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Showing posts with label Mexican. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mexican. Show all posts

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Trader Joe's Carnitas with Salsa Verde Burrito


Confession time: I was thinking this was a beef burrito when I bought it. You'd think being married to a Latina, I'd know enough Spanish by now to not make that mistake. I've been learning to hablo the español for the past 14 years. I use the Duolingo app now. I have a 932-day streak going, for crying out loud. That means I've studied Spanish for at least 10 minutes a day for 932 days straight!

But here's the thing: in Spanish, "meat" is carne. The most common example is "carne asada," which literally means "grilled meat." It's always beef. Logically, "carnitas" means "little meats" and would just be teeny tiny beef cutlets, right? Nope. Carnitas is pork. I mean, it says it's pork right on the label, but...well, I'm an idiot, and not at all a real foodie.

Sonia and I avoid pork for the most part. I'd get into the reasons, but that would be a whole other can of worms. We're generally not dogmatic about it. It's just not our thing.


Ironically, the pork was by far the best part of this burrito. I mean, it wasn't spicy, which was disappointing. It was flavorful, but not hot. The tender texture and savory taste of the meat was the only saving grace of this product in my opinion.

Salsa verde? There was salsa in this thing? Neither of us saw or tasted anything even remotely resembling salsa verde here. We added our own salsa verde and it did blend quite nicely.

Likewise, neither Sonia nor I tasted or saw any evidence of cilantro, lime, or pepper jack cheese in our burrito. I'm not saying it wasn't there. I'm just saying if it was there, there was so little of it, it was virtually undetectable. We both just got tortilla—which is pretty run-of-the-mill for a Trader Joe's burrito—and pork, rice, and beans.


All in all, the flavor was good but not great. If the heat, cheese, and cilantro lime had shown up the way I'd hoped they would, I might have been able to recommend this wholeheartedly to pork lovers. We opted for 35 minutes in the conventional oven at 350° for a "crisp" tortilla. $3.99 for the burrito. As is, I think we're looking at about two and a half stars from Sonia, three and a half from me on Trader Joe's Carnitas with Salsa Verde Burrito.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Espada Pequeña Mezcal

Like my wife's extended family, mezcal is from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. I haven't been there yet, but it's on my bucket list for sure. Shortly after we married, some of Sonia's cousins gifted me a bottle of authentic mezcal straight from southern Mexico, as well as a milky, creamy beverage made with mezcal. Imagine Bailey's Irish Cream but with mezcal instead of Irish whiskey. Yeah, I wasn't a fan of the creamy stuff, but the straight liquor quickly grew on me.

At first, it felt and tasted very harsh—like tequila but much more intensely smoky. It burned. It almost tasted like it had been set on fire. Over time, though, I got over the intensity and learned to appreciate the complexity of the flavor. There's a subtle earthy bitterness with an even subtler sweetness underneath it. I wish I'd made a note of the name of the brand, but alas, it's been 12 years or so and I no longer remember.

Since that first bottle from Mexico, Sonia and I have tried a few brands we found here in the States. They just weren't the same. There was always smokiness there, but instead of faint agave flavors, they all tasted more like gasoline—harsh burning for the sake of harsh burning.

Like tequila, mezcal is made from the agave plant, although there are apparently dozens of varieties of agave, and certain ones are more commonly used for tequila and others are cultivated specifically for mezcal. In this case, it's made from a plant known as Espadin.

Since that first bottle of mezcal from my cousins-in-law, this is hands down the best version I've tried. It's not as smoky as that first bottle, but there's still a charred essence floating above all those complex planty, tequila-esque flavors. This bottle, too, is from the state of Oaxaca, and yes it is Trader Joe's in-store brand just like Josephsbrau is their own unique brand name for beer.

I prefer it straight, but it does go with certain beverages like ginger beer or hibiscus tea. Thanks also to reader Heather for that great tip about mezcal and sparkling pineapple juice together.

About $21 for the fifth. Two thumbs up and four stars a piece for Espada Pequeña Mezcal Artesanal. Would buy again.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Trader Joe's Layered Beef Tostada


 Fast food cravings are pretty infrequent these days. 

Chick-Fil-A? Maybe once every couple months, and somehow, somewhat ironically, mostly on a random Sunday. Wendy's? About on the same schedule, but also rarely/ The fabled golden arches, or as my four year old likes to say, "Mick-ell-Donnells'? Maybe once a year, if only for a breakfast sando, or if the kids are hangry on a road trip, I'll consider. 

Taco Bell? Practically never...like once a decade...which is a lot more often than Burger King...but anyways....

If I were more of a Taco Bell fiend, I'd likely be more familiar with the "Mexican pizza" that's not on the menu rotation any longer from what I gather, and that the new Trader Joe's Layered Beef Tostada at least somewhat emulates and may serve as a somewhat suitable replacement for. 

Where do we start with this near disaster, though?

First, I guess, the basics. There's a beef and bean paste-like substance sandwiched between two tortillas that serve as the base of this offering. It's bland and nondescript without anything to it. Atop the top tortilla, there's a handful of cheedar cheese, some diced poblanos, sliced black olives and green onions all kinda haphazardly strewn about. It's as sloppy looking as once can imagine.

No matter, bake it up and it'll taste great, right? Well...no. Everything (and I mean everything) is pretty much devoid of anything resembling flavor. It's...so uninspirational. Just tastes like soggy cardboard. Oh, there's the word, soggy. Baked up at 425 for slightly longer than the recommended 18 minutes, it's still a wet, jumbled, not crispy or crunchy anything. It's a soggy jumbled mess. 

How can something go so wrong? Poblanos (or perhaps more aptly, poblandos) just aren't a pepper worth featuring in a dish. In a school play, they'd be a tree, not Snow White or one of the dwarves. And everything else just doesn't have anything to make up the slack. There's no spice, ni pizzazz, no flavor...just bland mush. Which, come to think of it, is exactly how I consider most of my Taco Bell experiences to be, so perhaps this is the perfect pizza to compare them with. 

If I were to ever eat this again, i'd need to bake longer and load up on some salsa or some sauces or something. But more likely than not, I'm just gonna skip it from here on out. 

My lovely bride was a touch more forgiving and said she'd try again as part of a snack or something. But she shared much of the same observations, so good to know it wasn't just me. 

So disappointing. It's an airball that shoulda been a slam dunk. Awful stuff. Just skip it, and hopefully that freezer aisle real estate can be reallocated soon enough to something much more worthwhile. One spoon from me, two from the Mrs.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Layered Beef Tostada: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Trader Joe's Salsa de Cacahuate

The other day I was thinking about how much I loved delicious, spicy salsas and how lucky I was to have married a woman that can make hot southern Mexican dishes for me once in a while. Then my thoughts wandered to peanut butter. There's nothing more American than a good, old-fashioned jar of peanut butter, I mused.

Then I thought...if only I lived in a world where some culinary genius had mixed spicy Mexican salsa with peanut butter. I mentioned my silly daydream to the beautiful wifey, and she informed me that not only did such a substance exist, but that we had actually picked some up on our last Trader Joe's run and there was a jar of it sitting right in our pantry.

I was overjoyed. I asked, "Why didn't you tell me this stuff had peanut butter in it?" She replied, "I thought you knew."

The salsa base is made with guajillo chile peppers. We recently looked at Trader Joe's Guajillo Salsa, and it was a definite thumbs up. I, personally, like this salsa even more. Have I mentioned there's peanut butter in it??


We heated up some shredded chicken and onions on the stove top, added a few spoonfuls of this salsa, and tasted it. Magic. I found myself dumping even more of the salsa on my portion of the chicken. 

It was very similar to a chicken mole dish, but with a brighter, fruitier flavor. There's tomato puree and tomato paste in this salsa and even some lime juice. The spice level is comparable to the above-mentioned guajillo salsa, medium-hot, but it's tempered slightly by the peanut butter.


Sonia definitely enjoyed it, but I think she's a bit more of a guajillo purist than I am. Four stars from her. This peanut butter aficionado gives it a perfect 5 stars, although I should mention it's not the type of salsa I'd gravitate toward for simple chip dipping. Would definitely buy again to cook with shrimp or chicken.

$2.99 for 12 oz.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.


Friday, May 13, 2022

Trader Joe's Guajillo Salsa

In almost 1,750 posts, the only other time the word "guajillo" was ever mentioned on this blog was during a review of chili flavored chocolates. I'm not really familiar with this particular breed of chili pepper, but the beautiful wifey is. She grew up with it. Her mom, in particular, would seek out the actual peppers themselves at markets in Southern California and eat them with her meals.

In the same way that chipotle peppers are the ripened, dried form of jalapeños, guajillos are the dried form of mirasol chilis. With significantly lower scoville heat units associated with them than, say, ghost chili peppers, they still pack a significant kick and deliver a lot of flavor in every bite. This salsa is no exception.

While Sonia can to some degree vouch for its authentic flavor, I can only give you my raw, uncensored—and admittedly uneducated—opinion. It's got an earthy, smoky flavor. It's rich and dark, both in appearance and flavor. There's almost something lightly fruity about it, too. It's easy to see how this flavor blended so well with chocolate. Plus, the medium heat level is just about perfect for Sonia and me.


Texture-wise, there's a smooth base with a moderate amount of chunks. Pretty sure most of the chunks are tomatoes. Still, they give the salsa a welcome heartiness and thickness.

I think this salsa shines brightest when mixed into Mexican or Tex-Mex dishes. It's adequate for a simple "chips and salsa" snack, but there's something about the flavor that enhances the taste of everything around it. It goes especially well with beans. We made turkey tacos with black beans, sour cream, and this salsa, and they were amazing.


While this isn't the first salsa I'd turn to for a stand-alone snack, I must admit it's great for adding flavor to Latin cuisine. Sonia loves it in every application, including just "chips and salsa." $2.79 for the 12oz jar. Perfect five stars from the beautiful wifey. Four stars from me.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Trader Joe's Chicken & Chimichurri Empanadas


Despite her Latin-ness, Sonia isn't an expert when it comes to empanadas. That is, she didn't grow up eating them and I certainly didn't either. However, we've sampled a few tasty ones here and there throughout the years, so we're not entirely unfamiliar.

In the manner of tamales, mole, and flan, empanadas are eaten year round but are often associated with special occasions, including the Christmas and New Year's holidays. So I guess these are appropriate for this final week of the year when it's difficult to discern what day it is and 2022 resolutions still seem abstract and irrelevant.


Air fryer instructions are given on the back of the box. Hallelujah. And for the first time EVER I wound up heating the product for LESS time than was suggested on the packaging. The box said 375° for 15 minutes, but the chicken and chimichurri empanadas were fully cooked and crispy at about 13 and a half.

The crust was nice and flaky. It was crispy but not brittle. I wouldn't have minded a tad more filling inside each pocket, but what was there was impressive—finely shredded chicken and a delicious blend of veggies and spices. Very flavorful. Mildly spicy.


Sonia remarked that they were "very salty...but really good." At just shy of a quarter of your daily sodium in each empanada, I think that qualifies as "very salty."

$4.29 for two empanadas. It's not the most food for your buck at Trader Joe's. Each empanada feels more like an appetizer to me rather than a main dinner entree, but the quality is there in my opinion. Nearly restaurant quality for nearly restaurant prices. Four stars each from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Trader Joe's Carne Asada Burritos


A lot of my gringo friends think I must be eating things like tacos, nachos, and carne asada burritos on the regular since I'm married to a Latina of Mexican descent. While I am treated to an authentic dish from time to time, courtesy of the beautiful wifey or possibly her mom, it's usually a dish native to southern Mexico, specifically the state of Oaxaca. We're talking stuff like salsa de queso and tlayuda topped with quesillo cheese. Yum.

While similar to the cuisine of northern Mexico, the food my wife's family makes only occasionally contains red meat and is virtually never presented in a burrito-type format. All that to say, we're not really carne asada burrito experts or connoisseurs, although living in Los Angeles for seven years and thirty-one years, respectively, might mean we've had more decent Mexican food than the average American. If I have only one good thing to say about SoCal, it's that there's plenty of well-above-par Mexican at surprisingly affordable prices, if you know where to look.


After resisting the urge to heat the burritos in the air fryer, I opted for the oven. 20 minutes at 450 degrees as per the heating instructions yielded a warm outer shell and a nearly-still-frozen center. So I continued heating.

Another ten minutes at 450 seemed to do the trick. I tried the burrito plain at first. The meat was a little gristly. If I'm going to eat beef, I prefer it ground. If it's steak or carne asada, I'm not a big fan of wads of fat and sinewy textures. There was definitely a bit of that here. If you don't mind your meat a tad chewy, at least I can tell you there's plenty of it—at least one or two chunks of carne in every bite. 

Taste-wise, the blend of onions, chiles, and cilantro was underwhelming. There's a very mild heat and just a moderate amount of extra savory flavors. The product needed cheese, salsa, and sour cream to be truly palatable for either of us.


In the end, we each finished our burrito in one sitting, but we wound up giving any beef chunks that floated out of the crispy shell to the dogs, who didn't mind the bit of gristle at all.

$4.99 for two burritos. Two stars a piece on this one. Not a repeat purchase.

Bottom line: 4 out of 10.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Trader Joe's Turkey & Pumpkin Mole Burrito

I was actually exposed to mole (rhymes with olé) before I met Sonia. I had some co-workers that brought chicken in a mole sauce to a break room potluck lunch one time, and I loved it. I remember it had a nice peppery kick to it and it tasted rich, a little sweet, and a little nutty. There was something peanut butter-esque about it, and I asked what was in it. To my surprise, the base was actually peanut butter.

Since then, I've realized there are many different kinds of mole sauces, and people use everything from Mexican chocolate to almond butter as a base for it. There's red mole, mole poblano, mole verde...the list goes on and on. The one thing every mole I've ever tried had in common: they were bursting with rich flavor—that is, every mole I've ever had except this one.


The mole here was apparently pumpkin puree-based. I've got absolutely nothing against pumpkin puree, especially this time of year, but you can imagine expecting something with a chocolate or nut butter base and getting something with a veggie base was unanticipated, if not a little disappointing. There was a very mild amount of heat, but like 90% of Trader Joe's Mexican and Tex-Mex style foods, Sonia and I were both pining for much more kick.

That's not to say the overall flavor wasn't pleasant. The turkey pieces in this burrito were surprisingly plentiful, plump, and juicy. I found one or two specimens to be a tad on the gristly, chewy side, but those few bites were the exception rather than the rule. The combo of rice, beans, and sweet potato was nice, too, and the spice blend was appetizing, but it needed to be ratcheted up a notch or two or ten.


But our biggest complaint by far was the lack of richness in the mole sauce. This tasted like a diet mole sauce, for lack of any better or more universal comparisons off the top of my head. Sonia agrees, and her family is from Oaxaca, Mexico, and she's as close to a mole connoisseur as anyone I've ever met. I'm sure there were way fewer calories and less fat than in any other mole either Sonia or I have had, but we're heading into the colder months and we'll need that extra layer of fat to keep us warm anyway. 

It was an interesting idea with a lot of potential, but I doubt we'll re-purchase. It's not a bad burrito by any means, but it's not what we were hoping for in terms of mole. $3.99 for the single serving. Three stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Spicy Pozole Verde

May 5, 1999, I was sitting in a now defunct Chi-Chi's restaurant in State College, PA with some friends and acquaintances after classes. We were celebrating Cinco de Mayo. I didn't know a lick of Spanish back then. "I wonder what Cinco de Mayo means..." I mused in my ignorance.

"Fifth of May," replied Stacy.

"I know when it is, but I mean what does the phrase 'Cinco de Mayo' literally mean?" I asked.

"Fifth of May," she persisted. "It's like Fourth of July for Mexicans."

My head exploded. "So it's the Mexican Independence Day? Whoa. I never knew that."

Many years later, I'd learn that it was not, in fact, the Mexican Independence Day. I'd also learn that the phrase "chi-chi's" is actually a slang term for "breasts" or "nipples" in Spanish. And here I thought it was a family restaurant. I always wondered what went on in that 21+ bar area.

The actual Mexican Independence Day is September 16, just over a week ago. There was a decisive battle against the French in Mexico on May 5, 1862, but the day they declared independence from Spain was actually September 16, 1810. I guess "Dieciséis de Septiembre" doesn't quite roll off a Yankee's tongue like "Cinco de Mayo."


At any rate, Mexican Independence Day is a good excuse to eat pozole, as are other special occasions like Christmas and New Year's. Sonia grew up with it. She explained that it usually takes a while to make, so it's often reserved for holidays and celebrations, not unlike tamales or menudo. It's usually served with pork or chicken, while Sonia grew up with a version with beef.

This variety is vegetarian—vegan, in fact, and doesn't suffer from want of meat, at least not in our opinions. There's a good bit of hominy and beans to give the soup a hearty texture. It's full of green chiles and onions, too. There's a nice, even, moderate spiciness in the mixture, as well. I'd put it at a 4 or 5 on the spice-o-meter, on a scale of 1 to 10.

Complaints: some of the onion slices are very long, spindly strands of onion that are a little difficult to eat. I found the plastic seal very difficult to remove and thought maybe the "onion" Sonia was finding was actually pieces of plastic that didn't stay attached to the rest of the covering. Upon further inspection, we determined that they were, in fact, pieces of onion. And I mean, we both love onions. Sonia also wanted more hominy. She's a big fan of the puffy kernels of corn. I don't know that I've had much hominy in my lifetime, but I really liked it here and wouldn't have minded a tad more of it.


The soup isn't much to look at. I think it resembles Eowyn's stew from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers...minus the strand of hair. But hey, looks aren't everything.

You can put it in a pot and heat it on the stovetop or just puncture the plastic covering and put it in the microwave for 3 minutes. It's very easy to prepare. $3.99 for the 2.5 serving container—probably 2 servings in actual practice.

All things considered, this product gets a thumbs up from both a gringo who's never really had pozole before and a Latina who's been eating it her whole life. We're not vegan, but we're always happy when we find vegetarian and vegan products that have enough "meatiness" and flavor without the dead animals. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Three and a half stars from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Trader Joe's Chicken Chilaquiles Rojo

There's some dispute apparently about the origin of the phrase "winner winner chicken dinner." One of the more common theories is that a chicken dinner in Las Vegas used to cost about $2, the same amount as a typical bet. So you win a bet, you won enough for dinner. Or somebody would bet all they had in hopes to win enough for some food. That sounds kinda like a cross between desperate and degenerate, but there we are.

Let there be no dispute here, though. The new Trader Joe's Chicken Chilaquiles Rojo are an absolute winner.

Proof enough: we had them dinner twice this past week. That's rare for us, especially for a prepackaged item we'd have to buy twice. But Sandy and I enjoyed them so much the first time around, but I was convinced I could make them even better and had to try before writing this review. Not that either of us minded.

The secret for good prep is to actually ignore the directions a little bit and add no extra water. The chilaquiles are a frozen item after all; the ingredients will release enough water on their own while cooking. No need to add extra unless you like yours on the soupy side.

Regardless, these taste friggerin' delicious. There's loads of beans, onions and peppers with an almost adequate-enough amount of chicken simmering in a not-all-that spicy tomato based sauce. Seriously, don't assume they're too spicy for you - our four year old who's a spice wimp had no issue. Still, there's plenty of taste - a little savory, a little smoky, the teeniest amount of heat. There's just some depth here.

Add in the included tortilla chips to soak up some of the liquid, and sprinkle a little cotija cheese atop. The chips definitely help fill out the meal, and the cotija adds a little sourish pungent touch that works well with the overall vibe of the dish. Think of it like a bowl of nachos with chili or super thick chunky salsa, and add some guac or some sour cream. We also put a hard fried egg atop ours per the serving suggestions - delicious.

The chilaquiles rojo aren't perfect though. Primarily, it's the serving sizes. Sandy is superstrict about serving sizes. We didn't measure, but there's no way each bag has 2.5 servings. Unless we're absolute hogs, because both times we made them we made two bags and had no problems or remorse about eating the entire supposed five servings between us. Also, as slightly hinted at, there could be a few more bites chicken included.

Other than that, we're talking near perfection here. For about $3 or $4 a bag, the chilaquiles are repeat buy worthy again and again. You can bet on it.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chicken Chilaquiles Rojo: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Elote Corn Chip Dippers

Well, here's a rare sighting that just so happened to be captured on camera:

An opened bag of Trader Joe's Organic Elote Corn Chip Dippers, in my house, that hasn't been completely ransacked and emptied somehow.

I mean, sorry, about the rip up top. We usually strive to take a photo of an unopened item. It kinda presents better. It's really kinda an amatuer move on our part. Party foul.

But man...have you tried these yet?

Holy smokes.

Sandy and I are now on our fourth in less than a week, which for people who try to not eat a lot of "junk food"... is a lot of "junk food."

What's there not to love about these elote chips? Not familiar with elote? Neither are we, to be perfectly honest. but these chips got me begging for another trip to Mexico to have a try at the real deal. Until then, I'll happily make do with these.

The spice blend is pretty complex for a chip. It's sneaky as it builds and builds in intensity. The first few bites are pretty mild. A little heat, sure, but that's when I particularly noticed the creamy buttermilk flavor these chippies offer. But then the rest of it comes on about three or four bites in. There's habanero spice and good pepper bite and all sorts of other things really going on that I'm not 100% sure how to explain except....dang. It's smoky and creamy and spicy all in one, in a way I've never experienced before on a chip.

Add on top of that the incredible texture here. Oh goodness. These corn chips are almost soft and crumbly and a little bit mealy to an almost melt in your mouth essence. They're still crunchy, to be sure, but not in a typical tortilla chip or Frito kinda way.

I've heard some comparisons to Cool Ranch Doritos...no, no, no. I mean, I get the basis for comparison for the elote chips...there are some similar elements...but these chips are better, so much better. I tasted both side by side while tailgating for baseball's opening day, and the TJ's Mexican corn chips absolutely blow Doritos out of the water, by a long shot.

These chips are awesome just by themselves. Really, yes, they are made for dipping into something, but it's 100% not necessary. Unless you have guacamole. Oh man. Pair them up and you'll see. My goodness.

They're $2.29 a serving, I mean bag. I need to stop buying them. I don't want to. Sandy loves them just as much as I do, I think....which is a lot. I cannot think of a single negative thing to say. Amazing. I want to go finish off that bag right now...it's open and taunting me...double fives for the first perfect ten on anything on here since I have no idea when.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Elote Corn Chip Dippers: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons




Friday, August 24, 2018

Trader Joe's Chipotle Vegetable Quesadillas

"If they're called 'vegetable' quesadillas, there should be more vegetables," stated Sonia. "I want sliced-up zucchini or eggplant or peppers in there. Corn and beans aren't enough."

This is coming from the only human being I know who eats plain cheese quesadillas for a meal—nothing but a tortilla with melted cheese—on average about twice a week. If she'd add beans, corn, and chipotle sauce, I could probably live off her quesadillas, because I enjoy the taste enough, and also, I'm guessing, there'd be enough nutritional value in there.

Likewise, I could live off these quesadillas. I really like their simplicity and flavor. I'll admit we heated them in the microwave, but I was more than pleased with the result. 

Sonia? Not so much. Sometimes I think she feels threatened by Trader Joe's Mexican offerings—as if I'll suddenly ask her to never cook again and demand the freezer be stockpiled with Trader José's comida Mexicana. Where is José these days, anyway? Don't worry, wifey. I'll never get tired of your salsa de queso.


Sonia's other major complaint was the price. $3.49 for two quesadillas. I'll admit they're not exactly giving them away, but each quesadilla could stand as a meal in and of itself. That seems like a pretty standard price point for frozen foods to me. I think Sonia has a problem with it because she can make about 500 of her plain quesadillas with an inexpensive stack of corn or flour tortillas and a hunk of cheese from the grocery store, and they wind up costing about 15 cents each.

The balance of corn, beans, and cheese is on point here in these "vegetable" quesadillas, and the chipotle flavor is almost perfect, too. There's a hint of heat, but it's not overwhelming. If I were in the mood for something with a significant kick, I would have to put some kind of hot sauce on them, but for most occasions, they're perfect just the way they are. 

Sonia didn't really have any specific complaints about the taste or texture. She just thinks they'd be better with another ingredient or two. Fair enough. Two and a half stars from her. 

That's a painfully low score for these, in my opinion. Four and a half stars from me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Trader Jose's Serrano Salsa Fresca

Why is my boss younger than me?

Why can't I recognize any song on the radio unless it's tuned to the classic rock station?

Why am I more excited about my company's pledged increase to 401k contributions than its also new quarterly bonus program? Not that I'm not excited about both...

Why do I want to be in bed by 11pm, although that's rare? Why is it notable if I'm still in it after 7am, which is even rarer?

Why does my knee hurt?

And is Trader Jose's Serrano Salsa Fresca actually spicy, or am I just becoming a wimp?

I'm turning 36 this upcoming summer and it's these kinda questions I'm pondering. Growing "old" i guess...I know, I know, but it's a relative term, and so for me, I'm at least not getting younger.

Getting back to this tub of fresh salsa straight from the TJ's refrigerated section, it's a pretty potent mix. I'm actually not sure if spicy as in heat is the right word, as there's a lot of flavor coming out. Decidedly, it's a little heavy on the cilantro and garlic, so if you're not a fan of those, you're better off staying away. But there's also subtle sweetness and cooling from tomatoes, a little bite from some onions and peppers, and yeah, a good amount of heat as well. I'll admit the first bite I had seemed a bit vinegary at first, but that must have been a bad sample as none of the rest seemed that way.

Overall, there is a restaurant quality vibe to the serrano salsa. The minute little chunks and semi-wateriness seem on par with most nonjarred salsa varieties I've had at the pseudo-Mexican style joints around here in the 'burgh. That's a compliment. But after a few bites, it all begins to get a bit much, and I'm not sure if that's just me getting a little wimpy or not. I had some this morning on my breakfast eggs, and again tonight with a couple tortilla chips, and, well, let's just see what tomorrow brings, if you know what I mean. At least I haven't needed any Rolaids, yet.

Getting back to my new old man tendencies, I wasn't able to figure out how to take an adequate picture of nutritional info and ingredients, so I'll just link to it here. Didn't even need the AOL keyword to find it, so ha! Sandy and I will rank the salsa as good, not great, with me sneaking extra pointage for the use of Jose instead of Joe....I like the different characters who seem to be disappearing from the good ol' days.

Bottom line: Trader Jose's Serrano Salsa Fresca: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Trader Joe's Pollo Asado Burrito


As much as I love the English language and champion its practicality among all the tongues of the world, I've always admired Spanish for placing the noun before the adjective. Just think about it. The noun is generally more important, therefore, should come first. In this case: chicken grilled. Those of you from the west coast will know El Pollo Loco, or as I like to call it, "The Chicken Crazy," which by the way, never offered a chicken burrito quite as tasty as this one, in my humble opinion.

Sonia might disagree, and while nobody's personal assessment is more or less valid than another's, hers goes quite a long way in terms of deeming what is "authentically Mexican" and what is not. Like offerings from Qdoba and Chipotle, this burrito is highly Americanized, but still brings some distinctive Mexican, or at least "Tex-Mex," flavors. For that reason, I liked it. It had plenty of peppers, black beans, corn, and rice, and I noticed a decent amount of shredded, grilled chicken, too. Sonia didn't think there was enough of that pollo—or at least that it wasn't flavorful enough to be noticed. 


The burrito was surprisingly sweet. I'm not sure where that was coming from, although "sugar" is listed on the ingredients in at least three places. See what I mean? Americanized. Muricans gotta throw sugar into everything.

My biggest complaint, though, was a decided lack of heat. This burrito wasn't spicy at all—which was disappointing because "salsa" is mentioned right on the wrapper. I know not all salsas are five alarm fires, but I generally hope for at least a little extra kick. Not here, unfortunately. 

At just about four dollars, this isn't the cheapest grocery store burrito you'll find at Trader Joe's—or any other marketplace, for that matter. However, when compared with those above-mentioned "Mexican grill" type restaurants, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything this cheap. And quality-wise, I'd say this offering should be compared to those restaurant burritos, not the average frozen thing at the grocery store—primarily because this burrito does not come frozen, but rather, refrigerated. For that reason, I think it tastes a great deal fresher than frozen burritos with similar ingredients.


I was lazy and crass enough to heat this item in the microwave rather than the oven. But neither Sonia nor I think that would have made much difference here. Any way you slice it, I was gonna wind up liking this burrito con pollo asado, and Sonia was gonna wind up going "meh." Four stars from me. Two and a half from her.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Trader Joe's Mexican Style Roasted Corn with Cotija Cheese

The spiel on the back of the bag here claims this dish is inspired by elote, a style of Mexican corn often sold by street vendors. Every time I've seen it sold on the street, it's been on the cob. I had my first ear of elote some eight years ago when I lived in Southern California. Delicioso. There are definitely some similarities here and maybe a few differences. Let's take a look.

First of all, each kernel of corn is pristine: whole, plump, robust. They're far more perfect than anything I've witnessed on the streets of L.A. It is kinda fun to eat corn straight from the cob, but you can scoop the niblets into your mouth at least twice as fast with this Trader Joe's offering, provided you have a big enough fork and spry enough food-shoveling hand. And the kernels are all in various states of roastedness—some are deeply charred and black, some are yellow and barely scorched at all...but most are somewhere in between, not unlike traditional elote.

With the TJ's Mexican corn, there seems to be a lot more oil and sauce. With traditional elote, you might have butter, chili powder, hot sauce, lime, and a few other seasonings. The overall flavor is very similar, but I prefer the texture of the traditional seasonings to the unusual dissolving pellets of sauce that come with this product. I didn't dislike them by any means, but I'd still prefer to administer my own personalized amount of seasoning from the shaker(s) of my choice.

But by far the most disappointing aspect of this product is the exceptionally tiny packet of cotija cheese. It provides a delightful zip to the dish, but there's simply not enough of it to go around. I immediately found myself zeroing in on the clumps of corn that had the most cotija within them and quickly depleted my dish of the coveted cheese while more than half of my corn remained. The corn isn't terrible by itself. The sauce/seasoning alone makes the dish enjoyable, but the mixture isn't nearly as memorable without the cotija cheese. In my humble opinion, at least twice as much cheese is required here.


Sonia likes the corn and says it reminds her of her childhood, but she insists the sauce isn't spicy or flavorful enough. She agrees that more cheese is needed, as well.

Three and a half stars from this gringo. A meager three from a Mexican-American woman that grew up eating elote on a regular basis.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Trader Joe's Hatch Chile Mac & Cheese

I think everybody goes through at least one or two "mac & cheese phases" in their life. The first normally occurs in early childhood. There's just something about cheddar cheese on macaroni that really excites a youthful palate. I myself, due to food allergies, was not able to partake of much mac & cheese back then. But after being treated for said allergies, I was a full-fledged mac & cheese connoisseur by college—when an American's second great mac & cheese phase often occurs. It's a fast, inexpensive way to break up all that ramen.

And quite honestly, I've been eating more mac & cheese than usual lately. Sonia and I have a pretty good stockpile of shelf-stable foods in case of extreme weather, long-term loss of power, martial law, WWIII, or zombie apocalypse—and since I work from home, I often find myself raiding the pantry at lunch time when we're low on fresh groceries. I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but I once stated that I preferred Kraft Easy Mac to Joe's Diner Mac n' Cheese. While I no longer stand by that shocking statement, I'll admit that I'm still not quite as fond of Joe's Diner as Sonia and many of you seem to be.

Nevertheless, despite its similar appearance and packaging, I was fairly excited to try this new Hatch Chile Mac & Cheese. And it is very similar to Joe's Diner, except—you guessed it—it includes "roasted chiles from Hatch, New Mexico." Sonia thinks the cheese in this case "tasted a little odd and different." I didn't really notice that. I thought that the chiles were a welcome addition to what was otherwise the same old Joe's Diner Mac n' Cheese. Sonia wishes there were more of the chiles. I can see where she's coming from. The existing chiles give the mac a nice little kick, but it could definitely use more of them in my opinion. We both enjoy spicy foods, and as I've mentioned many times before, Sonia is full-blooded Mexican-American, which automatically puts her in the top 5% or so of hot chile-loving Americans. I think most of the rest of the WG@TJ's team would fall into that category, too. However, it's entirely conceivable that this product would be a little too spicy for some people, which brings me to my main point about this product...

Why not just buy Joe's Diner or any other mac and cheese and add your own personalized amount of Hatch Valley Salsa, Salsa Verde, and/or hot sauce? I mean, sure, there's an extra step and possibly an extra purchase implied there, but spice-o-philes and spice-o-phobes alike can suit their own tastes in that case. With this, there's a chance you're the guy or gal this particular product is tailored to, but there's also a good chance you're not. I'll throw out three and a half stars for this frozen mac dish. Sonia will give it three.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Trader Joe's Distinqt Tequila Reposado and Trader Joe's Margarita Mixer

Since Sonia and I moved out of California and crossed the country, we haven't been able to get our hands on any alcoholic beverages from Trader Joe's...until now! To celebrate finally selling our old condo, we decided to check out the Princeton, NJ Trader Joe's, which surprisingly has an extensive selection of not only Three Buck Chuck, miscellaneous wines, and Trader José beers, but also Trader Joe's brand hard liquor! It's a bit of a trek from our new home—right across the river from Wilmington, Delaware—but we had to go up there for business anyway. We were completely overwhelmed with choices. But since it's still warm-ish and still September, the month of Mexican Independence, we decided that margaritas wouldn't be out of the question.

We were hoping to find some TJ's brand mezcal, a liquor native to Sonia's parents' home state of Oaxaca, Mexico. It's a smokey-tasting alcoholic drink made from a plant in the agave family. However, we selected another fine Mexican beverage: tequila! It wasn't cheap: $22 for the bottle. But tequila isn't something you can "go discount" on even if you wanted to. I'm no expert when it comes to hard liquor, but I couldn't tell the difference between Trader Joe's Distinqt and any other major brand I've ever tried, like José Cuervo or Sauza, which are all in the same ballpark price-wise.

Tequila's always a little harsh as a shot, but it mixed together beautifully with the margarita concoction. The best thing about the mix was the absence of high fructose corn syrup and weird artificial stuff, unlike a lot of other major brands. And unlike the tequila, the margarita mixer was very affordable at $2.49. We added a little salt on the rims of our glasses, poured both liquids on the rocks, and stirred. We skipped the triple sec this time around. It was delicious!

As with most margarita mixers, the sweetness of it offset the bitterness of the tequila. Along with the salt, it made for a wild rollercoaster of a ride for our taste buds. It's been over a year since my last visit to Margaritaville—and this will undoubtedly be my last until next summer at least, so I enjoyed it while it lasted. Since I lack the expertise to critically score a tequila, I'll go with a positive, yet not-overly-exuberant score of 4 stars. Sonia will match that. I think the margarita mixer deserves a little more since it meets the taste and quality standards of the other brands I've had, but does so with better ingredients. 4.5 from me. Sonia gives it 3.5, stating that it's a little too sweet for her tastes, and that it burns her throat slightly. (I think it was the tequila burning her throat.) 




Bottom line: Trader Joe's Distinqt Tequila: 8 out of 10 stars. 
Bottom line: Trader Joe's Margarita Mixer: 8 out of 10 stars.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Trader José's Guacamame Spicy Edamame Dip

If you like the texture of guacamole and the taste of edamame beans, then this product might be right up your alley. It's slightly spicy, so there's something weirdly reminiscent of wasabi about it too, although the spice level doesn't quite have the nasal passage-clearing potency of actual wasabi sauce. I might be wrong, but I think most people can handle the spiciness of this product because it's balanced with cool, smooth edamame.

This stuff is great with chips, especially any kind of corn chips or tortilla chips. Sonia was a huge fan of it, gobbling down a bit with each meal until the tray was gone. I liked it too, but I noticed that after I had a bunch of it, I consistently got a very slight case of nausea. Not sure why. Edamame has never done that to me before, but I'm not sure that I've ever had edamame—which are really just unripe soybeans—in such large quantities before. I've usually only had a few at a time, whether they're an appetizer at a sushi restaurant, or in nuggets
or rangoons. It's harder to quantify the number of actual soybeans when they're just a big green mush. Like really, ask yourself how many avocados you're actually eating next time you have guacamole. "I just ate three quarters of an avocado. Maybe." A rough guesstimation is probably the best you'll be able to come up with.

But that brings me to my next point. As interesting and novel as this stuff may be for a single purchase, I simply couldn't see it replacing guacamole in our household. Weird nausea issue aside, I think I just like the taste of avocado better than edamame—especially when we're talking about green mush. Edamame beans are better as beans if you ask me. 

Sure, guacamame has a few advantages over regular guac. It has a really clever name. It doesn't brown nearly as fast, although we did notice the slightest bit of darkening toward the end of the package. It has fewer calories and less fat. Plus, it's actually spicy. They need to make a regular avocado-based guac with a bit more of a spicy kick. Now that would be an improvement over the original. This stuff is fun, weird, and tasty with tortillas, but guacamole is just a better product in the end. Sonia agrees on that point, but she could see herself alternating between guacamame and guacamole from one time to the next. After all, variety is the spice of life—and FYI, pickled jalapeño peppers are the spice of this $2.99 pack of guacamame. Sonia gives it 4 stars. I give it 3.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.