Here come’s the quinoa again! Yes the International Year of Quinoa, so declared by the goddamn United Nation itself in 2013, stretches on into yet another year as the psuedo-grain’s popularity continues to grow unabated. Case in point, Trader Joe’s surprisingly tasty Quinoa Cowboy Veggie Burgers with Black Beans and Roasted Corn.
What gives you the right to deem something as a “cowboy” food – particularly if that something is a veggie burger made of quinoa? The cowboys were many things, and much falsehood and oversimplification has entered the public consciousnesses regarding these rough riders of the West, but even so it’s safe to say that veggie burgers probably didn’t make up a substantial part of an ol’ cowpuncher’s diet. It seems as far as Trader Joe’s is concerned, if something is spicy and has beans in it it’s a “cowboy” food – case in point Trader Joe’s Cowboy Caviar Salsa.
Speaking of, Trader Joe’s Cowboy Caviar Salsa is actually one of the two main ingredients in this burger – the other one being Trader Joe’s Organic Tri Color Quinoa. As the official Trader Joe’s website notes, these two products have been mixed together and shaped into hockey pucks for your unique enjoyment. To my surprise, I actually found myself liking this seemingly slapdash combination more than I had expected.
I’m a bit warm and cold on the whole quinoa craze – it’s a fine seed, eaten in moderation, but when you start putting it in sushi rolls then we have a problem. In this case, however, it seems to work for me – the quinoa lends its unique nutty, nutrient-packed flavor to the toothsome assembly of boiled beans, soft corn kernels and other chopped up veggies (red pepper, onion, tomato and jalapeno).
Tastewise its just right – warm, satisfying, filling and flavorful with a slight spiciness. Burgerwise, it doesn’t quite do as well. Even after preparing it in the oven to the listed specifications, I found the “burger” far more crumbly than you would ever hope to eat on a bun. Compared to Trader Joe’s excellent Veggie Pizza Burger or Veggie Masala Burger, which hold up very nicely, this was a little disappointing. If you tried to cook one on a grill, for instance, it would just crumble through the slats.
I’d actually recommend treating the patty-like form of the burger more as a suggestion than an obligation. Instead of dealing with the hassle of trying to get these onto a bun, just break them up into a salad, or crumble them into a taco. I found the “burgers” worked best with non-traditional condiments as well. Trader Joe’s suggests sliced avocado and salsa, and you might consider adding to that shredded lettuce, hot sauce or sour cream.
This is probably the first heavily quinoa-based dish I’ve ever really liked. The intriguing spiciness, the good mix of roasted veggies, and the crispiness of a good oven-toasting making these quinoa burgers much more than just a dry mouthful. There’s a lot to enjoy in these, jut don’t get hung up on eating them like a burger.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, just not as burgers.
Would I Buy Them Again: I would – these made me some fine tacos.
Final Synopsis: Toasted quinoa and tasty veggies in an inconvenient burger form.
What is a popper? The jalapeno popper is a thing certainly. Is it a class of things? Is it so different that we can’t consider it simply to be an “appetizer”, an “hors d’ouever” or even a “bite”? What makes cheese-filled jalapenos deserving of the name, but not – say – bacon-wrapped water chestnuts? Sadly, this is beyond the scope of our article today. Suffice to say that if the only requirement to be a popper is that you enjoy popping them in your mouth, then Trader Joe’s Southwest Jalapeno Poppers most definitely fit the bill.
Trader Joe’s has developed for us this tasty new appetizer to grace our plates at sporting events, birthday parties, themed get-togethers, or generally anytime you want people to come over and eat up all your food.
The southwestern popper is a combination of white chicken meat, roasted corn, black beans, diced jalapenos, spinach and jack cheese all rolled up and melted together a meatball-sized glob of mini-Mexican dinner. This glob is more or less held together by a coating of red white and blue tortilla chip crumbs because hey, why not, Trader Joe’s probably has a ton of left over tortilla bits from their bags of Red White and Blue Tortilla chips.
The result of all this are some really good, bite-sized, finger food appetizers that will be eaten up as soon as you set them out. Each popper is, essentially, just one-mouthful of chicken burrito – an idea so simple that it’s shocking Taco Bell hasn’t been doing it for years. It’s all the classic Mexican food ingredients you love (meat, cheese, beans, et al), but instead of bothering to wrap them up they’ve just been left at the bite-size level – perfect for picking up ‘twixt thumb and forefinger and, dare I say it, popping.
If there’s anything not to like about Trader Joe’s Southwester Style Chicken Poppers it’s that they don’t really hold together well. Look at that picture on the box again – notice that there are no toothpicks sticking out of them. That’s because a toothpick would be about as helpful for picking these up off the plate as an acetylene torch would be for picking up marshmallows. The tortilla crumb coating just doesn’t bind the contents very well at all, and even after a good long bake in the oven these poppers are still given to falling apart at the end of a fork.
That means that poppers are really meant to be finger food – but for such a snackable morsel, that’s not really a big problem. Just be sure to buy a couple boxes if you plan on entertaining – they’ll go fast.
Would I Recommend Them: Yup, these appetizers are both filling and tasty.
Would I Buy Them Again: I might set some out for the Super Bowl party.
Final Synopsis: Bite-sized burrito balls, minus the wrap.
Thanksgiving is coming fast upon us, or is already here, or (depending on what day you’re reading this) has already long passed by. In any case, it seemed like the perfect time to review some of Trader Joe’s prospective Thanksgiving side dishes – in this case, Trader Joe’s Corn Pudding.
Now, in America the word “pudding” is pretty strictly applied. If it’s not a sweet, creamy desert – usually made by Jello – then it isn’t pudding. But as facts would have it, pudding has a much broader meaning on the global scale. For instance, in the historic sense pudding has almost never been sweet, let alone a desert. The word itself is thought to come from the French word boudin, meaning a small sausage, more or less the furthest thing possible from the modern American notion of pudding.
For centuries, “pudding” meant a savory meat dish of some sort, mixed with grain or suet, then boiled or steamed to make it set. This delicious sounding treat even became the standard main course for the British navy over the 1700 and 1800’s, and would go on to blossom into the weird, often disturbing, world of British puddings from there. The wobbly little universe of British puddings is best not looked at too close, lest what we see within plunges us into Lovecraftian-style madness, but it has resulted is such delights as blood sausage, steak-and-kidney pudding and, of course, the noble haggis.
Don’t worry, folks, I’ll stop there. I bring these puddings up not because Trader Joe’s is bold/insane enough to market British puddings to Americans, but to give context to an otherwise strangely named product. Trader Joe’s Corn Pudding is, as you might guess by now, not the least bit sweet nor even, really, particularly creamy. Although the packaging promises you “yellow and white corn baked in a creamy corn puree”, creaminess is certainly not the number one characteristic of this side dish. Cheese is promised as well, in the form of both melted Mozzarella and Parmesan, but despite this fact the dish doesn’t qualify as particularly cheesy either. What it is, most of all, is corny.
I certainly don’t mean that in the down-home, gee-whiz kind of way. This pudding is wall-to-wall corn
kernels, bound together by a mixture of cream, eggs, milk and, yes, some cheese. However, this binding is by no means what you’ll taste in the dish. From bite to bite what you’ll get is big, whole kernels of soft, sweet corn.
Now by this point, what with all the pudding bashing and all, you might think I’m not a fan of this pudding. That, however, is not the case. This corn pudding is what it is, and it does that thing well. If you need a heavy, savory, corn based side dish, Trader Joe’s Corn Pudding will be that for you. After 25 minutes in the oven it comes out golden brown and rich with the taste of golden yellow corn kernels. In particular, it has an enjoyably gentle corn taste that is softened by the very mild cheese and egg mixture. The pudding nature, and the oven baking, results in a more mellow taste than roasted or steamed corn kernels, which can tend to overpower other dishes with their smell or taste.
The result is a very capable side dish that won’t outshine the turkey or butt heads with the mash potatoes. It brings corn to the table, and gives it an extra level of texture and flavor that makes it a valuable addition to your feast, even if you’re already serving steamed corn at the table. Will it be everyone’s favorite? Certainly not – it’s too mild and one-note for that. Will there be some left in the serving dish at the end of dinner – I would imagine so, but it will also have made it on to everybody’s plate as a little bit of tasty filler. And that, really, is more or less what a supporting side dish is supposed to do.
In short, pick this up if you need an idea for another Thanksgiving side dish. It won’t offend, and it delivers a pretty tasty corn dish without much fuss.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, if you’re out of ideas for another side dish.
Would I Buy It Again: I might get it again next year.
Final Synopsis: A savory and mild corn casserole.
Masa, delicious corn masa. It’s about time some bum decided to start making Mexican-style pizzas with this stuff. Lord knows I wish it had been me. Trader Jose’s Pizza al Pollo Asado Pizza (Hurray, another “ethnic” cousin!) is a tasty and original take on the world of frozen pizzas that will delight your taste buds, and perhaps even open your heart to a whole new world of pizza variations.
Accurate, I’m afraid to say, on every point. Let’s take a look:
The pizza is layered on a thick, masa crust and it is without a doubt the showcase item here. Masa is simply spanish for dough, and corn masa is exactly that – a thick, tasty corn dough. TJ’s manages to make theirs tasty and flavorful while avoiding the common pitfall of being unpleasantly mealy. The toppings aren’t bad either. The chicken chunks taste nicely roasted (it isal asado, after all) and have been spiced up to provide a peppery kick to each bite. The bean-cheese substrate of the pizza is the perfect tomato sauce substitute, binding the toppings to masa in a mild, creamy base.
That said, the promised tomatillo “salsa” is far less than stunning. In fact it’s nothing more than a scattering of dry tomatillo chunks that are so dry and blocky that their more an obstacle to overcome in chewing than a friendly ingredient.
The failings are quite moderate however. Straight out of the oven, the corn masa crusty and piping hot, this tasty appetizer/entree will leave wanting to experience more. Sopes and huraches are all well and good – but the crumbly, yeilding crunch of the thick masa crust brings something new to the game. More substantial than the hurache, and more manageable (and servaable) than the sope, the corn masa pizza is the perfect bridge between Tex and Mex. All the more so if you start layering on lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole and sour cream to make a towering, masa-crusted tostada cum sliceable seven-layer dip.
Would I recommend it: Popping ’em out at parties or chow down with a cerveza
Would I buy it again: Heck yeah – but next time I’ll layer on my own toppings.
Final Synopsis: It’s biggest failing is that they don’t sell a bigger one.