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, May 1, 2012

Trader Ming's Citrus Glazed Chicken

We've all had one of those weeks. You know the kind I'm talking about. The ones where you (and perhaps your spouse or partner) look around in the fridge and pantry, kinda say "meh", then think of the all the busy nights and things you gotta do, and say "Screw it, I'm not going grocery shopping this week." It doesn't matter that you don't even remember buying half the things, or that saltines and peanut butter would have to be a viable meal option to make it all work, it's your decision and you're sticking to it.

Sandy and I had one of those weeks last week. We were literally busy with something every single night then we were going out of town for the weekend, so it seemed kinda pointless to make our weekly TJ trek. While we weren't quite scraping the pantry enough to unearth some garlic bread sprinkle that expired in 1977, there still were few enough options that it took a little planning so we could talk ourselves into it. Dinners seemed to be doable enough if we relied heavily on our staple foods, but then my lunches came up - gotta eat, and no way in h-e-double bendy straw I'm gonna turn myself into a dollar menuaire for a week. That's just nasty.

That's when Sandy spotted the bag of Trader Ming's Citrus Glazed Chicken and gave me the look that said "There's a couple lunches for you right there, buster. I'm not gonna touch it, no matter what." We first picked it up months and months ago, hoping it'd be another Trader Ming orange-tinged classic, but were kinda disappointed by it, so naturally I bought it again soon thereafter if for no other reason to remind myself of why we didn't like it so I could warn all of you. That's what I do for you, readers. Anyways, naturally, since we remembered not liking the dish, we avoided it...and avoided it....avoided it some more...hid it in the back and covered it up...forgot about it...ate everything else...and now its time had come. There's only so many microwave quesadillas I can eat in one week, anyways.

The citrus chicken wasn't as bad as I remembered, but that's not to say it was all that good, either. Let's go with some positives first. First, it's ridiculously easy to make, to the point where Trader Joe's has taken the trouble of even cooking rice and including it for you, if you'd just be bothered enough to cook it up in a few tablespoons of water while you're sauteing up the chicken and veggies. Also, the chicken tastes about as reasonably good as some frozen white chunkified chicken can, unlike some other TJ's we call fowl play on. And the glaze, well, it's not overly citrusy, so it tastes alright, but you won't be scraping up every bit of it, either. Plus, you get a little baggy of cashews, kinda like how you get a little prize or sticker with your Cracker Jack.

The big problem is the veggies. I remember this being true the first time Sandy and I had it, and it was true this time around, too, so I'm thinking it's not a fluke. By the time they're stirfried up, they're just kinda mushy and bland. That's true for the green beans, red peppers, broccoli, carrots, and whatever else is in there. It's a shame, because I like each one of those, but was impartial to slightly repulsed by many a bite. For me, a good stirfry has veggies that are firm, with a little snap to them, and still have a lot of natural flavor to them. Not true here. Also, because there was so little chicken, it seemed like the bag was over 90% suboptimal vegetable matter.

Sandy has a lot of "food rules," and the biggest one is "no wimpy veggies - fresh is best." So yeah, she was only too willing to pass up a second round. Kinda like the Pittsburgh Penguins and the playoffs recently.* I can't really ask her for a grade, but I'll go out on a limb and assume. Really, knowing her, if she couldn't just pick out all the chicken and leave the rest to me, I'd doubt she'd give it more than a one. Me? Eh...I don't know. Part of me wants to give it the benefit of the doubt for being in the freezer for a while then eating it only reheated, but to my memory it tasted about the same both times. My general impression is, it's not all that great, so let's go with a 2.

Bottom line: Trader Ming's Citrus Glazed Chicken: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons
* I live in Pittsburgh so I can say that. If you don't, you can't.

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