Trader Joe’s Uncured Turkey Bacon and Trader Joe’s Uncured Peppered Turkey Bacon

Trader Joe's Uncured Turkey Bacon

Trader Joe’s Uncured Turkey Bacon

Holy cow folks, it’s another jaw-dropping double feature with Trader Joe’s Uncured Turkey Bacon and Trader Joe’s Uncured Peppered Turkey Bacon.

Refugee of Baconmania

Bacon is wonderful, bacon is divine manna, and bacon has been done to death. The bacon fad (or “baconmania”), which is still ongoing as of this writing, may have died down from it’s bacon salt and DIY bacon vodka heights, but nevertheless the mad hankering for bacon continues nationwide and across the internet. It’s really not my intention to contribute to this inarticulate scream for brined slices of pork belly, good though it is. Instead, and I’m fully aware this viewpoint may well inspire incandescent vitriol among bacon purists, I’m going to try and sell you on turkey bacon – something which I eat frequently.

Why, you must be asking, why does he do that to himself? In my case, it’s a matter of simple expediency. I need to grab breakfast and get out the door in the mornings, and bacon cooks up quick in a microwave. I’d be more than happy to use “real” pork bacon for this task, if I didn’t so greatly fear it’s great gobs of drooping fat deposits. I love my poor little heart, and I’ve abused it enough already for a life time. Now is my era of healthy eating. (As you may have picked up from my previous posts I try to stick to a low carb diet. Generally I fail.)

A World Where Bacon Never Lived

So turkey bacon gives me a healthy choice for my daily bacon consumption and, and guys I’m willing to be real here, that’s all it really has to offer. Turkey bacon is a pale shade of an imitation compared to those fatty strips of pork, but in it’s nutritional profile they are worlds apart. Trader Joe’s Turkey bacon boasts of an astounding 40 calories per slice, 15 from fat. That’s less than a third of the fat that Oscar Meyer serves you with their Center Cut Bacon (70 calories per slice, 50 from fat).

In addition, TJ’s has gone fully nitrate, antibiotic and preservative free here, making it that much easier to feel good about eating bacon.

Unfortunately, a healthy profile is all there really is to recommend Turkey Bacon. Even I, unrepentant turkey bacon eater I, cannot come to endorse this product to the populous at large. It just isn’t that good, really. Maybe if we lived in a world where there as no pork bacon and turkey bacon was all we knew I might be able to muster some enthusiasm for the product – as it stands, every bite of turkey bacon is beggared by comparison to the real deal.

Warm Garbage Bag and Other Tastes

The main issue is not the taste, which is passable to tasty, but the texture, which is awful. Turkey bacon simply does not fry up crispy and crunchy like fatty strips f bacon. It remains perpetually limp and soggy whether you zap it in the microwave or sizzle it in a pan.

The regular turkey bacon comes out of this process just this side of edible, as the loss of texture is the price I’m will to pay for healthy bacon. If you’re willing to pay that price as well, like me you’ll be forced to decide between two options, regular or peppered. I’m going to cut right to the chase here because this information is important – choose regular. This is imperative. Whatever is redeeming about the taste of the regular turkey bacon is completely lost on the peppered variety – replaced by a nasty, pseudo-seasoned taste and a long, lingering after taste that resembles sucking on a warm garbage bag – truly unpleasant to the point of inediblity. The existence of this variation suggests that there must be fans of it out there, and I welcome your point of view in the comments, but as for as I’m concerned this abomination should have never been made.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Only to those who have decided to sacrifice taste for health.

Would I But It Again: Regular uncured turkey bacon, yes. Peppered uncured turkey bacon, no – no, never.

Final Synopsis: You don’t choose turkey bacon because you want a good time, but when the cards are down it’s better than no bacon at all.

Trader Joe's Peppered Uncured Turkey Bacon - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Peppered Uncured Turkey Bacon – Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe's Uncured Turkey Bacon - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Uncured Turkey Bacon – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Romanesco Basilic

Trader Joe's Cauliflower Romansco Basilic

Every time I eat romanesco I feel compelled to tell people about fractals in nature. I apologize in advance.

Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Romanesco Basilic is, pretentious name aside, a nifty little dish.

So often it’s so hard to eat like a reasonably decent human being on a frozen vegetable budget. Oh sure, if you’ve got some skill in the kitchen you’ll manage to make do, but for the rest dinner time is a harrowing event not to be looked forward to. It’s parade of sorrow: sacks of frozen, mechanically-chopped spinach wilting into a messy wet pile in the skillet, or yet another bag of green beans that repel all attempts to make palatable or, worse, tiny plastic TV dinner trays with impossibly hopeful names that do nothing to mask the depression that infuses every misplaced kernel of corn or sloppy lump of beef product.

What I’m saying is it’s tough out there for the unskilled bachelor (or bachelorette) folks, and it’s rare to find something to eat in the flash frozen food aisle that makes you feel like you’ve still got your dignity about you. Trader Joe’s awesome Hake en Papillote dish is one, and their Cauliflower Romansco Basilic is another. It not only provides a truly delicious side dish to any meal in minutes, bit it does so with so much class and style that you actually feel like a better human being while eating it.

First off, it’s healthy. 70 calories per serving, (serving size 1 cup), and oly 6 grams of carbs, two of which are fiber. The world garlic butter does show up right there in the title, so you’ve got to expect some fat, but at only 4.5 grams per serving it’s not an unreasonable amount.

Now healthy is no big thing if it doesn’t taste good, and man does this stuff taste good. So good that you’ll relish munching each morsel of cauliflower and want to slurp up the juices after. How does it manage this trick on otherwise undesirable cauliflower? Through the miracle of garlic butter folks. Right out of the microwave your portion of steaming veggies are swimming in a sea of melted garlic-infused butter – enough to pack each piece with a savory, smooth, tongue-pleasing taste without going too heavy on either the butter or the garlic. It walks that knife edge of light but delicious and reaches the other side unscathed. And tender, my god – can we talk about tender? I’m going to wholeheartedly endorse preparing your cauliflower melange in the microwave because six minutes turns these ice-crusted veggies into yielding, supple morsels that provide absolutely nothing in the way of resistance. It’s like eating a cloud, so pleasant it is.

Trader Joe’s ingeniously preps their broccoli and cauliflower for success by freezing the garlic butter sauce around each sprig or stalk. It’s a stroke of absolute brilliance that eliminates the fuss of having to deal with a enclosed secondary sauce packet. The sauce melts around each individual piece as you heat it, meaning that you can portion out your veggies in any quantity over any length of time and always get just the right amount of garlic butter sauce with them. Goddamn brilliant!

All of this is, of course, ignoring the coolest part of the Cauliflower Romanesco Basilc, which is of course the romanesco – that craziest looking of vegetables adored by fractal-lovers and gourmands alike. If you’ve never had it before, don’t get too freaked out by it’s glorious, Fibonacci sequence exemplifying spirals, just relax and try some – it’s taste is halfway between cauliflower and broccoli. I absolutely applaud it’s inclusion here, or in fact, anywhere that it replaces it’s boring cousin broccoli if for no other reason than novelty.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: You’ve got to try this one at least once.

Would I Buy It Again: Without hesitation.

Final Synopsis: A downright scrumptious vegetable side perfect for any occasion.

Trader Joe's Cauliflower Romanesco Basilic - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Romanesco Basilic – Nutrition Facts


Trader Giotto’s (Joe’s) Balsamic Glaze

Trader Joe's Balsamic Glaze

The lying little bottle.

Let’s keep it up with the balsamic vinegar, yeah? Today we’re going to look at Trader Joe’s Balsamic Glaze.

Now a glaze is an interesting thig to buy – one of those intriguing grocery product outliers, like bouillon cubes or cloves – that you only by once every 3 years or so and which seems to be manufactured exclusively by tiny, unknown companies with names like “Winslow’s” or “Classic Star”.

Let me say, up front, that this is a pretty good product. Glaze is a weird accessory to food – only lending itself to a few dishes – and I’ll admit that this glaze has vexed me in my efforts to incorporate it into my meals. It’s certainly not something you’re going to use every day, but it does have a multi-year shelf life so that’s not a big problem. Trader Joe’s Balsamic Glaze is a mixture of a thick, natural grape syrup (called grape must) and balsamic vinegar, and it tastes exactly like what you’d expect a vinegar infused grape syrup would taste like. It has a sweet, strong tang that pairs nicely with pork medallions or roast beef, or as a side sauce with Italian-herbed potatoes. There’s no sugar added to the glaze, but don’t underestimate the sweetness – the grape must, being the concentrated remains of crushed grapes, is 10-15% glucose by weight. That said, the balsamic vinegar is strong enough that it makes up the primary taste. This one will zing your tongue before it soothes it. I’m not going to ladle the praise on too liberally here though. A sweet, vinegary syrup is a bold new taste but not necessarily one everybody is going to flip over. I dip into this bottle twice a month or so and have always left satisfied but never blown away.

What intrigues me more than the taste is the weird marketing shenanigans Trader Joe’s has gotten up to with this product. This is sold on the Trader Giotto’s label, it also proudly touts the fact that it’s not just “Made in Italy” but even a “product of Modena” made with “traditional methods”.

Let’s take a look at what they’re insinuating.

Balsamic vinegar, true balsamic vinegar – Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena – is essentially refined grape must, aged for a decade in special casks within the town of Modena, Italy. This is a designation protected by international law to prevent cheap knockoffs. True balsamic vinegar sells for around $100 an ounce, and is justly craved by the well-to-do trendy gourmet set.

On the other hand, Aceto Balsamico di Modena (no “tradizionale”) is an inexpensive, commercially produced imitation of true balsamic vinegar, which is to say it’s the only type you or I have every had. This balsamic vinegar is really just a mixture of ordinary vinegar with food coloring, some caramel and bit of thickening agent. A dollar a gallon, in other words.

If Trader Joe’s were the hardcore mofo’s they want us to think they are we would be discussing the former right now. In reality, of course, this glaze is made with the latter. What I don’t understand is why they’re bothering with the antics here. We’re not idiots, TJ, we’re not going to think you’ve somehow figured out a way to package super-expensive, authentic balsamic vinegar into a plastic squeeze bottle at $2.99 a pop. Why bother with the misleading language? Made with “traditional methods”? Really? You mean the method of mixing food coloring and ordinary wine vinegar, just like they did in the middle ages?

It’s a sad fact that we live in a time where the shape of our daily life has predominantly been decided by marketers trying to make a buck. Every man-made thing we come into contact with, from our cradles to our coffins, have passed through the hands of a marketer at some point. I’m aware of this, it’s the way of the world, but I sometimes like to fool myself into thinking that maybe there’s a corporation out there that could change things, that maybe there’s a CEO who values genuine human interaction over a forklift full of money. Trader Joe’s does a better job than most at coming across as sincere, so moments like this are important reminders that in this day and age, faking sincerity is just one more way to get that dollar out of your pocket.


The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: If you have use for a sweet, vinegar glaze this is a good bet.

Would I Buy It Again: One is enough, thanks.

Final Synopsis: A sweet, tangy glaze that promises more than it can deliver.

Trader Joe's Balsamic Glaze - Nutritional Facts

Trader Joe’s Balsamic Glaze – Nutritional Facts


Trader Joe’s Grilled Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary Chicken

Trader Joe's Grilled Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary Chicken

I know, how can this taste good, right? But it does. It really does.

I should develop a special Star of Excellence to award for the best products at Trader Joe’s. I won’t because, you know, eh – life, but if I did I would not hesitate to award it to Trader Joe’s Grilled Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary Chicken.

How did they do this?! It’s astounding – there it is, a big hunk of cold chicken sitting in a little cheap, plastic bin sealed by a flimsy bit of plastic, basting in a dubious looking dark fluid, packaged with an actual twig, sitting in the refrigerated section between shapeless strips of sliced turkey and uninspiring lasagnas. How could this thing, this ordinary thing, be very good? Maybe it could be not bad, maybe it could even be decent, but there’s no way it’s going to be exceptional, right?

Goddamit people! This is what I’m tell you – it is exceptional. I don’t know how the mighty food wizards at TJ’s did it again, but they did it again. They took a cheap chunk of sub $5.00 chicken, the same thing you’ve been sold a 1,000 literal times – at grocery stores, in restuarants, in fast food bags, frozen, grilled, broiled, boiled, cubed, chopped and pathetically garnished in a myriad ways. An no one has ever done it right. No one has cared enough to do it right. No CEO has ever thundered, “You know that chicken with the low profit margin, the one people will buy regardless? I want you to work around the clock until it is goddamn delicious!”

TJ is smashing through this wall of mediocre chicken with his own two bare fists, showering the promised land beyond with wobbly breasts. “NOOOOO MOOOOOORE!” he screams, hurling his besprigged packages to the benighted populous. “HAVE GOOOOOOD CHIIIIIIIIICKEN!”

Look, let’s really get into this.

This chicken, a hefty 12 oz breast, is redolent of fragrant rosemary and lightly infused with the delicious tang of a balsamic vinegar marinade. The basic nature of it’s ingredients only serves to magnifies Trader Joe’s own glory and to further rebuke everyone else in the world. This is an easy recipe guys! Everyone could be doing this!

Balsamic vinegar and rosemary have a long history of working together with chicken, and for good reason. Here they bring a nice, considered touch to the dish, balanced in every dimension – neither too acidic or too musty, too watery or too weak. The sauce is so good you’ll be tempted to lap it up after – and it makes the marinated chicken a taste sensation whether it’s eaten cold and dripping in it’s own juices, or hot and sweaty. Oh, and by the way, that twig in there? Well, as you probably guessed, that’s an actual spring of rosemary packaged in for good measure. The country-side notes of the rosemary sing along with the tasty tang of the balsamic in this very low fat, very healthy dish. Like Trader Joe’s Stuffed Red Peppers, I’m drawn back to it time and time again.

In other words, if you’re stuck in a bad chicken rut, you can’t go wrong with this chunk of clucker.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yeah, I like this one.

Would I Buy It Again: Weekly.

Final Synopsis: Proof that incredible eats can be found for under $5.00 in a cheap plastic tray.

Trader Joe's Grilled Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary Chicken - Nutritional Facts

Trader Joe’s Grilled Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary Chicken – Nutritional Facts


Trader Joe’s Grilled Chicken Cacciatore

Trader Joe's Grilled Chicken Cacciatore

Behold Trader Joe’s Grilled Chicken Cacciatore in all it’s mediocrity!

I have to say, I’m let down by this dish. When I picked up Trader Joe’s Grilled Chicken Cacciatore I was intrigued – it looked good in that picture on the label, all nicely grilled and swimming in a simmering red sauce. The name had a nice ring to it too – cacciatore. It sounds like the ultimate, all purpose Italian word, as if somewhere on the coast between Naples and Florence sits a small town where, even now, a plump matriarchs hang out their windows shouting “Cacciatore!” at the children who run off through the cobbled streets with their soccer balls, laughing “Cacciatore, cacciatore” over and over as they burst past the local pizzeria. “Cacciatore!” shouts the friendly, mustachioed, dough twirling baker.

In actual point of fact, “cacciatore” translates as “hunter”. The connection, allegedly, owes to the fact that it was originally a dish cooked for hunters who returned home without catching any game thus forcing the wife to resort to a chicken stew cooked with the mushrooms he had collected while out in the forest. This origin story is so tortured and improbable that, in light of the insane word histories of linguistics, it is probably true and, moreover, makes a good case for just giving up on language all together.

Romantic notions and etymology aside, I’m a big fan of Italian food – or of any cuisine that makes liberal use of bubbling cheese and fresh baked bread – and was truly excited that Trader Joe’s was offering up a quick-to-prep and very cheap slice of the Italian culinary world. After all, what’s not to like about grilled chicken in a hearty sauce?

Well, in this case, quite a lot.

The cacciatore’s greatest failing, like the acting of Tobey Maguire or McDonald’s, is its mediocrity. The chicken, despite actually appearing to be grilled, is completely unexceptional, while the sauce it’s served in simply tastes so-so. There seems to be an attempt to make up for the generic sauce by providing a huge quantity of it – enough to totally drown your plate in certainly. This tactic fails to salvage the dish. This is a far cry from the hard won excellence of the equally Italian Minestrone – and when it comes to your hard scrabble dinning dollars, there’s nothing to recommend it over the far superior dishes of steamed Hake, stuffed red peppers or even the quinoa and squash salad.

A final note on the preparation. TJ’s suggests two different methods for cooking up your cacciatore – either a quick stint in the microwave, or 25 minutes spent boiling the plastic bag on your stove top. Out of sheer American optimism I decided there must be some hidden merit to the bag-boiling method and undertook it. Rest assured that there is not.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: I would, if there was anything to recommend it by. (Which there isn’t.)

Woudl I Buy It Again: No sir.

Final Synopsis: A plastic-wrapped piece of mediocre chicken in a sea of unexceptional sauce.

Trader Joe's Grilled Chicken Cacciatore - Nutritional Facts

Trader Joe’s Grilled Chicken Cacciatore – Nutritional Facts


Trader Joe’s Chicken Cilantro Mini Wontons

Trader Joe's Chicken Cilantro Mini Wontons

The mini wontons I get, but who has a dish with individual mini compartments for each mini wonton? You’re living in a dream world Trader Joes!

Mini wontons. What a world of astounding technical innovation this is – our computers are becoming increasingly smaller, the pixels in our devices are shrinking to infinitesimal points, and now Trader Joe’s has successfully miniaturized the wonton.

How did they manage the technological breakthrough that is Trader Joe’s Chicken Cilantro Wonton? Microchips? A pact with helpful elves? There’s no telling, but here they are nonetheless. This leaves only one question worth answering: Is it okay to just cavalierly mix cilantro into your Chinese wontons, no matter how small they are?

Actually, there’s nothing new about mini-wontons cooked with cilantro. A recipe very similar to the one Trader Joe’s is peddling can be found throughout Shanghai. As you might expect, different regions and cities throughout China have their own unique spins on the concept of wonton. Although more famous for their massive, tortellini-shaped wontons, China’s largest city also has a long tradition of peppering their soups with handfuls of these tiny, cilantro-seasoned wantons – properly called xiao huntun.

A wonton is, ultimately, a very simple recipe (some meat, some greens, a little seasoning) and lends itself to all sorts of interpretations, so there’s nothing that shocking about cilantro in a wonton. Taste-wise, there isn’t much to write about. Despite the prominent billing of cilantro in the mini-wontons, they don’t actually taste that strongly of cilantro. The potent herb is hidden under the chicken and other seasonings, only showing up later, as a mild aftertaste wafting off the tongue.

This isn’t altogether surprising, seeing that cilantro is listed in nearly the last place on the nutritional label, outdone by bean thread, salt, and green onions. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s easy to abuse cilantro and its presence in this dish is subtle and effective, a gentle touch that sets the wontons apart from the potstickers and gyoza of the world – just don’t come crying to it for your cilantro fix.

Cooking the wontons could not be easier. Two minutes in a microwave makes up a big batch, and pan-frying or soup based cooking directions are included as well. Add to this the generous number of wontons included in each bag (about 50) and you’ve got an easy to prepare, tasty Chinese meal for 1-3. If only they’d replace “cilantro” with “shanghai-style”, I’d have nothing to complain about.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Easy to prepare and good tasting – definitely.

Would I Buy Them Again: With some Asian stir-fry, this could become a standard Chinese dinner for me.

Final Synopsis: A good wonton, misleadingly named.

Trader Joe's Chicken Cilantro Mini Wontons - Nutritional Facts

Trader Joe’s Chicken Cilantro Mini Wontons – Nutritional Facts


Trader Joe’s Boysenberry Fruit Bar and Trader Joe’s Apple & Raspberry Fruit Wrap

Trader Joe's Dried Fruit Bars, Boysenberry, Passion Fruit, Raspberry, Apricot

Boysenberry? Who does boysenberry?

Holy of holy’s folks, it’s a two for one review today.

I, like many Trader Joe’s regulars, have passed up the bracketfuls of dried fruit bars at the checkout lines on countless occasions. Finally, not unlike with their chocolate nibs, the persistence of their offering has succeeded in wearing down my defense, leading me to pick up both the Trader Joe’s Boysenberry Fruit Bar and the Trader Joe’s Apple and Raspberry Fruit Wrap.

Trader Joe's Organic Fruit Wraps - Apple-Strawberry, Apple-Blueberry, Apple-Strawberry

Fruit wraps that, enigmatically, are not wrapped around anything at all.

Are these strips of pounded fruit good enough to quality as an impulse purchase? Are they secret delicious treasures, or uninspired after thoughts. More importantly, how do they match up against each other? To answer all these questions and more I unwrapped and bit in.

Mash up some fruit with some pectin, and sugar, leave to dry. That’s about all there is to a fruit bar/ wrap – so why are there two different, competing brands? And why market one a as a bar and one as a wrap? Which is superior? Are we seeing a rehash of the classic Fruit Roll-Up / Fruit Leather rivalry in the TJ microcosm? Is this the manifestation of rival department heads battling it out to lay claim to the under-a-dollar-fruit-based-strip-snack-impulse-buy crown? For the purposes of this post I’m certainly going to assume so.

In charge of the Fruit Bar Division (Boysenberry, Apricot, Raspberry, Strawberry, Passionfruit) we have Jerry O’Conal, 42 trim, and coincidentally homophonic twin of actor Jerry O’Connell.

In charge of the Fruit Wrap Division (Apple-Raspberry, Apple-Banana, Apple-Blueberry, Apple-Strawberry) is Igmar Eisenlumb or “Iron Tusk”, a German immigrant, also 42 and trim.

Jerry’s Irish-Catholic upbringing and growing up in the shadow of his over-achieving older brother, has generated a deep, almost neurological compulsion to succeed in his every endeavor  Conventional wisdom holds that Jerry cannot be stopped. Igmar immigrated to Boston at a young age, where he picked up a Southie accent he has never totally shaken. His unusual past and a tendency to ruthlessly apply logic to every situation has rendered him a perpetual outsider – albeit one with an exceptional track record in the fruit wrap field.

Obviously the scene is set for an incendiary confrontation. Let’s see how Jerry and Igmar’s combatants stack up, shall we?

Table 1-2: Fruit Bar/Fruit Wrap Battle

 
Trader Joe’s Fruit Bars
Trader Joe’s Fruit Wraps
Legible font?
Not really (Bosenberrn?)
Very legible
Handmade?
Yes
No
100% Dried Fruit?
Yes
Yes
Sugar Added?
No
No
Kosher in New Zealand?
Yes
No
Entirely made of fruit from British Columbia?
No
Yes
Certified Organic?
No
Yes
Cost
$0.59
$0.49
Weight
20 grams
14 grams
Calories
50 calories
50 calories
Total Carbs
14 grams
12 grams
Grams from Sugar
13 grams
11 grams
Grams from Fiber
1.5 grams
Less than 1 gram
Breaks the iron law of arithmetic?
Yes
Yes, but not as badly
Is it actually a wrap?
No
No
Apples in it?
Some
Oh yeah
Basically just fruit leather?
Yes
Yes, but stickier

As you can see, the outcome is far from decisive. The fruit bars are slightly more filling, with more fiber packed into the same number of calories, and more exotic varieties to choose from. On the other hand, the fruit wraps are certified organic,  but harder to handle.

The important takeaway from this is that both Jerry and Igmar should take a step back and see that their differences are minuscule and that both products are essentially identical. Are they both good to eat? Absolutely, they both taste like delicious, preservative free, all natural, fruit leather.  If you need a fruit bar from Trader Joe’s either of these will do you just fine. If forced at gun point I’d go with the fruit bar over the fruit wrap because, in the end, I like my fingers to be clean.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: I’d recommend either of these to anyone interested in revisiting their childhood lunch bag or fixing their kid’s sweet tooth.

Would I Buy Them Again: I might pickup a few Fruit Bars for a car trip or hike.

Final Synopsis: Fruit leather, by any other name, tastes just the same.