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Trader Joe’s Complete Salad – Baby Spinach with Cranberries, Candied Pecans, Miner’s Blue Cheese and Raspberry Vinaigrette.

Trader Joe's Complete Salad - Baby Spinach with Cranberries, Candied Pecans, Miner's Blue Cheese and Raspberry Vinaigrette

Did someone say they wanted MORE SALAD?!

When I reviewed Trader Joe’s first entry in the Complete Salad series, the Harvest Blend Salad, I didn’t expect them to bring a second salad onto the scene so soon. No on could be more delighted than I, then, to see Trader Joe’s Baby Spinach Complete Salad sitting on the store shelves.

Their first, pumpkin intensive salad had it all – a hearty selection of green, seeds, interesting veggies, and pumpkin infused croutons all tied together with a good dressing. While that’s by no means unique for Trader Joe’s, what was new was the serving size – a mountainous 14 oz all packed up in one big bag. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that I’m a man who enjoys a big, plate filling, entree-level salad, but even I declare these giant Complete Salads to be too big for a single sitting. It’s a true concession by Trader Joe’s to salad lovers who just can’t get enough of that Trader Joe’s goodness.

While the portion size is certainly equally impressive, the Baby Spinach salad attempts a much different flavor profile than the Harvest salad. The keywords here are “light” and “refreshing”. The tart cranberries, sweet pecans and tangy blue cheese all make up the grace notes to the huge bed of leafy baby spinach and light and zesty vinaigrette. The berries, nuts and cheese crumbles come in good sized portions, but not so much that they drown out the springy, leafiness of the spinach greens or high, bright notes of the vinaigrette. I’ve never been a big fruit vinaigrette fan, and if you aren’t either you might want to consider tossing the included pouch and using some of Trader Joe’s own Champagne Vinaigrette, or your own favorite, instead.

This Baby Spinach salad is of classic construction, but it’s not the most amazing salad you’re ever going to have. Between the two, I much prefered the bygone Harvest salad, with it’s richer nuttiness and pumpkin tones for an overall more substantial eating expereince. That was a meal, whereas this Baby Spinach salad is more of an accompaniment to a meal. This point is very much driven home by the fact that there is no protein of any sort included with the salad. It’s refreshing, a good palette cleanser, but not an entree in it’s own right.

And that’s just fine – taken as a side dish, this salad delivers on all accounts. It’s a strong, workman like salad that’s unlikely to offend anyone, and is even given a bit of needed elan by the addition of fancy candied pecans. If you’re having company over, or just want to serve something with your chicken, this salad can easily serve 3-4 in style. If you’re looking for a quick meal in and of itself however, (as suggested by TJ’s “Quick Meal” emblem on package) plan on bringing your own meat to the table.


The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: Yes as a side dish, no as an entree.

Would I Buy It Again: Sure – it’s perfect for dressing up a dinner.

Final Synopsis: A salad kit that has everything you need to feed a whole table – except for the protein.

 

Trader Joe's Complete Salad - Baby Spinach with Cranberries, Candied Pecans, Miner's Blue Cheese and Raspberry Vinaigrette - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Complete Salad – Baby Spinach with Cranberries, Candied Pecans, Miner’s Blue Cheese and Raspberry Vinaigrette – Nutrition Facts

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Trader Joe’s Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce

Trader Joe's Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce

Because why not.

It’s the holiday season – Thanksgiving, Christmas, all that jazz. The holidays, more than any other time of the year, are a time of traditional foods – of stuffing, turkey, mashed potatoes, pie and, yes, cranberry sauce. Of course, just because something is a tradition doesn’t mean Trader Joe’s isn’t going to try and find some way to screw with it. Case in point, the brand new Trader Joe’s Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce.

When I first saw this, I initially assumed it was some new sort of festive pepper jelly. You know the stuff – comes in little jars, thick like jam, people spread it over cream cheese, only ever shows up around the holidays? That stuff? While pepper jelly and this cranberry sauce do have the same burgundy color the two condiments are actually very dissimilar. After all, this is a cranberry sauce – same as the gelatinous stuff you get in cans and serve with the stuffing. It’s not even particularly thick, and while it certainly might be a nice compliment to cream cheese, that’s not what it was made for. As a cranberry sauce, its natural home is in between the turkey leg and the mash potatoes.

Now, cranberry sauce has a long tradition of being blended with any variety of different flavors – orange zest being the most common – but jalapeno peppers? That’s something I’ve never seen. That said, this jalapeno blend is a natural addition to the cranberry sauce oeuvre. Cranberry sauce is, after all, not so much a sauce as it is a relish – meant to add a burst of outrageous flavor to your seasonal repast. On that count this cranberry sauce works very well, the heat the jalapenos pack melds well with the tart sweetness of the cranberries, kicking the sauce up to a whole new notch of flavor intensity. When Trader Joe’s gives “jalapeno” top billing on the label, you know they’re not screwing around. There’s no mistaking the jalapeno taste in this sauce, but that’s not to say it’s very spicy. There’s only a mild heat to each bite – much more prominent is the flavor of the jalapeno itself, that uniquely green and peppery taste. It’s this savory flavor that mixes with the sweet cranberry sauce, and gives it its overall unusual but intriguing taste.

This new and intriguing taste is certainly something worth trying, but while there’s no reason you couldn’t put it out this coming Thanksgiving you’ll probably want to have some ordinary cranberry sauce  on hand as well. It’s a bold and striking flavor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want it on every piece of turkey.

If your jar of Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce doesn’t get used up on Thanksgiving dinner, you might consider using it as an hors d’ouevre. It could easily be used as a tarter substitute for pepper jelly in the aforementioned cream cheese and pepper jelly spread. Simply lay on a thick layer of the cranberry sauce over a slab of cream cheese and garnish with an interesting cracker – Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin seeds could be an excellent fit.

Otherwise, unless you’re serving up a uniquely Mexican-flavored Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner, Trader Joe’s Jalapeno Cranberry Sauce is probably best thought of as a back up to your main cranberry sauce.


The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: Certainly, and doubly so to flavor-thrill seekers and people looking to shake up the Thanksgiving table.

Would I Buy It Again: Maybe… we’ll see how it goes over this year.

Final Synopsis: A sweet and tasty relish to supplement to your ordinary cranberry sauce.


Trade Joe’s Cranberry Apple Butter

Trader Joe's Cranbery Apple Butter

Trader Joe’s – One up’ing the Amish.

We may have left Trader Joe’s season of pumpkin madness behind, but it is still autumn and that means there’s still a whole cornucopia of harvest foods to review. Case in point, Trader Joe’s tasty Cranberry Apple Butter.

Every season has certain foods associated with it – from the lemonades of summer to the hot choclate of winter, but no season is more intimately tied to food and food traditions than the fall. There are the pumpkins, of course, but that’s not to mention turkeys, pies, stuffing, cranberries, apples or many more besides. Trader Joe’s has decided to take these latter two and combine them into one delicious condiment for us with their new Cranberry Apple Butter.

Apple Butter is one of those niche condiments that the majority of Americans maybe encounters once or twice in a decade. In it’s most basic form, it can be thought of as something like apple sauce MAX. Apple sauce is made by stewing up a load of apples with sugar and water until it forms a pleasant mash. Apple butter simply takes that process to it’s extreme – keeping the apple sauce on heat until the fructose in the apples caramelizes into a rich, deep brown.

This apple spread was first concocted by German and Dutch monks back in the Middle Ages, when monasteries included large orchards. The enormous, annual crop of apples had to be managed somehow, and what couldn’t be eaten was turned into the shelf stable apple preserve we now know as apple butter. Although it never really caught on in Europe outside of the regions of the Rhineland and Limburg, migrants to America brought the recipe with them and it can be found nowadays as a staple in Pennsylvania Dutch country, as well as more widely available in boutique grocery stores here and there nation wide.

That’s all well and good, but if you’re anything like me you’ve often scratched your head over the whole “butter” part of apple butter. After all no butter, or any dairy product, goes into apple butter. The misnomer apparently comes from the soft, easily spreadable nature of the food product, which apparently lead some miserable medieval peasant to remark, “Oy- these apples is like butter, isn’t they?”

Of course, you and I know that’s stupid, as butter is only seldom that easy to spread. If we’re going strictly by consistency Apple Margarine would have obviously been the better term – or maybe Apple Toothpaste. At any rate, it’s in the history books know and I’ll be damned if I know what can be done about it.

Trader Joe’s, on the other hand, had no such shortage of ideas. In a rather clever move, they’ve gone and added a heavy dollop of cranberry puree to the tradition apple butter, giving the condiment a tart zest. How much of a dollop are we talking about? Plenty, actually. Cranberry is actually the primary ingredient in the spread, followed by apples. That’s a choice you can taste – the cranberries are front and center here, in fact they taste so strong that this apple butter could be mistaken for cranberry sauce on first blush. However, once the sharp cranberry taste has subsided, the mellower sweetness of the apple butter remains, taking some of the bite off and making the preserve more palatable than a straight cranberry sauce would be. Although it’s the “apple butter” part of the title that catches the attention, this is probably better thought of as a cranberry sauce first, and an apple butter second.

So what do you do with a hybrid cranberry-apple spread? Put it on your turkey is the obvious answer. And while this would be a perfect addition to Thanksgiving dinner this year, it also makes a tasty spread on toast and English muffins. If you wanted to get crazy with it, you could even add it to a turkey sandwich for a little of that pseudo-thanksgiving taste!


 The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Sure, if you like cranberry sauce.

Would I Buy It Again: Probably not, honestly. Regular cranberry sauce usually does it for me.

Final Synopsis: Like cranberry sauce, with a mellower apple butter follow through.

Trader Joe's Cranbery Apple Butter - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Cranbery Apple Butter – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cranberry Scones

Trader Joe's Cranberry Pumpkin Scone Mix

Scones! In all their misshapen, bulging glory.

Well, pumpkin season is winding down – but what a long, crazy ride Trader Joe’s has given us this year. You never can guess what perfectly fine product TJ will suddenly feel compelled to put pumpkin in, but it will always be surprising. Case in point, Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cranberry Scones. Cranberry scones? Sure, no one’s going to bat an eye at that. So why go the extra step and put pumpkin in it then? That’s a question that only Trader Joe himself can answer, but the strong money is on some sort of highly localized brain aneurysm.

The issue with scones in general is just that they’re not very good. “But that’s not true!”, people (British people) may say – “I enjoy a good scone from time to time.”

Do you? Or do you enjoy clotted cream and jam? In the same way that tortilla chips are mainly just a delivery system for delicious dips, the value of a scone is in it’s ability to convey sweet and fatty condiments from the jar to your mouth.

The scone is, I think we can admit, no one’s first choice of pastry. Combining a not-actually-sweet blandness with a touch of salt, then serving it in irregular, dense patties might show a certain ingenuity of baking but it isn’t likely to eclipse the croissant – or even the English muffin – anytime soon.

And yet… and yet… I find myself enjoying these scones. Unlike most scones I’ve had in my life, they’re not too dense to enjoy. They actually have an almost biscuit like fluffiness to them, especially straight from the oven. And while these scones still aren’t sweet, they do feature enough moments of sweetness to make them enjoyable to munch on, even without copious amounts of heavy cream. These moments of sweetness are thanks, primarily, to the scattering of dried cranberries that speckle the batter – generous enough to dress up every bite, but not so many that they undermine the sconeiness of the scone.

Presumably the pumpkin that was included in this dish was put there for the same reason, however despite top billing in the product title, it doesn’t make much of an appearance. In fact, the pumpkin levels in these scones are sub Pumpkin Cornbread, as the scones don’t even smell that strongly of pumpkin or pumpkin spices even straight from the oven.  I guess that undermines the whole point of putting pumpkins in them in the first place – but I really can’t get too mad over that. Whatever Trader Joe’s is doing with scones is working, and if that means they feel compelled to put low levels of pumpkin in them I’m willing to sign off on it.

Cooking the scones is one thing – but eating them is another. Even if these scones are edible on their own, even if technically you don’t have to slather them with jams and marmalades and butter and curds, you might as well anyway. These are scones after all – that’s most of the fun.

If you want to shake up the scone scene a little bit, you can try a few of the scone related recipes TJ recommends. These include hitting them with cream cheese, or slicing them in half and popping in a scoop of ice cream. In both cases you could use Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cream Cheese, or Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Ice Cream to really up the pumpkin ante. Other suggestions that worked well for me were Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter (which really stood out as delicious), Trader Joe’s new Cranberry Apple Butter, and even Trader Joe’s decadent Pumpkin Caramel Sauce.

Really, with the biscuit like fluffiness and mild sweetness of these scones, you can’t go that far wrong.


 

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes, these were some fine scones.

Would I Buy Them Again: Still not a big scone fan, but I’d consider it.

Final Synopsis: Semi-sweet, not-too-dense scones with plenty of character but not much pumpkin.

Trader Joe's Cranberry Pumpkin Scone Mix - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Cranberry Pumpkin Scone Mix – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds

Trader Joe's Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds

Cranberries and pumpkins seeds in baked pita. Why not?

Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds are a fine, crispy cracker, though it’s applications are limited. More interesting, I’d say, is that they decided to put pumpkin in a pita chip at all.

Accuse Trader Joe’s of anything you want: that their interior décor is garish, that their food nomenclature is erratic at best, that they struggle with keeping listeria out of their salads, whatever – but I dare you to accuse them of not providing enough seasonal foods. I effin’ dare you. Because Trader Joe’s would kick your ass up and down the block if you even opened your mouth to say that. Have you seen the Fearless Flyer for this month yet? Taken a little peak inside? Let me just save you the trouble and summarize a few of the entries right here:

  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread Mix
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Toaster Pastries
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancake Mix
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Waffles
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Soup
  • Trader Joe’s Honey Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli
  • Trader Joe’s Mini Pumpkin Pies
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cream Cheese
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cheesecake
  • Trader Joe’s Organic Canned Pumpkin
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpin Spice Rooibos
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread Pudding
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Croissants
  • Pilgrim Joe’s Pumpkin Ice Cream
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Macaroons
  • Trader Joe’s Country Pumpkin Granola
  • Trader Joe’s Pecan Pumpkin Instant Oatmeal
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bar Baking Mix
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cranberry Scone Mix
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Body Butter
  • Trader Joe’s “This Pumpkin Walks Into a Bar” Pumpkin & Cereal Snack Bars
  • Trader Joe’s Greek Pumpkin Yogurt
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps
  • Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps with Cranberry and Pumpkin Seeds
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Biscotti
  • ACE Hard Pumpkin Cider
  • KBC Pumpkin Ale
  • Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Flavored Dog Treats
  • Trade Joe’s Pumpkin Trees
  • and, of course, regular Pumpkins

And I’m pretty sure this is only a partial list.

I swear to you I didn’t make any of this up – not even “pumpkin trees”, a phrase which you’d be entirely justified in using as an excuse to write off this blog as surreal and joke-prone if it weren’t actually, really a thing they really have.

Pumpkin dog treats? Pumpkin greek yogurt!?!? These people are goddamn crazy. This is not the output of a sane company. No one needs this many pumpkin products for fall – in fact, no one needs this many pumpkin products over the course of their entire lifespan.

Somebody get in there and restrain these lunatics. I’m not joking, someone is in serious need of restraint and possibly anti-psychotics. Somewhere in the upper offices of Trader Joe’s Monrovia enclave an executive is stomping around, frothing at the mouth, demanding more and more pumpkin dishes, occasionally bursting into the R&D department and executing employees for not thinking “pumpkin” enough. I wish I could think of an alternative scenario that would explain this level of pumpkin output, but I really can’t.

I can only imagine the chaos overtaking the Trader Joe’s processing facilities. Huge dump trucks full of pumpkins backed up down the road, honking at each other so they too can send their load tumbling into the giant pumpkin hopper, itself already clogged with huge, bright orange pumpkins as the special, industrial pumpkin masher below, a specialty unit flown in from Germany, overheats under the strain of too many pumpkins.

Which brings us to the first entry on the ludicrous list of Trader Joe’s pumpkin products – Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps and Pumpkin Seeds. I’ll be hitting as many of these items as possible before the end of pumpkin season and, arbitrarily, I’ve chosen to start here. Keep an eye on the pumpkin list though – I’ll update it with links to articles as I go.

These really are excellent crackers. Case in point, they’re made with whole wheat and whole seeds, they’re toasted to a crispy brown, and they’re made by a small family owned bakery in Canada. That’s a very nice pedigree.

The pita crisps find a very nice little spot between sweet and salty. The saltiness (sea salt) is quite slight, just enough to grace the tongue and heighten the sweetness (organic cane sugar and the sweetened cranberries). Neither is so strong that it detracts from the earthy, whole grain taste of the toasted wheat and roasted pumpkin.

The fact is, I’d probably have preferred the crackers more it they didn’t have the cranberries at all. It’s an excellent snacking cracker in and of itself, thick, with a nice snap and good crunch that isn’t too dry. The cranberry bits are fine, they lend a slight chewiness to each cracker in addition to their sweetness, but they also infuse it with a berry flavor that fights a lot of other foods. This means that you’re limited as to what you can eat these pita crisps with. Most cheeses are just fine, especially Trader Joe’s fruity goat cheeses, but that’s about it. However most dips, particularly hummus and salsa, clash with the berry taste, which really curtails their table top use.

As compliments to cheeses or eaten by themselves the crackers are very nice – they’re just going to have a hard time rising out of the novelty, holiday food niche.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Yes, if you’re planning ahead to a nice cheese plate.

Would I Buy Them Again: Good though they are, I’ll be buying less specialized crackers in the future.

Final Synopsis: A very, very good cracker, but a bit too sweet to go with many foods.

Trader Joe's Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Pita Crisps with Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds – Nutrition Facts