Woo woo woo! It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the United States of America. Today I’m thankful for you, my wonderful readers, who make writing this blog worthwhile.
I sincerely hope each and every one of you is enjoying family, friends, and a feast of a 1,000 Trader Joe’s delights!
See you all on Tuesday!
Thanksgiving is coming fast upon us, or is already here, or (depending on what day you’re reading this) has already long passed by. In any case, it seemed like the perfect time to review some of Trader Joe’s prospective Thanksgiving side dishes – in this case, Trader Joe’s Corn Pudding.
Now, in America the word “pudding” is pretty strictly applied. If it’s not a sweet, creamy desert – usually made by Jello – then it isn’t pudding. But as facts would have it, pudding has a much broader meaning on the global scale. For instance, in the historic sense pudding has almost never been sweet, let alone a desert. The word itself is thought to come from the French word boudin, meaning a small sausage, more or less the furthest thing possible from the modern American notion of pudding.
For centuries, “pudding” meant a savory meat dish of some sort, mixed with grain or suet, then boiled or steamed to make it set. This delicious sounding treat even became the standard main course for the British navy over the 1700 and 1800’s, and would go on to blossom into the weird, often disturbing, world of British puddings from there. The wobbly little universe of British puddings is best not looked at too close, lest what we see within plunges us into Lovecraftian-style madness, but it has resulted is such delights as blood sausage, steak-and-kidney pudding and, of course, the noble haggis.
Don’t worry, folks, I’ll stop there. I bring these puddings up not because Trader Joe’s is bold/insane enough to market British puddings to Americans, but to give context to an otherwise strangely named product. Trader Joe’s Corn Pudding is, as you might guess by now, not the least bit sweet nor even, really, particularly creamy. Although the packaging promises you “yellow and white corn baked in a creamy corn puree”, creaminess is certainly not the number one characteristic of this side dish. Cheese is promised as well, in the form of both melted Mozzarella and Parmesan, but despite this fact the dish doesn’t qualify as particularly cheesy either. What it is, most of all, is corny.
I certainly don’t mean that in the down-home, gee-whiz kind of way. This pudding is wall-to-wall corn
kernels, bound together by a mixture of cream, eggs, milk and, yes, some cheese. However, this binding is by no means what you’ll taste in the dish. From bite to bite what you’ll get is big, whole kernels of soft, sweet corn.
Now by this point, what with all the pudding bashing and all, you might think I’m not a fan of this pudding. That, however, is not the case. This corn pudding is what it is, and it does that thing well. If you need a heavy, savory, corn based side dish, Trader Joe’s Corn Pudding will be that for you. After 25 minutes in the oven it comes out golden brown and rich with the taste of golden yellow corn kernels. In particular, it has an enjoyably gentle corn taste that is softened by the very mild cheese and egg mixture. The pudding nature, and the oven baking, results in a more mellow taste than roasted or steamed corn kernels, which can tend to overpower other dishes with their smell or taste.
The result is a very capable side dish that won’t outshine the turkey or butt heads with the mash potatoes. It brings corn to the table, and gives it an extra level of texture and flavor that makes it a valuable addition to your feast, even if you’re already serving steamed corn at the table. Will it be everyone’s favorite? Certainly not – it’s too mild and one-note for that. Will there be some left in the serving dish at the end of dinner – I would imagine so, but it will also have made it on to everybody’s plate as a little bit of tasty filler. And that, really, is more or less what a supporting side dish is supposed to do.
In short, pick this up if you need an idea for another Thanksgiving side dish. It won’t offend, and it delivers a pretty tasty corn dish without much fuss.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, if you’re out of ideas for another side dish.
Would I Buy It Again: I might get it again next year.
Final Synopsis: A savory and mild corn casserole.
Hmmm. Well, this is probably proof that the top brass at Trader Joe’s are devoted followers of this blog. No sooner do I suggest that TJ come up with a few more variations on their new Toasted Coconut Pancale Mix then does this appear on the shelf – Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Pancake Mix. It’s arrived just in time for the holiday festivities, so let’s dive in!
In my Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix review, I pointed out that while the coconut bits are pretty good, the real winner was the incredibly easy to make pancake mix itself. Trader Joe’s has brought to market a totally self-contained pancake kit that incorporates powdered eggs and powdered milk into the mix itself. All you need to supply is the water – either a little to end up with big puffy flapjacks, or a lot to end up with thin, dense crepes. This time around TJ’s ditched the coconut, and whipped up something much more in tune with the time of year – a gingerbread infused mix with crystallized ginger bits tossed right in.
While this sounds like it should be a grand slam, the pancake mix suffers from the unique problem of not being gingery enough, and being too gingery at the same time.
There are really two types of ginger in this pancake mix. The first is the ginger present in the gingerbread-like pancake batter itself. This is ginger doing the classic gingerbread thing, providing a pleasant aromatic lift to the rest of the dough and contributing just a hint of ginger taste. I was actually a little disappointed by how mild the ginger taste was in the pancake batter. Given the premise of “gingerbread pancakes”, I had assumed we’d be getting something akin to gingerbread cookies, just in a fluffier form. That’s not actually the case – this pancake mix is more gingerbread-inspired then gingerbread-infused. It tastes somewhat of gingerbread, but not so much that you would mistake it for a cookie in a blind taste test. While that’s a little disappointing to me personally, it’s by no means a deal breaker. The molasses, brown sugar and powdered ginger that do go in give it at least a hint of that warm and lovely taste of gingerbread, while retaining the supple mildness of the good ol’ fashioned pancake.
However, there is another issue. Possibly in order to compensate for the only mildly gingery batter, Trader Joe’s mixes in a heaping scoop of crystallized ginger bits. Not unlike it’s cousin Trader Joe’s Crispy Coconut Pancakes, the ginger bits are numerous, and wind up in each bite. The problem is that bits of crystallized ginger just don’t taste that great in pancakes. There are a couple issues with it – the abrupt combination of textures, the fact that the heavy bits are prone to burn on the griddle – but the biggest issue is that ginger isn’t really an easy spice to use.
Although it’s commonly found in sweets in the form of gingerbread cookies, ginger is
actually better suited for savory dishes, as in Indian and Thai cuisine – not sweet ones. Gingerbread only really works because the ginger is spread out through a good deal of sugar and thick batter. The crystallized ginger lumps in this pancake mix don’t taste like gingerbread at all – they just take like intense bits of ginger. These little gingery bursts don’t go particularly well with maple syrup and butter – instead they sort of throw the flavor off by hitting you with an abrupt, strong, clashing taste. And I say this as a crystallized ginger fan! For years I kept a little box of crystalized ginger in my desk drawer to snack on for a little mid-afternoon pick-me-up. I only stopped when it became clear that fusing my molars together with sugar-caked, sweet glue was not beneficial to healthy tooth enamel.
In the end, what you’re left with is a pretty tasty gingerbread(ish) pancake mix, with a bunch of intense ginger mixed in. The result is something that tastes less like a holiday treat and more like something from an Asian Fusion brunch special. It’s not terrible – but it is very striking. While it’s certainly interesting to try, if you’re looking for something to delight the kids with on Xmas morning this may not be the way to go.
Trader Joe, if you are taking suggestions from me now, keep the pancake mix but don’t stop trying out new flavors.
Would I Recommend It: Not really. Ginger pancakes are interesting, but not incredible.
Would I Buy It Again: I’ll probably go back to the toasted coconut pancakes.
Final Synopsis: Nice gingerbready pancakes loaded up with too much ginger.
It’s the holiday season – Thanksgiving, Christmas, all that jazz. The holidays, more than any other time of the year, are a time of traditional foods – of stuffing, turkey, mashed potatoes, pie and, yes, cranberry sauce. Of course, just because something is a tradition doesn’t mean Trader Joe’s isn’t going to try and find some way to screw with it. Case in point, the brand new Trader Joe’s Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce.
When I first saw this, I initially assumed it was some new sort of festive pepper jelly. You know the stuff – comes in little jars, thick like jam, people spread it over cream cheese, only ever shows up around the holidays? That stuff? While pepper jelly and this cranberry sauce do have the same burgundy color the two condiments are actually very dissimilar. After all, this is a cranberry sauce – same as the gelatinous stuff you get in cans and serve with the stuffing. It’s not even particularly thick, and while it certainly might be a nice compliment to cream cheese, that’s not what it was made for. As a cranberry sauce, its natural home is in between the turkey leg and the mash potatoes.
Now, cranberry sauce has a long tradition of being blended with any variety of different flavors – orange zest being the most common – but jalapeno peppers? That’s something I’ve never seen. That said, this jalapeno blend is a natural addition to the cranberry sauce oeuvre. Cranberry sauce is, after all, not so much a sauce as it is a relish – meant to add a burst of outrageous flavor to your seasonal repast. On that count this cranberry sauce works very well, the heat the jalapenos pack melds well with the tart sweetness of the cranberries, kicking the sauce up to a whole new notch of flavor intensity. When Trader Joe’s gives “jalapeno” top billing on the label, you know they’re not screwing around. There’s no mistaking the jalapeno taste in this sauce, but that’s not to say it’s very spicy. There’s only a mild heat to each bite – much more prominent is the flavor of the jalapeno itself, that uniquely green and peppery taste. It’s this savory flavor that mixes with the sweet cranberry sauce, and gives it its overall unusual but intriguing taste.
This new and intriguing taste is certainly something worth trying, but while there’s no reason you couldn’t put it out this coming Thanksgiving you’ll probably want to have some ordinary cranberry sauce on hand as well. It’s a bold and striking flavor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want it on every piece of turkey.
If your jar of Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce doesn’t get used up on Thanksgiving dinner, you might consider using it as an hors d’ouevre. It could easily be used as a tarter substitute for pepper jelly in the aforementioned cream cheese and pepper jelly spread. Simply lay on a thick layer of the cranberry sauce over a slab of cream cheese and garnish with an interesting cracker – Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin seeds could be an excellent fit.
Otherwise, unless you’re serving up a uniquely Mexican-flavored Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner, Trader Joe’s Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce is probably best thought of as a back up to your main cranberry sauce.
Would I Recommend It: Certainly, and doubly so to flavor-thrill seekers and people looking to shake up the Thanksgiving table.
Would I Buy It Again: Maybe… we’ll see how it goes over this year.
Final Synopsis: A sweet and tasty relish to supplement to your ordinary cranberry sauce.
There’s never been a shortage of pancakes with stuff mixed in. Just pop your head into a Denny’s any given Saturday – pancakes with blueberries, pancakes with banana, pancakes with walnuts or pecans – the list goes on. However, never before now have I seen anything like Trader Joe’s Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix. For some reason, no on has really bothered to mix tiny bits of crisped, sweet coconut into pancakes – and that’s surprising because the results are quite good.
Trader Joe’s starts things off with an amazing new pancake mix. Instead of their ordinary buttermilk pancake mix that requires eggs, milk, etc, this new mix requires nothing but a little water. On to this they throw in a good helping of crunchy pieces of toasted coconut. The result is super easy to make pancakes with a natural sweet crunch to them.
Pancakes are one of those delicious breakfast foods that everyone can agree on. And when I say everyone, I mean world wide. Some sort of pancake variation has been, at various points throughout history, invented indepedentently on every continent except Antarctica. From Ethopian injera to Tamil uttapam to Swedish pannkakor to the American flapjack, batter sizzled up in a griddle and served hot has become something of a worldwide staple. Of course though they may all share the name, the pancake varies widely from iteration to iteration. Sweet, savory, thick, thin, round, flat – the variations know no end.
Here in the States, the main pancake question is whether or not you’ll be getting thick and fluffy ones, or thin, crepe-like ones. This can be a thorny questions, with fans coming down firmly in favor of both types. Trader Joe neatly side steps the issue by providing directions for both kinds of pancakes on the side of the box. In fact, TJ couldn’t make preparing these pancakes any easier. The mix is all inclusive, all you need to bring to the kitchen is the water, and the pancake mix does the rest – no eggs or milk necessary.
Of course, this magical convenience is only possible because the mix includes dry, powdered milk and egg in the batter mix. While in theory these dehydrated and canned ingredients should be inferior to adding the real thing, in practice I found that the pancakes didn’t really suffer from it. In fact, these pancakes are just as good any you’ll get from any other off-the-shelf boxed mix. Depending on the proportion of water to batter you control how fluffy/dense your griddle cakes come out – from full-blown fluffy flapjacks to the paper-thin Swedish style and anything in between.
What really sets this mix apart, of course, is the toasted coconut. Joe doesn’t skimp on this part of this mix, and you can expect every bite of your pancake to contain at least a touch of crispy coconut. The coconut does two things for the pancakes, both of them sublte. The first is that they add a bit of unexpected texure. After coming off the griddle the bits are postivley crispy, and give the flapjack a bit of extra, crunchy bite. This isn’t necessarily a big selling point, but it didn’t really bother me much either.
The more subtle effect is on the taste. The toasted coconut infuses the pancakes with a light coconut taste. Noticeable, but not so heavy that it leaves you smacking your lips or anything. It’s more of a low key sweetness, a light touch that is easily lost under a moderate amount of maple syrup or butter. That said, they’re sweet enough from these coconut bits that you’ll probably find you’ll want to use less syrup than usual. In fact, in the best tradition of bluberry pancakes, the coconut is nearly sweet enough that you might consider forgoing syrup at all. Almost, that is, but not quite. After one pancake without syrup, you’ll probably reach for the Aunt Jemima’s
In the end, these are perfectly ordinary pancakes with a little novel touch of coconut to them. How much that sells these for you depends on how much you like coconut. There certainly aren’t any flaws to the mix, but it’s also not something I would feel compelled to buy again just for the sake of getting a little more coconut in my breakfast. Out of everything the mix has to offer, it’s actually the ease of preparation that sells them the most. Being able to whip up tasty pancakes with just a bit of water was downright enjoyable.
If TJ’s starts making more pancake flavor variations with this same mix I’ll happily pick them up. Until then, this box will probably last me quite a while.
Would I Recommend It: Sure, the sweet coconut is a natural complement to the pancake batter.
Would I Buy It Again: No, probably not.
Final Synopsis: A novel and easy-to-make, but otherwise ordinary, pancake mix.
Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Mango Chips are the answer to the unasked question of “What would happen if you just kept on dehydrating mango?” The result? These dehydrated, crispy (and, yes, crunchy) mango chips bring you all of that sweet mango flavor, without getting your fingers sticky.
Crispy Crunchy Mango Chips are just the latest addition to Trader Joe’s “Crispy Crunchy” fruit snack line. Previously we looked at TJ’s Crispy Crunch Jackfruit Chips and ruminated in an abstract way if it was possible to cook jackfruit bonda with them. While the jackfruit chips didn’t blow me away, the second I saw this new mango variety I knew I had to pick them up. Long time readers of this blog know that I have a certain, pathological addiction to that sweet, heavenly expression of nature’s golden teet also known as MANGO. I will lie for mango. I will steal for mango. If you get in between me and that luscious fruit, I’ll even kill for mango. These may be simple tenets to live by but they’ve served me well or, at least, ended up getting me a ton of mango.
I’ve held off on reviewing any mango based products for a while now (more than a year?!) because once those floodgates open, they’re hard to close again. In this case I relented, simply because dehydrated mango chips weren’t something I’ve ever seen before.
Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Mango Chips take whole slices of thick, succulent, juicy mango and dehydrates them down into little, withered, french fry-sized sticks. Surprisingly, this is actually much better than it sounds. The resulting chips end up being light and very crispy, with plenty of satisfying snap and crunch. These wouldn’t be great qualities in and of themselves, if it wasn’t for the intense mango flavor that is packed in each chip. Through the dehydrating process, TJ’s managed to retain and concentrate much of that sweet mango flavor. Snap into one and you’ll be shocked at how flavorful each bite is. They’re not as sweet as the actual mango itself, but they bear far more resemblance to it than you would expect – certainly much more than your average apple chip or banana chip bears to their progenitor fruits.
The fact that there is some slight reduction is sweetness is actually a good thing. A ripe mango can be so sweet that eating even one is overpowering. By moderating the sweetness, these chips become much more snackable. In fact, they approach the perfect index of snackability – packed full of flavor, sweet, crunchy, easy to eat, and portable. It’s easy to munch on just one of these chips at a time, nibbling one down and enjoying the experiencing before going back to the back for the next one – a much more enjoyable experience than jamming handful after handful of Lays potato chips into your mouth.
I’ve never regarded dehydrated fruit chips as a particularly high-level snack . I’ve always felt they’re only really sold to people seeking a moderately healthier form of junk food. Since that defeats the purpose of junk food, and dehydrated fruit is often expensive, I’ve never really sought them out. These mango chips have turned me all around on the issue. These aren’t just another half-hearted substitute for genuinely tasty chips, they’re a superior snack food in their own right – more savory, more healthy, and more enjoyable than any bag of lays you’ll ever find.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, these are a superior snacking experience.
Would I Buy Them Again: I’d pick these up over a can of Pringles any day.
Final Synopsis: Tasty, simple, dehydrated snack food with loads of mango flavor.
Holy-moly – Trader Joe’s 100% Honey Crisp Apple Cider is a dang good cider. I certainly love a good apple, whether straight off the tree or freeze-dried. Apples are, as far as I’m concerned the perfect fruit. Apples have it all – nutrition, sweetness, crispness, juiciness, an easy to store, easy to carry package, a pleasant shape and an appealing aroma. It’s entirely possible that apples are my favorite fruit of all time. Sure, I like me some mango, but that’s more of a tragic obsession than love. When it comes to the fruit you’d want to be married to, that’s an apple, no question.
As much as I love apples, what I love even more is apple cider, that most delicious of all apple-based beverages. Why they even bother to make apple juice when cider is so clearly superior I’ll never understand. I’m sure some of you out there might be saying “Isn’t the line between apple cider and apple juice hazy at best, with no one authority having definitively establish the criteria for what separates apple cider from juice?” Well, that may be so, anonymous educated cider guy, but to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewarts‘ ruling on obscenity, I know it when I taste it.
A better question might be, why should I buy this apple cider when Trader Joe’s standard Spiced Apple Cider (and, to a lesser extent, pear cider) have always done me just fine? Well, friend, that’s what I used to say too. TJ’s spiced apple cider is delicious, could this cider really be that much better? Yes – yes it absolutely is. In fact, this is the best grocery-store available apple cider I’ve ever had. It may not beat a fresh pressed cup of cider straight from the orchard, but it’s close.
The secret of the deliciousness is in its simplicity. Take a look at the side of your jug of TJ’s spiced apple cider – you’ll notice that it’s adulterated with a variety of other fruit juices in addition to the eponymous spices. Now look at the side of Trader Joe’s 100% Honey Crisp Apple Cider. One ingredient – just one. Honey crisp apple juice. That, my friends, is a dedication to purity that you can taste in the finished product. Each cup of Trader Joe’s Honey Crisp Apple Cider is an explosion of deep, complex mellow sweetness, cut through with bright, tart notes. Any given mouthful is a flavorful journey into a country where the forces of sweetness and tartness war with each other. At any given moment one side winning out, in the next moment the other. It’s a hard fought war, but the victor is always deliciousness.
If you ask me, this should be your go to cider for the rest of the season. I haven’t found a cider on the market that competes with the richness and intensity of fresh flavor that Trader Joe’s delivers here. If Autumn just hasn’t felt like Autumn to you yet, pick up a bottle of this today, and let the seasonal feeling seep into your soul.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is some excellent cider.
Would I Buy It Again: Yes – and I hope it will be coming back next year as well.
Final Synopsis: A 100% pure apple cider with tart notes that does cider right.
We may have left Trader Joe’s season of pumpkin madness behind, but it is still autumn and that means there’s still a whole cornucopia of harvest foods to review. Case in point, Trader Joe’s tasty Cranberry Apple Butter.
Every season has certain foods associated with it – from the lemonades of summer to the hot choclate of winter, but no season is more intimately tied to food and food traditions than the fall. There are the pumpkins, of course, but that’s not to mention turkeys, pies, stuffing, cranberries, apples or many more besides. Trader Joe’s has decided to take these latter two and combine them into one delicious condiment for us with their new Cranberry Apple Butter.
Apple Butter is one of those niche condiments that the majority of Americans maybe encounters once or twice in a decade. In it’s most basic form, it can be thought of as something like apple sauce MAX. Apple sauce is made by stewing up a load of apples with sugar and water until it forms a pleasant mash. Apple butter simply takes that process to it’s extreme – keeping the apple sauce on heat until the fructose in the apples caramelizes into a rich, deep brown.
This apple spread was first concocted by German and Dutch monks back in the Middle Ages, when monasteries included large orchards. The enormous, annual crop of apples had to be managed somehow, and what couldn’t be eaten was turned into the shelf stable apple preserve we now know as apple butter. Although it never really caught on in Europe outside of the regions of the Rhineland and Limburg, migrants to America brought the recipe with them and it can be found nowadays as a staple in Pennsylvania Dutch country, as well as more widely available in boutique grocery stores here and there nation wide.
That’s all well and good, but if you’re anything like me you’ve often scratched your head over the whole “butter” part of apple butter. After all no butter, or any dairy product, goes into apple butter. The misnomer apparently comes from the soft, easily spreadable nature of the food product, which apparently lead some miserable medieval peasant to remark, “Oy- these apples is like butter, isn’t they?”
Of course, you and I know that’s stupid, as butter is only seldom that easy to spread. If we’re going strictly by consistency Apple Margarine would have obviously been the better term – or maybe Apple Toothpaste. At any rate, it’s in the history books know and I’ll be damned if I know what can be done about it.
Trader Joe’s, on the other hand, had no such shortage of ideas. In a rather clever move, they’ve gone and added a heavy dollop of cranberry puree to the tradition apple butter, giving the condiment a tart zest. How much of a dollop are we talking about? Plenty, actually. Cranberry is actually the primary ingredient in the spread, followed by apples. That’s a choice you can taste – the cranberries are front and center here, in fact they taste so strong that this apple butter could be mistaken for cranberry sauce on first blush. However, once the sharp cranberry taste has subsided, the mellower sweetness of the apple butter remains, taking some of the bite off and making the preserve more palatable than a straight cranberry sauce would be. Although it’s the “apple butter” part of the title that catches the attention, this is probably better thought of as a cranberry sauce first, and an apple butter second.
So what do you do with a hybrid cranberry-apple spread? Put it on your turkey is the obvious answer. And while this would be a perfect addition to Thanksgiving dinner this year, it also makes a tasty spread on toast and English muffins. If you wanted to get crazy with it, you could even add it to a turkey sandwich for a little of that pseudo-thanksgiving taste!
Would I Recommend It: Sure, if you like cranberry sauce.
Would I Buy It Again: Probably not, honestly. Regular cranberry sauce usually does it for me.
Final Synopsis: Like cranberry sauce, with a mellower apple butter follow through.