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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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Trader Joe's Thai Red Curry Sauce and Low Sodium Soy Sauce

Sandy and I are coming up on our second anniversary in the next week or so. Don't worry, I know the date and got a special night set up for us. Know what got me talkin' with her a few years back? A cake. Seriously. For a church picnic, she made a homemade lemon lavender cake with white chocolate cream cheese frosting...I swear to this day one of the best things I've ever eaten, it was so impossibly good. I found out she made it, saw she was cute, knew she was single, and the rest is history. Due to the hours she spent baking it, Sandy's on record as saying she'll never make it again, which I'm strangely okay with, seeing as that I'd prefer not to keep fending off any more happy-bellied suitors. That cake's already got her one man, thank you very much.

Despite her baking prowess, I am predominantly the chef in our household, though. Not that I'm supremely talented or anything, but it just kinda works out that way more times than not, probably because I'm holed in a cubicle all day as she's wrestling a classroom worth of older toddlers. I tend to try and look at what we have and go from there. Have bread, cheese, butter, and leftover soup from our weekend crockpot-o'-goodness? Grilled cheese and soup for dinner. Bacon, eggs, and a certain hankering? Breakfast for dinner. Seeing as that we have a Home Depot bucket full of rice in our kitchen, we go to that fairly often for all sorts of tasty meals, and we nearly always have chicken and onions (which I chop under careful spousal supervision to make sure they're small enough under threat of revolt) and other tidbits around, so fried rice/chicken-and-rice dinners are pretty common, too. The question is, how should I make them tasty and different enough to keep them from getting old?

One decent choice is Trader Joe's Thai Red Curry Sauce. Is this the best curry sauce ever? Nah. We've gone out to enough Thai restaurants to know it's not in the running. But how many world class curry sauces do you have lurking around your pantry shelf? Thought so. It's thick, creamy, sweetened from the coconut milk, fairly rich, and a little kick to it. That's the main problem - the kick just isn't strong enough. Granted, this comes from a guy whose Thai waitress once said, in an equally polite and incredulous tone, "I have never seen a white person eat as spicy food as you." That earned her a big tip. The pureed red chiles just don't do enough, and when the ingredients say "spices" I presume that's just salt. Still, it's complex enough (I liked the little bit of ginger you can taste), with a little sweet and a little spicy, and most importantly, it does well enough when simmered with some chicken and served with rice to make a fairly good, satisfying dinner fairly quickly. There's also a yellow curry sauce available, and although it's been a while since we've had that, I remember it being pretty decent too, maybe even a little spicier. At the local shop anyways, it's $2.69 a bottle, and with a little discipline it can last more than one meal, though we're usually tempted otherwise.

Another go-to option is the Low Sodium Soy Sauce. Hmm, looking at the label, I'm not sure how that qualifies as "low sodium"...is regular soy sauce that much worse Na-wise?...eh. I've made my one nutritional stand recently to hold me over for a bit. Anyways, I frequently use the soy sauce for making a good-size batch of fried rice. Used to be that along with the soy sauce, I'd toss in different spices to try and come up with a good flavor combo. What does the trick for us now is a little extra soy sauce to get that flavor in and a sprinkling of crushed red pepper to add a little heat. It's a little sweet, definitely salty, and deep and robust, and it brings out a lot of goodness with chicken, rice, eggs, peas, peanuts or whatever else I toss in. TJ's soy sauce delivers a winner nearly every time unless I botch something up, like the time I confused the cinnamon and cumin. That was kinda weird. A bottle lasts a while, and it's something like $2 a pop, which is a small price to pay for some dependability for your rations.

I pressed Sandy for her opinion on the Thai Red Curry Sauce, and she gave me one of those looks. "32," she said. I pointed out that's not a valid Golden Spoon rating, and that there's no way she liked it 6.4 times as much as one of our favorite ice creams. "Arrrrgh, sometimes I just want to eat something and not try to rank it," she said. Poor thing. Must be tough to be hitched to one of the nation's prominent foodie-hack bloggers (and a self-indulgent one at that), with the pressure being what it is.* I finally figured out that by "32" she really meant "4" for the curry sauce, and I thought it best to not press my luck and ask her to rank a soy sauce, of all things. I can tell she likes both though, because when I present her with a hot dish of either, after a few bites, she usually says to our pooch, "Wimbles, Daddy makes good dinner. Yumyumyum." Both sauces make for one of the major flavors, so she's gotta like 'em both. I'll presume a 4 for her for the soy sauce as well...aww heck, matching fours all the way around. We're harmonious like that.

Bottom lines: Trader Joe's Thai Red Curry Sauce: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Trader Joe's Low Sodium Soy Sauce: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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*I'm not even recognized at the Pittsburgh store yet. That has to change.

5 comments:

  1. The yellow curry sauce IS a bit spicier (only a bit), and a bit more nutritionally sound (because, if I recall, the red sauce has egg in it, which shoots up its cholesterol/fat content).

    As for combos, I usually use the yellow curry mixed with (get ready) TJ's hot & sweet mustard, low-sodium soy, and chili sauce (forget its specific title), which makes for a spicy/salty/sweet blend that's not too bad.

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  2. I love the cake story.
    After dealing with an 'authentic' from Thailand red curry paste, I'll take the simplicity of TJ's stuff in a bottle any day, thanks. TJ's seems to be shy about adding real heat to anything. Old stereotypes about delicate hippie palates, I guess. The Thai rice bowl had some heat, as I recall.
    Great blog!

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  3. I know this post is really old but i found it while trying to figure out what to do with the Thai Red Curry I bought from TJ's. I made the most delicious recipe tonight! I sauteed cubes of chicken breast, garlic, onion, sliced baby zucchini, sliced red bell pepper, sliced carrots. I then added 3/4 of the bottle of sauce, 3 tbsp unsalted crunchy peanut butter, juice of one lime, sriracha, and tons of basil, chives, and cilantro. It was SO GOOD. You definitely have to doctor this bottled sauce up though.

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  4. I bought this yesterday and added vegetables, steak, bla bla to it . I agree with the above poster, you have to doctor the sauce up. I added 1/2 a can of coconut milk and some chili peppers. It was AMAZING. Left overs were MORE amazing. :)

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  5. Get the tj ghost peppers in the twist bottle for so heat...be careful tho...they are HOT.

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