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Showing posts with label dinner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dinner. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Trader Joe's Korean Beefless Bulgogi


Small minds discuss people. Average minds discuss events. Great minds discuss ideas.

I've always found that quote to be mostly accurate. I mean, none of us are immune from chatting about our fellow humans once in a while, but some folks are just absolutely fixated on gossip. I'm far from perfect and have my fair share of faults, but if you're focused on other people all the time, doesn't that imply that you lack purpose? If you're a man (or woman) on a mission, then you've got far better things to do with your time than wonder what others are doing with theirs. I digress.

One line I'd add to that brilliant quote in the opening paragraph: hungry minds discuss food. So let's do just that.


It's a fascinating idea: vegan meat being eaten by non-vegans. Why do it? Because once in a while the fake meat is as good or better than the real thing. I've only heard high praise about this product so I figured it was worth a whirl. Thanks for the rec, Alek.

The flavor of this meatless meat is savory and succulent. There's an interesting array of essences including soy, garlic, pear, apple, and onion. It's very similar to the traditional bulgogi in terms of flavor, but I don't think I like this offering quite as much.

Texture-wise, it's the opposite, surprisingly. I like the feel of this bulgogi just slightly more than the sometimes-gristly dead cow version. This bulgogi is moderately chewy and imitates the mouthfeel of fatty meat. Fatty meat isn't my favorite, but it's better than gristle.

Each piece is a uniform size, which I like. Real bulgogi usually includes big long stringy pieces and tiny pieces and everything in between. Also these are quite thin. Considering their chewiness, any thicker would have made the mastication process overly difficult. Both Sonia and I wish there was a bit more sauce. Most bulgogi is significantly wetter and saucier than this offering, which might be attributable in part to the fact that we heated these in the air fryer.

$4.99 for a decent amount of vegan bulgogi. Sonia and I both give the same score on this one, and in the end, it'll get the exact same score we gave to the beef-ful bulgogi. Seven out of ten stars for Trader Joe's Beefless Bulgogi.

What do you think of this product? Have you tried both the regular bulgogi and the vegan bulgogi from Trader Joe's? Are you vegan and really love or really hate this product? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.



Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Trader Giotto's Family Style Meat Lasagna


"This tastes just like Stouffer's lasagna, back when Stouffer's was actually good," remarked Sonia. And although I can't remember if I ever had Stouffer's frozen lasagna in the 80s or 90s, I can kinda guess what the beautiful wifey's talking about. This tastes like really good institutional type lasagna. Think: top-notch college dining commons or expensive prep school cafeteria or maybe even all-you-can-eat Vegas casino buffet on a day when the new line cook who really cares about his job is running the show back in the kitchen.


The only thing better is homemade. Or maybe like a decent mom and pop's Italian restaurant could outdo this Trader Joe's selection, but I mean, it's not really fair to compare this with something some super Italian grandma makes for her loved ones. Not that we're experts, but we'd both probably say it's among the best frozen lasagna we've ever had.


I wish there were more ricotta cheese and more garlic flavor. But there's plenty of pasta sheets and tomato sauce. A lot of folks might say there's not enough meat in this product, but Sonia and I were fine with the amount in the sauce. We wish it were only beef rather than beef and pork, but that's probably not an issue for most folks unless they're kosher or halal.

$6.99 for a huge amount of tasty lasagna. Would possibly buy again, and would definitely try an all-beef version. Product of Canada. Shout out to Trader Guido...I mean Trader Giotto. We've missed you. Nathan's score: 7/10. Sonia's score: 8/10.



Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, May 3, 2024

Trader Joe's Garlicky Pasta


I've used the word "garlicky" on this blog many times, but I still have a problem with that "k" sneaking in there. There's no "k" in the word "garlic." But I guess we would want to pronounce it like an "s" sound without the "k." In other words "garlicy" looks like "garlissy," you know what I mean? We could always just hyphenate it like "garlic-y" like we do when the word is made-up or not-yet-recognized as a real word. But apparently folks use "garlicky" enough that it has an official spelling, and that spelling includes a "k" whether we like it or not.


So...this pasta is more garlicky than anything else. I guess it's pasta-y too, but all pasta is pasta-y, so that's not even worth mentioning. But I mean, if you're gonna call it "garlicky," I'd prefer it be really freaking garlicky than, you know, just kinda garlicky. And I mean, it comes covered in a medium-thick garlic sauce that is pretty tasty. It has a decent amount of garlic flavor. I guess I just want more, but then again I am a total garlic fiend. I think chunks of actual garlic might help, too.

Sonia loves this dish although she, too, wishes there were more garlic flavor. She added red pepper flakes to her portion of the bag and says it really helped open up the garlic essences in the sauce and gave the whole thing a little kick.

Texture-wise, the spaghetti-esque pasta pieces are soft and supple. The sauce is pretty smooth with no chunks of anything except some sparsely scattered bits of parsley. I think garlic, onions, scallions, or anything from the allium family could have helped not only in the flavor department but the texture one too. Carrots and bell peppers or any other basic veggies might have worked, like in the recently-reviewed stir fry.

Sonia is definitely a bigger fan than I am, but I'm not hating by any means. It looks like four and a half stars from the beautiful wifey and three and a half stars from me, meaning she'd give it a 9 out of 10 and I'd give it more like a 7 out of 10. 

Should I just do scores that way from now on? Should we each just give an "x out of 10" score and then we just average it for the bottom line? Is that less confusing than two "x out of 5" scores? Let me know in the comments.



Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

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.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Trader Joe's Japchae Stir Fry


Sweet potato noodles sounded tasty, so I decided to check these out. They're sweet potato glass noodles, in fact. I'm assuming the name came from the appearance since they're translucent and do indeed look like thin shards of orange-tinted glass.

Never had japchae before. Apparently, it's a Korean dish, and it's actually pronounced like "chap-chay." It's often served with meat, which I could have added, but in the end I decided to just stick with the included veggies: spinach, onions, carrots, and red and green bell peppers.


It took 10 minutes on the stove top with medium-high heat instead of the prescribed three. Surprise, surprise. The dish is perfectly edible all by itself but I did have most of my portion with a bit of soy sauce. The sodium content is already significant...so I probably should have just gone without.

The noodles were soft, stretchy, and chewy, yet somewhat delicate, too. They were quite thin and very easy to eat with chopsticks. The veggies were all crisp and felt fairly fresh despite having been recently frozen. The only exception might have been a leaf or two of spinach that had extremely tough stems, which I simply removed.


$3.49 for the 2 serving package. Sonia and I both liked the taste and texture of the noodles quite a bit, though they're not particularly filling. Some folks who know the dish claim it's kinda sorta authentic, others say not so much. Sonia would definitely buy this item again. I think I might, too. Four stars from the beautiful wifey, three and a half from me for Trader Joe's Japchae Korean Sweet Potato Glass Noodles & Vegetable Stir Fry.



Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Trader Joe's Salmon Burgers


This ain't our first ride at the Trader Joe's brand salmon rodeo. At a quick glance, we've reviewed around 20 salmon items throughout the years, including salmon bacon, salmon pastrami, a salmon poke bowl, not one but TWO kinds of salmon jerky, and even salmon with Everything but the Bagel pre-applied.


You can dig around those old reviews on the blog yourself if you're interested. Some of those salmon offerings were among the very best Trader Joe's products we've ever seen and others were among the very worst. But it's moot point, really. The vast majority of those fishy morsels have gone the way of the dodo as so many of TJ's items do eventually. Oddly, these salmon burgers have been around quite a while and yet we've never taken an official look. Let's change that...now.

$7.49 gets you four frozen fish pucks of boneless, skinless Alaskan salmon. It's good quality fish and the portions are adequate. As per usual, the stove top heating instructions are wildly inaccurate and not even worth reading. I just kept flipping the discs every few minutes until the meat tanned a bit and started darkening in a few spots. I think I had them on medium heat for about 20-25 minutes by the time it was all said and done.

In terms of "fishiness," I feel like it's definitely a stronger flavor than, say, mahi mahi. But for those of us that like the taste of fish, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I made a sauce with mayo, sriracha, lemon juice, and garlic powder that went great with them. I used pretzel bread rolls and feta cheese, too. We were fresh out of greens at the time, otherwise I would have tossed a big stack of arugula on the sandwich to make the ultimate fish burger.

Sonia raved about them served that way. She's down for four and a half stars and a repeat purchase. I think they're worthy of four stars and a thumbs up. If you're one of those folks that doesn't like fishy fish, I'd steer you towards the above-mentioned mahi mahi burgers, but I don't think I've seen those around lately. So...maybe some other kind of white fish would do the trick. But if you don't mind fish that tastes like fish, I think Trader Joe's Premium Salmon Burgers are a great, convenient choice.



Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Battered Halibut


Got some GF battered halibut here. That could stand for gluten free battered halibut. Could mean Good Friday halibut. Both are accurate in this case.

I know a bunch of you do the whole Lent thing where you eat fish on Fridays in the weeks leading up to Easter. That's cool. I mean, I'll eat fish any day of the week, any month of the year, but we have been hitting up the local Catholic church lately for their Fish Fry-days. It's not just the Alaskan pollock that's the attraction. They've got coleslaw, mac and cheese, scalloped potatoes, and homemade desserts, too. Quite enjoyable.


So I figured we'd look at these crispy critters today because why the heck not? Let's heat them up in the air fryer...just for the halibut. Get it? <sigh>

Anyway, this is one of those gluten free items that I might actually prefer over its wheat-based cousins. The thin coating here is so delectably crispy, it feels even better than regular batter. It's just a tad more rigid than the traditional stuff, but in a good way.


The halibut here is beautiful, flakey white fish. Absolutely no complaints there either. It goes great with tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, malt vinegar, or whatever you eat with your normal fried fish. My only grievance: the value. Twelve bucks for six or seven modestly-sized pieces of breaded fish is a little steep in my book.

But hey, you get what you pay for. I think we're still looking at about four stars from Sonia and three and a half from me for Trader Joe's Gluten Free Battered Halibut.



Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Trader Joe's Italian Tomato & Red Onion Focaccia


"Focaccia" sounds so much fancier than "pizza," right? Pizza is what kids eat at Chuck E. Cheese. Even "flatbread" sounds kinda lame and boring if you think about it. All bread is pretty much flat. Why would I want to eat bread thats most noteworthy feature is its flatness?


Fortunately, the bread in this product is quite delicious. It's puffy, rich, and doughy with both wheat and rice flours. It's gourmet quality all the way...and it's by far the best part of the product.

The toppings? Well, the quality is there in my humble opinion...but the quantity? That's a problem. We need more of everything. We need a sauce. We need some cheese. We need about ten times the onions and at least double the tomatoes. Sonia agrees. The few toppings that were there were all crammed in the middle, too. The outer portions were completely bare.

We need big slabs of buffalo mozzarella or some pecorino romano here. We need calabrian chili sauce or some top-shelf marinara. I dunno. It just needs...more. I know, I know, I can dress it up myself, but the packaging makes it look like a standalone appetizer if not a standalone meal.

Three bucks for a decent slab of focaccia bread isn't a terrible deal, but we both just expected better from the fixins. Probably wouldn't buy again. Three and a half stars from the beautiful wifey. Three out of five stars from me for Trader Joe's Italian Tomato & Red Onion Focaccia.



Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Trader Joe's BBQ Chicken Pizza


Aside from plain cheese, I think barbecue chicken might be my favorite pizza flavor of all time. I'm not really a pepperoni guy. Neither veggie lovers nor meat lovers appeals to me much, although I've had a decent beef brisket pizza or two in my day. I find the concept of breakfast pizza intriguing, but the execution usually leaves me wishing I'd gotten something safer.

Something safer...like barbecue chicken. Yum. Throw a couple different cheeses and some onions on there and it's an easy crowd pleaser. It's always interesting when Trader Joe's does something simple and classic like this. They often try to Trader Joe's-ify it somehow—like those cheeseburgers from last year. I think they're the best frozen cheeseburgers I've ever had, but more than half the people I talked to about them disagreed.


My take on this pizza? It's adequate, but not much more than that. I wish they would have Trader Joe's-ified it. Like why wouldn't they have used one of their own top-notch barbecue sauces on this product? It lacks that je ne sais quoi that TJ's products often deliver. No wonder they didn't do anything fancy with the packaging. This is typical grocery store fare all the way—not terrible, but not what I'm looking for at Trader Joe's.

In its defense, there's plenty of chicken, though it wasn't distributed very evenly around the pizza. That's easy enough to remedy. The quality of the meat is fine, too. The crust, the sauce, and even the onions just aren't doing anything particularly memorable. This pizza is very similar to, though not quite as good as, the California Pizza Kitchen brand frozen bbq chicken pizza.


At $5.49, this item is a little cheaper than most frozen pizzas I've purchased lately, but it's also a good bit smaller. Probably would not buy again. Two and a half stars from me. Sonia is much more positive about the pizza than I am, though she admittedly is extremely hungry AND she slathered hers with about half a bottle of Jack Daniel's brand barbecue sauce. Three and a half stars from her for Trader Joe's BBQ Chicken Pizza.



Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Trader Joe's Organic Red Lentil Sedanini


One comment/question/criticism about this blog that we've seen a few times throughout the years is: Why do you spend so much time on products that are somewhat lackluster or mediocre? Just come out and tell us what's GOOD at Trader Joe's. It is the name of the blog, after all.

It's a fair point to make. And to the folks that ask it, I generally just refer them to the "Pantheon" and "really darn good" links in the right side bar of the blog. Those are the links that answer the question: "What's Good at Trader Joe's?" at least in our humble opinions. And the "blahhh" and "not so great" links answer another frequently asked question: "What's NOT Good at Trader Joe's?" Again, in our minds, anyway. Your mileage may vary.


There are now over TWO THOUSAND reviews posted on this blog, many of which cover more than just a single TJ's product, so logically a lot of those items are going to fall somewhere in the middle of the pack. It's just the nature of the beast. We try to cover products objectively and accurately enough so that even if we don't love something our readers might get a hunch if they would like it, or vice versa.

All that to say that this is yet another fine product and should be a hit with folks who do the organic thing or the gluten free thing, but it's pretty much middle-of-the-road pasta in other respects. Three bucks gets you six servings of red lentil pasta imported from Italy. It's easy to make and goes fairly well with basic marinara sauce and parmesan cheese. I'm sure you could serve this sedanini any way you'd serve regular pasta.

It tastes very similar to Trader Joe's Risoni, also made with red lentils. It's an earthy, legumey flavor. Texture-wise, it's not quite a dead ringer for wheat-based pasta, but it's close. It might be a little firmer and less stretchy, if that makes sense.

Probably wouldn't buy again unless we were entertaining guests with dietary restrictions, but then again, it might be a nice break from regular glutenful pasta once in a blue moon. Three and a half stars a piece from Sonia and me for Trader Joe's Organic Red Lentil Sedanini.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Trader Joe's Organic Italian Artisan Gigli Pasta


When I see the word "Gigli," all I can think of is that 2003 masterpiece starring Ben Affleck and J. Lo. Man, that was the golden age of cinema, I tell ya. They don't make rom-coms like that anymore.

Likewise, this pasta is similarly memorable. They're shaped like little flowers. I guess "gigli" is the Italian word for "lilies." How cute. They're pretty and dainty, but there's enough dough there that you've got something to sink your teeth into. It's a fun yet practical shape for pasta. Also known as "campanelle," the shape resembles bells as well as horns or trumpets, or "trompetti."


The product is organic and kosher, but it won't break the bank at about three bucks for nine servings. We've had it tossed with extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese, and Italian Style Sprinkle. We've tried it with marinara sauce and ground beef. We made some pasta salad with veggies and Italian dressing. And it's absolutely delightful with the Limone Alfredo Sauce.


The "best by" date on this bag was marked as September of 2026. That's quite a long shelf life. We'll be keeping some in the back of the pantry for sure. Boil for 5 to 7 minutes and you've got the base for a tasty meal. Imported from Italy.

Three and a half stars from me, four stars from the beautiful wifey for Trader Joe's Organic Italian Artisan Gigli Pasta.



Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Trader Joe's Beef Bulgogi


It's been a minute, but we've seen bulgogi beef on this blog before. And even that wasn't my first bulgogi rodeo. Although this is a step in the right direction, my beef with this beef is similar to my beef with the last beef.

But let's start off with some positives first. For one, the flavor of this meat is utterly superb. The sauce is amazing. It's sweet, savory, and succulent—made with soy sauce and onion, and there's even a few fruit juices and purees in the mixture: apple, pear, and pineapple. The meat itself is rich and delicious. No complaints in the taste department whatsoever.


Thirteen bucks might seem steep for this type of frozen product, but there's a full pound of beef here. You could easily feed a family of five or six with this single product, provided you had rice or veggies to supplement the meal. So the price and quantity of this item seems reasonable to me, too.

The only thing preventing me from giving this product a perfect score is the chewiness and gristle present in some of the bites. I'm super picky about the texture of meat for some reason. Always have been. The bulgogi I had from Korean restaurants was melt-in-your-mouth perfect in every way. This just isn't. Overall, it's extremely tender like bulgogi is supposed to be, but just about every other bite—particularly in the larger slices of meat—there'd be gristle I not only felt in my mouth...but could hear when I chewed it. Ugh. Such a shame. I really wanted to love this stuff.


As it is, I'll throw out three and a half stars for the overall flavor and non-gristly bites. Sonia was similarly impressed with the flavor and displeased with the texture, so three and a half stars from her as well on Trader Joe's Beef Bulgogi.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Trader Joe's Portuguese Bacalhau Tartelettes


These aren't the first Portuguese tarts we've tried from TJ's. We had some desserty, breakfasty custard tarts a few years back. I thought these might be similar. And in some ways they are, of course, but these are actually fishy, dinner-ish tarts, rather than dessert ones.

If you didn't know that "bacalhau" was the Portuguese word for "salted cod," well you're not alone. I guess Trader Joe expects us to be multilingual now. I've nearly worn out my Duolingo app with a 1,365 day streak going on, which I'm very proud of. But I'm learning español and brushing up on Deutsch, but alas, not Português.


It does say "cod" on the box, too, to be fair. But some of us have attention deficit issues here, TJ's. Sometimes your product names are lame and boring, and other times I wish you'd just stick with English. "Cod tarts" would have worked here. But I digress.

Air fryer instructions? Check. Eight tiny frozen fish apps, each with its own little pie tin? Check. Twenty minutes later, it's time for our mid-day meal.

Butter, eggs, potato, and salted fish never tasted so good. Sonia and I demolished the whole pack in a matter of minutes. The tartelettes smelled and tasted similar to New England clam chowder to me, but with a buttery, flaky croissant thrown into the mix instead of crackers or croutons. I never had cod that approximated the taste or texture of clams before, but that's what I got for ya. Fortunately, I love almost all seafood including clams.


The mixture is approximately 50% crispy, flaky, bready shell and 50% soupy, chowdery, fish filling. I was tempted to try to eat mine with my bare hands, but I wound up using a fork. They can be a tad messy.

$4.99 for the pack. Product of Portugal. Another exotic, restaurant-quality appetizer from Trader Joe's. Would buy again. These made a great stand-alone meal for us, but I bet they'd be even better as an appetizer. Four stars from the beautiful wifey. Four and a half stars from me for Trader Joe's Portuguese Bacalhau Tartelettes.



Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Trader Joe's Italian Artisan Heart Shaped Pasta


Well wouldn't you know it? Trader Joe's Heart Shaped Pasta is back just in time for V.D. season! What's V.D. season, you ask? Valentine's Day, of course. What were you thinking? Get your mind out of the gutter.

Anyhoo, it's real Italian artisan pasta that's shaped like little hearts. Apparently, it's fairly difficult to find heart-shaped pasta for under three bucks..? I don't know, personally. It's not like I was seeking it out. It was just there on the shelf at Trader Joe's screaming, "Review me! Review me!" So here we are...


I mean, the pasta is decent. If boiled correctly, it comes out tender but firm, you know—al dente if you wanna get all authentically Italian and stuff. Of course, you'll need some sauce and maybe some grated parmesan to make it a meal. If you want to go the whole nine yards, you might throw in some meatballs or garlic bread and maybe a nice bottle of cabernet. Whatever floats your boat. I'm sure this isn't the first time you've made pasta for dinner.

I don't find this product to be head and shoulders better than any other ordinary pasta. I mean, it's pretty normal in the flavor department if you ask me. The colors are kind of pinkish and off-white. They're not particularly vivid, especially after cooking them. But if we wanted neon pink and red food, we'd be shopping somewhere other than Trader Joe's and buying stuff with chemical dyes, right? This stuff is colored with tomato and beet powder.


It's cute I guess. Pick up a pack, gentlemen, if you want to keep your ladies happy for the Hallmark holiday. Or if you're single, make some for yourself. Your tears of loneliness can salt the boiling water.

$2.49 for a pound of V.D. pasta. Product of Italy. Three and a half stars a piece from Sonia and me for Trader Joe's Italian Artisan Heart Shaped Pasta.



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.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Trader Joe's No Boil Noodles


Ah, here we have deliciously convenient No Boil Noodles. Let's make some for lunch today, shall we? I bet they're crazy easy to prepare. That's nice to not have to boil them. Let's see the heating instructions. <flips package>​ First, "Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil." Wait. What? <Rubs eyes> "Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Cook 5 minutes. Drain and serve." <flips package again> Reads product name: "Trader Joe's No Boil Noodles." <shakes head> For being "no boil" noodles, there's more boiling involved than I would have assumed.

Okay, okay. To be fair, that's only one of the recommended heating methods. The other simply involves stir frying the noodles with whatever sauce you want and does not involve boiling. But still...


No heating method seemed to give these noodles the perfect texture. They weren't hard per se, but they never got truly soft either. Cheap ramen has a better mouthfeel than these guys.

The noodles come in super-tangled nests. Only after heating them for a good long time do they start to unravel. Like most noodles, these are quite boring by themselves and are completely dependent upon sauces and additives to make them flavorful. We added onions, peppers, broccoli, and teriyaki sauce for a makeshift stir fry and found it palatable enough.

Sonia is pretty picky about her noodles and has tried many, many Asian noodle-based dishes. She's not exactly a connoisseur, but she knows what she likes and doesn't like. She's not hating on this particular product, but she definitely likes the Momofuku style squiggly noodles better than these.

$2.49 for 8.8 oz isn't a bad price. Product of Italy. We polished off the bag in short order but wouldn't buy these again. There are plenty of other cheap noodles out there that we like better than Trader Joe's No Boil Noodles. Three stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Trader Joe's Chicken, Cheese & Green Chile Pupusas


In my experience, pupusas were always the staple food for folks from El Salvador. Those Salvadoreños would seize any opportunity to introduce us gringos to their favorite pupusa joint, often just a hole in the wall or some unsuspecting apartment in a random neighborhood. They'd come out with lots of little clear plastic bags tied at the top with rubber bands. It might have looked like a shady narcotics deal if not for the fact the bags were obviously filled with veggies, sauces, and shredded cheese.

The base element for those pupusas was always a puffy pancake-esque cake similar to the one we have here, although those were generally much lighter. Some weren't filled at all, and all the flavor came from whatever you put on top—usually some pickled cabbage, a thin salsa, and jack cheese—possibly shredded chicken or other meat. Others had a thin layer of beans or maybe cheese baked into the middle of the disc.


Lacking the cabbage topping and unique salsa, I was skeptical of this offering from Trader Joe's. Honestly, there's nothing wrong with them, and their filling is quite a bit more interesting than the street style pupusas I've had in the past. There's no detectable chicken pieces. It's just a whirled mush of chicken and cheese with a few flecks of green chiles scattered throughout.

Using the air fryer method, the breading part of the cake gets slightly crispy. It's a good quality corn masa—authentic enough for me. The overall flavor is salty and savory and there's enough chicken and cheese flavor to be satisfying. The chile pieces add a bit of a kick, but salsa of any kind is in order if you're craving something truly picante.


We added onions to ours in lieu of Salvadoran slaw and experimented with a few different types of hot sauces and salsas. Nothing quite replicated what we'd had from restaurants but we were happy enough to finish the meal, one pupusa each, and contemplated heating the third one immediately and splitting it between the two of us, although in the end, we opted to save it for later.

I think the moral of the story here is to buy or make some Salvadoran cabbage relish, or "curtido," and have it on standby when you eat these. While any tomato-based salsa will do in a pinch, looking up an authentic recipe online might be worth it in this instance, too. Either way, it's not a bad product and it's a simple way to introduce yourself to the world of pupusas.

$4.79 for three servings. Three and a half stars a piece from Sonia and me for Trader Joe's Chicken, Cheese & Green Chile Pupusas.



Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

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