Trader Joe’s Super Burrito!Posted: March 31, 2015 Filed under: Trader Joe's Brand | Tags: 3 stars, burrito, kale, mexican food, quinoa, Sweet Potato, Trader Joe's Brand 4 Comments
What this now – a Super Burrito? A Super Burrito with an exclamation mark and everything?! Oh wow, it must be like, the bigget, cheesiest, meatiest, most ass-kicking tube of molten sodium this side of the Taco Bell late night menu. Let’s just see what we’ve here – quinoa, kale, sweet potato… wait a minute – this isn’t a Super Burrito, it’s a Super FOOD Burrito. Gah! Trader Joe’s you’ve snookered me again! I’ve bought healthy, filling cuisine when I was hoping for a heart-clogging cylinder of refried beans and queso.
Actually, I suppose I can’t Trader Joe’s you for leaving the “food” part out of their Super (Food) Burrito. There’s little to nothing about quinoa, kale, et al. that inclines one to think it would make for a satisfying, quick and dirty microwaveable Mexican food indulgence. Ah, but how wrong we are, us’n who equate only ground beef and melty cheese sauce with good burritos. Trader Joe’s delivers a downright hearty, filling and tasty blast of spicy southwestern cuisine that, if I hadn’t been tricked into it, I’d never have bothered to try.
First of all, yes, you’re correct – there’s no meat in this burrito. It’s entirely vegetarian and vegan friendly, yet even meat lovers can find something to love in this nutritious tortilla wrap.
We’ve covered quinoa, that ancient psuedo-grain, several times before – but for all the health claims that swirl around quinoa one is certifiably true – it really does do a good job of filling you up. A mix of red quinoa and gold quinoa make up the bulk of this burrito, and while they bring their trademark pearl-like texture to the mix, they’ve been cooked long enough and well enough that there isn’t any coarseness to the burrito – each bite is smooth and almost creamy. This smoothness is helped along by the large, soft pieces of golden sweet potato that help the quinoa fill out the burrito. Again, these have been cooked to a pleasing softness and go down easy. Kale makes for the third big ingredient, but despite my fears, it was mild and hard to detect from bite to bite. Kale, with it’s high nutrient, vitamin and mineral denseness has a tendency to scare off all but the most health-food focused, but here it makes nary a wave – chopped and stewed into yet another mild, easy on the tongue ingredient.
What you do notice is the spiciness. The filling is spiced with aji amarillo chili sauce, made from the small, orangish and quintessentially Peruvian chili pepper, and the tortilla is seasoned with red pepper flakes. This gives the burrito considerably more spice than you might expect given the typically mild ingredients in the filling. Each bite delivers a little punch of fire that sears without burning and lends the whole affair some much needed spice that takes it up a notch in the flavor category.
I doubt I would have picked up this burrito if I’d suspected what was in it, but I’m glad I did. The flavors all play well together, the texture is even and smooth, and it cooks up in the microwave in about two minutes. This isn’t just a good vegan burrito, it’s a good burrito in general – and with only 44 grams of carbs and 18 grams of fat it’s a pretty damn healthy one too boot.
Would I Recommend It: I would – it finds a comfortable intersection between taste and nutrition.
Would I Buy It Again: It surprises even myself to say so, but yes I would buy this vegan burrito again.
Final Synopsis: A quinoa-based, vegan burrito that is actually worth checking out.
Trader Joe’s Baconesque White Cheddar PopcornPosted: March 26, 2015 Filed under: Trader Joe's Brand | Tags: 3 stars, bacon, popcorn, Snacks, Trader Joe's Brand 1 Comment
It’s hard to know what to say about Trader Joe’s Baconesque White Cheddar Popcorn. It’s unusual certainly – the most unusual popcorn I’ve had since Trader Joe’s last weird popcorn experiment (or maybe the one before that) – but unusual in a very different way. This popcorn is, weirdly, exactly what it says – a vaguely bacon-y kind of popcorn. Not bacon popcorn, not popcorn with bacon bits, bacon flakes or even real bacon flavor, but a bacon-esque popcorn. Popcorn, in this case, that has been infused with a fake bacon smoke flavor. That fake bacon flavor is mingled with an intense white cheddar cheese powder results in a bizarre, slightly off-putting, but addictive snack.
I’ve written before on my opinion of bacon-mania. Although longer lasting than many of the food fads that have swept the nation, it stills shares the same quality of food fads everywhere – whether it be bacon vodka, or chocolate covered bacon, novelty comes first and quality is the afterthought. So when I see a new bacon gimmick on the self I’m immediately skeptical.
Does Trader Joe’s Baconesque Popcorn actually qualify as bacon though? Kind of… but not really. Normally I’d criticize a product for something like that, but in this case that’s what they’re actually advertising right on the bag. They promise fake bacon flavor and they deliver fake bacon flavor – should they penalized for that, or just stared at agog? They make it abundantly clear that in lieu of real bacon or bacon flavoring you will be getting “natural smoke flavor”. A psuedo-flavor that is sort of like putting your nose right above a sizzingly BBQ.
“Natural smoke flavor” is the same thing as “liquid smoke”, which really is actually made from smoke. It’s usually made by burning hickory or mesquite wood and capturing and concentrating the resulting smoke in a liquid medium. The resulting taste is a general sort of heavily-cooked meatiness. There isn’t anything screamingly bacon-y about it, certainly nothing resembling the heady, savory tastes of Trader Joe’s incredible Apple Smoked or Black Forest bacons. It tastes much more like these pieces of popcorn were mixed with a few heaping handfuls of Baco Bits – those hard, granuated bacon imitators people put on baked potatoes and what have you.
This strong and perplexing taste is combined with the equally strident taste of white cheddar – every bit as mouth blastingly cheesy as you would expect as if this popcorn was bright orange. The combination of extremely fake bacon flavor with extremely strong cheese flavor makes for one intense popcorn snack.
I personally found the roller coaster ride of flavors interesting enough to come back to bag more than once – although each time I limited myself to just a kernel or two. This would be extremely hard stuff to munch down like your standard movie theater popcorn. It’s much better treated like a tin of sardines or a plate of olives – as an over the top flavor to be sampled in small quantities.
Would I Recommend It: Probably not. The fake bacon taste is somewhat off putting.
Would I Buy It Again: I might, I like a snack that demands you muse on it rather than gobble it down.
Final Synopsis: Like cheesy popcorn with a bunch of Baco bits mixed in.
Trader Joe’s Paneer Masala NaanPosted: March 24, 2015 Filed under: Trader Joe's Brand | Tags: 4 stars, bread, cheesey naan, indian food, masala, naan, paneer, Trader Joe's 8 Comments
Trader Joe’s continues to deliver high-quality Indian food with their latest offering – Trader Joe’s Paneer Masala Naan. When it comes to Indian food, TJ’s always seems to get it about right – whether that be their Aloo Chaat Kati Pouches or their Uttapam, so it was a thrill to see a new and delicious Indian bread available to try.
While at first Indian food names seem to be dense and intimidating, as soon as you start picking up some key phrases they are actually pleasantly direct (much easier to parse than, say, direct Chinese translations of food, which tend to more poetically reference clouds, ears, or quasi-mythic generals) Paneer meaning cheese, Masala meaning a blend of spices, and Naan, of course, meaning bread.
Combine those three terms, as they have here, and you’re left with that tasty, chewy, oblong flat bread we all know and love, but somehow stuffed with cheese, diced onion and plenty of savory spices. “A cheese stuffed naan?” you’re no doubt, asking yourself incredulously. Yes, sit down, a cheese stuffed naan – but stuffed classy-like. This isn’t some Taco Bell-style molten “cheez” filled dough snack, it’s a scrumptious, shareable, understated addition to your classy Indian or South East Asian inspired dinner. The cheese, for one, is present only in a reserved quantity – a thin layer that effuses throughout the soft and chewy bread rather than glue it together.
In fact, apart from the appealingly moist texture the cheese lends the naan, you won’t notice it as much as you will the masala spice mix. The onion is the clearest participant, showing up well-cooked and diced so as not to sting the tongue, and it’s complemented nicely by coriander, green chili, ginger, and the other miscellaneous spices that TJ’s doesn’t bother to delineate on the label but which likely include fennel, cardamom, nutmeg, and more in small, measured quantities.
Naan is one of the most delicious forms of bread in existence, when done right, and Trader Joe’s does it right here, perfectly balancing crispiness with moist toothsomeness. You will want to make sure you pop it in your oven for long enough to ensure it is heated through and through – a good 10 – 15 minutes or so. Sure, it would be preferable if you could just microwave it, but good food is seldom microwaved.
Trader Joe’s claims they’re able to deliver on such high-quality Indian food, time after time, because they actually have their food hand-made in India itself. In this case, their naan hails from that Jewel of the West, Gujarat on the west coast of the subcontinent. You should be thrilled to hear because, one, it means you’re getting authentic hand-made Indian food in your local grocery store, but also because, two, it gives us a chance to talk about the Great Rann of Kutch!
We briefly covered the marvelous Thar Desert a while back, and those endless salt flats known as the Rann of Kutch which borders it to the south. This unique ecoregion is home to the graceful, loping nilgai, and is fed by the sinuous Luni River and I haven’t made up even one word in this whole paragraph. All of these things are real things. I would strongly argue that the Great Rann of Kutch has the single best geographic name of any location on Earth, beating out even the Forth of Firth, and Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch. And basically, folks, if that doesn’t get you in the mood to eat some naan, I’m not sure what to tell you.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is some good naan.
Would I Buy It Again: Yup, it’s perfect for sopping broth, grippin’ chicken or just eating by itself.
Final Synopsis: Cheese and herb stuffed naan – what’s not to like.
Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Organic Rooibos and Honeybush TeaPosted: March 20, 2015 Filed under: Trader Joe's Brand | Tags: 2 stars, fair trade, herbal tea, honeybush, Organic, rooibos tea, Tea, Trader Joe's 10 Comments
It’s been a while since we looked at Trader Joe’s tea selection. And honestly, that’s because Trader Joe’s teas run a little hot and cold. On the one hand I’m a huge fan of Trader Joe’s Spiced Chai Tea and their Autumn Harvest blend. On the other hand you have more, shall we say, lackluster offerings like their wretched Tropical Sweetened Matcha. When I saw the new gorgeous box of Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Organic Rooibos and Honeybush Tea, I was immediately on board. Surely with box art this bold, this dynamic, surely it must be one of the good teas. Right?
Look, let’s start out with the positive stuff.
Fair trade products are worth supporting. As it turns out, corporations are incredibly good at exploiting the unrepresented and voiceless – particularly if the people being exploited are a continent or two away from the eventual consumer. In the same way that fair trade chocolate is important to developing sustainable economies (and environments) in Africa, fair trade tea is worth supporting. Also it’s organic, so that’s good too. Organic and Fairtrade – two strong, good adjectives leading us off right out the gate.The problem is that the product title doesn’t’ stop there, because then we get to the “rooibos” part.
I don’t do this often on this blog, but I’m going to make some strident, potentially divisive claims based more on personal opinion then objective polls of larger social trends. Rooibos tea is terrible. In the same way that people have risen to the defense of Trader Joe’s heavily sweetened corn-only salsa, I’m sure there are die-hard rooibos tea lovers who are going to take umbrage with this statement. To me however, rooibos tea taste like wet carboard. That was the first thought I had the first time I tried it, and it is the same thought I have had every time since. Rooibos tea tastes exactly like sucking on the paper stick of a Tootsie Roll Pop until it turns to mush.
Rooibos is an herbal tea, which means it isn’t a real tea made from the leaves of tea plants, but instead from the clippings of a broom-like scrub plant that grows in South Africa. It has been steadily growing in popularity the last few years because of…. something. I don’t know.
I honestly do not understand why people drink this tea, and I have regretted the purchase every time I picked it up. I had hopes that the promise of “Honeybush” being present in this Rooibos and Honeybush tea might make for a different experience. It does not. Honeybush is another South African bush commonly said to taste just like the rooibos bush only “a little sweeter”. “Little” being the important adjective in this phrase, meaning “not actually noticeably sweet at all”.
Here’s the other thing I think is weird. It takes an incredible amount of rooibos to brew even a single cup of rooibos tea. The given brewing instructions are to let one tea bag steep in your cup for 6 full minutes before you try sipping it. For a pot of tea they recommend adding one tea bag per person, and letting the pot steep for 8 minutes. That’s an extremely long soak. I dare you to try that with a bag of Trader Joe’s Original Irish Breakfast Tea, let alone several bags. After 6 minutes, the tea would be strong enough to overpower you in fight.
Again, yes the box is beautiful, the bags are beautiful, and even the box itself is well designed – incorporating a natural hinge and an exceptionally clever self-locking flap. The only problem is that I feel I would be just as well off gumming the edge of the box until it turns to pulp as I would be actually brewing the contents.
I may be well off the mark on this one – I’m willing to believe that someone loves this tea – it’s just that it it has any positive qualities I’m completely blind to them.
Would I Recommend It: This is very unlikely.
Would I Buy It Again: I don’t think so. If I get the hankering for rooibos again I reckon I can always just chew on an index card.
Final Synopsis: Rooibos tea always tastes like wet cardboard to me.
Crushed by too much work! No post today, sorry :(Posted: March 19, 2015 Filed under: Trader Joe's Brand Leave a comment
The headline says it all guys. Will treat you to a new post soon – just consider this a chance to exercise the art of patience!
Trader Joe’s Partially Popped Popcorn!Posted: March 17, 2015 Filed under: Trader Joe's Brand | Tags: 3 stars, Gluten-Free, Kosher, popcorn, Snacks, Trader Joe's 5 Comments
Trader Joe’s Partially Popped Popcorn? Trader Joe’s Partially Popped Popcorn! Not only has TJ’s brought us a new product that sounds absolutely insane, but judging by the exclamation marks, they’re very excited to being doing so.
Trader Joe’s Partiall yPopped Popcorn is, astoundingly, exactly what it sounds like. Ever tried to pop a bag of popcorn in a microwave? You know htose partially popped kernles that are lawys left on the botto? That’s what this is. An entire bag of nothing but popcorn rejects. Essentially, Trader JOe’s has hit on the idea of selling you some of the trash you would normally throw out.
But wait. Is it trash? After all, who among us hasn’t found themselves idly trying to munch on some of the half-budded misfit kernels when all the good popcorn is gone. Is it true that not only have you tried to eat these kernels, but that maybe, every now and then, you have found one that was semi-popped in just the right way, formed just enought that it crunched beneath the teeth with an enjoyable, salty little crunch?
Friends and readers, I’m shocked to see myself write this, but Trader Joe’s Partially Popped Popcorn is not just good, but strangely addicting. –addicting in the weirdly compulsive way that leads you to repeatedly chawing on those partially cooked kernels in your own Pop Secret bag. The difference here is that the kernels in this bag are all precisely cooked as to be half-popped, fully roasted and pleasantly chompable, without any molar-busting, underdone seeds in the mix. The result is more like a roasted Corn Nut than anything else. They have about that same level of sturdy, hard-shelled integrity, that gives way to a crunchy, salty core after a brief moment of tense, inter-dental resistance.
A nutty crunchy, salty, snack – that’s what these really are at the bottom of it, despite their strange origins. Maybe Trader Joe’s isn’t peddling us their rejects, so much as they’ve discovered a previously untapped resource.
Would I Recommend Them: It’d be hard to, without being laughed at.
Would I Buy Them Again: Yeah, I would. I love Corn Nuts.
Final Synopsis: Basically smaller, off-brand Corn Nuts.
Trader Joe’s Sweet & Salty Kettle Popped Popcorn Chips with Whole Grain, Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds, Whole Quinoa and Sunflower SeedsPosted: March 12, 2015 Filed under: Trader Joe's Brand | Tags: 2 stars, chia seeds, Chips, flax seeds, popcorn, quinoa, Snacks, sunflower seeds, Trader Joe's 3 Comments
Trader Joe’s doesn’t care if everyone else is giving their food products catchy, memorable or even easily paresable names. No, what they’re going for is completionism, and they aren’t going to stop adding words to their product name until it contains as many ingredients as they can get away with. Thus is the case with TJ’s Kettle Popped Popcorn chips – a sweet and salty hybrid snack that dares ask the question, “What would happen if you tried making tortilla chips out of kettle corn?”
I may slight Trader Joe’s for their gaffs, but I love them for just these feats of daring audacity. Obviously no sane person would try to take fully popped sweet and salt kettle corn, then try and compress them down into flat discs. Leave the popcorn to the popcorn and the chips to the chips, the average consumer might say – their sense of normalcy firmly ingrained by the stream of mundane products churned out by mainstream grocers. Not only has TJ’s just made chips out of popcorn, but they went ahead and started throwing in whole fistfuls of quinoa, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds in as well. I’m going to give them full points for thinking outside the box on this one.
That said, are they any good. Well, as you might imagine from such a hybrid snack, it does many things serviceably, but nothing amazingly. While shaped like chips, they certainly don’t behave like chips. That is to say, these popcorn chips can’t be dipped or dunked. Their popcorn nature makes them much to fragile for that. The only thing that the chip nature is good for is to give a home for all the seeds.
The scattering of quinoa, sunflower, and flax seeds give the otherwise ordinary kettle corn a nuttier taste and a sort of extra intriguing crunch. However, because the chips are so fragile they tend to break up immediately in the mouth, so there isn’t really much time to appreciate it. I like the idea of mixing in those seeds, but unlike, say, Trader Joe’s Super Seeded Tortilla Chips, these just don’t hang around long enough to have much of an impact. It almost seems like a waste of the seeds, and an unnecessary source of additional fat.
The kettle corn itself is quite tasty – just the right amount of salty and sweet that makes it such a treat. However, it begs the question, why wouldn’t I just buy a regular bag of kettle corn if that’s what I was after? The only real advantage, as far as I see, is that it’s easier to be aware of how many “chips” you eat. Regular popcorn is such an amorphous collection of tiny things that I tend to eat more than I realize- munching down kernel after kernel. In chip form it’s easier to realize “Whoops – that was a dozen chips, better lay off.”
Ultimately, Trader Joe’s Kettle Popped Sweet and Salty Popcorn Chips are an interesting new snack, but fail to make a strong case for buying a second bag.
Would I Recommend It: No, just go pick up some regular kettle corn.
Would I Buy It Again: I’d give it a pass.
Final Synopsis: Tasty kettle corn, compressed into an unnecessary disc shape.
Trader Joe’s 0% Frozen Vanilla Greek Fat Free YogurtPosted: March 10, 2015 Filed under: Trader Joe's Brand | Tags: 4 stars, fat free, frozen yogurt, ice cream, Trader Joe's Brand, vanilla, yogurt 2 Comments
Sometimes Trader Joe’s nails the names, as with their Avacado’s Number guacamole, other times, as with Trader Joe’s 0% Frozen Vanilla Greek Fat Free Yogurt, they’re just being confusing. I dare you to parse that mangled phrase. 0% frozen, vanilla Greek, fat free yogurt. So obviously we’re talking about a 100% melted, fat free yogurt with the flavor of vanilla Greeks, right? This isn’t the first time Trader Joe’s has been syntactically confusing in their product titles (see Italian Blood Orange Soda, Thai Lime Shrimp, and French Berry Lemonade) but it is probably the most egregious. Just call it Fat-Free Greek Frozen Yogurt, you guys!
At any rate, I was excited to see this on the shelves because, like my father and his father before him, I love that froyo! The low calorie, low fat version of ice cream, frozen yogurt is the salvation of anyone craving a frozen treat.
Trader Joe’s offers ordinary non-fat Greek yogurt in vanilla already, and this frozen variety is incredibly similar. It’s as if they took the yogurt available in the refrigerated case and just cooled it a few more degrees. I’m a big fan of TJ’s non-fat Greek Yogurts, going so far as to live my life by a yogurt clock, so I was basically won over as soon as I saw this.
The frozen Greek yogurt capitalizes on all the best qualities of the non-frozen variety – it’s creamy, dense, and sweet (but not too sweet!) with a mellow tone of vanilla set against the yogurt tang. It certainly isn’t the sort of sweet creaminess you’d get from a dairy vanilla ice cream, but frozen yogurt isn’t trying to be that. And at a scanty 100 calories per 1/2 cup and no fat, it doesn’t have to be.
I enjoyed this frozen yogurt in its own right, but it’s a basic enough taste that it can easy be dressed up with all the usual ice cream toppings, bits of crushed candy sweets, or even strawberries, raspberries, ripe peaches or plums. I mean, anything really, man. We live in a free and crazy age of bold experimentation – I can’t think of a reason not to pick up a tub of this and go completely nuts.
Would I Recommend It: For sure – no fat, few calories and sweet frozen goodness. That’s all good.
Would I Buy It Again: Well, I finished eating this one already, so yeah.
Final Synopsis: Pretty much exactly like the frozen version of TJ’s regular 0% fat Greek yogurt.
Trader Joe’s Crispy Green Curry Shrimp GyozaPosted: March 5, 2015 Filed under: Trader Joe's Brand Leave a comment
Interesting, bold and exotic – Trader Joe’s Crispy Green Curry Shrimp Gyoza have a lot to offer – but they don’t quite manage to deliver.
I certainly love the idea of these gyoza – seafood, curry and Asian veggies all done up in a crispy dumpling – but while the idea sounds amazing on paper that’s a lot of moving parts to get just right. While by no means a disaster, these gyoza are more mundane than mind blowing.
Just to get this out there first – I love that Trader Joe’s comes out with daring products like this. If there’s a world where Trader Joe’s isn’t putting green curry and shrimp into gyoza I’m glad I don’t live in it. That said, as much as I wanted to like these I found myself underwhelmed. Previously I took a look at Trader Joe’s Thai Shrimp Gyoza, which I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, this time they’ve pushed their winning equation too far. The addition of curry, plus a change to the filling, plus a strangely crunchy shell results in a gyoza that doesn’t do anything particularly well.
Given the golden, crispy exterior – I’m not sure it makes sense to call these “gyoza” at all. While they share the shape, the texture and taste no longer resembles the chewy, tender pot sticker at all. Instead, we’re given a crunchy outer shell that has more in common with pie crust. That’s not a bad thing, a crispy crunchy shell would have been amazing if the gyoza contained some sort of soft, gooey filling. However, it seems out of place here where the filling is already so chewy and challenging.
That filling is a mixture of big shrimp chunks and big pieces of kale. Kale, really? Yes indeed – along with the more traditional lemon grass, limp pieces of well-cooked kale makes a big showing here. What’s more, unlike TJ’s Thai Shrimp Gyoza where they shrimp was an understated, mild presence these crispy goyza feature big chunks of shrimp you can’t miss. That should be a selling point, and it probably would be, if the shrimp could stand on their own. Instead, the shrimp runs up against the green curry and, yes, the kale, in a way that doesn’t really mesh all that well.
The curry is a good green curry to be be sure – you’ll definitely taste the coconut milk in it along with the cumin, turmeric, nuanced hits of ginger, kaffir lime peel, and lemon grass. And while it’s good, there isn’t enough of it to hold its own against the other flavors that are going on, nor enough to take prominence over the shrimp flavor. More like a dab of green curry in a gyoza, instead of a gyoza green curry.
What you end up with is a dumpling that ends up doing nothing all that well. The crunchy exterior is pretty good, but doesn’t go that well with the veggie-shrimpy filling. The shrimp is fine, but doesn’t match all that great with the curry sauce. The curry sauce is okay, but there isn’t enough of it to pull the whole thing together. Trader Joe’s has a pretty diverse selection of gyoza nowadays, from chicken and pork gyoza, to vegetarian gyoza. The next time I’m in a gyoza mood, I’ll be skipping these for one of those classics.
Would I Recommend It: Not really, there are better gyoza available.
Would I Buy It Again: I’ll stick with the authentic gyoza, thanks.
Final Synopsis: Hybrind quasi-gyoza that fail to make a case for their own existence.