The only real rule I have for myself with this blog is to review only those things which are unusual enough to catch one’s attention, but are too unusual to warrant an immediate purchase. This plan has guided me down some terrible alleyways and up some delightful avenues. Why then, am I bothering to review Trader Joe’s Southwest Chicken Quesadilla – one of the safest, least intriguing foods out there? After all, isn’t the quesadilla such a staple of kid’s food menus for its tremendously simple execution and supremely inoffensive recipe, namely melted cheese in a white flour tortilla?
Yes, all that may be true, but I was drawn to this product for one very simple reason – the “Taos Joe” brand name.
One of Trader Joe’s charming quirks is their penchant for tweaking their brand name to reflect the “ethnic” nature of some foodstuff or another. There is Trader Josef and Trader Jose, Trader Giotto and Trader Jacques, just to name a few.
Things get a little nutty after this, as Trader Joe starts breaking the pattern altogether with Arabian Joe and Trader Ming. What strikes me as particularly strange, is that Trader Joe’s sort of stops there. Despite having a huge range of Thai, Indian and even African cuisine, there are no labels that reflect these cultural roots. Why, Joe?
While this is all charming and clever, it also irks me deeply because of their erratic application of nomenclature. Why, in god’s name, is this guacamole not a Trader Jose product, but this guacamole is? Perhaps only Joe himself knows.
At any rate, the sight of a Taos Joe product stopped me cold. What I like most about the name is that it’s a sign of Trader Joe’s true commitment to this gimmick. A less devoted brand might feel tempted to just stick their quesadillas under the Trader Jose name, but not so TJ. Evidently they felt that the somewhat subtle difference between Southwestern and Mexican cuisine demanded the creation of the entirely new “Taos Joe” label.
Actually, come to think about it, that’s even more irksome. Going through all the trouble of generating a brand name just for southwestern food makes the absence of, say, a Greek brand feel like more of an intended slight than a simple overlook. Is it madness or brilliance? You be the judge.
That more or less brings us to the quesadilla itself, about which there’s not a lot to say. This quesadilla is a pretty comfortable quesadilla – it’s thick, cheesy, soft and tasty in that sort of way that melted cheese usually is. If you’ve ever had a quesadilla, you pretty much know what you’re going to get from this.
That said, Trader Joe’s does manage to work in a couple nice additions that elevate it above a microwave-it-yourself affair. The best addition are the titular seasonal vegetables – a phrase which in this case means corn, red bell pepper, jalapeno pepper, and strangely, spinach. The jalapenos, along with the blend of monterrey jack and pepper jack cheese, give the quesadilla a barely detectable blip of spiciness, but not so much that it really does anything for the dish.
The vegetables and white chicken are diced to rather small chunks, and spread evenly throughout the quesadilla. This gives it a nice body and something to think about other than the cheese while chewing, but doesn’t really effect the overall cheestastic taste of the dish.
Not getting too fancy with it is actually to Trader Joe’s credit. People don’t usually turn to a quesadilla because they want challenging food, but because they want something pleasant and reliable. This quesadilla may not hit any culinary heights, but it does satisfy on a basic, comfort food level.
In the end, it’s a pretty solid dish – some chicken, some vegetables, plenty of cheese, and microwavable in about 3 minutes. Perfect for a quick and easy frozen dinner any time.
Would I Recommend It: Sure, this is a pretty good quesadilla.
Would I Buy It Again: Probably not – it’s got lots of cheese, but not a ton of excitement.
Final Synopsis: A perfectly good quesadilla, suitable for whatever.
When is a salad not a salad? No, that’s not the set up for a hilarious joke – it’s a dead on serious philosophical musing. Undoubtedly there are as many different answers as there are salad lovers on this planet. Some might quibble over the presences of leafy greens, others might argue the necessity of a dressing. For me, it comes down to nutrition.
When a salad is delivering 108% of your daily fat intake in a single serving, that’s a poorly constructed hamburger not a salad. When someone can say to you, “Whoa, buddy, instead of that salad, why don’t you try something healthier. Here, shove these two Big Macs into your mouth at the same time.” That for me is where a salad crosses the threshold into junk food. What I’m saying is, brace yourself for Trader Joe’s Bacon and Spinach Salad.
I bought this salad the other night because I was hungry and had managed to convince myself that, you know, in light of the paleolithic diet, Atkins, etc TJ’s Bacon and Spinach Salad wasn’t actually that bad for me. If you haven’t looked yet, I’m going to direct your eyes to the bottom of this article. Yup, that’s right. Not just 108% of your daily recommended fat, but 105% of your cholesterol, 68% of your sodium, and even some trans fats in there for good measure, all delivered directly to your arteries on a healthy bed of fresh spinach.
Who in their right mind can call this a salad? If they’d stopped at the bacon, that’d be one thing but this salad by no means stops at the bacon. What else is in there?
Well, we’ve got some cherry tomatoes, nice plump and juicy, that’s fine, a whole hard-boiled egg, that’s not too bad, then we have the mozzarella cheese and the poppy seed dressing. I’m not sure which of those chokes me with surprise more. I mean, the mozzarella just seems egregious. We’ve already slathered the spinach with a hefty helping of cured pork belly, bacon that is literally sagging with fat, who was out there was thinking, “This salad just isn’t rich enough. Throw on a bunch of fatty, white cheese!” And, with that in mind, can I just say – poppy seed dressing? Really, Trader Joe’s? On top of everything else, poppy seed? One of the richest, liquid-fat infused dressings on the books? And not even a poppy seed dressing that makes overtures at healthiness, but an oily poppy seed dressing? Honest to god, this poppy seed dressing has a thick layer of oil floating on the surface when you crack it open. I’ve had poppy seed dressings many times before, but never one that comes with its own oil slick.
It’s astounding, readers. This salad is practically a novella about the rage simmering beneath the exterior of one crazed salad designer at Trader Joe’s, a man who has been forced, day after day, to design fresh, light new takes on lemon chicken while his soul within slavers for sticks of butter and pork flesh, a man who, one day, snapped when presented with a bag of broccoli slaw, the levees of his mind giving way to the flood of carnal need, and leapt about ransacking the shelves, tongue hanging out of his mouth, loading up a bed of spinach with his every secret, depraved desire.
Okay, so if you eat this salad everyday your body fat will eventually smother your heart and you will die, on that we can all agree. On the other hand, it’s very tasty. And of course it’s tasty, it’s a pile of fat and salt – it’s incredibly delicious. Pour on the poppy seed dressing, mix up the bacon and cheese and dig in – you’re taste buds will be taken on a wild ride of salty, fatty, meaty tastes. In fact, the most incredible thing about this salad is that it’s actually edible. As anyone who’s had a Big Mac can testify, it’s hard to eat so much fat and salt in one sitting and not leave feeling at least a little ill. For this we can thank the spinach and cherry tomatoes, which provide a clean, light taste counterbalance to the more dominant heavy tastes. In a way, it’s a brilliant solution to the problem of how to eat a bunch of fatty bacon and cheese all at once. If that’s not a problem your trying to solve, then this may not be the salad for you.
Would I Recommend It: No to salad fans, yes to bacon fans.
Would I Buy It Again: I’m not sure my blood pressure can take it.
Final Synopsis: A novel way to eat a bunch of sloppy bacon.
An interesting salad, this Trader Joe’s Super Spinach Salad, an intriguing salad, but not necessarily a very good salad.
Spinach is an incredible base for any salad – tender, and flavorful, and supple, and yielding to the ardent bite, and nutritious, and, and, and – well, I could go on. I have a deep and abiding love for leafy, raw spinach that manifests itself in a refrigerator stuffed full of salad greens and dirty looks I throw at petulant children. My adoration of spinach, I’ll admit, is partially irrational. You see, I lost my salad virginity to spinach.
I was a young man, a college freshman. I hadn’t been looking for love, I didn’t even think I was interested in salads. I had grown up around plates of iceberg lettuce and, apart from the occasional juicy crouton or Baco Bit, they did nothing for me. But then I saw it, there in the dorm cafeteria’s buffet , demure but intriguing. I remember stuffing my mouth full of the delicious young sprigs, the juicy blast of nutritious flavor. I can taste it still. That day changed my life, leading me into the wonderful world of salads, and though I’ve often played around with exotic radicchios and roquettes I’ve always returned home to those tender, loving fronds.
So you’d think a TJ’s spinach salad would be an almost perversely easy slam dunk, right? Not so. Trader Joe’s Super Spinach Salad offers up the sort of charmingly eclectic list of ingredients see in some of their other excellent salads, quinoa, carrots, cranberries, chickpeas, edamame, tiny little tomatoes, and pumpkin seeds, but they simply do not work as well as a unit. It’s hard to say where the salad goes wrong. The main problem seems to be the carrot ginger miso dressing, which is, one, a strange combination of ingredients that don’t work very well with the salad mix, and two, unusually thick, almost like a very gritty mayonnaise that resists spreading evenly across the salad. Worse, the dressing leaves a strong aftertaste of onion in your mouth that lingers on long after the salad is finished.
The veggies do make for a crunchy, crispy unit that’s not bad for munching on, and I would suspect that if you ditched the dressing and substituted it for a personal favorite the salad would benefit greatly by it.
Even worse than being unpalatable, the dressing commits the all-too-common sin of wrecking the otherwise very healthy nutritional profile of the salad. Check out these post dressing stats: 19g of fat (a third of your daily intake), and a whopping 53g of carbs which, even controlling for the 10g that come from fiber, is more than a Big Mac packs.
I’ve got nothing against the occasional decadent salad (perhaps choked with gorgonzola and candied pecans), but it has to be pretty fantastic tasting to make the calories worth it. This salad fails to deliver anything like the level of enjoyment I’d demand for blowing my diet for the day.
Would I Recommend It: With a caution – lose the salad dressing and substitute a healthy alternative.
Would I Buy It Again: Not I, there are far more interesting salads to explore.
Final Synopsis: A very promising salad ruined by a very poor salad dressing.