long as you don’t mind soft strawberries.

Would I Buy Them Again: In a heartbeat. Thirty cents extra is a steal for actually flavorful strawberries.

Final Synopsis: Much sweeter, and squishier, strawberries.


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