Hello. My name's Nathan, and I love Trader Joe's. My wife Sonia does too. She's a great shopper, has excellent taste and knows good value when she comes across it. As many of you know, Trader Joe's is unsurpassed in the world of good-value grocery stores, so we spend a lot of our time and money there. Although the store fairly consistently delivers great taste with its own unique line of food products, there are definitely some big-hits, and unfortunately, there are some misses...

After doing a couple of internet searches for reviews of TJ's food items, Sonia discerned an apparent dearth of good, quality reviews for the store's offerings. So, at her suggestion, we decided to embark on a journey of systematically reviewing every Trader Joe's product, resulting in the blog you are about to read...

A couple of months into our Trader Joe's rating adventure, an old college friend, Russ, who unbeknownst to me had been following our TJ's blog, decided that I had been slacking in my blogging duties (which, of course, I was) so he decided to contribute his own original TJ's reviews to the blog, thus enhancing it, making it more complete and adding to it a flavor of his own. He and his wife Sandy are also avid TJ's fans and, as you will soon discover, he is an excellent writer and is nearly as clever, witty and humble as I am.

Seriously though, Russ: You go, boy!

So here it is: "What's Good at Trader Joe's?"

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Trader Joe's Shrimp Stir Fry

So there's been much ado in the news over the past week or so about the old food pyramid being scrapped in favor of the new plate-shaped graphic to try and help us nutritionally illiterate Americans decide what's healthy and not to eat. One of the critiques which I actually heard of the old pyramid was, since fats and sugars and junk food were depicted as being the top of the structure, they were being portrayed as the crown jewels of the American diet, so the pyramid had an unintended effect of inadvertently encouraging unhealthy eating. As if, generally speaking, society needed that. I mean, just do a Google image search of the burger chain Hardee's, or think of the last fast food meal you grabbed. One of my neighbor's husband found what really should have been the new plate diagram, but unfortunately I couldn't find it to link to it. Instead of "fruit" and "grain" and so on on the diagram, it simply said "Don't eat processed crap." There's a lot to that simple statement, but in summary it's not coincidence that obesity and related health condition rates have skyrocketed in the past few decades with the growing popularity and easy availability of prepacked meals and products made from all sorts of cheap nefarious production methods.

It's one of the big reasons that Sandy and I have decided to go on a little experiment with our meals the next couple of weeks. We're going to try to avoid more processed products and make dinners from scratch, and try to stick to healthier sized portions and make healthier choices. We're certainly not experts on the matter but trying to give it the old college heave-ho. A couple nights, though, we're busy enough with stuff that we realize we won't necessarily have the time or energy to cook a full meal, so when making something from a box or bag, we're going to try and make healthier decisions.

Because of this approach we're toeing, I picked up TJ's Shrimp Stir Fry on my last trek to the local shop. Sandy was off babysitting, so I felt a little pressure as I was embarking on this new mission of healthy eating while flying solo. I stuck mostly to the list she scribbled down for me, but for a premade dinner, she just wrote down, "premade dinner." No guidance, and I was going to have to wing it. Lo and behold, a bag of frozen shrimp and vegetables that takes less than 10 minutes to make on a stovetop. Shrimp and vegetables = healthy, low fat, low calories. Check. Quick and easy = check. And since there's nothing but raw frozen shrimp and a variety of veggies, from what I can tell there's a comparative small amount of processing involved - maybe some preservatives, but nothing like any high fructose corn syrup randomly injected in. Oh wait, not even any preservatives, and there's a "gourmet pepper seasoning" packet tossed in too. It definitely seemed to match all the right criteria, so it made for a logical pick-up.

Sandy and I just had it tonight (somewhat ironically, after making an after work trek to the local food co-op and farmer's market for some goodies for other meals), and well, let's say I was higher on it before munching through it than afterwards. I'll start with the positives. The shrimp itself was good - pretty good in fact. It wasn't salty or mushy like what I've had with other frozen brands. Indeed, it was firm and fresh enough tasting, and TJ's tossed in something like 15 of them, so they weren't skimpy on it, either. And it was a pretty good selection of mixed veggies in the bag, too - red peppers, sugar snap peas, broccoli, water chestnuts. Along with some rice I made on the side, Sandy and I had plenty enough for dinner, and enough left over for me to take some rice and veggies to work for lunch. Despite all that, and despite its overall healthiness, it just lacked something, like a good light sauce or seasoning to tie it all together. That gourmet pepper packet? It consists mainly of black pepper and garlic powder, and for whatever reason I was hoping for something more Iron Chef than "first two things I saw on the spice rack" inspired, and there wasn't enough to have it permeate the dish anyways. I don't know if some soy sauce would be the proper response to this. Sandy ended up sprinkling on some crushed red pepper flakes, but for the integrity of this review I trudged through without any further dressing up. I appreciated the fact that a lot of the natural flavor of the shrimp and veggies came through, but I just couldn't shake the notion that something was missing, and neither could Sandy. Also, I know that just by putting in slightly more effort than opening a bag to dump into a skillet, I could have easily made something just as good if not even better, and certainly more tailored to our taste buds.

I think I know why Trader Joe's decided to keep his name on it and not Trader Ming or Trader Joe-San. Ming has brought us too many good things that it'd be a shame for this to sully his reputation, while that Joe-San character has more of a legacy of disappointment which is best not to perpetuate. Big Joe himself has enough of a solid rep that this won't sway it too much one way or the other. For a quick, easy, healthy bag meal, I guess it's not too bad, but it could be better. A lot better, actually. As it comes, it's just too bland for us, but with minor adjustments, I'm sure it could be a tastier dish. Really, just a light sauce or more seasoning, and it could be a bigger winner...But not today. Both Sandy and I give it a 3 and a shrug.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10


  1. hi, love your blog. just stumbled upon it!

    just wanted to let you know that this is filed under vegetarian, and fish is not eaten by vegetarians. thanks!

  2. Hi Sweet Karoline! I like your song. Anyways, about your statement ... you're right, depending on which vegetarian you ask. I actually tackled that topic before on two different posts (look up "Paneer Tikka Masala" and "Coconut Shrimp") and while I realize not every vegetarian would agree with that classification, it's my impression that seafood is generally "acceptable enough" to be generally classified as vegetarian. That's why I also tagged it with "seafood." Thank you, though, for your input, and I suppose if enough folks express a similar opinion, we'll eventually change it. We're all about popular demand here :)

  3. Ditto SweetKaroline. Seafood is not vegetarian.

    Russ, people who call themselves vegetarians who eat fish are not vegetarians. End of story. Just like people who are sexually active are not celibate. Just because they say they are and misrepresent themselves doesn't make it true. They are pescetarians. They have a word. Please help enforce their name! You have a seafood category, so let the liars go there. Actual vegetarians don't want to read about their fishy crap.

    Also, while those people say that, you will never find anything with fish in it labelled as vegetarian. Please amend this!

  4. I agree. Fish is not vegetarian. I'm not either. But fish is definitely not.

  5. Why is this tagged vegetarian? Fish is an animal, thus vegetarians do not eat it. Anyone who calls themself vegetarian but thinks it's "acceptable" to eat fish/shrimp/etc is NOT a vegetarian. It's a simple definition.

    Please remove this from the vegetarian section. I cannot trust any website that includes fish as "vegetarian."

  6. well, as I went over in my posts, it's not that simple at least in some folks' minds. I actually put the question of if our readers want us to include seafood in our vegetarian category up on our Facebook page. Feel free to cast a vote. Like I said, popular demand.

  7. I think it deserves a higher rating than just a 6, especially since the shrimp and veg, just plain, are quite tasty! I don't think this product is necessarily intended to be eaten as a meal as is. Seems to me its your frozen protein for any dish you'd want to create, and as a basic, it's really great!

  8. We tried it last night and thought it was pretty good. We spiced it up and seasoned Asian style, then, added cooked noodles to it. Very decent and comes in handy for a quick week night meal.

  9. Just found your blog and while I realize this is an old post, just wanted to toss you a suggestion! Soyaki is the bomb with this :) I agree the seasoning is too bland, but a little sauce makes it much better.

  10. I decided to try this, and am eating it while typing. There's a quality control issue with the bag I got - there's exactly one tiny bit of red bell pepper in it. And there are lots of large chunks of broccoli stems that aren't what I think of when I see broccoli listed as an ingredient, and to make it worse, they take longer to heat than all the rest of the veggies. I had to overcook everything else to warm up the centers of the broccoli stem chunks. And the seasoning is totally blah.

    One of TJ's losers, I think, and I won't be buying it again. That's too bad, because the basic idea is good, and the shrimp aren't bad, but the rest of the execution is lousy.

  11. My friend wants to learn how to cook stir fry and he's asking what is the easiest recipe that he can cook. I think this one is perfect for him. I will definitely share this to my friend. Thank you for sharing!

    Easy Stir Fry

  12. The stir fry is so good! I added in crushed garlic and a little butter then sauteed my shrimp in it. Added veggies and topped with siracha hot sauce. AMAZING and quick. Definitely a low carb favorite of mine. I didn't even need the rice!

  13. Lots of Food Police here. Sad! I love your blog no matter what you tag or why :)

  14. It's not being food police to point out that nobody really calls themselves vegetarian but eats fish in the USA at least. When people try to pick up food for a vegetarian or vegan, don't label it thusly if it has dead animals in it or else they will be very sad when their vegan or vegetarian friend refuses to eat it. Animals includes fish and other sea critters, birds, mammals, bugs, insects etc. And don't expect a good decision by poll, because the only ones whose opinion counts are vegans and vegetarians. Carnivore trolls will gleefully vote in favor of mislabeling. Honestly, if you want to know what's kosher, you don't ask a Baptist. And you also don't assume a little ham won't make it non-kosher... Although my otherwise intelligent aunt once tried to serve me meat tomato sauce on pasta because "it's only a little meat". I did without the sauce. And that's why I don't trust other people preparing my food! They just don't get it, whether it's a religious decision or allergies (got those, too).

  15. If you don't object to MSG, a little of that definitely helps here (also for the chicken chow mein they sell). Today I used that along with the seasoning packet, soy sauce, and some lemon juice and it ended up being pretty good.

    Butter would probably make it even better, and maybe give it sort of a teppanyaki-like flavor, but I wanted to keep it a little lower in fat so I just used some cooking spray on the pan.