Friday, June 24, 2011

Another Trader Joe's Spectacular

Several weeks ago I did a rundown of a few Trader Joe's products. It turned out to be a very popular post. I go to Trader Joe's at least once a week and am constantly trying items that are either new or I have not tried before. Here are some more of them. 

(This was inspired by a quote my friend Tracie gave the other night during our Summer Solstice pizza party: "If I can't live in Tuscany or the South of France, I refuse to live more than ten minutes from a Trader Joe's.")

If you don't like onion, stay far away from this one. But if, like me, you can't get enough of the taste of caramelized onion, you will love this. It's a sour cream-based dip absolutely screaming with onion flavor. The Trader Joe's employee at the checkout suggested I spread this on a burger. As usual, I want to push it even further: I was thinking of adding this and Zankou sauce to a burger. The flavors would be intense, to say the least.

In the above picture I am eating the dip with Ruffles, but my preferred vehicle for delivering the dip to my mouth is TJ's pretzel slims. The saltiness and crispiness of the pretzel crackers plays beautifully against the creamy, smooth onion taste.

There are not many better snacks than TJ's mini chicken tacos. I used to eat them all the time with Taco Lita hot sauce; lately I experiment with them in different ways. This most recent time I fried them quickly in a pan of canola oil - I usually bake them in the oven but I had a small pan of oil still on the stove from the previous night - and placed them on a plate with a dollop of sour cream in the corner and a few drizzles of salsa verde and Tapatio. 

There isn't a whole lot of texture to the interior of these tacos - it's kind of a paste - but it definitely tastes like a chicken taco. It would take too many of these to constitute a full meal, probably at least a dozen, and eating that many might get boring. But cooking up four or five as a snack? Awesome.

For as much as I love Trader Joe's, I've never been a big fan of their salads. They always have an expiration date four or five days in the future, but I've found you pretty much have to eat them within a day before there is a noticeable decline in quality. This isn't really a complaint - I mean, they're fresh salads, they should spoil after a few days - but, since I usually only hit up TJ's once a week, I tend to not buy many salads.

But sometimes I do get salads - often I will get one or two for Elizabeth to take to work with her, and sometimes she chooses not to and I eat them - and the citrus chicken salad is one of my favorites. It has several ingredients, including green papaya and daikon. The citrus dressing is quite nice - tangy and sweet. 

Like I wrote, I don't love these salads, but every once in a (great) while I don't feel like eating anything deep-fried, and this is a nice alternative.

I had high hopes for this one, but unfortunately I have to put it in the "disappointing" category. The dressing was great, I will say that. And the chicken and lettuce were both relatively fresh. But there was hardly any of it. One half of the wrap contained two tiny pieces of chicken. The other half had more, but still not very much. It was $3.99, which can hardly be called "expensive," but with the measly amount of ingredients, it was not a good deal.

There are very few things I enjoy eating more than a Reuben sandwich, so I though this one would be a no-brainer: pastrami, sauerkraut, cheese and pickles. It sounded great. It was not. I'm tempted to say the main problem was the kraut, that the stinky, stringy cabbage ruined the wrap. And indeed that was the biggest offender, but overall I think each of the ingredients was only average, and when all thrown together it created a well below-average product.

And that's before we come to the nutrition. As you can probably guess if you have checked out this blog for more than a week, nutrition always takes a backseat to taste for me. But I have to point out the numbers here because they blew me away: 780 calories and 46 grams of fat. For a wrap! A Burger King Whopper "only" contains 670 calories and 40 grams of fat.

I won't be eating one of these ever again. (That evening, when Tracie was at my place flipping through the photos in my camera, she came across the above picture of the unfurled wrap and shrieked "Eww, what is that?" I explained it was my lunch. She was not impressed.)

On a recent TJ's trip, either I or Elizabeth suggested we try the beef & green chile burrito. I honestly don't remember which one of us picked it out. There are instructions on the label: microwave it for four minutes or cook it in the oven for 50. Of course I chose the latter.

There are three main ingredients here: the beef, the seasoned rice, and the green chile. All three of them were delicious but my favorite was the green chile. Elizabeth said these would be even better with cheese but I disagree. I liked it just fine as is, although for my last few bites I added some Pico Pica hot sauce.

I plan to try these again. I wish they didn't take so long to cook, but I guess I should just learn to plan my life at least 50 minutes in advance.

I've created something of a monster. For two years Elizabeth never wanted to try carnitas, but eventually she did and realized that fried little pieces of pork are her friend. Now she wants it all the time. So when she saw the carnitas at Trader Joe's, she definitely wanted it. I eschewed the microwaving instructions and braised the carnitas in a bit of beer for twenty minutes.

It didn't fall apart but with just a little pressure it crumbled. I removed the layer of fat and diced up the larger pieces into small bits.

Elizabeth had her carnitas on pita bread with sauteed onions, cilantro and a little bit of cheese.

I heated some vinegar sauce and mixed in my portion of the carnitas, then spooned them onto potato buns. They were fantastic.

Of all the products from Trader Joe's that I have loved and lost over the years - vegetable bird's nests, goat cheese empenadas, wasabi mayo, creme brulee, Asian Style Chicken for lettuce wraps - there is one that stands above the rest: chimichurri sauce. It was the best I have ever had, full of garlic and parsley. I could drink it with a spoon. And I'm amongst friends here so I have no problem admitting that, on occasion, I actually did.

"You know, when you get old, in life, things get taken from you. I mean, that's... that's... that's a part of life. But, you only learn that when you start losin' stuff."

I've tried to replicate that sauce from memory, but it's no use. So when I saw TJ's was selling a "Peruvian style" chimichurri rice, there was no doubt I had to try it. Maybe it would contain a faint trace of that chimichurri taste from years ago.

A few minutes in a covered wok and it was hot. And it was delicious, too. There were more chunks of tomatoes than I would have preferred, but they were barely noticeable mixed in with the peas, shallots, garlic and ginger. And the peppers, cilantro and lime provided a great spice - not too hot but definitely noticeable. Did it remind me of the chimchurri sauce that I loved? No. But it was still very tasty.

Finally I will close with a shot of Elizabeth's new flowers, also from Trader Joe's:


Fritos and Foie Gras said...

LOVE these reviews! I now have an idea of what I am picking up on my next TJ run!!! That caramelized onion dip sounds right up my alley. Onion dip is my true love.

Jessica said...

Thanks for these reviews! I've wondered about several of these products (I almost bought that reuben wrap last time I was there). Have you tried their marinated tri-tip? Next time you're there check out the kobe burgers. I knew that they would have a higher fat/calorie content but HOLY CRAP they should come with a warning label.

JustinM said...

Fritos: Definitely check it out. I would love to see you come up with a recipe using it. Not to mention sing an ode to it.

Jessica: I have tried it before; like all of their marinated meats I have tried, it was much too salty. I don't ever buy beef from TJ's any more. And yep, I've seen the info on the Kobe burgers. I didn't have any desire to try frozen patties before I saw that each one has 56 grams of fat... so I certainly didn't have any desire afterwards.

Anonymous said...

The T.J.s carnitas are a little bit better for you because the pork is roasted and not deep fried.
I tried the wrap a few weeks ago but i warmed it up in a pan to melt the cheese and toast the outside.

JustinM said...

Please don't let Elizabeth know or she might ask me to fry the pieces for her.

Liz said...

Too late! I found out!! I really like their carnitas though. It's pretty tasty for being pre-packaged. And those peonies were glorious.

Michelle said...

What do you think of the orange chicken?

JeniEats said...

omg those vegetable birds nests are gone? those were the S$##!

JustinM said...

Liz: D'oh!

Michelle: I've written of that before - you can enter search terms in the upper left corner. I find it merely average - too much dark meat and too many tough, inedible pieces. The tempura chicken is much better.

Jen: Well, it's been gone for months from the two TJ's I go to: South Pasadena and Pasadena Hastings Ranch. I guess it's possible it's still at others.

TJM said...

My new favorites from there are the Pizza Parlanno and the frozen mac n' cheese. Although, I seem to get a stomach ache every time I eat the frozen macaroni.

I was curious if you and/or your readers have a food that you have trouble saying "no" to eating but seem to get ill every time you eat it?

JustinM said...

I love the Pizza Parlanno! I remember back when it was called the Pizza Palermo until Trader Joe's got sued and had to change the name.

Yes, actually, I do: back when I used to hang out at a certain bar in Old Town (anyone who knows me knows exactly where I'm talking about), you could only get two different games on the TVs. Sometimes - like, say, March Madness - there would be multiple games my friends and I wanted to watch. This was before Barney's Beanery or 72N, so where did we go? That's right: Hooters. And I would inevitably get hungry and order boneless wings. And every single time I would get an upset stomach. I have a pretty iron stomach, it almost never gets upset, but Hooters wings never failed to cause me pain.

Anonymous said...

ima def try sum of deez, pp. i love TJs, but sometimes, theres almost too much good stuff. paralysis by analysis or whatevs. and i get frustrated! i mean i could drop $100+, but im only feeding me, and thats way too much food. n e wayz.

JustinM said...

For my brother's 30th birthday party, we went to TJ's (which, BTW, are his first two initials and what I sometimes call him) and bought lots of appetizers, accoutrements for the sausages I cooked, and plenty of beer and wine for a party of 30+ people. That is the only time I have ever been over $100 at TJ's - and even then he was the one who paid for it.

Another jewel from Tracie: "Don't ever go shopping at TJ's when you're hungry. You buy way too much stuff."

MIkey said...

I love the long Friday posts - it takes more time and the weekend arrives quicker.

Nosh Gnostic said...

The frozen four cheese Mac 'n' Cheese comes highly recommended by my daughter (a picky eater). I'm not a fan of this particular thing but I will try the TJ's version...never know.

Also, I bought a non-marinated Tri-Tip from TJ's last week which turned out to be inedible. Cooked it to med-rare but it was super chewy and tough. It has to be chopped into tiny pieces to be consumed. No more TJ's meats for me.

JustinM said...

Years ago, when I lived at my parents' house, I would often cook tri-tip for my dad, who loves it. Well, it won't surprise you to learn that I almost always got them at Taylor's; they were usually just under 20 bucks.

One time I got one at Trader Joe's, just to see how it was - because it was literally less than half the price. It was terrible. No flavor to the meat, stringy and remarkably fatty for tri-tip, and just not enjoyable.

As I have pointed out many times: just because something is cheaper does not mean it is a better value. Leftover Taylor's tri-tip is great: for sandwiches, in breakfast burritos, in quesadillas, even by itself. The leftover TJ's meat? No one even ate it.

Banana Wonder said...

You got me curious about the onion dip...mmm it would be delicious on a burger... love your TJ updates!

JustinM said...

Thanks Banana! Someone emailed me and said I should write about TJ's every Friday... I don't eat that many new TJ's products in a week, I usually stay with what I like... but maybe there is some merit to something like that. I could probably do it at least once a month, maybe even twice.

livininlb said...

I love your blog! I shared the post on my blog - mostly because of the great onion dip description and pictures. It is the best dip EVER. One has to try to believe it.

JustinM said...

Cool! Thanks for the compliment and glad you enjoy the dip. It's so freaking good that... I'm sure TJ's will get rid of it soon.

livininlb said...

Nooooooo....don't even joke about that!! Seriously though, I do know what you mean. It seems like just when you fall in love with product, TJ's discontinues it. :(

JustinM said...

Their goat cheese empanadas and their chimichurri sauce were both the best I have ever had... and both disappeared. And their chicken for lettuce wraps, with the noodles, veggies and that amazing ginger sauce, was awesome. I have said this before but I would sacrifice a digit to have those three things back.