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Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Pancake Mix

Trader Joe's Gingerbread Pancake Mix

Looks nice and festive, right?

Hmmm. Well, this is probably proof that the top brass at Trader Joe’s are devoted followers of this blog. No sooner do I suggest that TJ come up with a few more variations on their new Toasted Coconut Pancale Mix then does this appear on the shelf – Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Pancake Mix. It’s arrived just in time for the holiday festivities, so let’s dive in!

In my Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix review, I pointed out that while the coconut bits are pretty good, the real winner was the incredibly easy to make pancake mix itself. Trader Joe’s has brought to market a totally self-contained pancake kit that incorporates powdered eggs and powdered milk into the mix itself. All you need to supply is the water – either a little to end up with big puffy flapjacks, or a lot to end up with thin, dense crepes. This time around TJ’s ditched the coconut, and whipped up something much more in tune with the time of year – a gingerbread infused mix with crystallized ginger bits tossed right in.

While this sounds like it should be a grand slam, the pancake mix suffers from the unique problem of not being gingery enough, and being too gingery at the same time.

There are really two types of ginger in this pancake mix. The first is the ginger present in the gingerbread-like pancake batter itself. This is ginger doing the classic gingerbread thing, providing a pleasant aromatic lift to the rest of the dough and contributing just a hint of ginger taste. I was actually a little disappointed by how mild the ginger taste was in the pancake batter. Given the premise of “gingerbread pancakes”, I had assumed we’d be getting something akin to gingerbread cookies, just in a fluffier form. That’s not actually the case – this pancake mix is more gingerbread-inspired then gingerbread-infused. It tastes somewhat of gingerbread, but not so much that you would mistake it for a cookie in a blind taste test. While that’s a little disappointing to me personally, it’s by no means a deal breaker. The molasses, brown sugar and powdered ginger that do go in give it at least a hint of that warm and lovely taste of gingerbread, while retaining the supple mildness of the good ol’ fashioned pancake.

However, there is another issue. Possibly in order to compensate for the only mildly gingery batter, Trader Joe’s mixes in a heaping scoop of crystallized ginger bits. Not unlike it’s cousin Trader Joe’s Crispy Coconut Pancakes, the ginger bits are numerous, and wind up in each bite. The problem is that bits of crystallized ginger just don’t taste that great in pancakes.  There are a couple issues with it – the abrupt combination of textures, the fact that the heavy bits are prone to burn on the griddle – but the biggest issue is that ginger isn’t really an easy spice to use.

Although it’s commonly found in sweets in the form of gingerbread cookies, ginger is

Trader Joe's Gingerbread Pancake Mix 2

Thin-style, the way I likes ’em.

actually better suited for savory dishes, as in Indian and Thai cuisine – not sweet ones. Gingerbread only really works because the ginger is spread out through a good deal of sugar and thick batter. The crystallized ginger lumps in this pancake mix don’t taste like gingerbread at all – they just take like intense bits of ginger. These little gingery bursts don’t go particularly well with maple syrup and butter – instead they sort of throw the flavor off by hitting you with an abrupt, strong, clashing taste. And I say this as a crystallized ginger fan! For years I kept a little box of crystalized ginger in my desk drawer to snack on for a little mid-afternoon pick-me-up. I only stopped when it became clear that fusing my molars together with sugar-caked, sweet glue was not beneficial to healthy tooth enamel.

In the end, what you’re left with is a pretty tasty gingerbread(ish) pancake mix, with a bunch of intense ginger mixed in. The result is something that tastes less like a holiday treat and more like something from an Asian Fusion brunch special. It’s not terrible – but it is very striking. While it’s certainly interesting to try, if you’re looking for something to delight the kids with on Xmas morning this may not be the way to go.

Trader Joe, if you are taking suggestions from me now, keep the pancake mix but don’t stop trying out new flavors.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not really. Ginger pancakes are interesting, but not incredible.

Would I Buy It Again: I’ll probably go back to the toasted coconut pancakes.

Final Synopsis: Nice gingerbready pancakes loaded up with too much ginger.

 

 

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Trader Joe’s Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix

Trader Joe's Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix

Coconut seems oddly out of place in November, doesn’t it?

There’s never been a shortage of pancakes with stuff mixed in. Just pop your head into a Denny’s any given Saturday – pancakes with blueberries, pancakes with banana, pancakes with walnuts or pecans – the list goes on. However, never before now have I seen anything like Trader Joe’s Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix. For some reason, no on has really bothered to mix tiny bits of crisped, sweet coconut into pancakes – and that’s surprising because the results are quite good.

Trader Joe’s starts things off with an amazing new pancake mix. Instead of their ordinary buttermilk pancake mix that requires eggs, milk, etc, this new mix requires nothing but a little water. On to this they throw in a good helping of crunchy pieces of toasted coconut. The result is super easy to make pancakes with a natural sweet crunch to them.

Pancakes are one of those delicious breakfast foods that everyone can agree on. And when I say everyone, I mean world wide. Some sort of pancake variation has been, at various points throughout history, invented indepedentently on every continent except Antarctica. From Ethopian injera to Tamil uttapam to Swedish pannkakor to the American flapjack, batter sizzled up in a griddle and served hot has become something of a worldwide staple. Of course though they may all share the name, the pancake varies widely from iteration to iteration. Sweet, savory, thick, thin, round, flat – the variations know no end.

Here in the States, the main pancake question is whether or not you’ll be getting thick and fluffy ones, or thin, crepe-like ones. This can be a thorny questions, with fans coming down firmly in favor of both types. Trader Joe neatly side steps the issue by providing directions for both kinds of pancakes on the side of the box. In fact, TJ couldn’t make preparing these pancakes any easier. The mix is all inclusive, all you need to bring to the kitchen is the water, and the pancake mix does the rest – no eggs or milk necessary.

Of course, this magical convenience is only possible because the mix includes dry, powdered milk and egg in the batter mix. While in theory these dehydrated and canned ingredients should be inferior to adding the real thing, in practice I found that the pancakes didn’t really suffer from it. In fact, these pancakes are just as good any you’ll get from any other off-the-shelf boxed mix. Depending on the proportion of water to batter you control how fluffy/dense your griddle cakes come out – from full-blown fluffy flapjacks to the paper-thin Swedish style and anything in between.

What really sets this mix apart, of course, is the toasted coconut. Joe doesn’t skimp on this part of this mix, and you can expect every bite of your pancake to contain at least a touch of crispy coconut. The coconut does two things for the pancakes, both of them sublte. The first is that they add a bit of unexpected texure. After coming off the griddle the bits are postivley crispy, and give the flapjack a bit of extra, crunchy bite. This isn’t necessarily a big selling point, but it didn’t really bother me much either.

The more subtle effect is on the taste. The toasted coconut infuses the pancakes with a light coconut taste. Noticeable, but not so heavy that it leaves you smacking your lips or anything. It’s more of a low key sweetness, a light touch that is easily lost under a moderate amount of maple syrup or butter. That said, they’re sweet enough from these coconut bits that you’ll probably find you’ll want to use less syrup than usual. In fact, in the best tradition of bluberry pancakes, the coconut is nearly sweet enough that you might consider forgoing syrup at all. Almost, that is, but not quite. After one pancake without syrup, you’ll probably reach for the Aunt Jemima’s

In the end, these are perfectly ordinary pancakes with a little novel touch of coconut to them. How much that sells these for you depends on how much you like coconut. There certainly aren’t any flaws to the mix, but it’s also not something I would feel compelled to buy again just for the sake of getting a little more coconut in my breakfast. Out of everything the mix has to offer, it’s actually the ease of preparation that sells them the most. Being able to whip up tasty pancakes with just a bit of water was downright enjoyable.

If TJ’s starts making more pancake flavor variations with this same mix I’ll happily pick them up. Until then, this box will probably last me quite a while.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Sure, the sweet coconut is a natural complement to the pancake batter.

Would I Buy It Again: No, probably not.

Final Synopsis: A novel and easy-to-make, but otherwise ordinary, pancake mix.

Trader Joe's Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Four Uttapam with Coconut Chutney

Trader Joe's Four Uttapam with Coconut Chutney

Uttapam! What will those Tamils think of next?

I liked my last taste of East Asian non-traditional savory snack pancakes so much, that I went out this week and tried another one. This time we’re talking about Trader Joe’s Four Uttapam with Coconut Chutney – a South Indian flat bread that’s not only vegan and gluten free, but also down right tasty.

I’ll admit right out that I picked up Trader Joe’s uttapam because reading the package made the language part of my brain have a little spasm. As we’ve seen time and  time again, if you put a crazy enough word on your package I basically can’t stop myself from buying your product.

In this case, it turns out that uttapam (U-thap-pam, apparently) are smallish, plain pancake/pizza-like flatbreads from the south of India. Each uttapam is about the size of a bagel (a bit smaller than the Pa Jeon) and topped with a healthy scattering of diced onion, green bell pepper and some subtle cilantro. The taste is a mild, but rich with both the flavor of the vegetables and a dusting of traditional Indian spices.

These veggies are all resting on the uttapam itself, a very specifically Indian sort of bread – both doughy, spongy, and slightly sour. I put bread in “quotes” here because the dough is made from a specific mixture of mashed, fermented rice and black lentils called urad dal, which are not things you typically imagine bread as being made out of. In fact, I’m fairly certain urad dal is one of the locations Frodo and Sam had to pass through on the way to Mordor.

You might think that a bread made from rice and beans would taste wildly different from a standard wheat-based flatbread, but shockingly that isn’t the case. The spongy, soft bread base tastes just as good, as any wheat based flat bread – only due to it’s rice and lentil origin it’s miraculously gluten free.

The bread poofs up nice and soft when cooked, like a soft pillow for the minced vegetables to rest on. You can eat them like this

Uttapam with egg

Yeah, Britain – the Indians saw your English Muffins and they weren’t impressed.

directly, or get fancy with some toppings. Trader Joe’s includes a couple little packets of coconut chutney to throw on top, but I’d recommend throwing them out instead. The included chutney is rather weak and lackluster, and doesn’t do much for the subtle flavors already present in the bread. Instead, I’d recommend applying your imagination and topping them with whatever seems good – be that a better chutney you have laying around or some other food entirely. I threw some fried eggs on mine one morning and discovered that uttapam beat the hell out of English Muffins. At $3.69 for a pack of four, you can afford to get a little crazy with them.

Your box of four uttapam comes frozen, and Trader Joe’s offers two suggestions for cooking them – either microwave or stove top. This is no idle consideration, because each method yields a very different final result. Microwaved uttapam (net time required: < 1 min) stay soft and pliable and more pancake-y. Stove top, on the other hand, takes about 4 or 5 minutes per uttapam, but comes off the griddle toasty crisp. Having tried both, I’d recommend the stove top without hesitation – not just because the creators of the uttapam, the Tamils, have a culture of enjoying elaborate and leisurely cooking – but also because the time on the stove really brings out the redolent smells and flavors of the dish.

Really, I have to consider myself a lucky guy – just two weeks ago I couldn’t name you a single tasty, simple, vegetarian/vegan, super-snackable, savory mini-pancake, and now I know two. I’d recommend picking up the uttapam and pa jeon at the same time, and having yourself an Asian Pancake Frolic to go along with the waffle frolics you are enjoying already. At the very least, they could serve as a decent stand in for those still feeling the pain of loss of Arabian Joe’s Spicy Spinach Pizzas.


 

The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: Yup – it’s as tasty as it is worldly.

Would I Buy It Again: I most certainly would.

Final Synopsis: Tasty south Indian flatbread perfect for gluten-eaters and gluten-free alike.

Trader Joe's Four Uttapam with Coconut Chutney - Nutritional Facts

Trader Joe’s Four Uttapam with Coconut Chutney – Nutritional Facts


Trader Joe’s Scallion Pancakes (Pa jeon)

Trader Joe's Scallion Pancakes

Who would have thought scallions and batter would taste so good together?

What? Korea has a sort of dinner pancakes made from more veggies than batter? And Trader Joe’s has brought it to us under the simple, if intriguing, name of Scallion Pancakes? This sort of esoteric awesomeness is exactly what I made this blog for.

What are you, scallion pancakes? What are, as the South Koreans say, pa jeon? I wondered these things as I stood stupid in the frozen food aisle. I tried smelling the bag. No luck there – the strange mystery of scallion pancakes was securely locked inside the cheerful green sack. Was it really just pancakes made with wild green onions? Could that possibly be any good? If pa jeon was a product of, say, Swinton England, I would guess no – but this is a tradition Korean food and I’ve done pretty well by those so far, despite the occasionally debacle, so I was willing to give it the old college try. Was this going to be another Spicy Seaweed Salad or just another dehydrated kimchi? Fortunately, it’s my pleasure to report that Trader Joe’s Scallion Pancakes are totally awesome.

Jeon in Korean (pronounced “jun”) means something like “battered stuff”, while pa means scallions (aka green onions). Pa is by no means the only Jeon out there – the Koreans really went to town on the whole notion. Where Americans were content to put some bananas in their flapjacks then rest on their laurels, the South Koreans diced up basically anything they could get their hands on. While the scallions and batter are usually there, it can come loaded up with any sort of seafood or meat imaginable. Trader Joe’s gives us the most basic version here – plain green onions with a smattering of other vegetables, including leeks and onions plus some carrots and oyster mushrooms.

If pretty much anything can go into a scallion pancake, you might wonder why the Koreans insist on keeping the scallions in there at all. The answer is one, because they are super delicious, and two, because of history. As well as I could dig up, pa jeon owes its existence to a bunch of Koreans that started throwing green onions at retreating Japanese soldiers during one of the numerous Japanese-Korean battles of the the late 16th century. Obviously, that led immediately to people cooking them into pancakes for some reason. There’s no figuring out history folks, it’s just a bunch of crazy stuff like that.

At any rate, scallion pancakes are exactly what they sound like – each bag contains four danish sized  “pancakes” made with a wheat and egg batter mixed with, you guessed it, scallions. I put pancake is quotes because the word doesn’t quite do justice to what you’re getting. The shape is approximately that of a nice sized buttermilk flapjack, flat, smooth,  rounded and about a ¼ inch thick, but that’s where the resemblance ends. The pa jeon batter is very different from pancake batter. Trader Joe’s uses a mix of wheat flour, corn powder, baking powder, and a touch of egg in their mix, and the result is something more like bread dough than pancake batter – a difference that comes to the fore when you fry them up. Instead of staying light and fluffy, like they are when they come out the bag, the pa jeon become golden and crispy on the stove top. This crispy crunchiness is delightfully toothsome, with a somewhat flaky and pastry-like crunch to the bite.

Once you do throw your scallion pancakes on the stove, get ready for a room filling aroma of mouthwatering proportions. The mixture of onions, leeks, mushrooms and other veggies smells warm, rich and hearty – expect people to be popping their heads in to see what smells so good.

A single glance at these scallion pancakes makes it obvious that they are packed with all sorts of vegetables. What’s more surprising is how much oil is in there as well. Whether you cook these up in a frying pan or in the oven, you’ll notice the pool of oil that forms around each cake. With 7 grams of fat in each pancake and 21 grams of carbs, these are more savory appetizer than health food. On the other hand, with only 160 calories in each pancake, and so much vegetable filler, you can fret the guilt off pretty quickly.

A final note – although Trader Joe’s doesn’t mention it on the bag, you’ll want to eat the scallion pancakes with a traditional dipping sauce of some kind. The most basic type (which worked well for me) is just to mix up a little bit of soy sauce and white (or rice) vinegar. If you’re looking for a fancier sauce recipe, you can try this rather complex one http://www.trifood.com/pajeon.asp.


 

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: If you’ve never tried a savory pancake before, you should try these.

Would I Buy Them Again: Yes indeed – these make great snacks/appetizers/sides.

Final synopsis: Crispy, scallion filled pancakes that prove the Koreans know what they’re doing in the kitchen.

Trader Joe's Scallion Pancakes - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Scallion Pancakes – Nutrition Facts