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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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Trader Joe's Firecracker Shrimp

In a recent post, I described the new morning routine that Sandy, Baby M and I are now have now that we're both back to work while M's off at baby school (fairly conveniently at Sandy's jarb). Those can be a little rough. Know what else is tough? Evenings. For those of you with kids, you probably know that already, and I don't want to sound whiny, but we're just trying to get settled into the "new normal." Finish up a long day of work, get home, feed the baby, take care of the dog, feed the baby again, be tired, be hungry, deal with a crying baby who apparently cannot stand the mere thought of both of us eating at the same time, do chores...the list doesn't end. Add in the occasional run to the chiropractic office not only for Sandy's back, but also for my elbows and arms to stop hurting after sneezing (true story), and it can only make things more hectic.

No wonder convenient meals-in-a-bag are so popular. There's barely time to do much else some nights, especially when your belly just needs some grub before moving on to the next thing. While we definitely got a preference for homemade dinners and have maintained a good habit of those whenever possible, there's some nights we just kinda cave in and grab something quick 'n easy.

Recently we nabbed ourselves the Trader Joe's Firecracker Shrimp. Most TJ shrimp products have done well for us - routinely, it's high-quality, fresh-tasting crustaceany critters that's not salty or gritty or mushy like too many other store brands I've had. Mostly our quibbles have only been with whatever gets slopped on them, or what they come packaged with. History holds true here. Excellent, excellent shrimp itself - fresh, roughly quarter-sized, firm, with a little light coating on them that crisped up in the oven well enough. Absolutely no complaints. It's just the sauce again. Exactly as you do with other products like the Mandarin Orange Chicken, after you bake the bites you swirl them in a bowl of the sauce. For something that's marketed under "Firecracker," I'd expect some heat, except TJ's repeats its classic error and confuses vinegar with spice, which is not that nice. Combine that with the lemon and sugar and whatnot tossed in, and the sauce tastes almost downright citrusy with nary a hint of the sriracha that it purportedly contains. I'm thinking the sauce would be greatly enhanced by adding some of my own chili powder or some crushed red pepper, but as it comes, it's lacking in our book.

That's not to write the dish off completely. But it's kinda disappointing, knowing just how much better it could actually be with a few small tweaks. Aside from the sauce, Sandy said the shrimp could do with either more breading, or none whatsoever. It probably didn't help that half the coating stuck on our foil-covered baking sheet. Also, say, if I were to buy this at a restaurant, I'd be happy with the quantity of shrimp for our $6.99, but for a make-at-home dinner, even a low effort one like this, either the price could stand to go down, or there could be an extra handful of shrimp included. No matter. It did well enough for a busy Monday night, and it reconfirmed that homemade dinners almost always win in our book. However you want to split our score, you're probably right.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Firecracker Shrimp: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons         


  1. Being a TJ fan myself, and having been disappointed at those sauce packets countless times, I always do a test tasting first, before adding it to the dishes. Like you said, the vinegar is too overpowering, there's way too much oil, and not enough heat to make it worth using. However, we though the shrimp by itself went really well with our stir-fried noodles. Definitely a keeper. The only problem is it's been out of stock in our store. Sigh!

    BTW, we looooooove your blog.

  2. Just found your blog and LOVING it. I recently grabbed these (and the coconut shrimp as well) to test in shrimp tacos for my teenager's newfound taste preference. Well, one of those busy nights happened and it didn't quite end up in tacos. I baked on stoneware (no sticking, mind you, and they crisp up quite nice because it draws moisture away from the food). While oven was doing its magic, I quickly stir-fried some vegs (carrots, onions, peppers, garlic) and some leftover rice. I tossed in a handful of frozen peas and corn, a couple scrambled eggs, then added in the shrimp and sauce and my family LOVED IT. We are whimps, so we did note the heat and were thrilled it wasn't scathing. I would rate it a 3.75 cuz it was a bit spendy. Thanks for doing what you do!