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Trader Joe’s Nutty Grain Salad

 

I don’t have anything to say about Trader Joe’s Nutty Grain Salad that isn’t short and nasty, so I suppose I’d better just get to it. Trader Joe’s should have called this Trader Joe’s Crappy Peanut Bean Thing. Instead they try and tell me it’s a salad and put it next to the good stuff.

Saying that this salad tastes as bad as it looks is not entirely accurate. Obviously, it looks terrible. I’m not sure I’ve seen a mass of soy beans, peanuts, pistachios chunked carrots, and cooked spelt that looks worse than this – and I’m including vomit in that. At least vomit has the effluvium of stomach bile to cloak it’s terrible, true nature. This stuff just sits there in the open, daring you to stare directly its clusters and lumps. Go ahead and try it – see if you can last longer than five seconds, I can’t.

So to say it’s as bad as it looks is implying that it tastes atrocious, which it doesn’t. It tastes worse than that – it tastes bland. There are foods out there that I think look and taste awful which whole cultures have passionate loves for. You’re not really a country, I reckon, unless you have at least one national dish that no one else in the world can stomach. The English have Vegemite, the Scotts have hummus, the Japanese have natto, the Americans have Kraft Singles, etc. What I’m trying to say is, taste is relative, and really intense flavors may alternately repulse and delight, depending on the eater.

Trader Joe’s Nutty Grain Salad, on the other hand, is simply bland and uninteresting. The packaging claims that it is dressed with a soy ginger sauce. This is technically true, but the dressing is present in such cowardly quantities that it contributes almost nothing to the taste, beside rendering the whole mess somewhat squishy. The primary flavor you’ll experience is “soggy nuts”. There’s some nutty tasting quinoa, some peanuts and pistachios. Next to that, the edamame, spelt and carrots don’t really show up much, and when they do it’s only to add an additional dimension of blandness to the whole affair.

I could go on and on about how upset I am at this tiny little tub, but the bulk of my ire is actually reserved for the nutrition labels. Go ahead and flip this tub over, but first set your faces to “stunned”.

Serving size, 1 package. Sure, that seems reasonable. What else. Calories: 590, Calories from fat: 290.

Trader Joe’s, ARE YOU TRIPPIN’, BRO?!?! These numbers are absurd – and the madness goes on. 45% of your daily fat value, 350mg of sodium, 68 grams of carbs.

So essentially, what we have is a tiny little tub of stuff that looks gross, tastes like a more mild version of unsalted peanuts, and contains as much fat as a Big Mac only with more calories. It’s like Trader Joe’s figured out how to remove all the fun and enjoyment from eating fast food. There are entire galaxies of more delicious, healthful and fun meal options out there – many of them right there in the Trader Joe’s salad aisle. Unless you are in desperate need of compact, high calorie food sources (sumo wrestlers, long distance bomber pilots, roving apocalypse survivors) why you would want to go for this instead of literally anything else is beyond me.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: No, not unless you needed the final component for a robot powered by hate.

Would I Buy It Again: Only as a tip off to my loved ones that I’m secretly being coerced by kidnappers.

Final Synopsis: A bland, gross looking pseudo-salad that is bad for you.

Trader Joe's Nutty Grain Salad - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Nutty Grain Salad – Nutrition Facts

 

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Trader Joe’s Gorgonzola & Walnut Salad

Trder Joe's Gorgonzola & Walnut Salad

A very attractive old timey font on this salad. Not much else to brag about though.

Oh, Trader Joe’s your salads are so uneven. Sometimes your salads are so good that I do little dances in my kitchen, and sometimes they simply fall flat. Trader Joe’s Gorgonzola and Walnut salad seemed like it was going to land in the first category, but ended up squarely in the second – rather bland and generally unexceptional.

How do you go wrong with such a simple concept? This salad has the fewest ingredients I’ve seen in basically any salad ever. They are, all inclusively, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, gorgonzola and walnuts. Five ingredients, that’s it. Such a pure, simple recipe, such a confident delivery – it’s enough to make you think those few ingredients are actually enough to make the  salad taste good. It’s enough to make you think that gorgonzola and walnuts by themselves will be enough to make you sit up and go, “Yowza, I can’t believe this salad!” This, my friends, is not the case.

Gorgonzola has been served alongside walnuts since time immemorial, for the very good reason that they pair well. You’d think these two would be a delicious meal in and of themselves, salad or not. Splash a little  zingy balsamic vinaigrette on that, mix with some greens and you’d think we’d be talking about a definite winner. The fact that this salad actually tastes so plain and uninteresting is rather perplexing.

The problem here lays in the cheese. When you think of a nice gorgonzola, you’re probably picturing something like a rich, aromatic wedge of veined bleu cheese. This istandard gorgonzola, the most popular kind, is known as gorgonzola piccante or gorgonzola naturale. It is this type of firm, crumbly, strong tasting gorgonzola that isn’t packaged in this salad.  Instead, we are dealing with lumps of gorgonzola dolce, or “sweet” gorgonzola. This is your option B among gorgonzolas – a softer and much, much milder cheese.

I’m quite boggled as to why TJ’s went for this mild variety. The stronger gorgonzola naturale would have melded deliciously with the nutty bitterness of the walnuts and the acidic pop of the balsamic dressing. Instead, the mild gorgonzola dolce fades into the unimpressive wallpaper of the lettuce and cabbage. The overall effect is that you’re left with a salad that never really seems to get started.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not this one, no.

Would I Buy It Again: There are too many delicious salads at TJ’s to waste time on this one.

Final Synopsis: A perplexing cheese failure wrecks what could have been a great salad.

Trader Joe's Walnut and Gorgonzola Salad - Nutrtition Facts

Trader Joe’s Walnut and Gorgonzola Salad – Nutrtition Facts


Trader Joe’s Honey Roasted Macadamia Nuts

Trader Joe's Honey Roasted Macadamia Nuts

Evidently macadamia nuts grow in little green pods. Who knew?

Oh very nice, Trader Joe’s! I’m not sure which genius came up with the idea of honey roasting nuts all those many years ago, but someone needs to give him some sort of award. Roasting nuts with honey? It’s an idea that would’ve been laughed out of the building if it hadn’t been so damn brilliant! In any case, it’s put to excellent use here on Trader Joe’s Honey Roasted Macadamia Nuts.

While swapping out the peanuts in peanut butter might have left something to be desired, when it comes to snacking nuts any variety is  a welcome change of pace.

The first thing you’ll notice with these little nuggets, even before the different taste of the nut itself, is how well the honey-roasting was done. These things really taste like honey. The moment you drop one on your tongue, you’ll be met by a brief candied sweetness followed by the distinct, lingering note of real honey. It’s eye opening, especially when compared to name brand honey-roasted nuts (Mr. Peanut, I’m looking at you) where “honey-roasted” just means, vaguely sweet.

I found this real honey taste quite delightful but, to be frank, I can imagine it may not please everyone. It’s a bolder and more nuanced taste than plain, sugary sweetness, and it demands you pay attention to what your tongue is doing. A thinking man’s honey roasted peanut, if you will.

The macadamia nut itself is, I would hope, not unknown to you. If you’ve never had a white chocolate and macadamia nut cookie, you need to get your butt out that door right now and try one. Let’s just say, if I want to kiss the guy who invented honey roasting, the guy who invented this cookie is in danger of a marriage proposal.

The macadamia nut is mild tasting nut with a light, clean taste that doesn’t linger on the tongue, like the brittle almond or bitter walnut. A macadamia nut makes itself a welcome guest in your mouth, but does not overstay.

The roasted macadamia nut not only has a completely different taste than the peanut, but a different crunch as well. This crunch bears a few words. Your typical macadamia nut is maybe 50% larger than a standard issue peanut, and very round – almost spherical. This, to me, makes for an almost indecently enjoyable munching experience. A macadamia nut really gives you something to grip in your incisors and cleanly bisect, something to put up a brief, satisfying resistance before giving way beneath set of molars. Tremendously satisfying.

Of course, on the other hand, it’s quite oily. In fact, the macadamia nut is one of the fattiest nuts around, and one of the lowest in protein to boot. 17 grams of fat for only 2 grams of protein. By comparison, TJ’s Honey Roasted Peanuts have 13 grams of fat and 5 grams of protein per serving.

On a pure taste basis, I’d prefer these over honey roasted peanuts most any time, but there’s no reason the world can’t accommodate both varieties. These could be a perfect addition to a trail mix, or even mixed in with honey roasted peanuts in the nut bowl to create a more nuanced party snack.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes, to all and sundry.

Would I Buy Them Again: These could go over well at my next cocktail party.

Final Synopsis: If the higher fat doesn’t put you off, this is a great roasted nut.

Trader Joe's Honey Roasted Macadamia Nuts - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Honey Roasted Macadamia Nuts – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Sunflower Seed Butter

Trader Joe's Sunflower Seed Butter

About a hundred million sunflower seeds, right there.

We’ve dipped a toe into the wild, wondrous world of non-standard spreads and emollients before, with universally positive results. Let us now turn our discerning gaze to that strange lurker on the peanut butter rack – Trader Joe’s Sunflower Seed Butter.

Here we have a weird and unusual spread. Almond pastes and hazelnut creams have become, if not common, at least wider known in recent years – earning a reputation for packing a delicious punch that belies their simple parts. Sunflower seed butter, on the other hand, is an item I’ve only encountered on the far left hand side of Trader Joe’s shelves, huddled off shyly to itself, away from the lime light of the more popular spreads.

I have long been intrigued by this little guy. Was he, like myself, the poor awkward kid in the school yard hiding a heart of gold, or was he a deserving misfit, a mismade troll rightfully shunned into lurking under the bridge in Trader Joe’s sunny world? Is it, in other words, any good?

The answer is not easy to come up with. Trader Joe’s Sunflower Seed Butter isn’t particularly good or bad. It has a very unusual taste that a certain niche audience might enjoy, and which isn’t offensive, but has nothing in particular to recommend it.

It’s hard, at first, to get past the packaging. The label has a cheap, tossed-off look that screams “We don’t care about this product”, a notion that is backed up by the surprisingly flimsy plastic jar it comes in. Twist off the top, and you’ll discover that sunflower seed butter looks almost exactly like your run of the mill creamy PB. Look closer, do you see how, as you tilt the container from side to side, a sheen of separated oil glimmers on the top? You’ll notice as well that the sunflower seed butter flows quite easily, more like an organic, hand-made peanut butter than a Jiff. In fact, the sunflower seed butter is so loose you could almost pour it out, if you wanted to. This is not all bad, as it makes it easy to spread, though it comes at the cost of being somewhat sloppy to ladle with a knife.

The taste is simple and unmistakable – sunflower seeds. This will be your first blush and the long, lingering tail. The immediately taste is almost identical to popping a shelled handful of those tiny, oily seeds into your mouth. After that, as you roll it around on your tongue, the taste become much more mild and somewhat sweeter (thanks, no doubt, to the evaporated cane sugar used as a natural sweetener). While chewing you’d almost swear you were eating ordinary peanut butter – if it wasn’t for a faint hint of that sunflower seed taste lingering just on the peripheral of your tongue. This is all more or less exactly what I expected from a sandwich spread made of sunflower seeds, what surprised me was that once you swallow, the strong, undeniable taste of sunflower seeds will resume. This is practically identical to the aftertaste left in your mouth when you munch on a handful of dry sunflower seeds, and it is not a quick aftertaste either but long and lingering.

Overall it’s not a bad taste or a very good taste – it’s simply a very strong sunflower seed taste. If you have an aversion to peanuts, and therefore peanut butter, you could very well get used to this instead. That said, there isn’t very much to recommend this over any other peanut-variation butter. Like all nut/seed butters it is mostly fat, and it has very nearly the same amount of sugar and carbs as other alternatives. In the end it comes down to how you feel about sunflower seeds. If you love snacking on them, keep them in your kitchen cupboards and car cup holders, this is your dream product.

A final note, sunflower seed butter is very dense compared to most store bought butters. Like organic peanut butter, a very small amount of sunflower seed butter goes a long way – each dab is dense with the crushed essence of a hundred sunflower seed kernels. One small bite and you’re tongue will feel slathered with the paste, resulting in much dog-like chop licking. As a result, one jar of this stuff is going to last you a lot longer than a similar jar of peanut butter, for better or worse.


The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: Only if you have a peanut allergy and don’t like almond butter.

Would I Buy It Again: Maybe when this jar runs out, 2 or 3 years down the line.

Final Synopsis: Yes, apparently you can make this, and yes it does taste exactly like you think.

Trader Joe's Sunflower Seed Butter Nutrional Information

Trader Joe’s Sunflower Seed Butter – Nutrional Information


Trader Joe’s Dukkah

Trader Joe's Dukkah Nut and Spice Blend

Not just tasty, but a nice executive little package too.

Trader Joe’s Dukkah is a brilliant new introduction to the American food lexicon – a delicious addition to otherwise tasty bread and, more than that, a party in a jar.

Dukkah, or “duqqa” as it is more commonly spelled, is an originally Egyptian side dish made, simply, from a mixture of herbs, nuts and spices for dipping bread in. Word has it that this tasty hors d’oeuvre is all but ubiquitous in Cairo and beyond. The geo-politcal climate being what it is – I’m content to take their word for it.

Dukkah, takes it’s name from the Arabic word for “to pound”, taken from the simple process of making dukkah – just jamming a bunch of tasty spices and nuts together. Traditional dukkahs, as you may expect from such a folk recipe, vary widely in composition. Trader Joe’s take on it is a combination of crush almond, fennel, anise and sesame seeds, plus coriander and salt. I’m sure this may raise some more traditional dukkah lover’s eyebrows, but I couldn’t be happier with this flavorful, exotic mix.

The product label is helpfully emblazoned with the instructions, “Take a hunk of crusty bread, dip it in olive oil and then in DUKKAH”, which was straightforward enough for me. I decided to engaged my jar of dukkah with a loaf of Trader Joe’s Kalamata Olive bread, figuring it was both crusty enough and small enough to fit into my cluttered, tiny kitchen. Also, hey, it’s got olives in it, so yum yum. I prepared a little dish of olive oil, opened my aromatic jar of Egyptian bread topper, and dunked the dukkah out of my bread. Was it good? Friend, it was absolutely great.

Now before I get carried away with unalloyed praise, let’s get the facts straight. A nice crusty bread is damn good in it’s own right, and dunking said bread in some cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil? You can’t really go wrong. The immediate question is how much enjoyment did the the dukkah lend to this simple banquet? The straight answer is – a great deal.

Dukkah is like having a delicious new tool in your meal tool box. Hit bread with some savory olive oil and that’s good, add to that a splash of tangy balsamic vinegar and that’s better, follow that with some nutty, crunchy, spicy dukkah and you’ve just added a whole new dimension to your meal. And while the taste is nice in and of itself, the crunch is really the selling point here, making a mouthful of sopping bread even more of a pleasure to work on.

That said, this spice mixture might not be for everyone. Anise is a strong flavor, commonly identified with black licorice, and while it’s presence in Trader Joe’s Dukkah is not overwhelming it certainly in noticeable. If you’re interested in giving yourself over to an exotic taste for a new way to enjoy bread, go for the dukkah, but if you’ve never warmed up to black licorice you might consider giving it a miss. Either that, or consider whipping up your own batch. Dukkah amounts to little more than a dry mix of crushed nuts, spices and a little salt. Making your own is as easy as taking a walk down the dry goods aisle of your supermarket. Want to substitute salt and anise for rosemary and black pepper? Why not? You can find one alternate recipe here and others all across the web.

Taste aside, dukkah has a lot to offer. It’s a very easy addition to the table – a casual condiment that can be dabbed in or done without as the mood dictates. It also fits easily into parties, allowing simple, tasty snacking for a whole room with just one simply jar. Of all the wonders of dukkah, most incredible is how many servings you’ll get out of this one $2.99 container. With a price that low, consider throwing one in your cart next time and forgetting about it in the cabinet until company comes over.


The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: If you like bread and don’t hate anise, go for it.

Would I Buy It Again: As soon as this jar runs out (so not for a while).

Final Synopsis: Why has it taken me so long to hear of this stuff?

Trader Joe's Dukkah - Nutrional Facts

Trader Joe’s Dukkah – Nutrional Facts


Trader Joe’s Prune Walnut Log

Trader Joe's Prune Walnut Log

The final slice of log

Trader Joe’s Prune Walnut Log

Prune and walnut log – wow! I dropped the half-hearted purchase I was going ti make myself write about this week and snatched these up as soon as I saw them, standing boldly forth as they were, like a proud, squat dwarf, on the lower-middle rack of the fruit & nut aisle.

These just appeal to me on so many levels. It’s like Trader Joe’s designed them specifically for this blog. I mean, where to begin?

Well, to start, they’re in log form. Nothing comes in log form! Not since the 50’s ended and consumers across America suddenly realized they were decorating cottage cheese with rings of pineapple that had been dyed green by quasi-lethal food additives. There’s really not much lower than the lowly log when it comes to food formats – even loaf has at least a few positive denotations (i.e. “meat-” and “- of bread”). But no, no one as ever said “Mmm, that log is delicious! Hew me off another slab, will ya?”

Take the name itself. It falls squarely into that three letter, central vowel set of monosyllabic utterance that just don’t sound appetizing, words like “gut” and “gob” and “wad”. Etymology aside, there’s just nothing appetizing about extruded food cylinders.

“Ready for some homemade turkey dinner?” hard working Mom asks.

“Go put your head in a vise, you slag,” chirp the youngsters, “We’re playing Gameboy!”

“But boys,” Mom teases, a twinkle in her eye, “it’s been extruded into cylinder form.”

“Log? For dinner? Yipee!”

In a flash the family has gathered around the table, digging with gusto into the uncannily smooth tubular masses that lay heavily upon their plates.

No, I’m sorry, it just doesn’t happen that way. Logs are unnerving and strange, and very few foods are acceptable in log format. Festive holiday cheeses and jellied cranberry sauce and, as far as I’m aware, that’s it.

Now then, what kind of log are we talking about? Why, it’s prunes. I mean, prunes, seriously? Amazing! Is there any food product that can conjure up images of loosened bowels more efficiently than prunes? I submit to you that there is not. And finally, on top of all of this, we have walnut, to which I am fairly indifferent.

So things are looking pretty dire for the ol’ prune and walnut log right from the word go. The packaging, light and cast of translucent, Lunchable-esque plastic, announces that it is “An Ideal Cheese Companion” right smack in the center, in a font larger than the title of the food itself. Serving suggestions are occasionally brazen in their placement, but I’ve never seen one that actually supersedes the contents of the package itself. I pick up a pack of Trader Joe’s Spanish Cheese Tapas Sampler to pair with the log. I may be bringing a roiling cloud of prejudices to the table, but I’m fair dammit. If the log demands a cheese coupling, than cheese it shall have.

Upon peeling back the cling film of the prune and walnut logs I am startled and thrilled. The log has been subdivided among the four quadrants of it’s container, this I knew from before. What I didn’t know was that each section was also pre-sliced into three round discs. I pulled back the cling film on the cheese sampler. To my mounting delight I find that each of its three wedges have been pre-sliced into four triangular planes. All the sudden the game has turned upside down on me, as if a secret geometry of the universe had sudden revealed itself. 4 x 3, 3 x 4. I’m staring at 12 slices of each, perfect pairings for each other, as if preordained by the invisible hand of Providence.

Is this log tasting going to be perfect? I wonder giddily.

To cut to the chase, three quarters of a page in, yes – the prune walnut log is delicious. I have to hand it to the clever boys over there at Trader Joe’s for the slicing gimmick. In one deft swoop they turned the most unappealing aspect of the log into a boon – simple access for easy pairing without having to bother with a knife or the generally gross look of a nut-studded fruit log.

The prune-walnut slices go very nicely with their cheese counterparts – the starchy sweetness of the prune paste benefiting from the clean, nutty crunch of the walnuts, both of which go very nicely with cheese. To my own astonishment I have to recommend this as a ready-to-go party tray or sophisticated snack plate for the sort of get togethers where people look at their food before stuffing it in their gobs (book circles, say, instead of NFL games) . Not too shabby, logs. You’ve turned me around.

Would I Recommend It: To anyone who enjoys fruit and nuts with their cheese, which should be everyone.

Would I Buy It Again: I would gladly trot this out for book club, were I ever to attend one.

Final Synopsis: If you like complex tastes that you can layer on a cracker, this log is right up your alley.

Trader Joe's Prune Walnut Log - Nutritional Data