Trader Joe’s French Market Sparkling French Berry Lemonade

Trader Joe's Sparkling French Berry Lemonade

Look at that guy appreciate the hell out of that glass of lemonade. Go man, go!

 

I really had no choice but to pick up Trader Joe’s French Market Sparkling French Berry Lemonade. Who could resist such a coy little bottle? Everything about this drink is designed to attract – from the sweeping curves of the bottle, to the cheery, blush colored drink, to the fanciful, inset labeling.

Once it’s caught your eye, once you’ve seen that this is not just lemonade, not just sparkling lemonade, but “French Berry” sparkling lemonade, well sir, you’re probably more than just a little bit intrigued. And that’s where the god damn geniuses over there at the Trader Joe’s Marketing department get you. Contrary to every other TJ product on the shelves, there’s not one word of explanation on the whole bottle. Nothing more than a nutrition label, a very elegant “refrigerate after opening”, and a tiny “product of France” notice, tucked away in one corner. Even the Trader Joe’s hand lotion has about a paragraph  justifying its folksy existence to the world. All of that, and you’re not going to offer one word of explanation about what the hell a “french berry” is? My curiosity was piqued.

What you’ll find in this bottle is a truly delightful taste of bottled summertime pleasure. Sparkling fruit juices are by no means rare in this world. Martinelli’s, the unstoppable juggernaut of seasonal apple juice, is the most visible player, but they aren’t alone (as we saw with Ace Pumpkin Cider). What is rare, however, is a really well done carbonated fruit juice. Most, and Martinelli’s really comes to mind here, just decide to make the thing cloyingly sweet and call it a day. It takes a little bit of moxie and character to say to yourself, “Why can’t a sparkling fruit juice aspire to nuance and complexity?”

Let’s begin with the basics. When you get a bottle of Trader Joe’s French Market lemonade, you shouldn’t expect lemonade like Minute Maid likes to make. Outside of America, lemonade takes on strange and different meaning. In France, it happens to mean carbonated, lemon-flavored, clear sodas – including drinks like Sprite and 7-up – and by no mean’s including anything actually made from squeezed lemons, unless you’ve canned or bottled and carbonated it. That’s what Trader Joe’s have given us here in the form of a delightfully fizzy, tickle-your-nose style bottled drink. This French lemonade is also much less citrus-y than you might expect if you were raised on the pucker-your lips, homemade stuff. This sparkling lemonade has citrus notes that emerge from between the bubbles, tingling and buzzing the tongue lightly, but never approaching anything like sour.

Lemonade get even crazier the farther you get from central Europe. In Ireland, for example, they have three types of “lemonade”: clear, green and red. And if that hasn’t already terrified you into never leaving the country again, you might enjoy one of the fine salted lemonades of South East Asia.

Where Trader Joe’s Sparkling Lemonade really stands on it’s own, however,  is in the light and fruity berry notes that infuse it. Subtle, mellow notes of strawberry lay over the light lemon flavor. With all the other flavors going on, plus the bubbles, the strawberry hardly tastes like strawberry at all, but simply a more general mixed berry taste. Nevertheless, it’s tasty, light and refereshing – not heavy and artificial like a lot of strawberry lemonades out there.

Wait a minute, strawberry? Where’s our eponymous “French Berry”, if that is in fact such a thing? Is it even used in this drink?

No, and yes, are your answers respectively. The french berry is indeed a real berry, but no french berry comes close to having a part in this “French Berry Lemonade”. The french berry is known by several names, among them “persian berry” and “avignon berry”, and is shockingly hard to uncover information about online. Despite it’s alluring appellations, the french berry is nothing more than the inedible fruit of an unexceptional buckthorn bush. It’s sole claim to fame, so far as I was able to uncover, is that medieval scribes used it to make a variety of dyes out of. What does that have to do with sparkling lemonade? Nothing. I expect that it was simply stuck on here because it sounds so much fancier than “strawberry”.

Weird naming conventions aside, this is still a fabulous summertime libation, pleasing to all the senses. What are the wages of enjoying such levity? About 130 calories a cup, and a 31 grams of sugar. That’s not all that bad for a full calorie soft drink, just be sure to enjoy your lovely tipples in moderation.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Sure, this is a great alternative to normal soda and perfect picnic accompaniment.

Would I Buy It Again: Yes, I’m looking forward to it.

Final Synopsis: A not too sweet, and very tasty, sparkling strawberry lemonade.

 

Trader Joe's Sparkling French Berry Lemonade - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Sparkling French Berry Lemonade – Nutrition Facts

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Trader Joe’s Vegetable Masala Burger

Trader Joe's Vegetable Masala Burgers

Burgers?

Making due on an overdue promise I made when reviewing TJ’s excellent Pizza Veggie Burgers, today I decided to try out Trader Joe’s Vegetable Masala Burger. What I got was a tasty bit of Indian cooking in a strange new form.

These two burgers, pizza and masala, are closely linked despite their completely different tastes. Obvisously they are both veggies burgers, but more than that they are veggies burgers that refuse to conform to the standard veggie burger model. Like Trader Joe’s Pizza Veggie Burger before it, the Vegetable Masala Burger has dared to ask the question, what if a veggie burger didn’t try to taste like a hamburger at all? It’s an ingenious solution that sidesteps the pitfall of trying to ape in greens what meat already is. You’re never going to out burger a burger with condensed tofu, the only way to win is to not play the game in the first place.

This is the highest form of vegetarianism, the food item that’s not a “meatless” version of something else, not a substitute or alternative to the mainstream, but a unique and delicious meal in its own right. You’re not giving something up to eat this burger, you’re getting something new.

Before we get into what I think was strange about the burger, I’d better give you a run down of how it tastes. Masala simply means “a mixture of spices” and the term is used throughout south east Asia. The masala Trader Joe’s uses here is mysteriously only described as “spices” on the ingredient label, but from the taste of it all the usual suspects are here. Tumeric, cardamom and cumin all mingle with the hearty mixture of veggies, which very visibly includes potatoes, carrots, green beans and bell peppers. The resultant patty is dense, and redolent of spices when lightly toasted on the stove. It both looks and tastes like a hearty vegetable soup without the soup. In particular, the veggies are all soft and toothsome, a pleasure to eat even if the patty tends to disintegrate too easily while you eat it. As for the spices, they’re strong enough that they give the burger a warm and authentic flavor, but mild enough that you might consider dressing them up with a condiment – be it ketchup or chutney. Another selling point, and relief to veterans of the veggie burger world, the masala burgers don’t include soy of any kind, relying instead on breadcrumbs to bind the veggie mix together.

What’s strange to me is that they market these as burgers at all. Where Trader Joe’s pizza burger tried to at least give you the semblance and feel of a burger, the masala burger goes complete off the beaten path. From taste to texture, there’s nothing particularly “burger-y” about these burgers beyond the fact that they’re puck shaped. It’s even stranger when you regard the huge bits of potato and other vegetables roughly shouldering each other right up there at the surface. The veggie pizza burger sort of managed to look like a burger from a distance. With such large and vulgar vegetable chunks, these masala burgers wouldn’t fool a near-sighted sloth.

It almost seems unnatural that Trader Joe’s has forced the vegetables into this shape at all. The way the whole thing comes apart as soon as you stick a fork in them makes you wonder exactly who we’re fooling by going through the trouble of corralling them into a burger shape in the first place. They might more accurately be called Trader Joe’s Cooked Indian Veggies That We Packed Into A Cylindrical Shape, although I suspect that may not have gotten past the Marketing department. Trader Joe’s may have hung onto the name, but make no mistake – these burgers defy the genre in every other way.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes, to vegetarians and carnivores alike.

Would I Buy Them Again: Probably not, honestly. I’ll eat burgers for my burgers and enjoy my Indian food on a plate.

Final Synopsis: A genuinely tasty veggie burger that defies the genre.

Trader Joe's Vegetable Masala Burgers - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Vegetable Masala Burgers – Nutrition Facts

 


Trader Joe’s Dried Fruit – Soft and Juicy Mandarins

Trader Joe's Soft and Juicy Mandarin Slices

Finally, someone has done dehydrated oranges right.

It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed any dehydrated fruit. On the one hand, this is surprising because Trader Joe’s has more dried fruit than a mountain man’s cabin. Seriously, whenever I walk into the fruit and nut section of my local TJ’s I feel like I could be standing in a rustic general store in some picturesque moutain town that probably only exists in the movies. On the other hand, this is not surprising, because all dehydrated fruit more or less tastes the same. Trader Joe’s apricots taste basically just like the dried apricots you’re going to get anywhere else. Thus I tend to limit my dried fruit selections to truly unusual offerings – like vacuum fried banana chips – or precious, precious mango. For that very reason, I’ve long avoided the winking gaze of Trader Joe’s Soft and Juicy Manadrin Slices. Pretty much I felt I was capable of guessing what these were going to taste like, and if that’s the case, why the hell would I need to bother with reviewing it. Finally, after about of year of seeing these sitting lamely in the “New!” section, I bit.

Boy howdy, I’m glad I did.

If you’ve had dehydrated oranges before, they probably rank among your least favorite dehydrated fruits. Usually a slice of dehydrated orange becomes something like a desicate flap of leathery skin, and tends to adhere itself to your teeth the moment you take a bite. Not so here.

These slice are every bit as soft and juicy as they are set up to be. Not only are they piable, chewy and soft, but they’re amazing flavor and sweet to boot. Now make no mistake, there is added sugar here, but it’s the natural brilliant orange flavor of these mandarin slices that really shines through. I know that doesn’t sound like anything too special, but believe me when I say the first one of these you try is going to make you sit up in your chair. It’s hard to believe that they did it, but Trader Joe’s has really managed to capture that juicy, citric zing and sweet, warm flavor of perfectly ripe oranges.

The thing that really impresses me about these sugared, sulfured orange slice though, is just how damn healthy they are. The serving size is a generous 14 slices, for a total of 140 calories. That’s right – only 10 calories per plump slice of sweet, natural orange flavor. I’m well aware that the most cliched thing I could say right now is these orange slices are nature’s candy, but dammit these orange slices are nature’s candy. In fact, they’re better than candy. If you sat a bag of these delicious little orange slice in front of me, and a bag of stupid Skittles or something, I’d go for the dehydrated orange slices every time – they’re really that good.

Just how does Trader Joe’s manage to deliver such plump and juicy dehydrated fruit slices? Isn’t dehydration supposed to result in the exact opposite of that? Ggodo question – the answer is sulfur dioxide, that handy preservative that locks in the flavor and color of dried fruit. This is the very same sulfur that is being referenced when a dried fruit product boasts of being “unsulfured” – generally also identifiably by the dead brown color that tends to be the result of the sulfuring process. Without a doubt, if these mandarin slices were unsulfured they wouldn’t taste half so tangy and sweet. If sulfur dioxide is so helpful, why don’t we just sulfur all our fruit, you may well be asking. The answer, of course, is that people have a tendency to dislike preservatives in their food, especially in something so primal as dried fruit – hence the variety.

Generally, I go for unsulfured fruit myself, but when the results are as delicous as these mandarins, I have no qualms about sulfuring the hell out of them. I recommend you give them a taste and see if you agree with me.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: I already have.

Would I Buy Them Again: Yes, I’ll go for these next time my sweet tooth demands a sacrifice.

Final Synopsis: Dehydrated mandarin slices are nature’s candy.

Trader Joe's Soft and Juicy Mandarin Slices - Calories

Trader Joe’s Dehydrated Fruit Soft and Juicy Mandarin – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Coffee a Cocoa

Trader Joe's Coffee and Cocoa

A handsome can, hiding a deceptive heart.

I was really excited for Trader Joe’s Coffee a Cocoa to work out. On paper this sounds like a dangerously brilliant idea – combining a dark roast coffee with powdered cocoa to make a quick brewing mocha. Read the back of the can and you’ll get even more excited:

“You could go out and pay for a mocha, but with Trader Joe’s Coffee a Cocoa you can make one – without any added sugars – right in your own kitchen.” The label goes on to reference the use of “chocolate fudge oil” and uses the word “choco-riffic”

Sounds pretty dang good, right? Maybe like a mixture of hot chocolate and dark coffee? Oh, if only. Sadly I found this coffee to be nothing of the sort.

The last time I reviewed a Trader Joe’s coffee product it was the incredible Cold Brewed Coffee Concentrate. I might be all but untrained in the art of understanding and appreciating coffee, but even I was blown away by that coffee’s mellow, smooth taste and convenience. As a rule, I try to avoid reviewing those things which have a vociferous armchair expert culture built up around them (wine, beer, cheese, etc). This isn’t so much out of fear of looking foolish in public so much as a desire to avoid being yelled at by indignant pundits. Nevertheless, bouyed up by the success of the cold brew concentrate, and the promise of numerous cups of rich mocha, I seized this can of grounds and took it home.

To my dismay, I discovered that this coffee is not at all what it appears to be. I suppose I should have been tipped off by the “No sugar added” bit in the description above.

The thing that I seem to always forget about chocolate, is that in it’s natural state it is inedibly bitter. Even an three quarters pure bar of chocolate is more like chewing on bark than enjoying a nice piece of confection. Chocolate needs a least a little sugar to taste good at all, and possibly some cream mixed in as well depending on your taste. Without any sugar added, you have nothing to protect you from the bitter, mouth curdling tannins. It’s like Trader Joe’s asked itself the question, “How can we make something even more bitter than straight, dark roasted coffee? We’ll add, 100% dark, bitter baking chocolate – of course!”

It’s a strange question and not one I feel need to be answered. All would be forgiven, of course, if the brew actually had a chocolaty taste too it. Shockingly, it doesn’t. Not a traditional mocha taste, at any rate. If you’re expecting the mocha brewed by this mix to be anything like a mocha you’d pick up at your corner coffee shop, you need to re-calibrate your expectations. There is a chocolate taste present in the coffee, technically, but it’s much more akin to the chocolate tones you might be told to expect in a beer or a wine. Think subtle hints of chocolate that emerge from a lingering undertone, not a tasty chocolaty infusion.

This is doubly strange considering that the cocoa is paired with the above mentioned “chocolate fudge oil”. This sounds utterly delicious on paper, but when I say the phrase out loud it sounds terribly wrong. Fudge oil? How does one get oil from fudge? Is someone loading baskets of raw fudges into a fudge press somewhere? The answer might very well be yes. Google turns up frighteningly few results regarding “fudge oil”, outside of opportunistic recipe sites that seize desperately on that rich search term.

The best I could dig up was a brief e-mail from Trader Joe’s Customer Support stating the following:

“The ingredient ‘Chocolate Fudge Oil’ used in our Trader Joe’s Coffee a Cocoa is a natural oil that is derived from cocoa in a fudge form.”

Is this the same thing as cocoa oil? I simply do not know. Mysterious ingredients aside, Trader Joe’s Coffee a Cocoa is a straight coffee and nothing else. Could you make a resonable mocha out of it if you added some cream and sweetener and chocolate. Sure, but that defeats the point, doesn’t it? Come to this product if you’re looking for yet another subtly flavored medium-dark roast coffee. Those seeking something sweeter should stay away.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not if you’re looking for a mocha. Yes, if you just like coffee.

Would I Buy It Again: I don’t drink much of either mocha or coffee, so probably not.

Final Synopsis: A totally acceptable medium-dark roast coffee misleadingly presents itself as a mocha.

 


Trader Joe’s Wasabi Mayonnaise

Trader Joe's Wasabi Mayonnaise

The lying little jar itself.

I was truly surprised when I saw Trader Joe’s Wasabi Mayonnaise. I suppose it’s quite provincial of me to be surprised by flavor tweaks to traditionally mundane condiments, it is, after all,the year two thousand and fourteen, miracles abound. I have, for instance, in my cupboard this very minute a bottle of balsamic vinegar infused ketchup from Heinz, of all people, and a plastic canister of PB2. In the face of that mixing a bit of powdered horseradish in with a ubiquitous and world famous emollient in desperate need of reinventing itself is practically child’s play.

Nevertheless, I was surprised. Wasabi mayonnaise is a very clever update on everyone’s favorite egg-based salad dressing and sandwich spread. I’ll cut right to the chase here, because we have plenty to get to today. Trader Joe’s Wasabi Mayonnaise is an excellent tool to have in your condiment tool box. It does everything that regular mayonnaise does just as well, plus it adds an extra dimension of bold spice to the mix. The mayo is thick, smooth and creamy – perfect for adding a savory skim of fat to food that are otherwise too healthy for their own good. Only a single quibble, and that’s that it’s a rather oily mayonnaise. That’s certainly not a deal breaker, just be prepared for it.

That leads us to the wasabi side of the mayo. The spiciness here is well balanced, it provides a mild kick in small amounts and a bigger one if you really lay it on, but make no mistake, this is a mayonnaise not a horseradish spread. You’re never in danger of burning your sinuses out of your head, though they might get a little wake up call.

Of course, there’s the small problem that our wasabi mayonnaise doesn’t actually have any wasabi in it. Or, more accurately, it has very very little wasabi in it, way down at the very end of the ingredient list below the spinach powder food coloring. When you have less wasabi in your wasabi mayo then you have artificial coloring, you might want to consider a different name, TJ.

Actually, as much as I’d like to condemn Trader Joe’s for barely putting any wasabi in their wasabi mayo, that’s simply the way it goes. Choose any wasabi product from your supermarket shelf and check out the ingredient list. 99 times out of 100, you won’t find any actual wasabi in the product. Real wasabi is difficult to grow – it can take up to two years to grow a mature wasabi root, and once mature it can only be harvested once. As a result, real wasabi is quite expensive – much more expensive than the simple combination of common horseradish, mustard and food coloring that almost everyone, Trader Joe’s included, uses in it’s place. It’s actually to TJ’s credit that they throw a token amount of real wasabi in here. Many less scrupulous wasabi providers (including, in all likelihood, your favorite sushi restaurant) settle for the cheap, horseradish-based variety that lacks any real Japanese wasabi what’s so ever.

Outraged? Maybe you should be – although you better check to see if you can afford real wasabi prices, currently about $20 for 2 oz. A better question might be, what’s the difference between real wasabi and this substitute?  The answer seems to be not a lot. Those who know report that real wasabi is hotter with a sweeter finish. The sort of thing a real gormund might insist on, but which is probably wasted if it’s just being mixed in with a bunch of mayo anyways.

If you an get over the subterfuge and misdirection, Trader Joe’s Wasabi Mayonnaise is still a quality mayo with a lot of flavor, and one that you won’t regret buying at the much more reasonable price of $6.99 for a 12 oz. a jar.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is a tasty twist on mayo.

Would I Buy It Again: I don’t use a lot of mayo, but if I was going to buy some I’d probably buy this.

Final Synopsis: A flavorful mayo balanced perfectly between spiciness and creaminess.

 

Trader Joe's Wasabi Mayonnaise - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Wasabi Mayonnaise – Nutrition Facts

 


Trader Giotto’s (Trader Joe’s) Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina

Trader Joe's Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina

Gnocchi – a tasty dish, if not the most picturesque one.

Today we follow up mochi with gnocchi.

Our good friend, mysteriously ethnic Trader Giotto has show up again, and he has brought us Trader Joe’s Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina. As a well-meaning carb avoider, gnocchi is a relatively unknown dish to me, let alone gnocchi that has some rather daunting appellations appended to it. In layman’s terms, Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina, or Gnocchi in the style of Sorrento, is a baked potato gnocchi (or in this case, a semolina, durham wheat and potato gnocchi) served with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese.

Gnocchi, with it’s silent “g”, non-standard pronunciation, and strong resemblance to grubs has always seemed to me a strange and forbidding pasta dish – nothing like that friendly old goof spaghetti and his wacky cousins (fettuccine, linguine – even that lumbering yokel zitti). I was doubly hesitant to give this gnocchi a chance because of it’s residency in the frozen food section. I’m willing to give even the most outlandish fusilli a chance, but as soon as your pasta needs to be frozen I start to get wary. This wariness was not much alleviated when I poured out the contents of the bag – the gnocchi were rock solid and the marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese came out as big frozen discs, almost as if slices of frozen salami had been tossed in with the pasta. It was therefor a complete shock and surprise when this stuff came out of the microwave hot, steaming and perfectly delicious.

The marinara and cheese sauce is pretty good – the tomato taste is rich, strong hints of basil are present throughout, and the cheese is present but not overwhelming. It’s a nice sauce and it serves the gnocchi well, but the star of the show is really the gnocchi itself.

A common problem with gnocchi, or any type of doughy lump, is that it’s easy to make them too dense, either by compressing the gnocchi too much, or simply getting the recipe wrong. Trader Joe’s Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina get the formula exactly right – the gnocchi are pillowy and pleasantly yielding without giving up body or heft. You can enjoy the hell out of these straight out of the bag, like I did, or dress it up with your own concoction of condiments and accoutrements. In fact, you should feel free to dress it up, as the bag of pasta and cheese somehow only clocks in at 510 calories for the entire one pound bag. That seems practically impossible, but is evidently true.

In any case this is a simple, cheap and easy to cook dish that could stand in for your kid’s Spaghetti O’s as easily as it could compliment your next bit of fine Italian cooking.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Absolutely, there really aren’t any downsides to this dish.

Would I Buy It Again: Even someone as afraid of carbs as myself might pick this up again.

Final Synopsis: Excellent gnocchi that are as good as they are easy to make.

Trader Joe's Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s 12 Mushroom Mochi Potsticker Dumplings

 

Trader Joe's 12 Mushroom Mochi Potsticker Dumplings

I’m sorry sir, but you just blew my mind.

Trader Joe’s you simply never cease to amaze me. Although we may fight from time to time, such as when you mix kale and soybeans, you never fail to bounce right back and deliver something both shockingly clever or shockingly tasty. In this case, Trader Joe’s 12 Mushroom Mochi Pot Sticker Dumplings is both.

What Trader Joe’s has done here is something unprecedented, bold and iconoclastic. They’ve taken an ordinary mushroom dumpling, a classic of Chinese cuisine, and remade it with a touch of a Japanese style. Chinese dumplings, classic potstickers, are traditionally made with thin, translucent wrappings made of flour and water. Trader Joe’s has kept the interior stuffing, but replaced the exterior wrapping with the marvelously soft, chewy and malleable mochi.

For those of you know don’t know, and I hope that is very few of you, mochi is a type of dough made by pulverizing cooked rice over and over until, taffy like, it melds into a sticky, chewy, gooey blob. It’s a food that’s long been an integral part of Japanese cuisine – sometimes eaten by itself, sometimes as the delicious delivery system for a lump of sweet bean paste, sometimes (and most commonly in the States) as the elastic casing for a ball of ice cream.

What Trader Joe’s has ingeniously done is to divorce the mochi of it’s sweet innards and replace them with a savory mushroom filling. The result is a dumpling unlike any you’ve ever tasted. In fact, the pairing is so unorthodox that I don’t blame TJ’s for giving them such a long and unwieldy moniker as “Mochi Potsticker Dumplings”. There’s simply no easy description for such a unique dish.

The result of this combination the best of both worlds – a lovely, chewy yielding exterior that gives way to a traditionally Chinese mushroom center, a mixture of Wood Ear and Shiitake mushrooms, carrots, bamboo shoots, and oyster sauce. The mushroom filling is loose, and relatively small in comparison with the thick mochi walls, but still full of savory flavor and entirely tender.

A quick trip to the microwave renders each little mochi dumpling wonderfully warm and soft. Sitting down and eating these little, pale orbs of pert dough is a tactile pleasure as much as a culinary one. The mochi extends and snaps with just the right viscoelastic properties – a delight of texture, taste and tensile strength.

We’ve talked before about TJ’s tendency to append weirdly specific numerals to to the front of their products, so I won’t get into it again here. I’m pretty much against it in every case, except where the number can only be expressed in scientific notation. However, these mushroom mochi are so delightful that they rise far above their mundane numbering. Simply put, if you’re looking for an elegant and intriguing Asian side, these mushroom mochi dumplings won’t disappoint.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes, to explore the intriguing recipie if nothing else.

Would I Buy Them Again: Yes, this is some of the best mochi I’ve had in years.

Final Synopsis: A hybrid Japense-Chinese dumpling that satisfies the senses.

Trader Joe's 12 Mushroom Mochi Dumplings - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s 12 Mushroom Mochi Dumplings – Nutrition Facts

 


Trader Joe’s Kale and Edamame Bistro Salad

Trader Joe's Kale and Edamame Bistro Salad

There’s the sad bastard now.

Well, it happened – a fall from grace I never saw coming. After and unending streak of not just good, but down right delicious salads, Trader Joe’s has finally served up a stinker.  A salad that’s not just kind of bad, or hard to get down, or somewhat unpalatable. No, I found Trader Joe’s Kale and Edamame Bistro Salad actually inedible. Inedible! There’s almost nothing from Trader Joe’s I’ve found inedible – and that’s coming from the guy who actually finished off Trader Joe’s gelatinous Shrimp Nuggets. I’ve even managed to finish of things I don’t like (like that tub of marinated beets). But with this salad I just couldn’t do it, and it wasn’t for lack of trying either. I really wanted to like this salad. Salad is one of my favorite foods in the world. For me, discovering a new salad is like unearthing a small, rare treasure. How could this have happened?

Before I launch into my criticism here, I’m perfectly willing to admit that it’s probably my fault that I didn’t enjoy this salad. Trader Joe’s has such a stellar record with their salads that it’s hard for me to accept that they could put out one so completely unpalatable. The far more likely scenario is that I’m an uncultured heathen whose crude taste buds failed to appreciate the higher art the salad was devised by. I’m fully expecting to see some resounding condemnations of my review in the comment section and, frankly, I welcome them. I’d rather live in a world where I’m a confused nitwit than a world where Trader Joe’s puts out lame salads.

Okay, so on to the salad.

It’s awful, guys. Nothing in it really seems to work. I should have maybe been tipped off to this by the name – a combination of kale, soy beans, and sweetened cranberries just sounds like trouble. On the other hand, there’s nothing about roasted squash, quinoa and wheatberries that sounds like they’d be particularly delicious and I enjoy that salad so much that I’m actually eating it now, as I type this.

The first problem with the Kale and Edamame sald is, I think, the kale. There’s no other green in the salad but kale. I like me some kale in my salad – I loved TJ’s Cruciferous Crunch for exactly that reason – but kale needs to be used sparingly. It’s wonderful for texture and body, but when you make your salad out of nothing but kale, like TJ’s did here, it feels like you’re eating a pine tree from the tip down.

If you can get past the kale, you’ve still got to deal with the gangs of edamame soybeans, cranberries, grape tomatoes and scallions. These tastes just simply did not go together well for me.  The sweetness of the cranberries fought against the waxiness of the beans, and the scallions practically reeked, overpowering the other tastes. The big, button-sized beans and whole tomatoes didn’t help either, it just made it so I had to take lots of giant mouthfuls.

Finally, and perhaps worst of all, was the salad dressing. The package bills it as a lemon herb dressing, and I had hope for it. The dressing looked thick and creamy perhaps, I reasoned, it would have just the right flavor to balance the rest of the salad’s intense elements. Sadly, it did not. The lemon herb dressing lacks sweetness, or tanginess or depth. What it delivers seemed more like mustard to me than anything – harsh and astringent, clashing with everything else in the bowl.

It was after the addition of the dressing, when I found myself sitting there chewing a huge mouthful of chopped kale covered with lemon juice and pungent herbs, that I simply put the fork down. I couldn’t go on. I need at least one good element in a food to muscle my way through it, one ray of light. In the case of Trader Joe’s Kale and Edamame Salad I couldn’t find any.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: No, just no.

Would I Buy It Again: It was such an unpleasant experience that I might have to get it again, just to convince myself it was real.

Final Synopsis: Trader Joe’s worst salad.

Trader Joe's Kale and Edamame Bistro Salad - Nutrtion Facts

Trader Joe’s Kale and Edamame Bistro Salad – Nutrtion Facts


Trader Joe’s Matcha Green Tea Latte Mix

Trader Joe's Matcha Green Tea Latte

I regret every spoonful I already used.

Wow, guys – I could not have been more shocked when I saw Trader Joe’s Matcha Green Tea Latte Mix on the shelf the other day. There it was, just as I had envisioned it, the elegant solution I had lambasted TJ’s for overlooking the first time around.

If you missed it, Trader Joe’s first take on powdered green tea mix was the oh-so-close-but-oh-so-very-far Tropical Sweetened Matcha Green Tea Mix. It was a perfectly serviceable instant tea mix, ruined beyond the point of salvage by the addition of indefinably generic “tropical” flavors that were cloyingly sweet and rather revolting. This time around, it looked like Trader Joe’s decided to leave out the “tropical” and the “sweetened” and just give us a elegant, refined, affordable tin of instant matcha green tea.

Or did they?

The sad fact is, we have been duped again. At least TJ”s “tropical sweetened matcha” sounded unappealing. This new Matcha Green Tea Latte sounds and looks delightful, then it kicks you in the butt and pees in your mouth.

Where Joe went wrong the first time around was with the heaping spoonfuls of sugar they ladled into the otherwise refined and subtle green tea mix. For some reason, they decided to do the exact same thing again. Let’s check out the label: ingredient number one, cane sugar. In this case, that means a hefty 18 grams of sugar per three tablespoon serving.

“Oh, only eighteen?” I think I hear someone saying, “Well that’s not so bad, is it?” Oh, I don’t know, why don’t we compare that to an equal quantity of pure sugar.  Three tablespoons of 100% golden brown cane sugar weighs in at 28 grams of sugar. We can do a little bit of factoring and determine that our matcha mix is about 66% sugar, and 33% tea and other stuff. That other stuff, by the way, shouldn’t be overlooked either. Of our remaining 33%, “tea” places third behind two other ingredients – coconut oil (#2) and good old fashioned maltodextrin (#3).

As long as we’re hanging out back here in the nutrition facts, we might cast an eye to the calorie content. There are 105 calories in 3 tablespoons of pure sugar, and 160 calories in 3 tablespoons of TJ’s matcha mix. How’d they manage to be more caloric than pure sugar? Why, with all the added fat of course – 10% of your daily fat in take in each serving. “What’s fat doing in my powdered tea mix”” you might very reasonably be wondering. Why, ruining it of course!

When Trader Joe’s left the word “sweetened” out of the product name, I foolishly assumed that it wouldn’t be sweetened. My mistake. What I should have been focusing on instead was the word “latte” which slipped in there. A latte, as we all know, is a beverage that has been mixed with milk – usually frothy, steamed milk, but in this day and age it gets applied rather more liberally than that. For instance, Trader Joe’s is using it here to refer to powdered milk mixed with sodium caseinate, a milk protein derivative. Technically, infinite shelf life powdered milk substitute counts as real milk. In reality, however, your green tea latte will taste less like a real latte and much more like tea with a whole ton of non-dairy creamer dumped all over it.

Overall Trader Joe’s Matcha Green Tea Latte Mix is just a rather unappealing product. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – there’s plenty of room out there for a simple powdered green tea mix, and deep down under all the nonsense at play here there’s a core of a nice matcha. Unfortunately it’s adulterated beyond the point of wasting your time or money on.

Trader Joe’s, I’m not sure who’s asking for this, but please stop listening to them.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: No, please don’t encourage Trader Joe’s to do this again.

Would I Buy It Again: Maybe as a gift for someone I wish ill upon.

Final Synopsis: A perfectly good green tea mix – ruined by too much sugar and artificial creamer.


Trader Joe’s Channa Masala

Trader Joe's Channa Masala

Once again, we must wonder why this isn’t from Trader Jupti.

As promised we continue Frozen Indian Food week with Trader Joe’s Channa Masala. Sure, the name might not be as hypnotically rhythmic and soothing as Aloo Chaat Kati Pouch, but this spicy, tasty, cheap and tangy chickpea dish has just as much to offer on the flavor front.

As you might guess from the above description, this dry and tangy dish comes from the dry and tangy regions of Northern India. Rajistan in the north west of Indian, and the neighboring regions, are dominated by the great Indian Thar Desert and something of the sere nature of this region has permeated the food that comes from here.

The Thar Desert (bordered to the south by the Great Rann of Kutch) is, of course, famous for having the best desert name of all time, just above Gobi and Mojave. The Thar Desert’s other claims to fame, of course, is as the setting for Rama’s attack on Lanka with his army of vanaras, when he and had to use his agneyashtra-amogha to dry up the drumakulya, leading to the creation of the Marukantara, but that may just be my opinion.

At any rate, masala, as we maybe all probably know, is the general South East Asian term for a mixture of spices, while channa, or chana, is the Hindustani word for chickpeas. That, and exactly that, is what you get in Trader Joe’s Channa Masala – a bunch of garbanzo beaans mixed into a sauce of onions, tomatoes, peppers and some usual Indian spices (namely, cumin, fenugreek, tamarind, mango powder and cilantro).

What that means is, you get a damn good side dish with a bunch of different flavors going on. The garbanzo beans cook up in a couple minutes in the microwave, and come out with just the right texture – a nice toothsome bite that is neither too hard nor too mushy. The sauce starts out with a savory, slightly charbroiled taste that gives way to a nice low burn as you eat. Where things start to get a little weird is around the edges of these flavors, where a noticeble, delicate sourness comes in. This hint of sour is the result of the mango powder and tamarind spices, and turns the whole meal into something more considerable than a simple bean side dish.

Trader Joe’s claims they make their Channa Masala from a traditional Indian recipe, and while that’s the sort of claim I usually write off immediately as marketer-speak, it really seems to be the truth in this case. This is a solid, and simple dish perfect for pairing with a more substantial entree – the Aloo Chaat, for example, would give you a complete, rather good Indian dinner in about 6 microwaveable minutes.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, these are some tasty beans.

Would I Buy It Again: Yes, this is an excellent solution for my go-go lifestyle.

Final Synopsis: A cheap and easy Indian chickpea dish.

Trader Joe's Channa Masala - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Channa Masala – Nutrition Facts


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