Friday, June 1, 2012

Trader Joe's In 2012

How about a large rundown of all the new Trader Joe's items I've tried in 2012, from Pasadena to Brooklyn?


I like pretzels and I love honey mustard and onion, so I had to give these a try. I really liked the flavor although a few of the pieces were stale and the flavored powder coated my fingers even stronger than Cheetos. In my memory these things were really high in calories, too, but to be honest I don't remember.

I would have no problem eating these again, but I don't know if I actually will.

I had some friends over one night back in South Pasadena and we brought out four kinds of cheese from Trader Joe's. This asiago was fine, although the scent of rosemary was much stronger than the taste.

This triple cream Delice de Bourgogne was the hit of the evening; incredibly creamy and soft, perfect for topping grilled crostini. (Elizabeth just saw me writing about it and said "I loved that cheese!")

The old English cheddar was my second-favorite of the four. The cheese was unmistakably cheddar-y, but tinged with a bit of smoke and best enjoyed by itself.

The cheddar and Gruyere didn't really do it for me: instead of tasting like both, I thought it tasted like neither. Of course I still ate it. It's still cheese. But this is the only one of the three that I won't be purchasing again.

The Kingdom of Bavaria existed for 100 years, mostly in the 19th century, before it became the Free State of Bavaria. During that time, Neuschwanstein Castle was built. I would like to go there one day.

This Bavarian sausage - the package claims it comes from a German supplier - was fully cooked and all pork. I heated it in a pan for five minutes to brown it up, then ate a few of the links with chipotle mustard and Chinese hot mustard. I certainly enjoyed them, they weren't too fatty, but I did not find anything special about them. I would get them again, but only if I think about it. Which I probably won't. Regular sausage links from the store are just as good.

I bought the shrimp with spicy green curry and jasmine rice for Elizabeth to take to work with her, but it sat in our freezer for at least a month. Maybe two. So finally I ate it. I can't remember any time I have ever enjoyed microwaved shrimp, and this time was no exception. I really liked the curry sauce - it had a surprising amount of bite to it for a TJ's item - and the jasmine rice was good, but I just did not enjoy the shrimp.

My friend Rob sent me a text one night that he was drinking Trader Joe's cabernet out of a bag. So I invited him over the next night to bring a bag and hang out on the patio. I was surprised; it was actually quite good. It didn't blow me away, but for a twelve-dollar bag that holds two bottles, I have no complaints.

I really like kimchi, but I've never eaten it out of a vacuum-sealed package. I was prepared to hate this. But I didn't. Now, I didn't really like it; I really wish there had been more vegetables. This was almost exclusively cabbage. But I liked the extreme vinegar taste. (I did not eat the whole package, though, I had perhaps half and never got around to finishing it.)

"You're not seriously going to eat that, are you?" asked Elizabeth.

"Sure, I'll give it a try," I replied. "Why not?"

"Because it's fake chicken," she answered.

I understood where she was coming from but I was still willing to give it a try. (Years ago I used to eat TJ's soy corn dogs pretty regularly.) The chickenless chicken cooked in the oven in about 25 minutes. While it was cooking, I tasted the sauce and found it to be much too sweet. Almost syrup-like. So I added a few slugs of hot sauce and some cilantro.

When the product was finished... well, I don't even know what to say. I didn't like it. I didn't dislike it. It was just a soy-based dish; the only flavor came from the sauce. If I were vegan, I imagine this would be something I would eat at least once a week. But I'm not. So I don't see any reason to ever get it again. But I'm glad I tried it.

Once more with a kimchi item, this time the kimchi rice. Now this I liked a LOT more than the regular kimchi. Other than the Argentinean and jasmine rices, this is my favorite rice I have ever had from TJ's. I definitely plan to get more of this. 

And now we're in Brooklyn. Here's the Trader Joe's closest to me: housed in an big ol' former bank. It's not a bad TJ's, but I won't say it's really a good one. It's very crowded. Frequently they are out of items I want. Most of their salads already have the lettuce turning brown. And sometimes the line takes more than 20 minutes.

But the prices are still good and the employees are, without any question, the most helpful of any place I have yet encountered in Brooklyn.

All of the following things I have tried here. A couple of them I had seen before, but most I had not. I don't know if that means they are specific to this region or it's just a coincidence and they are available out West and I just never saw them.

A year or two ago I wrote about TJ's caramelized onion dip. When I saw a similar-looking container featuring "Bacon Cheddar Ranch"... well, obviously I grabbed it right away. I didn't really taste a lot of bacon in it, the dominant flavor was the cheddar, but I still liked it. I don't know if I see it having the versatility of the caramelized onion dip - that stuff goes on burgers and as a component of dressings - but it's still decent. I may buy a container if I'm having people over (well, if I ever make friends here) but I don't know as if I will buy any more of this just for myself.

The Mini Cheddar Chipotle Potato Bites got me excited. Elizabeth always says that I'm a sucker for anything labeled chipotle. And she's mostly right. I've been a chipotle fan for a long time, since long before fast food joints starting selling items with the word, since before Tabasco was making a chipotle sauce, even before Bobby Flay started putting chipotles in everything he made.

I cooked the box in the oven one night and we split them as an appetizer. I liked them. I will probably get them again. But I didn't really taste any chipotle. I tasted the potato quite strongly - despite their miniature size, these potato bites pack more potato flavor than many restaurant skins twice their size - and I tasted the cheese and even sour cream. But I have no idea where the hell the chipotle flavor was.

Luckily I have chipotle-flavored hot sauce so I was able to douse them.

I do enjoy a corn dog from time to time, so seeing turkey corn dogs - presumably those are healthier - inspired me to grab a package. There are instructions for pan frying and baking and I chose the latter. It took about twenty minutes but the batter still tasted like it had been fried. I really liked them. True, it tasted like almost every other oven-baked corn dog I have ever had, but that's not really a bad thing.

I enjoyed them with habanero mustard and Sir Kensington's Gourmet Scooping Ketchup. Simultaneously, in some bites.

I was really hungry one day so I cooked these vegetable pakoras, then took a bite as soon as they came out of the oven. They were so delicious that I ate them all without even thinking about taking a picture of the finished product. My bad. But they were really good.

There are very few of the Trader Joe's wraps that I enjoy. I almost always get tortillas that are old and slimy, enveloping contents that are too cold, sometimes frozen in the center, and devoid of much flavor. But I saw this wrap with turkey, Swiss and spinach. Those are three of my favorite flavors so I figured why not? It turns out this was one of my three favorite wraps I have ever had from TJ's. I bought one for Elizabeth to take to work with her a couple of days later and she agreed that it was really good.

I really wasn't sure how this was going to go. Getting lobster bisque from any market usually seems like a dicey proposition to me. I warmed it up in a pan for five minutes and served it with sliced bread. It was delicious. This is another product that I plan to continuously purchase once the weather gets cooler.

I thought a shrimp spring roll sounded good on a very hot day. I bought it and walked the 7 blocks home. It was cold, I will give it that, but when I tried to pick up one roll it immediately fell apart, exposing several pieces of lettuce that had turned brown and red. A shrimp fell out, too, and I ate it - it was okay. But this thing was impossible to eat, just a giant mess. I'm not sure I've ever purchased something from Trader Joe's that I hated as much as this.


"My father said he saw him years later playing in a tenth-rate commercial league in a textile town in Carolina, wearing shoes and an assumed name. He'd put on fifty pounds and the spring was gone from his step in the outfield, but he could still hit. Oh, how that man could hit."

Well, why not try a new pizza, even if it is covered with chopped tomatoes? The funny thing is, I didn't really mind the tomatoes - after I'd picked off about half of them. But the crust was terrible, it reminded me of that flavorless Pizza Hut crust I loathe. And the basil pesto sauce was just not good. I cannot think of a Trader Joe's pizza, either refrigerated or frozen, that I dislike as much as this one.


Years ago I used to use Trader Joe's simmer sauces pretty frequently: masala, korma, and curry. I would slow-cook chicken breasts for hours in the sauces and serve them over rice. And then I stopped, for reasons I do not remember. (It's possible they got discontinued or they just ran out and I forgot about them.)

When I saw these chicken tenders in curry sauce I was reminded of those old meals. I can't say that the chicken packed in a vacuum-sealed pouch looked appetizing, but I figured I'd give it a shot. I baked them in the oven for 20 minutes and served them with broccoli.

They were delicious. A little salty, perhaps, but much tastier than I thought they would be.

That's it for this round of TJ's products. There will be more again someday. I hope you have a nice weekend.


Emily said...

That was an amazing post. I can imagine your delight when you rediscovered the Piadina. Plus, Neuschwanstein is well worth a visit. And whilst you're in Europe, swing by Scotland and say hi.

JustinM said...

"The problem with Scotland is that it's full of Scots!"

Fritos and Foie Gras said...

I love those little pretzel bites! PS, I feel like you would make some kick ass potato skins, if you are still taking requests...

JustinM said...

Your command is my wish, Fritos. I will attempt potato skins soon.

Matt T said...

Those Turkey Corn Dogs are amazing when deep fried.

JustinM said...

I still have two left, so I will try them that way.

Bryce said...

Yeah, have never seen Kimchi in a bag, much less with an expiration date! haha... Koreans like their kimchi extra funky. It should say "Best After..." instead of "Best Before..."

JustinM said...

I'm down with the extra funk... I just would have like more to it than large leafs of cabbage. Maybe I'll try it again and run the whole thing through my food prep to get it like I want it.

Nosh Gnostic said...

Sweet. You helped me make my shopping list.
I will try the 4 cheese flatbread pizza - if it conjured up a quote from Shoeless Joe it must be excellent.
Maybe Shoeless was related to Trader?

JustinM said...

"Evidently Mr. Ringo's an educated man. Now I really hate him."

mindful mule said...

I love those honey mustard onion pretzels!

Banana Wonder said...

Legendary! I love your TJ's reviews. I need to get on that triple cream cheese biznass. GTK about the spring rolls too, that would be something I would get.

JustinM said...

Thanks Banana. You never know about the spring rolls - if they put them together on the West Coast maybe they'll be much fresher in your neck of the woods.

A. Trofka said...

Kimchi in a bag is pretty common in Korea, and it's usually almost as good as homemade. I'd be skeptical about TJ's, though.

Here's a pop song about kimchi fried rice—at around 0:30 he says that he wants to marry a woman who knows how to cook it:

Unknown said...

We like most every one of the prepared foods offered by TJ's, but we had the curry chicken tenders last night and they were terrible. Over-seasoned, heavily flavored with a very strong and bitter curry sauce. We love Indian food and we are no strangers to the unusual spices and combinations (in fact my wife frequently cooks Indian after attending some classes). But none of the family could stomach these. I mean they were completely inedible. Maybe we had a bad batch; maybe they shouldn't be sitting in the sauce in the package for so long. Whatever it is, I'm heading back to the store today to get a refund.

JustinM said...

MIchael I bet my chicken was the aberration, not yours. I no longer buy any raw meats at TJ's - these days they just are too lousy 90% of the time. I still get frozen pizzas and some frozen snacks, but my TJ's shopping has dropped by at least half, maybe more.