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

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Trader Joe's Papas Rellenas


A reader recently reminded me of Porto's Bakery's potato balls, a legendary treat from an amazing bakery that Sonia and I would frequent when we lived in Los Angeles. We even still order them once in a while since Porto's delivers nationwide...<cough cough> unlike Trader Joe's <cough cough>. Talk about delicious, man, I swear those things are where the term "amazeballs" originated. Anyway, the same reader said she thought these might be TJ's take on the same concept and wondered if they were anywhere near as good. Good question, April. Thanks for the idea to compare the two. Porto's has set the bar exceptionally high, I must say.

There are four of Trader Joe's Papas Rellenas (stuffed potatoes) in the box with two cellophane wrapped packs of two balls each. Thankfully, they come with air fryer instructions, which were adequate, for once, erring on the side of overcooking this time if anything.


Our spud spheres came out extra crispy—perhaps a tad crispier than Porto's. I guess we can attribute that to heating them in the air fryer as opposed to the conventional oven. Something else I noticed right away is that Trader Joe's tater treats weren't as structurally sound as Porto's potato balls. You can basically eat the Porto's offering with your hands if you want to, but Trader Joe's fell apart as soon as I dug in my fork. Again, at least part of that might be attributable to our chosen heating method.

They're very similar to Porto's in terms of taste and texture. I'd say there's a little less ground beef in TJ's. Come to think of it, I'd say there's less onion and pepper, too. It's mostly just crispy crust and mashy potato in these. There's definitely some beef, but it's not quite enough IMO.


Sonia and I agree these tasty taters are worth a pick-up if you're in Trader Joe's and need a simple comfort food fix, but they're not quite as good as Porto's Bakery. Of course TJ's are a little cheaper and they're optimized for throwing in your freezer and consuming at your own convenience, so they definitely have their advantages.

$4.99 for the four round rations. While Porto's potato balls would receive a near perfect score from us, these get four stars a piece from Sonia and me. They won't take home the title, but Trader Joe's Papas Rellenas are still really darn good.



Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Trader Joe's Corn & Cheese Arepas


Sometimes I just have to rant about Trader Joe's preparation instructions. I recently saw a tweet, or an X post—or whatever the heck we're calling those now—from a similarly frustrated dude, and it read: Man, Trader Joe's really is just guessing at the cook times huh? Truer words were never spoken. How that tweet only got one like, I'm not sure. We can't be the only ones.

Throughout the years, I've had plenty of folks indicate that indeed TJ's heating directions are often way off the mark—usually on the short end of the spectrum. And still others have taken it upon themselves to tell me that Trader Joe's is right and that I'm a blithering idiot. That's fine. I'm no culinary wizard. That's no secret. It could be user error to some degree, for sure.


But in this case, following the stovetop instructions to a T, I wound up with a product that was still frozen solid in the middle. I mean the outer portions of the corn cakes were browning and wanting to stick to the pan and the middle portions were like a cornbread and cheese flavored popsicle. I mean, I didn't eat it that way, of course. I threw it into the oven and tried heating it through on a cookie sheet.

Fortunately, it worked. After a spell in the oven, the griddle cakes were nice and brown and just lightly crispy in a few places, and the cheese in the middle melted beautifully to the point where the cakes wanted to slide off the top a little.

The taste? It's a grilled cheese sandwich made with cornbread instead of wheat or white. We've got a large slab of soft, creamy mozzarella cheese in between two griddle cakes made of corn—not a far cry from American cornbread. It's slightly sweet, dense, and filling. The overall vibe falls somewhere in between home-cooked comfort food and something you'd get from a street vendor.


Why is this not a thing here in the states? It's not even really a thing in Mexico. ¿Por que? This treat comes all the way from South America, Colombia in particular. I love it. I want more.

$3.49 for two big arepas. Gluten free. Would definitely buy again. I recommend either thawing completely before heating on the skillet or using the conventional oven heating method. Apparently there are makeshift air fryer heating instructions floating around in cyberspace. I would have gone that route had I realized it beforehand. Anyhoo, four and a half stars from me. Four stars from Sonia for Trader Joe's Corn & Cheese Arepas.



Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Trader Joe's Chicken Burrito Bowl


Well, this product looks a bit like the recently-reviewed Chicken Shawarma Bowl. It's still a microwavable serving of poultry straight outta the Great White North, but now we've got Mexican-style burrito ingredients instead of Middle Eastern cuisine. Hey, at least we're on the right continent this time around.


And while this isn't the most flavorful burrito con pollo I've ever tried, I'll give it an "A" for effort and a passing grade if you're hungry, on a budget, and/or pressed for time. At $3.49, this product is significantly less expensive than any comparable offering from Chipotle, Qdoba, or Moe's Southwest Grill. It's also not quite as tasty and obviously not fresh, but sometimes those are necessary sacrifices for those of us living life in the fast lane.

Just 4-5 minutes in the microwave yields a piping hot single-serving meal with plenty of chicken, rice, quinoa, and bits of tomato, corn, and pepper. It's not a terrible dish by any means, but it lacks that piquant kick that an authentic burrito provides. We've got some chili powder and chipotle pepper paste in the ingredients, but those flavors are way too faint in the final mixture.

Even if you're not looking for something spicy, you'll want to dress this bowl up if you can with more sour cream and cheese. If you're consuming this product at home like me, it might be prudent to break out some tortillas, lettuce, and salsa and make little tacos with this as the base. You could probably stretch the single bowl to at least two servings that way while greatly improving the taste at the same time.

If I still worked in cubicle-land, I'd consider buying this product once in a while for a work lunch, provided I could slather it with Tapatio, Cholula, or Texas Pete. Let's be nice and say three and a half stars a piece on Trader Joe's Chicken Burrito Bowl.



Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Trader Joe's Empanadas de Ropa Vieja


So...I speak a little Spanish, but I'm not so confident to be 100% sure I'm translating everything I read or hear correctly. Glancing at the title of this product, I thought it meant something along the lines of "hand pies made of old clothes." Well that's obviously wrong, I thought. So I asked my wife, fluent in español, where I'd gone wrong. "No, that's correct," she explained.

She'd heard of the dish before but didn't grow up eating it. Apparently, it's more of a Caribbean and Central American thing than a Mexican thing. Her Cuban co-worker, very familiar with the traditional meal, explained that there's a legend that an old homeless man with no food began tearing up his own clothes in lieu of meat and heating them on the stove and they magically turned into beef—hence the name. Thanks, Julio, for that anecdote.


But enough about the name. How does this offering from Trader Joe's taste? Shoot. It's REALLY good. I'm surprised I haven't heard more buzz about this product. Both the wifey and I found it muy delicioso.

Nine minutes in the air fryer had these puppies piping hot and crispy golden brown on the outside. Pretty sure the traditional dish is made with actual bread rather than cassava—a root vegetable—but this product didn't suffer at all for the substitution. It's not the first empanada with cassava crust we've seen from TJ's. It lends a faintly nutty flavor to the "breading" part of the empanada.

The filling is soft, flavorful shredded beef with tomato, onion, and bell pepper. It just melts in your mouth. There's a spice blend including garlic, salt, oregano, and coriander that rounds out the taste perfectly.


I could have sworn there was a layer of mashed potatoes just inside the crust, but I think it was just more cassava. It made the meat pie feel even more like comfort food. So, so good.

The beautiful wifey and I plowed through the pack in a single sitting for lunch. We'd absolutely buy it again. About $6 for eight mini empanadas. Restaurant-quality appetizers. Four and a half stars a piece for Trader Joe's Empanadas de Ropa Vieja.



Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Trader Joe's Vegetable & Cheese Enchiladas


Mexicans and Mexican-Americans like my wife eat some unusual fare from time to time. They eat cow tongue (lengua) and cow stomach soup (menudo). They eat grasshoppers (chapulines) and cactus (nopal) among other things.

I've tried lengua tacos. Not a fan. It's a texture thing. While I've had more than one stomach dish in my day, I've never had proper menudo. I'd try it, although I haven't enjoyed eating any kind of stomach ever. Not that they're my snack of choice or anything, but grasshoppers fried in oil and dusted with chili powder are not nearly as disgusting as one might think. You vill eat ze bugs and be happy!

Nopales, on the other hand, I enjoy eating fairly regularly. Sonia makes a dish with eggs, nopales, onions, and hot sauce that's really yummy. So we were excited to see nopal cactus as an ingredient in Trader Joe's Vegetable & Cheese Enchiladas.


The dish is quite mushy—almost soupy. I wouldn't mind more veggie chunks in the mix. More corn, more nopales, more zucchini, more onions, more of almost everything.

Taste-wise, I'm fine with the cheese and sauce blend. It's tangy and tomatoey, with just a hint of spice. I would prefer significantly more heat.

Sonia actually thinks these are quite bland. She thinks Trader Joe's is replacing the classic black bean and corn enchiladas with these veggie and cheese ones, and she's not very happy about it. She wants more spice, more onion, and more garlic flavor here.


While I'm not blown away, I'm not super disappointed either. I'd prefer a bit more kick and a little something to sink my teeth into, but I can see why some people are digging these enchiladas. Sonia...not so much. She thinks the flavor is a flop and would have preferred a tangier Mexican cheese like cotija.

$2.99 for two enchiladas. Two and a half stars from the beautiful wifey. I'll throw out three and a half for Trader Joe's Vegetable & Cheese Enchiladas.



Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Trader Joe's Tequila Blanco

I generally prefer tequila reposado or "gold" to the blanco or "silver" version. I guess the main difference is reposado is aged in a barrel and blanco is not, so reposado tends to be a little smoother and blanco just a little more agave-forward.

Not sure why I grabbed Trader Joe's Tequila Blanco on our last TJ's haul. I guess I'd remembered that we reviewed one type of Trader Joe's Tequila Reposado a long time ago on this blog. I couldn't tell you if that one's still available or discontinued, or even if TJ's offers any other types of tequila currently, but I figured why not add a blanco to our long list of product reviews?

Well...I can think of one reason: it's not that good. I mean, I've had other tequila blancos and this one is the harshest one I can recall. It's probably one of the worst tequilas I've ever had. It's like a vague planty notion swimming in a sea of rubbing alcohol. There was also an unpleasant aftertaste both Sonia and I noted that's hard to describe.

It's passable if you dilute it with mixers, juices, and ice, but neither of us would purchase this version again. It's nothing like that Distinqt tequila or the more recently reviewed Espada Pequeña Mezcal. $19.99 for 750 mL. 40% ABV. Product of Jalisco, Mexico. Two and a half stars a piece from Sonia and me for Trader Joe's Tequila Blanco.

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Trader Joe's Hot Pico de Gallo Salsa


Hot take: Trader Joe's Hot Pico de Gallo Salsa isn't hot, but it's still really good.

Jalapeño peppers are right there—the third ingredient on the list. I'm not sure if our jalapeños were just extra tame or if there simply weren't enough of them, but this salsa that so boldly proclaims itself "hot" was not particularly spicy to either my palate or that of my lovely wife.


And Sonia knows pico de gallo. She's been eating it her whole life. I've been eating it since the 2000's, when I discovered Baja Fresh. Man, they had the best pico de gallo. I mean, theirs wasn't hot either, but you could mix it with spicy salsa and make your own hot pico if you wanted to. Up until now, Baja Fresh had the best pico de gallo either of us had ever eaten.

I think Trader Joe's Hot Pico de Gallo Salsa may now have stolen that title. It's quite flavorful. I guess maybe the tomato, lemon, and cilantro have a cooling effect on what little heat the jalapeños provide. We can always add our own hot sauce or spicy salsa.


It just tastes fresh. The tomatoes, onions, and peppers are pristine and healthy-looking, and they taste like they were just sliced yesterday, rather than sitting in a plastic tub for weeks, being carted all over America in a hot box truck.

Anyway, we'll probably buy it again despite its lack of heat. $2.99 for the 12 oz tub. Four and a half stars a piece for Trader Joe's Hot Pico de Gallo Salsa from Sonia and me.



Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

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.

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