Trader Joe’s Review: Saag Paneer, Lamb Vindaloo, Lava Cakes, Chicken Enchiladas

First, let me start by saying… freezer food makes me sad.  I don’t like eating out of a freezer.  It makes me feel like some sort of sad latchkey kid.  I think that’s the echoes of my college days, scrounging together microwaved soy patties and mustard for lunch.

And usually, the results are even more depressing.  Smelly, mushy, unevenly-heated… don’t even get me started on the vague pickled sensation my tongue gets after loads of sodium like that.

But lately, the chef of the house has had a horrific case of eczema that’s put his hands outta commission   So freezer food has been an awesome convenience.

And Trader Joe’s freezer food doesn’t feel as sad.  It’s got a brightness to it that you just don’t find in most stuff.  We gravitate toward exotic stuff we can’t find in our regular grocer’s freezers.  Things that are supposed to be crispy end up crispy.  That’s like a miracle.

Shopping at Trader Joe’s makes me feel kind of bougie.  Because, c’mon, it’s Yuppietown.  But I just can’t deny the delish, so I carry on.

$6-ish Saag Paneer: This was a bit less saucy than I’ve seen at Indian restaurants, but I think I like the lack of gravy.  The spinach was finely chopped and it gave it a really nice, thick texture that was great for scooping up on the garlic naan we’d previously gotten at TJ’s (which are a definite buy if, like me, you can’t keep fresh naan.  It bakes up a bit more crispy than I like, though.)  There weren’t a lot of chunks of paneer, but the overall flavor and spice level was great.  The overall portion was comparable to what I’ve seen at Indian restaurants, but much smaller and fewer chunks of paneer.

$6-ish Lamb Vindaloo: This came in a tray with a bit of basmati rice.  The rice was very flavorful and wonderful for a baked frozen entree–I got very few pieces that were hard.  There weren’t a lot of pieces of lamb, but it was very tender; I didn’t detect any gristle.  The curry was delicious with a nice bit of heat.  There was a slight funkiness to the sauce, but I really enjoyed this dish.  The portion was a lot smaller than I’m used to getting at Indian restaurants, but plenty for a meal without ending up overfull and sleepy (which is how I ALWAYS feel after an Indian restaurant meal.)   Also significantly less pricey than an Indian restaurant meal around here.

$2-ish Chocolate Lava Cakes: OMG awesome.  Two per package.  These might seem a little on the small side, like a brownie hockey puck in a darling black plastic cup.  They’re the perfect size; anything larger would be unfinishable.  The cake is like a rich, dense, moist, cakey brownie.  There wasn’t a ton of lava in my cake, but again, anything more probably would’ve been hard to finish.  With a scoop of ice cream, one cake would be an amazing dessert for two.  It made me want a cup of coffee.  For a little over a dollar apiece, I honestly don’t know how these could be better.

$2-ish Chicken Enchiladas: I haven’t tried these yet, but my boyfriend reports that they’re awesome.  He says the texture of the chicken is wonderful and it reminds him of something that was handmade.  I’ve had bad experiences with frozen enchiladas before, so I didn’t have high hopes.  Two in a package.

Other things we’ve had that I don’t believe I’ve mentioned?

Pork Gyoza: These are great!  A lovely taste and texture from the freezer to the stove/microwave (full disclosure: my skillet was too small, so I browned them a bit in my skillet then nuked ’em.  STILL an awesome texture.)  They did need a sauce.  We used…

Orange Chicken: This came as a bag of fried chicken to bake and a little packet of sauce to nuke.  The chicken baked up nicely and had a great texture and smell that reminded me of takeout.  The sauce was good, but not as orangey or sweet as some I’ve had.  On the chicken, it was lovely.  The sauce never quite penetrated the chicken the way takeout does, but it was still tasty.  The quantity was like two takeout containers and much cheaper than that.