Monday, August 13, 2012

Thirteen Things From Trader Joe's

Turkey hot dogs are usually healthier than beef or pork, and the reason is obvious: they have less fat. But that also means they don't taste as good. And Trader Joe's turkey hot dogs are no exception. It basically serves as a vehicle for delivering other flavors. My first one - of which I cannot find a picture - contained mustard and relish. My second one, the one pictured above, I topped with cheese and canned Hormel chili. I'm not going to say these hot dogs are bad, but there is nothing particularly good about them, and I will not be buying them again.

I usually enjoy Trader Joe's frozen vegetables. They are almost always high quality and, even without a microwave, they couldn't be easier to prepare. I cooked these country potatoes and veggies in a pan for less than ten minutes and they were ready to go. I really liked them. The potatoes were cooked through, the green beans crispy, and the mushrooms, something of which I have never been a big fan, were very tasty. This is absolutely something I will get again.

Years ago, TJ's had a salmon roulade: pieces of salmon rolled around soft cheese and basil. I loved it. I have not seen it in years, but the prosciutto panino looks similar, so I grabbed one. It's not anything surprising: prosciutto wrapped around mozzarella. If that sounds good to you, you'll like this. If not, you won't. Me? I thought it was a great snack. Elizabeth and I shared one in the middle of the afternoon and it hit the spot. I would not, however, serve this as part of a dinner.

I've driven through parts of Pennsylvania many times. I've heard of Amish Country. I've seen signs for Steelers Country. I've been through Wyeth Country. But I have never heard of Pretzel Country. Yet right here on the box it proclaims: "Made in Pennsylvania, right in the heart of pretzel country." You learn something new every day.

The box promised hard pretzels, so I really can't complain... but these things were really hard. I was legitimately worried I would break a tooth with each bite. (Elizabeth took one bite and shook her head, saying "Not for me.") And there really was no flavor to them. I ate a few with Sierra Nevada's "Stout & Stoneground" mustard, which helped, but these are not something I plan to eat again.

I would, however, like to investigate this whole "Pretzel Country" thing.

My feelings about mole are as disparate as any food in the entire world. The mole at La Cabanita, even the Del Taco Spicy Chicken Mole Soft Tacos, are some of my favorite things to eat. 

But then there is the other end of the spectrum, the grainy, pasty, burnt-tasting sauce that ranks right up there as one of my least favorite things.

So I knew it was something of a risk to try Trader Joe's chicken with red mole. There are microwave instructions but I don't have a microwave anymore so that made the oven preparation an easy choice. After about 40 minutes I removed the dish, mixed it up and dug in.

It wasn't exactly bad... but it wasn't very good. The sauce was surprisingly - nay, shockingly - spicy, which I love. But the flavor definitely skewed towards that burnt taste that I loathe in mole. I will probably try this dish one more time someday before I write it off, but I'm not in any hurry.

Thai is my least favorite of the Asian cuisines, and soup is something I rarely eat, but hey, it's Trader Joe's. A Thai soup deserves a chance. As an added bonus, the ingredients are compartmentalized so that you can add them as you please, and one of the packets contains lemongrass, Thai basil and chilis, so that you may omit the spiciness. I added them all.

The soup was ready in just a few minutes. I really liked it. The wontons were tasty and the broth was spicy. I was not a fan of the lemongrass - it wasn't so much the flavor that offended me (although it was indeed too strong) but rather the texture.

So next time I make it, I'll just leave that part out.

This cheese was on display and I took a bite. I liked it so much I grabbed the package without looking at the name. At home, right before slicing it up, I studied it a little closer... Murcia al vino? I looked at the label: goat cheese from Murcia, Spain, submerged in red wine for days. Wait a second... this is Drunken Goat!

Whatever, it's still delicious.


Since we're on the subject of me not being observant, here's another one. I saw Santa Maria Peppercorn Chicken and for some reason thought it was only chicken breasts. I cannot remember why. Maybe they were mislabled? Unlikely. Maybe I had breasts on my mind? Possibly. Maybe the piece I saw through the packaging was a breast and I assumed they all were? Most likely.

At any rate, when I unwrapped the package in preparation to grill them pieces, I realized they were several different cuts. This sucked for a couple of reasons: whole pieces take longer to grill than just breasts, and I don't really like dark meat chicken. Oh well.

Once the meat was cooked (about 25 minutes on the indoor grill) I cut away the parts I wanted. It was good. The marinade was extremely salty - this should not be a surprise to anyone who has had Santa Maria seasoning before, including me, but it was even saltier than I anticipated. Even if the pieces were all breasts, I would not get this again.  


More frozen vegetables, once again simple to cook and once again delicious. My two favorite vegetables are broccoli and water chestnuts, and both are here. There are also sugar snap peas, bell peppers and carrots, three other things I love. True, there is baby corn, which creeps me out, but I just give that to Elizabeth. (She hates water chestnuts, so it's an easy trade.) Apparently this has been around for years and it's only recently that I've noticed it. I plan to eat it until it disappears.


I went back through the ten previous Trader Joe's posts and was surprised to find that I had not written about the chicken egg rolls before. I have been eating them for many years. Full of chicken and veggies, you can bake them in the oven, but they almost always - I mean at least 90% of the time - turn into mush that way. So I quickly fry them in a pan. They are good with duck sauce but even better with hot mustard. I usually keep a package in the freezer; when I can't decide what I feel like, two of these hit the spot.

This salad was a disappointment - just lettuce and chicken with flavorless walnuts and rice noodles. The label calls the dressing "to die for" but I could not detect any real flavor in it. I actually used a lime-basil salad dressing from my fridge for most of the salad, which made it better, but not good. I would never get this again.


I bought these marinated cod fillets once before - they are frozen and I let them thaw in the fridge overnight, then something came up the next two days and I wasn't able to have them. I did not want to take a chance so I threw them out. This time, I made sure to eat them, and I'm glad I did.

I cooked the defrosted fish fillets in a covered pan for only three minutes per side then let them rest. I decided to make tacos but first took a bite. Wow. I don't often cook fish, it's not one of my favorite proteins, but this was probably the best fish I have ever cooked at home.

I placed pieces of fish on tortillas with broccoli slaw. I had prepared a soy-mustard sauce to eat with the tacos but it wasn't necessary. This fish was so tender and flavorful it was fine as is. Of course, I didn't want the sauce to go to waste, so I added it to one of the tacos. Good, but the plain fish taco was better.

I have already thought of at least three different things I would like to make with this fish. I will buy it again, probably this week.

Most of the time these days, when I'm in the mood for meat, I go to a local butcher shop that I have fallen in love with. But one incredibly hot and humid day, I didn't feel like walking that far, and I was already in the cool air conditioning of Trader Joe's. I saw these slider patties and thought Hell, that'll work.

I grilled the patties for three minutes on each side, melting some goat cheese on top, and placed them on mini buns with lettuce. They certainly weren't as good as the ones I get at the butcher shop, but I don't think I'm telling you anything you don't already know. You could do a lot worse, and if I'm ever shopping on another brutally hot day and these are the most convenient slider patties, I will buy them again. But that's the only situation I will get them again.


Bekah said...

I know you know I love these TJ posts. Thanks!

And pretzel country? WTH.

JustinM said...

I know you do - and you're actually kind of responsible for this one. When you left a comment the other day it reminded me that I have a whole bunch of Trader Joe's stuff that I could write about. So I put it together yesterday.

Anonymous said...

pp- the harvest thing you just cooked plain in a pan? no oil? no butter? no salt? no lemon squeeze?

JustinM said...

Correct. I add olive oil (or sometimes butter) to fresh veggies, but when frozen they have plenty of ice, so I let the ice melt and they can steam in a small pot. I added pepper afterwards, no salt.

Jai said...

Pretzel country is centered around the Lancaster area and outward:
Hammond's Pretzel, National Pretzel, Immergut Hand Rolled, Julius Sturgis Pretzel, Intercourse Pretzel, Martin's Hard Pretzel, Uncle Jerry's Pretzels, H. K. Anderson Pretzels, Bavarian Pretzel Bakery, Philly Pretzel Factory, Revonah Pretzel, Bickel's aka Wege, Synder's of Hanover, Herr's, Utz, Gettysburg Pretzel. (I think I'm missing a few)
If you plan it right, you could tour the Intercourse Pretzel Factory, Herr's, Martin's Potato Chips, Snyder's, Turkey Hill Experience (the ice cream people), Hershey and Crayola in a 3 day weekend.

Jim M said...

Trader Joe's just opened a location in Knoxville, TN. Looking forward to my first trip there. My oldest daughter has been missing TJ ever since she got back from Cali. She peeked my interest in the store.

JustinM said...

Jai Thanks for the info.

Jim M Cool, I hope you like it. Hopefully your daughter can share some tips with you, too.

Jessica said...

I'm pretty sure you know I love these posts as much as Bekah!! Thank you for the TJ post. I know you haven't been a huge fan since moving east. Btw, what makes that a "Pacific salad"??? I'm from the Pacific NW. I was thinking it might involve seafood. Were they going for Pacific Islander with rice noodles? Thing that make you go hmmm...

JustinM said...

Well, I still get the frozen pizzas and the carnitas all the time, but you guys have seen those enough so I don't post photos. But the salads and wraps just aren't fresh here. And if you do get one fresh, you have to eat it within 24 hours or it spoils. So the days of me going to TJ's and getting four or five refrigerated things for Liz and I to eat for lunch during the week are over.

Bekah said...

Well thanks again!
And I'm using your pan method for cooking the egg rolls next time.They look perfect. I hate pulling out the deep fryer, and you are correct that the oven turns them to mush. I've experimented with spraying them with Pam before entering the oven, but it's still not the same.

As I'm also in the Pacific NW, I'm also wondering about the Pacific salad. Odd.

Mike N. said...

I guess Pretzel County is kind of like Flavor Country, but with less nicotine.

Harvin said...

I was just eyeing the cod fillets, but I've been told that frozen fish always has a little "fishy" taste, despite how much you cook it. Please share your other dining ideas with these fillets, as I think I might pick them up now.

Also - thanks for the pan frying tip on the egg rolls. I've just been putting up with the mushiness from baking and hadn't considered your method.

JustinM said...

Hi Harvin. I think the seasoning on this fish compensates for any perceived fishy odor/taste.

I was also thinking I might buy a package, defrost them, slice them into chunks, toss them in a beer batter, and fry them up.

Anonymous said...

Next time put the lemongrass in a bit of cheese cloth so it can be easily removed. Usually when making thom yum soup the lemongrass is strained out anyways, as you aren't really supposed to eat it (as I am sure you learned- it is like eating sticks).

JustinM said...

Good tip, but I'm really lazy.