In theory, this sounds delicious. How could it not be? Paper thin sheets of oven crisped filo dough filled with a thick and gooey blend of five delicious cheeses – surely that’s a prescription for gustatorial heaven, right. And while it’s close, Trader Joe’s 5 Cheese Greek Spiral isn’t really all that good – as if it’s missing some essential ingredient that would have tied it all together.
|What it is:||Melted cheese in a pastry shell spiral.|
|Price:||$3.99 / 14 oz. disc|
|Worth it:||No. Too bland to justify that much cheese and dough.|
Looking like an over-sized lollipop, Trader Joe’s 5 Cheese Greek Spiral is at the very least an intriguing looking appetizer. It’s essentially a single long tube of filo (AKA pie crust) dough, filled with tons of cheese and wrapped into a single snail-shell spiral. Like a cheese-and-pastry kielbasa, or a cheese-filled pizza crust gone wild. TJ’s isn’t kidding around about that “five cheese” part either – this big honkin’ disc contains nearly a pound of gouda, kasseri, kefalotyri, “semi-hard” and blue cheese.
The whole thing is placed in the oven (the oven explicitly – the packaging bans microwave use) and roasted for 25 minutes until golden, crispy, and filled with hot, bubbling cheese.
So why isn’t this better than it is? It’s really hard to go wrong with cheese and dough – and yet this Greek cheese spiral failed to illicit more than lukewarm reactions from everyone I called around to try it. The problem is that there’s just nothing interesting going on with this appetizer. Lots of cheese is good in theory, but the cheeses in this mixture end up as a single, salty, mild-tasting blend, without the intriguing charm or tang of the individual components. The filo dough is also unadorned, tasting of nothing much but a bland paperiness that makes for a very nice texture, but not much else.
There are no end of delicious foods that make use of cheese and dough, so it seems like a shame to waste it all on an appetizer that is merely acceptable. Pizza, for example, or any of Trader Joe’s delicious flat breads.
In fact, if there’s any potential to be unlocked in this 5 Cheese Greek Spiral, it’s in treating it as a pizza-like launch pad for more interesting toppings. With the application of a little imagination it’s easy to compensate for that missing X factor. Throw a tub of artichoke dip on top of these warm cheese coils and you’d really be talking about a delicious appetizer, or simply serve alongside a ramekin of marinara or other dipping sauces. Drizzle with honey!?!? That might just be crazy enough to work. Do anything, really, just as long as you’re not eating it plain.
Would I Recommend It: Not strongly. It’s pretty underwhelming.
Would I Buy It Again: Maybe – I might try fancying one up for my next soiree.
Final Synopsis: Lots of salty cheese in a bland crust. Should have been better.
British Meat Pie Week continues with Trader Joe’s delicious (and heart-clogging) Chicken Balti Pies.
If you read the previous post on Trader Joe’s Steak and Ale Pies, you know more or less what to expect here – it’s the same flaky, buttery crust, only this time they’ve pumped it full of a savory, mildly spicy, chicken curry. The result is just as warm and hearty as the Steak and Ale pie, even more delicious, and even more chock-full of fat.
|What it is:||A hearty, British style pot-pie – with curry!|
|Worth it:||Yes…again, if you can spare the calories|
Rather than the ale-based steak stew in Trader Joe’s other British, meat-filled pastry Trader Joe’s has elected to fill this version with a particular form of tangy chicken curry known as “balti” (named after the the pot it was originally prepared in). Though still rich with chicken, potatoes and carrots, it’s notably less thick than TJ Steak and Ale variation. This is actually a good idea, as it lets the curry sauce speak for itself – and the curry sauce is pretty dang delicious.
The mildly spicy and richly flavored curry sauce hits all the right notes – with a nice tang and just a little bit of fire. It’s good enough that I wish I could buy it just by itself – maybe in one of Trader Joe’s pre-made Indian Fare meals, like with their Punjab eggplant. Of course, in this case the balti curry is already sealed within the same singularly tasty pastry crust used by the Steak and Ale Pie. This shares the same strengths of the Steak and Ale variety (crispy, light, flaky, etc) and the same weaknesses (made with whole sticks of butter).
Those calories from fat are still the big consideration here. The balti pies pack even more butter into the crust, if that were even possible, with 380 calories from fat, or 42 grams of fat per pie.
Like the Steak and Ale Pie before it, these Balti pies have a strong tradition in England where they are consumed by “football clubs” (whatever those are…) with a nearly ritualistic fervor. If you share the belief, as so many do, that British food is unpalatable, picking up either these or the Steak and Ale Pies might just be enough to make you forget about all the bubble-and-squeak, eel pies, mashed peas, Branston pickle, various blood-based puddings, and so forth. Just don’t think too hard about your diet while you’re eating them.
Would I Recommend It: Yes – better than pot-pie to be sure.
Would I Buy It Again: As soon as I stop carrying about my waistline.
Final Synopsis: Really good curry, in really good (really fatty) crust.
Are you a lumberjack? Do you haul peat from bogs, or otherwise labor in cold, wet, physically exhausting conditions, day-in-day out? If so, you’ll find exactly the sort of hearty, hot and, above all, calorie intensive repast you need to keep going in Trader Joe’s Steak and Ale Pies.
|What it is:||A hearty, British style pot-pie|
|Worth it:||Yes… if you can spare the calories.|
These dense cylinders of dinner are the classic English version of the more familiar American chicken-pot pie. The box contains two meat stew-filled “pies”, bottled up inside thick, but buttery and flaky crust. A few things set these steak and ale pies apart from traditional pot-pies – the first among them being the ale. The “ale” in the product name isn’t just an idle threat – TJ’s has actually stewed up each of their pies with strong, stout beer. It’s an addition you can certainly taste, and it gives each pie a dark, slightly bitter bite tinged with the distinctive taste of a strong porter.
That’s not a taste that might go well with jut any pot-pie, but Trader Joe’s does well by it by going heavy on the steak and thick gravy filling. This thick, meaty taste pairs well with the ale edge, conjuring up a warm culinary sensation of coming in from a cold autumn dusk, stomping off your boots, and hunkering down by a roaring hearth.
TJ doesn’t limit himself to just steak and ale, however, also throwing in potatoes, carrots, celery and onions to make up a mighty hearty stew. Of course, if I’d wanted a stew, I would have bought a stew. Like Trader Joe’s other pot-pies these really triumph on the strength of their delicious, buttery crust. Unlike the more common American pot-pie, these Brit-inspired creations are entirely surrounded by tasty, crunchy crust. Thick enough to stand up to manhandling on the plate, the crust is also light and savory enough that eating your way through it to the piping hot core is a delight, not a chore.
Of course, the words “buttery” and “hearty” don’t usually get thrown around with the word “fattening” also, and it’s no different here. This is not the frozen dinner to pick up if you’re watching your waist line. Just one 10 oz. pie contains 670 calories, a whopping 63% of which is pure fat. Of the 41 grams of fat in a single pie, 24 grams are saturated fats (120% your daily recommend value) and – even worse – 0.5 grams come from universally reviled trans fats.
And even in the face of all that, after eating one of the pies, I was left sitting there hungry. 10 ounces of anything does not a meal in itself make. If you’re not a deep sea crab fisherman or professional bear wrestler and still decide to pick these up, make sure to get some salad greens and a light vinaigrette for the side.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, but be prepared to feel diet guilt.
Would I Buy Them Again: Sure, the next time I’m gearing up for a all-night forced march.
Final Synopsis: Tasty English-style pot pies with a massive fat content.
What is it about miniaturization that makes things so much more appealing? Regular umbrellas? Just okay. Mini drink umbrellas? Amazing. Regular bottles of alcohol? Enjoyable. Mini bottles of alcohol? Instant fun. Regular elephants? Pretty good. Dwarf elephants? Mind blowing. Whatever it is, it applies equally to Trader Joe’s Mini Pumpkin Pies – delicious, light and flaky hor d’oeuvre-sized pumpkin pies so deliciously edible that they pose a serious danger to your waistband.
I picked up these pies more out of a sense of obligation to my on going coverage of Trader Joe’s pumpkin madness then any real desire to have pumpkin pies. Let me preface my coming remarks by pointing out that I’m a pumpkin pie lover, and always will be so long as I live. Pumpkin pie has an indelible place at my Thanksgiving table this year and every year to come. That said, pumpkin pie is definitely a second tier pie. I love eating it at Thanksgiving, and maybe one or two more times over the winter holidays, but that’s about does it for me. Unlike, say, a good cherry or lemon meringue, it’s just not a pie I hanker for year round.
Why, then, should I expect these mini pumpkin pies to be any better – miniaturization aside. There’s one excellent answer to that question – and that’s the crust. While the heart of the pie might be its filling, its soul is in its crust. A pie can only go so far with an average crust. For a pie to be truly delectable it needs a light, flaky, tasty, buttery crust – and on that front Trader Joe’s knocks it out of the park. The crust on these mini pumpkin pies is the most delicious part – tastier by far than the somewhat indifferent pumpkin pie filling. It’s an all butter crust, imbued with sugar yolk (egg white beaten with sugar) and graced across the top with a few more grains of granulated sugar for good measure – more like the crust of a delicate turnover than a pie. I’m no pie die hard, but I can confidently say this is the most delicious pie crust I’ve ever had.
Trader Joe’s plays to the strength of their excellent crust in two ways. One, in direct defiance of all pumpkin pie tradition, they have put top crusts on these pies. Now normally I’m the kind of guy who’d strut up and down lambasting TJ’s for such a brazen act of effrontery. In this case however, I’ve got nothing to say – the top crust does everything to improve this pie and nothing to hurt it.
Second, by serving these pies in miniature TJ is maximizing the amount of crust surface area they’re delivering while keeping the crust light and thin. The one issue I encountered while baking up these pies was that they tended to crumble apart at the least provocation. This is, of course, the Achilles’s heel of a very light and flaky pie crust. Only by limiting the pies to such a small size is it even possible to cook them without have them fall all to pieces. Of course, even at such a small size you’ve got to expect that that buttery crust packs some fat. And you’d be right to expect that – to the tune of 30% of your saturated fat intake in just one 1.5 oz pie.
So yes, these are delicious pies. But in the end they are still pumpkin pies – while they might delight me, and make an appearance at my holiday parties, I don’t think I’ll be bringing them out again until this time next year.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, just be careful you don’t eat them all in one sitting.
Would I Buy Them Again: Sure, but not until next Thanksgiving.
Final Synopsis: A tiny, delicious take on the pumpkin pie with a truly wonderful crust.