Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons

pumpkin-cornbread-croutons

Pumpkin. Cornbread. Croutons. It reads more like a shopping list than a product.

With Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons we have another strange and daring pumpkin offering. As a salad lover I was quick to pick these up. As any true salad connoisseur knows, the combination of textures in a salad is almost as important as the combination of tastes. The simple addition of a crispy little crunch, whether it be croutons, baco-bits, or a handful of seeds, can elevate a salad from merely good to truly excellent. As such, I’m always on the lookout for a tasty new texture to touch up my tossed salads, and I was both pleased and surprised to see that Trader Joe’s ongoing season of induced Pumpkin Psychosis extended even so far as the world of croutons. What surprised me ever more, however, was that despite having never so much as dreamed of such an outrageous idea as Pumpkin Croutons in all my life, I had actually already made them a week earlier. That said, I did only make them by accident.

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons are – in fact – made from the very same stuff as Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread. I rather enjoyed the cornbread, which I thought quite seasonal and tasty even if it wasn’t particularly pumpkin-y, however despite enjoying it, I didn’t enjoy it quite to the tune of an entire bread pan worth. As a result of my obdurate bachelor tendencies, the remnants of the cornbread were left out on top of the stove for two or three days. The result, I came to discover, was an accidental pan of Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons or, more precisely, just one gigantic crouton.

Given the shared origin, you might expect the two to share many attributes and that is, in fact, the case.  The pumpkin cornbread croutons taste a lot like the pumpkin cornbread – both are strongly redolent of pumpkin, sweetened by sugar, and spiced with traditional pumpkin pie spices. Surprisingly, in fact, the croutons are even sweeter than the cornbread.  Trader Joe’s promises that each crouton is like having a bite of pumpkin pie, and while it’s not that sweet it’s not too far off either. This is a fact that makes these croutons unlike any I’ve had before. Most croutons are salty and savory, dusted with garlic, rosemary, cheese, etc. These croutons go in a very different direction, not just with the sweetness, but with the strong pumpkin flavor as well.

In fact, the sweetness opens these croutons up to a variety of uses normally limited only to bread crumbs. Perhaps most brilliantly, Trader Joe’s suggests using them as stuffing for your turkey. While this is probably one of the better ideas anyone has ever had, Trader Joe’s also recommends using these naturally sweet breadcrumbs for bread pudding, or even dipping them directly into pumpkin butter. I haven’t tried any of these myself yet, and while they sound somewhat dubious, the sweet, pumpkiny taste might actually make it work out.

These are the sorts of taste combinations that don’t seem like they should work at all. At least in the case of the salad Trader Joe’s actually pulls it off. The croutons are the same ones TJ uses in the very delicious Harvest Blend Salad, where they work perfectly. While there certainly are salads and salad dressings these croutons would clash with,  they actually pair quite nicely with a wide variety of salad mixes – from ceasar salads, to BBQ chicken salads, to just a simple garden salad using a nice vinaigrette.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend These: Yes, they’re surprisingly tasty.

Would I Buy Them Again: Yes, if just to try out the turkey stuffing idea.

Final Synopsis: Sweet and savory croutons with a variety of uses.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Rolls with Pumpkin Spiced Icing

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Rolls

Ooey, gooey, and pumpkin-based

Trader Joe’s will put pumpkin in anything. Some of these things are expected – such as their pumpkin soup, some of these things are unexpected such as their pumpkin croissants. Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Rolls with Pumpkin Spiced Icing  are definitely an example of the later. Has anyone ever looked at a cinnamon bun and thought “Somebody should really take the cinnamon out of this and replace it with pumpkin. And pumpkin flavored icing.” No, of course not, but Trader Joe’s did it. They did it, and it’s actually pretty good.

Trader Joe’s took the same dough they already use in their cinnamon rolls, but have had the cinnamon goo that fills the roll’s folds replaced by a puree of pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices (e.g. nutmeg, cinnamon and clove). Trader Joe’s Cinnamon Roll dough is some of the best you can find on a grocery store shelf, so the result is a delicious pastry roll that cooks up beautifully golden brown, with a soft, warm and chewy center. The pumpkin puree that replaces the cinnamon mash is of the same consistency, giving the dough that ooey-gooey stickiness that is essential for a truly satisfying sticky bun.

While the buns feel every bit as good as a cinnamon roll, they don’t quite taste as good. Don’t get me wrong – the pumpkin bun is delectable and every bit as soft and sweet as a cinnamon bun, but cinnamon buns are damn near perfect. As good as the pumpkin rolls were, the sticky, bubbling hot spiciness of true cinnamon buns are better, just by dint of being a cinnamon bun. That’s not to say the pumpkin rolls don’t taste good in their own right – they certainly do. The pumpkin rolls are sugary sweet and delicious, and bring in the taste of pumpkin and spice without being too overwhelming. It’s a little like the rolls are glazed with pumpkin pie filling instead of cinnamon and sugar – and while that’s good, it’s not better than the cinnamon and sugar.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Rolls 2The exact same can be said of the pumpkin spice infused frosting. It’s delicious, sugary, thick and sticky – just like good frosting should be. There’s more than enough to ice each bun, and matches just right with the pipping hot rolls – but it would have been even better if it had been a classic cream-cheese frosting.

Once again, we’re faced with the notion of why to buy this at all. Simply because it’s novel is the only compelling argument I have. Pumpkin season comes but once a year, and it’s fun to pick up a few pumpkin rolls to ring in the autumn.  If you feel that little nagging call to celebrate the Harvest through moderately varied food stuffs, then by all means pick up Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Rolls with Pumpkin Spiced Icing – they’re delicious and you’ll enjoy every bite. If, however, the idea of pumpkin rolls for pumpkin roll’s sake doesn’t do it for you, rest easy knowing that you’re not really missing out. Their difference is valuable, but it’s unlikely you’ll ever prefer them to the real deal.

The only thing to be aware of is that, as in Trader Joe’s Cinnamon Rolls, the Pumpkin Rolls only come five to a pack. Odd numbers are terribly inconvenient when it comes to cooking for any size table, and prime numbers are all the more so. Unless you’re making breakfast for exactly 5 diners, or cooking for very lopsided appetites, you’ll want to pick up 2 cans to make sure things divide evenly. If I thought highly enough of Trader Joe’s marketing department, I’d almost accuse them of doing that on purpose – the crafty bastards.


 

The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: Sure – they’re quite tasty, in their own way.

Would I Buy Them Again: Nope, I’ll go back to cinnamon rolls.

Final Synopsis: Almost as delicious as cinnamon rolls.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Rolls - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Rolls – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend Complete Salad

Trader Joe's Harvest Blend Salad

Could you put some more pumpkin in that please?

Well, well, well – here’s something new. Trader Joe’s is something of a salad master, filling their shelves with enough varieties to keep even the most jaded vegetarian happy. However, TJ’s salads have previously only appeared in two forms – assembled and disassembled. You could either pick up one of their many, varied salads-in-a-tub, or buy a bunch of salad fixings and make your own. What TJ’s has done here is something new – well, new for Trader Joe’s anyway.

Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend Salad is a complete salad kit, uncombined, and served in a bag. Other grocery store chains have offered salad-in-a-bag for years, even as TJ’s steadfastly followed their own course. Why this sudden change in policy? Perhaps it’s another symptom of the recent pumpkin madness. Certainly this salad mix features a respectable array of pumpkin-derived products- it’s conceivable that in the fevered actions of the countless panicked food packers rushing to meet Trader Joe’s insane pumpkin product quotas they simply ran out of plastic bins and had to start shoveling salad into bags instead.

While this salad may not be in a little plastic box, have no fear – it’s every bit as good as Trader Joe’s more established salad offerings. The kit begins with nice mixture of baby lettuce, baby spinach and baby kale – supplementing these tender greens with some crunchy broccoli and cauliflower. Into this strata you have the options of mixing in a pouch of dates, raisins and roasted pumpkin seeds. Not content to limit a harvest salad to merely pumpkin seeds, TJ ups the pumpkin content with some of their Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons (yes, made of the same Pumpkin Cornbread we already looked at). The dressing itself is also pumpkin derived – a sweet and tangy pumpkin vinaigrette. While this isn’t a combination of words that seems like it would result in a very good salad dressing, the salad actually pulls it all together. The vinaigrette is thick, and sweet with the taste of ripe pumpkin, but still acidic and zesty enough to highlight the greens – like a pumpkin flavored raspberry vinaigrette.

I wouldn’t want to try a pumpkin vinaigrette on too many other salads but here, with the pumpkin seeds and pumpkin croutons to add extra dimension to the pumpkin taste, the result really is a remarkably “harvest” tasting, and tasty, pumpkin salad. Surprisingly, pumpkin itself doesn’t make an appearance in the mix. That doesn’t detract from the salad, but it seem like an obviously missing ingredient. If you happen to have some of the canned or roasted squash on hand there’s no reason you couldn’t throw some in and really amp the salad up.

That said, if there’s anything I didn’t like about this salad it’s the sweetness. Between the dates, raisins and sweet vinaigrette the salad teeters on the edge of being too sugary. The natural mellow sweetness of pumpkin works in the salad’s favor here, as it folds these additional sweet flavors into itself in a way that works overall. All the same, if you usually avoid overly fruity dressings on your salads, you may want to give the Harvest Blend Salad a miss as well.

What surprised me most about this salad, however, wasn’t any of the components – it’s how generous the portions are. Most salads-in-a-bag are puny little excuses for a salad. For a guy who prefers huge, plate-sprawling entree salads I find these pre-packaged portions utterly below my notice. Not so here. For only $3.99 a bag, Trader Joe’s packs 14 ounces of salad into each bag. That means make sure you get a damn big bowl ready if you plan on pouring it all out at once. Trader Joe’s says it’s enough for 4 side salads, which is probably true, but it also makes for one mondo entree salad if you’re looking for a quick, easy, and health lunch to pick up.

While many of Trader Joe’s pumpkin based products smack of novelty and little more, this salad works because of its pumpkin content rather than in spite of it. This is one product that I’ll be sorry to see go at the end of Pumpkin Season.


 The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, so long as you don’t mind some sweetness in your salad.

Would I Buy It Again: I can visualize it clearly, even now.

Final Synopsis: A massive salad-in-a-bag mix that does pumpkin salad right.


Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Seed Brittle

Pumpkin seed brittle – well, why not Trader Joe’s? Are they crazy? Well, yes, it certainly might be well warranted to accuse a man of madness on any old ordinary day if he shows up with the idea of making peanut brittle, but replacing the peanuts with pumpkin seeds. That might well warrant alarm. But these aren’t ordinary days. The twisted, orange doors of the Pumpkin Gate have been thrown open and from now until November we are at the mercy of the pumpkin-drunk gourd lords of Trader Joe’s. If that is the way the wind is blowing let it not be said that I don’t also blow that way.

It’s hard to know which way to turn when you goal is to document the unrestrained pumpkin revelry at Trader Joe’s, but Pumpkin Seed Brittle strikes me as particularly bold/insane. Brittle is, by itself, one of those divisive, old-timey candies, like black licorice or Peeps, that you have either eaten with fondness from your childhood, or detest the very thought of. It is, generously, a seasonal treat – not dissimilar to nog, or fruit cake – created, offered and eaten more out of thought to tradition than any real physical desire. Brittles, in particular, tend to last – the snack that is left over from after the party ends.

That’s not entirely the brittle’s fault. It is, by its nature, not a very social snack. A veggie or ranch dip, for example, is designed to be grazed upon easily by any number of party-goers Brittle, on the other hand, doesn’t break easily, makes your fingers tacky, and cements your molars together in a way that that is more scary than fun.

While peanut brittle does have a history of being made with different tupes of nuts/seeds (such as pistachos, or sesame seeds) pumpkin seeds in a recent innovation and, understandably, one that Trader Joe’s was eager to jump in on.

The first thing you’ll notice is the very nice box the pumpkin brittle comes in – pleasant colors and big, warm art make it perfectly suited to gifting.Inside the box, things are just as you’d expect them to be. The pumpkin seed brittle looks the same as peanut brittle – same dark brown color, same jagged panes of shattered brittle stacked up in uneven piles. The only real difference is that instead of standing out, like peanuts, the pumpkin seeds blend into the same mellow brown color of the brittle.

When it comes to flavor, the difference is similarly subtle. The pumpkin brittle is made from the same key ingredients that all brittles are made from – sugar, water, and butter. Be it peanut or pumpkin, the candy tastes the same – like sweet, carmalized sugar. The actual pumpkin seeds, when you come to them, are mild and crunchy, but don’t make much of an impact on the dish. In fact, while peanuts are a fairly notable part of peanut brittle – large, smooth and bland counterparts to the sticky, sweet brittle. The smaller, flatter pumpkin seeds don’t contribute nearly as much. You’ll notice a pumpkin seed when you bite into one, but don’t expect that strong taste of roast pumpkin seeds. The reason for this is that the recipe uses pumpkin seeds that have already been shelled. This makes for crispier, tastier eating – but remove much of what is uniqe about the pumpkin seed taste. These small seeds (and seed fragments) don’t provide much taste, even a bland one – they’re just a bit of crunch, and then gone.

To counter this, TJ’s dusts their brittle with “traditional pupkin pie spices”. In this case, that means cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and some others. This is by far the strongest part of the brittle, giving each piece a very nice, sweetly spicy flavor. Pumpkin it may not taste like, but pumpkin pie it certainly does.

If you’re jonesing for that autumn brittle, you might consider picking this up for the novelty of it.  More generally, however, we can consider this as something like Trader Joe’s Truffle Salt, a food better suited to holiday gift giving than actually imbibing.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Sure, especially if you’re looking for a new kind of brittle to give people.

Would I Buy It Again: Yes, but not until next year.

Final Synopsis: Like peanut brittle, but with some pumpkin pie spices on it.


Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread Mix

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Cornbread Mix

The pumpkin sits… and the pumpkin watches.

Well folks – Trader Joe’s annual corn madness is upon us once again. The pumpkin hoppers have been serviced, the pumpkin chutes re-greased, and the pumpkin crazed madmen in the R&D department are off to a flying start with Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread.

What possessed Trader Joe’s to add dehydrated, powdered pumpkin to cornbread I can’t say, whatever it was, it’s the same mechanism that drove TJ to put pumpkin in waffles and croissants. In all these products the addition of pumpkin seems completely superfluous – an unnecessary ingredient shoehorned into an food that was already perfectly fine. The pumpkin will not be denied. It’s almost sinister, in an Invasion of the Body Snatchers kind of way. You turn around and what you thought was cornbread is now pumpkin cornbread. You go to the fridge only to find your cream cheese is now pumpkin cream cheese and your yogurt has been replaced with pumpkin yogurt. You go to the Trader Joe’s to complain, but everywhere you look there’s more pumpkin products, insinuated into every aspect of your daily life, each box being dutifully stocked on the shelves by smiling Trader Joe’s employees.

*Shudder*

At any rate, they did go and put pumpkin in cornbread, so I went ahead and ate it. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, even on a basic level. Notions as to what “cornbread” means varies wildly from state to state. In the South, where cornbread got its start, it’s made with practically no sugar and little or no flour. Up North, in Yankee lands, it’s a much sweeter dish, made with plenty of sugar and wheat flour besides making it more airy and cake-like. Meanwhile, out in the great Southwest it’s commonly made with creamed corn, jalapenos, and even topped with melted cheese.

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread uses a Northern cornbread recipe, going heavy on the wheat and sugar, and fairly light on the corn meal and pumpkin. In fact, flour and sugar are the first two ingredients on the box, only then followed by corn meal and finally pumpkin. The result is a light, cakey cornbread, that cooks up in 30 minutes or so.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Cornbread Mix 2

Tasty pumpkin cornbread

Fresh out of the bag, the cornbread mix smells delightfully redolent, as a heady mixture of spices wafts up to the nose. Pumpkin can be detected in here, sure, but cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves even more so – all the classic spices you find in pumpkin pie filling. The finished cornbread cooks up to a rich, golden brown – darker than ordinary cornbread. Following the directions exactly results in a dry, crumbly cornbread that’s ready and willing to soak up some butter. If you like a moister cornbread, you’ll want to consider adding a touch more oil and milk.

Shockingly, despite the pumpkin pie smell that comes off the cornbread, there’s almost no taste of pumpkin in the bread at all. In fact, it almost tastes exactly like regular cornbread, except spiced with a gentle amount of the above mentioned pumpkin pie spices. This isn’t a heavy spice cake, but a light touch that imbues an otherwise traditional cornbread recipe with an intriguing taste of autumn flavor.

Personally, I was disappointed that there wasn’t more of a pumpkin presence in the bread – why bother calling it pumpkin cornbread if you’re not really putting any pumpkin in it? That said, even without a strong pumpkin taste, the cornbread is quite tasty. The touch of spice adds an extra dimension to the bread, and really comes to the fore when loaded up with a good pat of butter.


 

The Breakdown:

Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is a good fit for autumn dinners.

Would I Buy It Again: I’d probably buy this before I bought regular cornbread, to be honest.

Final Synopsis: More pumpkin pie spice cornbread than pumpkin cornbread.


Trader Joe’s Greens and Seeds Salad

Trader Joe's Seeds and Greens Salad

Greens and seeds *and* squash, is more like it.

I picked up Trader Joe’s Greens and Seeds Salad the other day after a moment’s hesitation. Greens and seeds? Seeds are not normally my go to salad toppings. I was even more surprised by the ingredients: butternut squash, feta cheese, pomegranate and pumpkin seeds. First off, I’m not sure butternut squash counts as anyone’s idea of “greens”, but more than that, who’s ever heard of mixing pumpkin and pomegranate seeds together. Nevertheless, remembering the rather delicious lessons Trader Joe’s couscous and cabbage and quinoa and wheat berry salads taught me, I decided that I’d better just suck it up and give it a try.

Folks, I’m glad I did. The salad mix might be unconventional, but the taste is right on. This is exactly the kind of salad I go for – a hearty, robust mouthful that hits every taste bud on the way down. Where salads like Trader Joe’s Walnut & Gorgonzola focus on a narrow, rather bland taste profile, the greens and seeds in this mix cover the whole pallet. The butternut squash is savory with mellow, earthy tones, the feta is as intensely flavorful as a nice fragrant fetid should be, the pomegranate packs that astringent, high-toned zing, and the pepitas are salty and nutty. It could, and maybe should, be the taste equivalent of dressing in a tux, sandals, and a clown wig, but somehow it manages to all hang together. The eclectic assortment of tastes are helped in no small part by the excellent salad dressing pairing – a zingy and creamy honey dijon balsamic. The dressing is strong, quite mustardy and vinegary, so you might only want to put about a third of it on at first, but it’s this strength that unites and accentuate the tastes of the other ingredients.

Two potential marks against the salad. First, it’s meat free. I’m perfectly happy to make a meal of salad alone, which generally means I’m looking for something with at least a little meat in it. That said, all the cheese and seeds in this salad means that you’re getting 11 grams of protein per serving. That’s not bad. The other caveat is that the squash is, as you might expect, a bit squishy. That doesn’t bother me, but if you get hung up on texture this may not be the salad for you.

Trader Joe’s rolls out new salads all the time, but this rather wild salad combination has come out this fall for more reason than mere happenstance. Spring mix and summer salads abound, but this is one of the few truly autumnal salads I’ve ever had – a pointed and purposeful concoction made with only those ingredients that are in season during the harvest – or so they say on the company website, at least. I’m a food fan, sure, but I’m an even bigger fan of food born out of high concept musings. Kudos on this happening salad, TJ!


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, if you don’t mind squishy squash in your salad, you’ll love this one.

Would I Buy It Again: Absolutely, I’m adding it to the shopping list now.

Final Synopsis: A hearty salad with a tasty autumnal bent.