I heart Trader Joe’s : Review of some TJ’s buys

IMG_0760It’s no secret that Trader Joe’s holds a special place in my heart. Since we got our first a couple years ago, my boyfriend and I end up making a trip every couple months. Without fail, we drop $25 on delicious, delicious goodies.

A few things we’ve picked up recently:

Matcha Green Tea Latte ($3.99 for 8oz) – Matcha is somewhat hard to find in town, so I was thrilled to pick this up. It includes cane sugar, coconut oil, milk powder, flavorings/preservatives and wheat flour (?) in addition to matcha, so it’s definitely a latte. It’s got a nice, creamy texture and despite the sugar, it still has a pleasant tea bitterness. It recommends using a LOT of the product–3 tablespoons per a six ounce cup–but I find that it actually takes a bit less.

Pumpkin Waffles (eight for $1.99) – These surprised me. I usually like the texture of freezer waffles, and this had a nice crunch, but they reminded me more of a wheat waffle than a pumpkin one. There was a bit of pumpkin pie spice that was really pleasant and not at all overwhelming. I’d buy them again for sure, but I don’t feel like I got even a whiff of pumpkin flavour.

Pound Plus 72% Dark Chocolate ($5 for 17 oz) – We loved this. We thought we might cook with it, but we just ate it in chunks, instead. We’re super aware that we should probably be ashamed, but we don’t even care. This was just bitter enough with just enough bite.

Chicken Cilantro Mini Wontons ($3ish) – These were bits of chicken and cilantro in a wonton with a little gyoza sauce. These didn’t blow me away, but I did end up eating a few. I just felt like they needed a bit more punch. Honestly, the chicken was just kind of there. I would’ve preferred pork.

Stir Fried Vegetable Rolls ($3.99 for 15 oz) – Confession? I don’t much care for vegetable/egg/whatever rolls. My boyfriend loves them, and hated these. The outside got crispy while the inside was an vague, blorpy mess.

Spicy Thai Fried Rice – My boyfriend loved this, but I had some reservations. The rice comes with a pack of big, plump shrimp, which were 100% delicious. The rice felt a little off-balance for me, with some flavour that was just way too out there (I think I’m going to blame the Thai lime leaf). The overall texture was great, though.


Trader Joe’s Hack: Corn Salsa

I love salsa.  It’s one of my Desert Island foods.  Living the rest of my life without salsa would be unthinkable.  It’s where a lot of the vegetable matter in my diet comes from, honestly–I hate tomatoes in a lot of forms, but love it in salsa.

I love my salsa to have a little heat, but I love it when there’s a nibble of sweetness in there.  So I love it when salsa has corn in it.  It’s the perfect little stir-in!  It adds an interesting bit of texture and balances out some of the heat I love so dearly.

On the flip side, a food I quite simply hate is beans.  I can’t stand them, and I won’t abide them in my beloved salsa.  So of course it’s the case that any time a commercial salsa adds in corn, they also chuck in beans.  So not cool.

Enter Trader Joe’s Tomato-Less Corn and Chile Salsa ($2.49, 13.75oz).  It’s just corn, onions, chiles, spices and love in a jar.  I knew it wouldn’t be enough for me on its own–there’s too much sweet to the light heat.  BUT mixed with a cheap jarred tomato salsa?  Perfecto! I can stir in as much of the corn salsa as I want, dialing in sweet to heat.

Why not add plain corn to jarred salsa?  Good question–by preserving the corn, some of its sweetness is actually cut and the kernels are a bit softer.  The TJ’s corn salsa also offers more chunks of peppers and onions, as well as some spice.  The most important property, though, is that I can store it in my fridge as long as the salsa, ready for late night snacking, any time.  The storage recommendation for salsa in the fridge is a month, so I feel like it’s a little more sensible than keeping around ears of corn on the hope that I’ll want salsa.

But speaking of corn-based salsa, here’s a recipe for Chipotle’s corn salsa.  I’ll be making this soon, and I think you should, too!

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.

Trader Joe’s Review: Pumpkin Macarons

Holy wuuuuuuut.

Trader Joe’s pumpkin macarons are incredible.  They’re only at Trader Joe’s for a limited time, so snatch them up and hoard them like some sort of pastry dragon.

The shells have the perfect balance of crust and meringue.  The filling is a fluffy, whipped cream that’s heavy with pumpkin spice.  They’re pretty much everything I wish pumpkin pie was–no dry crust, no weird gelatinous texture.  (I love pumpkin pie, but if you REALLY think about it, the texture is pretty weird.)

Anyway, go grab ’em.  They’re significantly better than the chocolate and vanilla ones.  Still $4.99 a dozen here.

Trader Joe’s Macarons

I’m a bit late to the Trader Joe’s game, mostly because my city is a bit late to the Trader Joe’s game.  We just got our first.  We’ve been by once before, but the aisles were so packed with people, I couldn’t even attempt to browse the freezers.

For those unfamiliar, Trader Joe’s is the big brother chain to Aldi.  Very similar setup, but with far more panache.  Trader Joe’s has its own line of products, all with delightful packaging.  Goods are displayed in open coolers and shelves to maximize space.  Our Trader Joe’s feels pretty small (much like our Aldi–I expected something much bigger) but packed with little delights.  From Speculoos spread to craft beers to organic produce, it’s a pretty nice little market.

I’m not as obsessed with macarons as everyone else seems to be, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get the hype.  They’re delightful, they’re adorable, they’re delicious.  So when I found out sometime last year that Trader Joe’s had a frozen macaron, I was pretty sad that I had no access to a Trader Joe’s.  Well now I do.

Trader Joe’s maracons come in a package of 12 for $4.99, which sounds pricey for anyone who’s seen a macaron, but never seen one priced out in an actual bakery.  They only offer a box of 6 vanilla and 6 chocolate; I really wish they had some other flavor options.

The macarons have a very solid, smooth, shiny crust and beautiful feet.  The package I picked up held twelve perfect specimens–no smashed ones or torn bits.  They come in a tray that separates them and offers structural support to keep them safe.

The chocolate macarons have a delightful brownie flavor.  Unfortunately, the cookie was more like a bread than a meringue; it was full of air pockets and very chewy.  It left my mouth pretty dry.  The ganache was creamy and lovely, though.

The vanilla flavor is much more pleasant than, but still very reminiscent of, tasting pure vanilla extract.  They meringue is much better, very creamy and smooth.  The interior was almost homogeneous once you got past the nice crust.

All together?  A nice snack.  If you’re looking for Laduree quality, uh… LOL.  But if you’re like me, hundreds of miles from any bakery that might even contain a macaron, you’ll be glad you stopped by Trader Joe’s.