Google Tag

Search This Blog

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Trader Joe's Really Expensive Authentic Handcrafted Chicken Burritos

Work lunches have always been a little tricky for me. I don't want to go out and spend $5 or $10 every day on lunch. We also rarely have leftovers to pack, and I don't plan ahead to pack a meal at night, nor do I ever wake up with enough time to make a sandwich or anything in the morning. So generally this leaves me with options that are quick to grab as I run out the door, and that are easily prepared at the typical work lunch room (sink, fridge/freezer and microwave bank), and ideally cheap. By default, most weeks this has meant stocking up on Chef Boyardee goods with the pull-tab can lids ... mmm, tasty. Not. Coworkers openly mock me for it - "Hey, you got dinosaurs or ABCs today?" - as they chomp down on their delivery pizza and wings (coincidentally, these same ones complain a lot about "never having money" ... hmmm). A man's gotta eat, but after so many cans of mini-ravioli, you gotta find some other options too.

Fortunately, Trader Joe's seems to have some possibilities worth exploring.

One of the first canned pasta alternatives I stumbled upon were his Really Expensive Authentic Handcrafted Chicken Burritos (REAHCBs). They appealed to me for a few different reasons. First off, I love burritos and nearly everything about them - tortillas, meat, beans, cheese, whatever you can fill them with, and wrap it all up - delicious and vaguely Mexican, and I love any Mexican food that doesn't include cow stomach. Secondly, the directions seemed pretty short and simple to make - keep frozen, unwrap when you're ready to eat, cover them with a paper towel, and nuke 'em for a couple minutes. Quick and easy enough for a workplace meal. Thirdly, well, I didn't realize it until I started busting them out, but as a work place food, they look pretty impressive. One of the middle-aged ladies in the lunch room asked where I got them - "they look too good to be from the vending machine," she said. Judging by the look on her face, I could have probably told her they were from the Sharper Image and she would have believed me. As the guy previously most famous in the lunchroom for an unnatural obsession with the Chef, it felt good to have some recognition (however fleeting) as having the Cadillac of microwavable meals. Their pretty impressive name certainly helped.

Well, overall the burritos are pretty decent, but also somewhat tough to get a reliable gauge on through no fault of their own. I blame the work microwaves. The directions say to defrost for two minutes, then go on high for a minute - yeah, show me a work microwave that can you can trust to do just that. There's not even a defrost setting on ours, so I resorted to heating on high for about four or five minutes. The result was a burrito alternating between containing molten hot bean-y magma scorching the inside of my mouth and literal ice chunks which served as relief. The tortilla itself got a little chewy in the process too. But that's CVS's fault, not Trader Joe's, I think.

Taste-wise, the REAHCBs work for a lunch option. The filling is mostly typical bean filling with dark meat chicken chunks. It's flavored with some tomato, onion, and typical spices which give it a little kick, but certainly not taste bud overkill. When it comes to texture, I'd prefer if there were some whole beans or the occasional vegetable chunk in there to mix it up a bit. The tortilla is a decent flour one, but nothing terribly special either.

They're certainly not Really Expensive (I think they were $2.49 for the package) and depending on your appetite they can make one or two lunches. As for Authentic ... well, that can be a relative term. They're not nearly as "authentic" (or for that matter, "handcrafted") as some of the most delicious burritos and related Mexican food I've had in Mexican mountain villages where the women woke up at 4 a.m. to grind the corn and the chickens were clucking around three hours before being served up. But of course, that's not what I could expect either, so I won't hold it against them. Just that Trader Joe character can get a little boastful at times, that's all. At least he wasn't stretching the truth when it came to the "Chicken" and "Burrito" part.

I'll give them a little bit of the benefit of the doubt. With a better preparation method, I'm sure they'd be a little bit better, and I'm somewhat indecisive between giving a 3 and a 3.5 for them. But since Sandy hasn't had them (they have that killer word "tomato" prominently displayed), I'm solely responsible for their grading, so I'll give them one of each.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, December 27, 2010

Trader Joe's World's Puffiest Sour Cream and Onion Corn Puffs

Hey everybody! Sorry for the extended break ... just a few days after the latest post, family Christmas celebrations kicked into high gear, and in my family that means lots and lots of food, homemade, nonstop. I'm talking hundreds of cookies, cheesebread, Swedish tea ring, pork roast, mashed potatoes, ham, mac and cheese, cheese omelets, etc. All that good I thought I was doing at the gym went down the tube (kinda literally!). Mix that in with a few days of recovery time, a little rest for the taste buds, and finally I feel like I can make honest reviews again. No offense to Trader Joe, but there's nothing that he can offer up that can compete with any of my family's homemade goodies.

Quick sidenote: My sis got me not one but two TJ cookbooks where everything in the recipe is made from TJ foodstuffs. Awesome gift, and looking forward to trying out some dishes - if I stumble across anything particularly good, I'll share for sure.

TJ's Sour Cream and Onion Corn Puffs made a good first entry back into regular non-holiday fare. I'll take his world that they're the "World's Puffiest" - I haven't exactly spanned the globe a la Andrew Zimmern and tasted corn puffs from across the international food spectrum while making as many happy sighs and groans as he does. But they are pretty puffy. Texture-wise, they are a treat. Although in appearance they resemble packing peanuts, they're definitely crunchy on the exterior with their puffy popcorn-like interior filling out the shell, so they're not quite like Cheetos either. They'd be pretty crappy if they were all puff and no crunch. In case you were wondering, they're strictly puffs with no kernels like popcorn. They're light and easy to munch down, not terribly filling, which makes grabbing a couple handfuls and chowing down just a little too easy to do. They're just okay taste-wise, I'd say. The onion flavor is subtle yet prevalent - it seems to be a light coating of mild onion salt (i.e, complete opposite of Funyun-style salt orgy). The sour cream doesn't seem to make its way on every puff. It's more like little sour cream pockets here and there that are pretty noticeable when your taste buds find them. I guess this way they're better by the handful then they are individually.

These guys are kind of hard to rate. Both Sandy and I like them, but don't consider them to be that spectacular. Yet when we tried them the other day, we had to rip the bag away from us and close it up after eating way too many of them. Maybe it was their crunchy, puffy texture or maybe it was their little sour cream blasts, but we wolfed down half the bag in not a lot of time. Of course, it could have just been our appetites still coming down off their holiday high. Sandy gave them a solid 3 out of 5 Golden Spoons - "a good, average snack" is what she said. I agree with her assessment and give them a 3 as well. The jury's out to see if they'll be a repeat buy.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Trader José's Super Seeded Tortilla Chips

I'll spare you the details, but from what I understand, diverticulitis is not a pleasant thing to have. Basically, it's a condition in some people who cannot properly digest seeds, nuts, and things of the like because their intestines don't like them. I know someone with what I assume to be severe diverticulitis, and he claims if he were to eat any seeds, he'd end up in the hospital. It's really nothing all that funny.

But, it must suck to have it. Imagine. No popcorn ... no pumpkin seeds ... no freshly toasted everything bagels with semi-melty cream cheese. Extra care must be taken when eating watermelon. You don't know what rye bread or Chick-Fil-A buns taste like. Think of all the extra work if you want to put peppers in your chili.

And up there with all of those injustices of the condition, no Trader Jose's Super Seeded Tortilla Chips for you, either.

Trader Jose found him some good chips here. The first bite offers lots of evidence that they're tough to beat. They seem to be a bit thicker than most, so they have a good satisfying crunch that other chips seem to miss. The seeds add a good nutty undertone, enough to be noticeable but not enough to interfere greatly with salsa and whatever else you might eat them with. Sandy and I heartily recommend pairing them with some Trader Joe's Peach Salsa, but I assume any type of chunky salsa would be a decent match. I crumbled some up to put in a bowl of homemade chili, and that worked really well because they're so thick and crunchy, they didn't get soggy at all. My last bite still had a good, loud crunch in it. Some other brands of tortilla chips tend to be overly salty, and these guys, while not exactly low sodium, don't make you feel like you just swallowed some ocean water either.

And they must be as relatively good for you as tortilla chips can be. Though not expressly marketed as being organic, all their ingredients say they are, and I thought I saw a blurb somewhere on the bag saying they were. I was too busy munching them down to really notice, though. They're gluten-free, which is nice for all you crazy celiacs out there. Plus, all the benefits of the seeds ... let's see ... well, we all know Barry Bonds was actually telling the truth when he credited flax seed oil for helping him hit all those home runs. Chia seeds can help turn ordinary ceramic creations into lovable furry green animals or definite office conversation starters. Hemp makes you cool with the hippies. I think. There's also poppy seeds, which we all know what they do for you on drug tests, and caraway seeds, which, uh ... well, I have no idea what any of the seeds do but I trust Trader Jose implicitly. Amigo hasn't let me down yet.

Trader Joe's has a lot of pretty good chip options, and these guys are Sandy's and my tortilla chip du jour. I think we downed two bags of them in about a week's time. I asked her how many golden spoons she would rate them, and she just said "a lot", which to me means four out of five, mostly because I give them a four as well.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

You Might Like: