Archive for the 'Trader Joe’s' Category


Pumpkin things I’ve tasted, including a 1-year-old pie

One of the many great perks about this season is the proliferation of pumpkin sweets everywhere you turn:

  • Pies, traditional and whoopee (the latter being more cake-like, but that’s a debate for another time)
  • Cakes/cheesecakes/cupcakes
  • Cookies
  • Pumpkin bread, which borders on health food
  • Seasonal coffee drinks

This time of year must be a bane for pumpkin-haters. Personally, I’m in heaven. It’s not so much the flavor of pumpkin itself–which on its own doesn’t really taste like much–but more about the spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice (which sounds like something you’d find in a 1970s cupboard, next to the box of lard).

Below, a rundown of a few pumpkin sweets that have crossed my plate lately:

1)      Trader Joe’s pumpkin cheesecake (pictured above w/creme fraiche, also from Trader Joe’s): At $6.99, that’s less than the price of one slice at the Cheesecake Factory. I had high hopes, but they should’ve called this “pumpkin-ish cheesecake.” The flavors are pretty muted, while the all-important crust lies in a purgatory between pastry and graham cracker. Half of this cheesecake is still in the freezer. I’m not anticipating defrosting it anytime soon.

2)      Mrs. Smith’s classic pumpkin pie: Speaking of not defrosting things soon, I got this pie for $2 from Giant during the 2010 holiday season. It’s been taking up precious real estate in the freezer ever since. Given that it’s nearly a year old, I wasn’t sure whether to bake it or toss it. Upon inspection, it had just a tiny layer of freezer burn that scraped off easily. So into the oven it went. The pie actually came out perfectly—the crust even stayed crusty. Not sure what kind of industrial chemicals that takes, but someone who eats a year-old pie probably shouldn’t be quibbling.

3)       Red Velvet pumpkin-sage cupcake (above, right): This is one of the November flavors-of-the-month at Rabbit, a Clarendon salad/grill place that serves Red Velvet cupcakes (same owners). I liked the sugared sage leaf, but the strong sage taste in the frosting threw me off. My brain couldn’t help thinking I was eating stuffing. The cupcake part was decently moist–overall, it’s a good cupcake. I was probably just too full after my amazing meal there to fully appreciate this.


Trader Joe’s fudge-filled chocolate chip cookies

This is one of the rare desserts from the Trader Joe’s freezer case that I haven’t tried. But I’m glad I did. The soft chocolate chip cookies are slightly salty, which helps these from being over-the-top sweet. The “fudge” filling is actually ganache (chocolate + cream). My only beef is that they’re tiny like French macaroons, so you’re not quite sure what constitutes a serving. I’m thinking 3-4 would do the trick but according to the back of the box, 1 serving is 2 cookies. Um, not for this hungry girl.



Trader Joe’s Peppermint Hot Chocolate

I bought this as a hostess gift one year and it got rave reviews, so I tossed it into my cart on a December trip to Trader Joe’s. It was an impulse buy, one I’d wished I’d left in the candy aisle right before the registers, aka the graveyard of reconsidered purchases.

Trader Joe’s products are usually a decent value, but this is $4.99 for 8 oz, and we only got 4 servings out of it. By comparison, a 12 oz bag of Ghiradelli chocolate chips is less than $3 at Target, and goes a lot farther when making hot chocolate. You don’t get the nicely designed tin or peppermint zing, but you do get a richer chocolate flavor (and you can always stick a Starlight mint in it, to similar effect). Or if you’re a food hoarder like me and stockpiled TJ’s Minty Mallows, that does the trick too.

Lactose-intolerant folks, be warned: this TJ’s product contains nonfat milk powder.


Hot chocolate avec Trader Joe’s Minty Mallows

This kind of weather calls for nursing a mug of hot chocolate in front of a fire. If you happen to have a couple Minty Mallows from Trader Joe’s to top it off with (they seem to be sold out everywhere except the Foggy Bottom store–I saw a few boxes left today), all the better. These well-traveled marshmallows are made in France, so they’re a bit beaten up in the boxes. But tasty, all the same.

I made the mistake of making my hot chocolate with cocoa powder, the baking kind, earlier this week. It turned out a bit bland. After consulting some online recipes, I learned the secret: use chocolate chips. Get the milk or soy milk simmering but not boiling, take it off of the stove, then whisk the chips in quickly. A dash of vanilla, maybe a cinnamon stick, and you’re done. I used semisweet Ghiradelli chips. Didn’t even have to chop them up or add sugar.


Trader Joe’s mochi coconut “ice cream,” and how traditional mochi can kill you

This is a pretty great product, especially if you’re lactose intolerant. The coconut filling is creamy enough that it could be mistaken for regular ice cream, only your GI tract isn’t at the mercy of a bottle of lactase. (You get 2 of each flavor in a perfectly pre-portioned mochi wrapper.) The mango was my favorite, followed by the dark chocolate.

Speaking of which, I have never, ever understood the popularity of mochi, which is a Japanese sticky rice cake widely found throughout East Asia. It’s like chewing on a super dense, unsweet marshmallow dusted with flour. My jaw tires just thinking about it. Sometimes there’s a sweet bean paste center or some other filling, which makes it marginally more appealing.

You may have seen small mochi bits in the toppings bar at your Red Mango or Pinkberry. Mochi is a New Year’s tradition in Japan, and every year a few people–usually the elderly–choke to death on it. Which results in another (rather morbid) Japanese New Year tradition: reporting the mochi death toll.

Luckily the mochi in this product isn’t your typical mochi, but a more gelatinous and rubbery shell that’s easy to chew. For me it was just a layer standing in the way of the coconut creaminess underneath. But at least it’s a lot more palatable than the kind of mochi that doubles as a Darwinian device.


Persian lime/orange flower/pistachio cake

I’ve been eating this delicious cake for breakfast for the past week, which is better warmed up in the microwave for a bit, served with a dollop of yogurt and sprinkling of pistachios. Since it’s made with yogurt and almond flour, I like to tell myself it’s a good start to the day.

Click for original recipe via

This cake reminds me of my friend/former coworker Shadi, who introduced me to the wonders of Persian food through our lunch swaps. Eating this takes you through the aisles of Middle Eastern specialty stores–the crates of limes, the bottles of flower waters, bags of crunchy pistachios, etc.

The original recipe calls for rosewater. I had orange flower water handy so I used that instead. Mind you, the taste of any kind of flower water may be overwhelmingly perfumy for some. You may want to completely leave out any kind of flower water if it’s not for you. Taste the syrup before you pour it on the cake.

Photo below is the rosewater version. You can decorate it with rose petals (they’re edible!).

Photo via Good Food Channel.

Recipe (modifed from “lime yogurt cake with rosewater and pistachios” recipe on


1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teas baking powder

pinch of salt

6 tbsp ground almonds (I used almond meal from Trader Joe’s)

7 tbsp superfine sugar

2 large eggs

1 tbsp honey

1 cup plain full-fat yogurt

1/2 cup vegetable oil

zest of 2 limes


Line the base of a 8.5 inch cakepan with parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Add the ground almonds and caster sugar, and mix.

In a medium bowl, mix the eggs, honey, yogurt, vegetable oil, and lime zest. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and slowly pour in the wet ingredients, whisking together until just combined. Pour batter into pan and bake about 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

For the syrup, boil 1/2 cup water and 6 tbsp caster sugar until reduced by half. Add the juice of 2 limes and boil until the mixture gets to a syrupy consistency, about minutes. Cool, then add 1-3 teas of orange water or rose water to taste.

Poke holes in the cake with a toothpick and pour the syrup on. Serve with yogurt and roasted pistachios.


Another reason I can’t stay away from the Trader Joe’s dessert case

The problem with mini desserts is you never know when to stop. If these were regular-sized eclairs, I’d just have one. Since they’re mini, I can’t figure out what’s reasonable. Two? Three? Maybe even four?

At any rate, these are just as good as what you’d get from the glass case of a patisserie, if a bit soggy from the defrosting process. It sucks when you get an eclair topped with waxy, faux chocolate (a la magic shell ice cream topping). Luckily, this dark chocolate fondant  tastes like the real deal.