As I mentioned in my last post and as is, I suppose, self-evident, I’ve returned from my indefinite hiatus to write – you know –some more stuff about food or whatever.
|What it is:||Sweet and tangy bacon spread.|
|Price:||$4.49 for a 8.5 oz jar|
|Worth it:||Yes – if you like new flavors.|
It may have been the dried whole baby bananas that stuck with me during my time away, but it was the numerous encouraging voices that checked in with my blog of out genuine concern that spurred me back into action. Well, that and one other thing – Trader Joe’s Bacon Jam.
There are some challenges that simply must be risen to. By releasing Bacon Jam TJ’s was practically daring me to return to blogging. After all, who else could possibly write off-beat, off-the-cuff, man-on-the-ground style articles with just a dash of snark? Who else, other than the numerous other Trader Joe’s review blogs, some of which directly rip-off my website design? Obviously the world needed me.
When I see products like Trader Joe’s Bacon Jam, I can’t help but think that there’s someone, somewhere in the high echelons of TJ’s who is compelled by a Joker-style urge to unmake the order of the world. Only instead of throwing bombs, his tool is novel food products – and he wields that tool like a hammer against the glassine walls of reality. If you wanted to break down the shared consensus of what is logical and what is madness, you could do worse than mass producing products like Trader Joe’s pumpkin-spiced pumpkin seeds, pickle popcorn, dehydrated kimchi, etc.
Add to that list Trader Joe’s Bacon Jam. If I assigned myself the task of thinking up the most outlandish, bacon-food mashup up, I could work for hours (Bacon Candy? Bacon Beer? Bacon Pie?) and never have come to Bacon Jam. Incidentally, all the other things I came up with are actual, real products as well.
Of course, the same could have been said about cookie butter, and look where cookie butter is now, – ascended to Olympus to bathe us all in its warm, loving gaze. To be clear, Trader Joe’s Bacon Jam is nowhere near the same caliber of delicious as cookie butter, but a sort of strange parallel does present itself. Cookie butter…bacon jam… we may have to face the very real possibility that Trader Joe’s ideal target demographic is late career Elvis. It’s now easier than ever for me to take two slices of bread and with a few easy moves make an unholy cookie butter and bacon jam sandwich. Deep fry that and throw on a white sequined suit and you’re ready to die mysteriously on a toilet!
Actually the most surprising thing about bacon jam is that it isn’t all that bad. In fact, it’s a surprisingly edible and spreadable condiment. From the name you might expect it to be quite sweet, and while it certainly contains some sugar, this isn’t a pork version of Smuckers. Instead, it’s a vinegary and tangy spread with a mellow, apple-y sweetness. It immediately reminded me of that classic American recipe, green beans and bacon (or the similar recipe for spinach and bacon salad). This bacon “jam” has that same baked-in-vinegar taste that that the bacon dressings in those recipes have – it’s just as if all that dressing was gathered up and packed in a jar for your convenience.
The result is as sort of quasi-congealed, spreadable bacon condiment that can add that meaty, zingy sort of taste to… well, whatever you want to put it on, I guess. What that is, exactly, is up to you. Trader Joe’s makes the half-hearted suggestions of using it on burgers, BLTs and pizzas, although none of those struck me as killer app (-itizer…ha.) Like some of Trader Joe’s other novel food creations, it might make an interesting addition to the cabinet, but fails to scratch any real itch.
Would I Recommend It: Yes to the adventerous, no to the staid.
Would I Buy It Again: I can’t think of a reason to.
Final Synopsis: Tangy, vinegary bacon spread. Not bad, but not really essential.
Every now and then, after Trader Joe’s comes out with a particularly weird or goofy food product, I get to feeling a little bit superior to Trader Joe’s – sort of like they’re my wacky next-door neighbor.
|What it is:||A hummus like spread made from|
|Price:||$2.99 for a 8 oz. tub|
|Worth it:||Yes. A delicious hummus substitute.|
“Pickle-flavored popcorn, TJ?” I’ll think to myself, shaking my head, “You’re just lucky I love you so much, you big goof!”
And without exception, every time I start to feel this way, Trader Joe’s turns around and absolutely embarrases me with a product that is elegant, nuanced, and grounded in a rich culinary tradition that I’ve never even heard of.
“What d’ya got this week, TJ?” I ask, sauntering into the store, “Another wacky popcorn flavor?”
“Actually,” Trader Joe’s casually informs me, “This is muhammara – a middle eastern condiment similar to hummus but made from walnuts and pomegranate juice. A product of ancient Syria, of course. Ahahaha – no, don’t try and pronounce it, you’ll just make yourself look silly.”
Yes, today we’re reviewing Trader Joe’s Muhammara – a delicious, hummus-like spread with a cool, dark red color and a smooth, gently earthy, mildly piquant taste.
Unlike hummus, that can taste a bit grainy or mealy due to the garbanzo beans it’s made from, muhammara is a blend of walnuts, roast red peppers, pomegranate juice, olive oil and bread crumbs. While that sounds like it would result in a weirdly lumpy or heterogenous texture, it couldn’t be more smooth and velvety – perfect for veggie dip, cracker spread, or pita filling.
The taste itself has quite a bit of the mildness of a red pepper roasted to softness, and only a subtle touch of the nuttiness of walnuts, and even less of the tart pomegranate flavor you might expect. In fact, muhammara is generally made with pomegranate molasses, much more similar to the pomegranate syrup we made up than mouth puckering pomegranate juice. As such, the muhammara also has an understated touch of sweetness to it that makes go down particularly smoothly.
Despite never hearing of it before, I enjoyed the hell out of my muhammara. It was good with pretty much whatever I tried it with, and made an excellent “before dinner” snack with just a handful of Triscuits I had at hand. I’ve always been a little bit ambivalent on hummus – which generally ears out it’s welcome with me after a few bites. Muhammara has all the qualities I like about hummus, the soft spreadable texture and cooling, snackable taste, with an added edibility and improved texture.
As you may have guessed from the walnuts and olive oil, muhammara shares hummus’ high fat content – but thta’s simply the nature of the beast. Buy a tub, enjoying it moderation, and you won’t regret it.
Would I Recommend It: If you like hummus, give this a try.
Would I Buy It Again: I do think so.
Final Synopsis: Just like hummus, but a little tastier.
I’ve seen some pretty shocking things appear on the Trader JOe’s shelves over the years – chocolate/wine drinks, pumpkin greek yogurt, chocolate bars made with bacon – but I’m usually able to take it all in stride. When you shop at Trader Joe’s you have to expect the unexpected. However, Trader Joe’s Srirach Ranch Dressing I was totally unprepared for. Ranch dressing? Available at Trader Joe’s? Holy crap!
Unfortunately, however, this new salad dressing offering is a mixed blessing.
|What it is:||Very spicy ranch dressing.|
|Price:||$2.99 for a 16 oz. bottle|
|Worth it:||Good for wings, but too spicy for salad.|
As you might have gleaned from the frequency I write about them, I’m a fan of salads. I’m a fan of salads in the same way that rats are a fan of untended grain silos – which is to say I eat salads with a ravenous, unstoppable intensity. With their plethora of fresh produce, Trader Joe’s is a real boon for salad lovers like me – except that they seemed to miss the memo on two important points.
One, for some reason Trader Joe’s refuses to sell reasonable quantities of croutons at reasonable prices. You can buy a small sachet of artisinal cheese bagel rounds for $4.99, and that’s it. How can you carry two types of salmon jerky, but no croutons, Trader Joe? Madness.
Two, Trader Joe’s refuses to expand their salad dressing line. The salad dressings they offer are good, sure. I love a little bit of Asian Sesame Seed Dressing or Balsamic Vinaigrette on my freshly washed greens, but the quantities are laughable. Only available in small, solid glass, 8 oz bottles, picking up salad dressing at Trade Joe’s feels more like picking through potions at a medieval apothecary than shopping for condiments.
So as exciting as a new flavor of Trader Joe’s dressing is – and being able to buy ranch dressing at Trader Joe’s is *very* exciting – what I was most shocked by was the new, full-sized, 16 oz. salad dressing bottle. The bulbous plastic bottle with screw on cap might seem weirdly plebeian by Trader Joe’s standards, but it’s nice to see Trader Joe’s do something like a normal person every once in a while as well.
So at $2.99 per bottle the price is right, the size is right, and since this is just spicy ranch dressing we’re talking about, surely the flavor is just fine as well. Right? Right? Well, no – not really.
Look, I’ve had spicy ranch dressing before. I know what to expect from spicy ranch dressing – that familiar buttermilk creaminess spiced up with some piquant red pepper. Trader Joe’s Sriracha Ranch Dressing may look like it’s taking this route, but they actually deliver something far more intense.
Taking the “Sriracha” part of the name seriously, they’ve loaded up this simple dressing with a mouth blistering blast of pure chili paste. I’m not kidding – this “ranch dressing” might even be spicier than Trader Joe’s own Sriracha knock-off. How does that even work?
Overall, the whole ranch dressing part takes a serious back seat to the sriracha. That means if you want to use this dressing to kick up your burger and fries, add flare to your tacos, or serve as a dipping sauce for chicken wings you’re in good shape. However, if you want to slather it on a bed of lettuce and carrots, you had better be ready for your lips to blaze with the fire of a thousand raging suns. It’s far more a hot sauce than a salad dressing.
As far as I’m concerned, I could maybe see incorporating this into an Asian noodle salad or similar, but this was way to spicy for my daily salad needs.
Would I Recommend It: Only if you like your salads hot.
Would I Buy It Again: Nope, too spicy for me.
Final Synopsis: A good hot sauce substitute, but not great on salads.
“Oh, that’s good,” I’m was warned by the helpful Trader Joe’s sample lady on my way to the chek out, “That salsa has a kick to it.”
Whoa, I think, holding it up thoughtfully. Should I put it back? I should probably put it back.
Now I like food. I like basically every type of food, from every corner of the globe, but in this wide field of vision I do have a blind spot. I’m not much of one for spicy foods. I am what is known as, to employ the vernacular, a chilli wuss. Black sheep of my family, I sit aside sipping mild broth those days when glowing-red bowls of south-asian or mexican cusine are on the table. I love salsa so dearly it’s hard to convey in words, but only if it’s below a certain acceptable level of hotness. Salsa with “kick” is definitely well above that level. In any other case, I probably would have put it back – but it was a mango product, and seeing as how I’m in the middle of a sort of unoffical mango week I just couldn’t put it down.
I needn’t have worried – the Helpful Sample Lady, helpful though she was, was also either badly misguided or engaging in some sort of macho mind game with me. This salsa is unequivocably the mildest salsa I have ever tasted. There is only the faintest spark of a spice hidden somewhere inside the fruit medley of the product – a small and harmless old man sort of spiciness, just popping it’s head in the door to wheeze a gentle hello. I couldn’t have been more delighted.
In addition to it’s extra-mild taste, this product pushes the very definition of what salsa is. The salsa lacks tomatoes entirely, substituting them out for the juicy and subtly sweet titular fruits. There is a wee bit of onion and chili added to the mix, but that’s about it. The salsa is so chunky that it’s more of an extra chunky pico de gallo than anything. Basically the only thing “salsa” like in this salsa’s nature is the fact that it is a “sauce”. With a slight recipe change this product could easily become a fruit desert.
Not that that’s a bad thing. I thoroughly enjoyed this purchase for it’s unorthodox take on things you can dig your chip into. I say, bring on the non-tomato based salsas and let’s see what happens.
Would I Recommend It: To mango lovers and salsa lovers alike – just not to spicy salsa lovers.
Would I Buy It Again: Next time I want a tropical fruit based salsa.
Final Synopsis: A delicious, if mild, change of Pace (pun definitely intended)