Another calendar year has fleeted its way by, and are we any richer for it? Why yes, indeed we are – for Trader Joe’s has brought forth another cornucopia of culinary delights and downright crazy concoctions. It was a year of many new foods to review – from Cruciferous Crunch to Uttapam. Here were my top ten favorite, presented in no particular order.
I never thought that I’d be putting Brussels sprouts on a list like this, let alone Brussels sprouts that have been crossbred with kale, but I suppose that’s just another example of the mystery of life’s many ways.
Trader Joe’s Kale Sprouts are a relatively brand new type of produce that combines the blends the best parts of kale and Brussels sprouts together, while downplaying their flaws. I took a liking to these little heads of “lollipop kale” – so much so that when it comes to cooking, I doubt I’d ever choose a bag of ordinary kale or Brussels sprouts over these ever again.
Trader Joe’s has long trafficked in the many and wonderful varieties of pre-made, single serving salads in a tub, but Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend Complete Salad was their first foray into pre-made, multi-serving bag salads. Even though it was hung upon the gimmick of “pumpkin in everything”, I found this salad’s flavors so well paired, and the salad itself so robust and filling, that I wouldn’t hesitate to put it toe-to-toe with any Trader Joe’s salad – period.
Here’s hoping TJ’s continues with this trend of bagged salads in 2015.
Trader Joe’s finally cracked the Cookie Butter conundrum this year with their startlingly new Cookies and Creme Cookie Butter. After putting out every variation on the original Speculoos Cookie Butter formula they could thing of, TJ’s finally branched out into whole new varieties of cookies to make the condiment out of.
Cookies and Creme cookie butter owes it’s inspiration to the Oreo cookie, combining thick veins of rich chocolate cream with rich vanilla crème. The result was almost overwhelmingly sweet – a short step down from eating frosting directly. For me it fell short of the glory of the original speculoos variety, but it also suggests a whole new galaxy of potential cookie butters to come. I’ll be keeping an eager eye on the cookie butter shelves this coming year.
One of two, savory Asian pancakes I tried this year, Trader Joe’s Scallion Pancakes are an import of a Korean classic. TJ’s does justice to it’s origins with the dish, with this addictive dish. Whether eaten on their own, topped with chopped seafood, or doused with dipping sauces, these crunchy-on-the-outside, moist-on-the-inside onion-based flapjacks were an instant favorite of mine for any time of day. Possibly my favorite use of scallions ever.
Trader Joe’s Coffeehaus European Style Low Fat Yogurt – Mocha and Chocolate flavors
This was a strongly divisive product this year. My review may sound less than glowing – referring the the taste of this distinctly European yogurt as “sour chocolate” – but not unlike “sour onion” or “salt and vinegar” this was a combination of tastes that was novel, intriguing and surprisingly tasty. Certainly worth trying at least once, if only to experience such a uniquely European taste.
I would probably have added Trader Joe’s Aloo Chaat Kati Pouches to this list for the sheer lyricality of the name alone. Inspired by Indian street food, these on-the-go potato pouches are like the grown-up version of Hot Pockets. Healthier and tastier than those pizza wads, the aloo chaat kati pouch is a great way to eat a microwaved meal while feeling multi-cultural instead of like a sad loner. The only questions now is if Trader Joe’s will come out with more flavors of kati pouch.
I’m a sucker for any food product that I can’t pronounce the name of, and will purchase anything that fits that criteria on sight. In the case of Trader Joe’s 4 Kouigns Amann this worked out in my favor. Flaky Breton pastries with sweet caramelized bottoms, kougins amman have been making their appearance in trendy bakeries across the country. That Trader Joe’s lets you cook up these sweet rolls at home makes the experience all the better.
The other savory Asian pancake I tried this year also made it on to my best of 2014 list. A traditional Indian repast, Uttapam are thick, doughy pancakes made with a sort of sour dough bread and topped with diced onion and herbs. Totally different from the Scallion Pancakes, they nonetheless were a tasty and delightful new flat bread I was happy to stumble across. Topped with the included coconut chutney, or eaten as part of a larger meal, these Tamil treats are something everyone should give a try.
My personal darling this year. Now that I stock up on this stuff weekly, it’s hard to imagine a time before Trader Joe’s carried this astoundingly simple mix of shredded red and green cabbage, kale, and Brussels sprouts. Not only is it a wonderful addition to any salad, and a snap to cook, but the name is a masterpiece. I’ll be eating Trader Joe’s Cruciferous Crunch Collection for the rest of 2015, 2016, and so on until California finally snaps off and sinks into the sea.
You guys know I’m no fan of the Cult of Bacon and it’s knee-jerk worship of any food product that even has the word “bacon” in its name. Sure guys, it’s good stuff – fat and salt are a wondrous combination – but it’s not like we’re talking manna from heaven or anything.
That said, my knees literally went weak when I put a fried slice of Trader Joe’s Uncured Apple Smoked Bacon on my tongue. This is bacon worth singing the praises of. The smell alone as it crackles on the stove is enough to get every mouth in the house drooling. It’s more expensive than your ordinary side of bacon, but it’d still be a deal at twice the price.
Editor’s Choice: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s
These are on the list only because I’m crazy. Their inclusion here has nothing to do with their taste, which was sort of average, but with the box design. Trader Joe’s commits to Pumpkin Season like moray eels commit to a bite. They are not screwing around, to put it mildly. Trader Joe’s box art on this box more elegantly sums up the peculiar pumpkin pyscosis that Trader Joe’s undergoes every October than my deluge of words – although I certainly tried – and for that it deserves special praise.
Obligatory Cookie Butter Entry: Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter Ice Cream
Ice cream with Speculoos Cookie Butter in it. ’nuff said.