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Trader Joe’s Chicken Balti Pies

Trader Joe's Balti Pies

English? Pakistani? Exactly.

British Meat Pie Week continues with Trader Joe’s delicious (and heart-clogging) Chicken Balti Pies.

If you read the previous post on Trader Joe’s Steak and Ale Pies, you know more or less what to expect here – it’s the same flaky, buttery crust, only this time they’ve pumped it full of a savory, mildly spicy, chicken curry. The result is just as warm and hearty as the Steak and Ale pie, even more delicious, and even more chock-full of fat.

Ranking: 3 stars3 star ranking

What it is: A hearty, British style pot-pie – with curry!
Costs: $5.99
Worth it: Yes…again, if you can spare the calories

Rather than the ale-based steak stew in Trader Joe’s other British, meat-filled pastry Trader Joe’s has elected to fill this version with a particular form of tangy chicken curry known as “balti” (named after the the pot it was originally prepared in). Though still rich with chicken, potatoes and carrots, it’s notably less thick than TJ Steak and Ale variation. This is actually a good idea, as it lets the curry sauce speak for itself – and the curry sauce is pretty dang delicious.

The mildly spicy and richly flavored curry sauce hits all the right notes – with a nice tang and just a little bit of fire. It’s good enough that I wish I could buy it just by itself – maybe in one of Trader Joe’s pre-made Indian Fare meals, like with their Punjab eggplant. Of course, in this case the balti curry is already sealed within the same singularly tasty pastry crust used by the Steak and Ale Pie. This shares the same strengths of the Steak and Ale variety (crispy, light, flaky, etc) and the same weaknesses (made with whole sticks of butter).

Those calories from fat are still the big consideration here. The balti pies pack even more butter into the crust, if that were even possible, with 380 calories from fat, or 42 grams of fat per pie.

Like the Steak and Ale Pie before it, these Balti pies have a strong tradition in England where they are consumed by “football clubs” (whatever those are…) with a nearly ritualistic fervor. If you share the belief, as so many do, that British food is unpalatable, picking up either these or the Steak and Ale Pies might just be enough to make you forget about all the bubble-and-squeak, eel pies, mashed peas, Branston pickle, various blood-based puddings, and so forth. Just don’t think too hard about your diet while you’re eating them.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes – better than pot-pie to be sure.

Would I Buy It Again: As soon as I stop carrying about my waistline.

Final Synopsis: Really good curry, in really good (really fatty) crust.

Trader Joe's Balti Pies - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Balti Pies – Nutrition Facts

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Trader Joe’s Steak and Ale Pies

Trader Joe's Steak and Ale Pie

Hearty!

Are you a lumberjack? Do you haul peat from bogs, or otherwise labor in cold, wet, physically exhausting conditions, day-in-day out? If so, you’ll find exactly the sort of hearty, hot and, above all, calorie intensive repast you need to keep going in Trader Joe’s Steak and Ale Pies.

Ranking: 3 stars 3 star ranking

What it is: A hearty, British style pot-pie
Costs: $5.99
Worth it: Yes… if you can spare the calories.

These dense cylinders of dinner are the classic English version of the more familiar American chicken-pot pie. The box contains two meat stew-filled “pies”, bottled up inside thick, but buttery and flaky crust. A few things set these steak and ale pies apart from traditional pot-pies – the first among them being the ale. The “ale” in the product name isn’t just an idle threat – TJ’s has actually stewed up each of their pies with strong, stout beer. It’s an addition you can certainly taste, and it gives each pie a dark, slightly bitter bite tinged with the distinctive taste of a strong porter.

That’s not a taste that might go well with jut any pot-pie, but Trader Joe’s does well by it by going heavy on the steak and thick gravy filling. This thick, meaty taste pairs well with the ale edge, conjuring up a warm culinary sensation of coming in from a cold autumn dusk, stomping off your boots, and hunkering down by a roaring hearth.

TJ doesn’t limit himself to just steak and ale, however, also throwing in potatoes, carrots, celery and onions to make up a mighty hearty stew. Of course, if I’d wanted a stew, I would have bought a stew. Like Trader Joe’s other pot-pies these really triumph on the strength of their delicious, buttery crust. Unlike the more common American pot-pie, these Brit-inspired creations are entirely surrounded by tasty, crunchy crust. Thick enough to stand up to manhandling on the plate, the crust is also light and savory enough that eating your way through it to the piping hot core is a delight, not a chore.

Of course, the words “buttery” and “hearty” don’t usually get thrown around with the word “fattening” also, and it’s no different here. This is not the frozen dinner to pick up if you’re watching your waist line. Just one 10 oz. pie contains 670 calories, a whopping 63% of which is pure fat. Of the 41 grams of fat in a single pie, 24 grams are saturated fats (120% your daily recommend value) and – even worse – 0.5 grams come from universally reviled trans fats.

And even in the face of all that, after eating one of the pies, I was left sitting there hungry. 10 ounces of anything does not a meal in itself make. If you’re not a deep sea crab fisherman or professional bear wrestler and still decide to pick these up, make sure to get some salad greens and a light vinaigrette for the side.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes, but be prepared to feel diet guilt.

Would I Buy Them Again: Sure, the next time I’m gearing up for a all-night forced march.

Final Synopsis: Tasty English-style pot pies with a massive fat content.

Trader Joe's Steak and Ale Pie - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Steak and Ale Pie – Nutrition Facts


Trader Giotto’s (Trader Joe’s) Organic Pesto Pizza with Tomatoes and Broccoli

Trader Joe's Organic Pesto Pizza

Hoo boy – that’s some broccoli alright.

When the Trader Joe’s R&D wonks get bored with putting pumpkin in things, they must just start drawing ingredients out of a hat and dare each other to make food out of them. How else can you explain Trader Joe’s Organic Pesto Pizza with Tomatoes and Broccoli, the most unusal use of pesto since their Quinoa Pesto.

Trader Joe’s pesto pizza looks like any of their other frozen pizza offerings on the surface, but quickly breaks the mold. In place of a tomato base, it instead uses a rich and savory basil pesto. On to this they layer mozzarella cheese, tomato slices and, strangely, little broccoli florets. Not content to stop there, they replace the standard wheat crust with a crisp, sourdough crust.

Trader Joe's Organic Pesto Pizza 2

Surprisingly, this all somehow works.

The result is a rich-tasting, slightly sour, slightly acidic pizza with plenty of crunch – and surprisingly that works. Each bite is bright and fresh, with a little bit of “zazz” not normally found in the gooey, salty pizza world. Why they added the broccoli I can’t say (this element could have easily been substituted out for a more traditional veggie in my opinion – mushrooms for example) but the pesto base is brilliant, and what ultimately brings the pizza together.

I’ve never had a pesto based pizza before, but it fills each bite with that savory, oily, flavorful taste that really works well with the thin, crispy crust and milder toppings. Although billed as a pizza, this just as easily could be viewed as a pesto-topped flatbread with veggie toppings. The pesto is really the star of the show here, making each bite a savory delight and justifying its otherwise bizarre existence.

The rest of the ingredients are fine – the mozzerlla is sufficient, the tomatoes are a welcome little change to the texture and mellow out the flavor, and the broccoli is forgettable. As a carnivore, I would have preferred some meat on this. Even despite the all veggie topping selection it still misses out on the “Vegetarian” tag for some reason. That said, it still manages to fit in 11 grams of protein per two slice serving, so that’s not bad.

As made clear in the product name, everything in the pizza is laudably organic – from the wheat flour to the olive oil. This is an improvement over the previous incarnation of this pizza, Trader Joe’s Pesto Pizza, which had all the same toppings and was something like 90% organic already. Not an earth-shattering change, but nice. Organic designation aside, the only real reason to pick this up is for the novelty of the pesto. It’s an intriguing take on pizza, and it’d be interesting to see Trader Joe’s introduce some more varieties down the line.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, the pesto is good and the broccoli isn’t as scary as you might think.

Would I Buy It Again: Sure, though I might get some prosciutto to throw on top too.

Final Synopsis: A straight forward pesto flatbread with plenty of zip.


Trader Joe’s Spicy Ranchero Egg White Salad

Trader Joe's Spicy Ranchero Egg White Salad

Egg salad, one of the few foods that can be this lumpy and still look appetizing.

Vamos, mi amigos, to a land where healthy egg salads are mixed with some sort of bland salsa. Vamos!

Yes, today I’m review Trader Joe’s Spicy Ranchero Egg White Salad – a riff on the classic egg salad which, one, tries to make it a little less heart-clogging by cutting out all the mayo and cholesterol and, two, tries to spice it up a bit. TJ more or less succeeds on the first count – this is damn healthy by egg salad standards – but fails rather badly on the second front.

The most famous appearance of the word ranchero is, of course, in another egg dish – the breakfast classic huevos rancheros. While ranchero simply means “rancher” in Mexican Spanish, it has come to culinary signify putting a bunch of salsa all over something – in the same way that “California” has come to mean putting a bunch of avocado all over something, and “Denver” has come to mean putting a bunch of ham, onions and green peppers all over something. The culinary world is a crazy world.

Given the pedigree of the word ranchero, and the additional use of the word “spicy” right in the title, you might expect this egg salad to be, well, spicy. It is not. In fact, Trader Joe’s Spicy Ranchero Egg White Salad doesn’t really taste like much of anything at all, other than a mild spiciness that stops in just long enough to tap you on the tip of the tongue, then vanish off into nothingness. It’s probably the least spicy thing I’ve ever tried that could still be (technically) referred to as “spicy”.

It’s not just that it lacks spice – this egg salad lacks zing, zip and even zazz. If you pick it up it should be for the nutritional value alone, because there isn’t much to talk about in way of taste. Of course, it’s precisely because it has any nutritional value that it scores so low on the flavor side of things. There are only 50 calories per serving – and one serving is half of the container. Without tangy mayonnaise or rich egg yolks, this egg salad doesn’t have much to dazzle you with.

It seems like that would be all the more reason for Trader Joe’s to spice it up with some poppin’ peppers or fiery hot sauce instead of leaving it to languish in mild, in offensive blandness. Alas.

If you’re looking for a high-protein, low-calorie filler food, this may not really be a problem for you. The egg salad has 7 grams of protein per serving, only 2 grams of carbs and no cholesterol. As long as you don’t mind the low flavor payload, and the typically lumpy egg salad texture, this can help you hit your diet goals – just don’t expect to be wowing any Mexican ranchers with it.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not unless you already have a plan on how to fancy it up.

Would I Buy It Again: I might – it’s healthy enough and inoffensive enough to be a last minute meal option.

Final Synopsis: A barely spicy egg salad with some healthy attributes.

Trader Joe's Spicy Ranchero Egg White Salad - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Spicy Ranchero Egg White Salad – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Almond Stuffed Meski Olives

Trader Joe's Almond Stuffed Meski Olives

Olived!

And so we return to the world of stuffed olives, with Trader Joe’s Almond Stuffed Meski Olives. The last time we traipsed into these briny grounds was with Trader Joe’s Seriously Stuffed Peppers with Olives, Capers and Garlic which – now that I think about it – one, isn’t technically a stuffed olive but an olive which has been stuffed into something and two, didn’t actually involve brine. Damn, so close.

As the above paragraph may indicate, yes – I am currently drunk. Not just because it’s before noon on a Sunday, but actually and in fact for very important research reasons. You see, when I bought this intriguing sounding olive garnish I though there might be something really interesting going on with it. As it turns out, they are pretty much just olives stuffed with almonds – not too much to add. So to up the ante, as it were, I’ve been making martinis.

Unlike the stuffed peppers, or some of Trader Joe’s other stuffed offerings, I was relieved to find these weren’t packed in oil but just your standard salty, olive brine. Another relief was to discover that the meksi olives themselves are shockingly mild. When I think of green olives, I think of the pimento stuffed cocktail variety found, most frequently, at my grandmother’s house during get togethers. Salty little bastards that kick your butt after about one and a half olives.

In comparison, Trader Joe’s stuffed meski olives are gentle delights – briny, to be sure, but mild enough to munch away on by the handful. Certainly mild enough to be broadly appealing to party goers. Stick some toothpicks in these and I’d you’ll have yourself an intriguing hors d’oeuvre.

Whether this mildness of taste is a property of the stuffed almonds or not, I couldn’t say. In either case, they certainly make a nice accompaniment. The nuts are a touch bland, but they balance out the stronger flavor of the olive while lending it some considerable heft and crunch – something to really chew on, rather than pop in the mouth.

Overall, it’s a little olive revelation – I’d never considered buying olives as a garnish before, but I’d certainly think about picking these up again in the future.

Of course, when it comes to garnishes, there’s one other famous use for olives – the martini. Trader Joe himself suggests tippling it up with these olives right on the label – either as a cocktail garnish, or with the brine for a dirty martini “like no other”. See, it all comes full circle.

While TJ doesn’t go on to substantiate that last claim, I just so happened to have enough gin and vermouth laying around the house to consider putting that claim to the test.

So here I am, sipping on an extremely dirty cocktail, essentially attempting to savor olive brine mixed with a punishing liver toxin. It is only as I lift it to my lips that I remember, oh yeah, martinis are terrible. Or they certainly are the way I prepare them. 6 parts gin to 1 part vemouth, per the standard recipie, with 5 or 6 spoonfuls of olive brine. Simply terrible – like a punch straight to the liver. There actually seems to be more in the glass each time I sip from it. Hundreds of ounces of harsh gin (top shelf, Beefeater – absolutely murderous) with a sassy little olive flip.

If only I could stop drinking it. Of course, Momma didn’t raise no quitters.

At any rate, I subscribe to that school of thought which says, if a lot of people like something, but I personally don’t see any merit in it, I’m probably missing something. Maybe it’s just an acquired taste? and polishing off this glass will clarify my understanding? However at this point, three quarters of the way down, it seems unlikely. I suppose it doesn’t help that I prepared it in a big honking wine glass.

A dirty martini “like no other”? No, I’m afraid I can’t independently verify that. Brine-wise, this seems to be just as good as any other olive brand you might like to pick up. In terms of garnishes, however, I’d have to give it an enthusiastic thumbs up.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes – a very gentle and tasty olive.

Would I Buy It Again: I never thought I’d say this about stuffed olives, but yes.

Final Synopsis: These olives are good, and I’m drunk.

Trader Joe's Almond Stuffed Meski Olives - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Almond Stuffed Meski Olives – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Super Burrito!

Trader Joe's Super Burrito!

The kind of burrito ancient Peruvians were probably chowing down on all the time.

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.


The Breakdown

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 Super Burrito! - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Super Burrito! – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Baconesque White Cheddar Popcorn

Trader Joe's Baconesque White Cheddar Popcorn

You know how much you like bacon? Well this doesn’t have any.

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.


The Breakdown

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 Baconesque White Cheddar Popcorn - Nutrtion Facts

Trader Joe’s Baconesque White Cheddar Popcorn – Nutrtion Facts