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, July 31, 2014

Trader Joe's Zucchini Fries

Zucchini is one of the few things my dad was actually able to grow in the garden in our backyard when I was a kid. I think he managed to salvage a few tomatoes from the ravenous squirrels and rabbits as well, but as I've mentioned before, I've never been a fan of actual tomatoes, despite a paradoxical affinity for all tomato derivatives. Similarly, since raw zucchini is kinda nasty, he'd pan-fry a homegrown specimen or two from time to time, and it always surprised me how good it tasted. Now that Sonia and I have our own big backyard, we'll undoubtedly have our own garden here too, appropriately, in the Garden State. (Au revoir, Media, PA, TJ's. Hello Marlton, NJ, TJ's!) Can't wait to (attempt to) grow our own zucchini and fry them like my old man used to.

These zucchini fries from TJ's are good too, but there are a few key differences from those home-fried zucs I remember all those years ago. First, there's a noticeable coating of batter on these fries. It's apparently made of cornmeal and wheat flour. It's good. It's a nice touch. There's not too much and not too little. Secondly, the pieces of zucchini are completely inconsistent. Some of them are small, some of them are big, and some of them are really just globs of empty batter. And thirdly, due to the inconsistent sizes, it's really hard to cook the entire bag to perfection all at once. The little pieces cook faster and wind up a little charred. The big pieces wind up undercooked and a bit juicy on the inside. It's not a terrible thing, especially if you're one of those "variety is the spice of life" types. You get some crispy critters, similar to the texture of traditional fries, and you get some moist, squishy fries—which have a lot more real zucchini flavor.

Another oddity about these fellows was the absence of a sauce. The bag mentioned something about "serving them with your favorite sauce." Hmmm... I don't think they mean chocolate sauce. Can we have a hint, Trader Joe? Ketchup? Because I don't think that would work either. Fortunately for you readers, I looked up the product on TJ's own site, and they did throw us a bone and suggest sriracha or tzaziki as dipping options there. We actually had tzaziki and sriracha on hand when we ate these. I certainly wish I had known to try it with them at the time. I think that might have sealed the deal and put these puppies in the Pantheon had they included their own sriracha and/or tzaziki. But they're still really darn good as they are.

Having never tried fried zucchini before, Sonia was pretty enthusiastic about this dish. She gave it 4 stars. I'm going to go with 3.5. Let this blog post serve as a petition to TJ's to include a sauce in ver. 2.0.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Trader Joe's 4 Kouigns Amann

Somewhere in the depths of our vaults, I've written about (or at least alluded to) Saturday mornings. Best morning of the week, by far. More times than not, there's at least an opportunity to sleep in a little, wake up, make some good coffee in the French press, and actually have a chance to sit down, relax, and enjoy it with my lovely wife Sandy. Granted, the rest of the day might be filled with errands and odds and ends, but usually those are on our terms, not The Man's. A nice, peaceful, relaxing morning was exactly what we had this past Saturday - heck, even our toddler slept in til about 9:30, as did we.

Wish I could say Trader Joe's 4 Kouigns Amann really added something a little extra special. Breakfast is almost always my favorite meal of the day, and I felt a break would be good from the normal eggs/toast/breakfast meat/fruit routine. I've heard these pastries are a pretty decadent treat, and we've had wonderful success with another proof-and-bake treat in the past, giving me high, high hopes.

Alas, not to be. I think I've narrowed it down. First, the proofing process went a little askew. Think of each amann as a dough square, with the corners folded in so there's an X on top of the square. While rising overnight (a little longer than the six to seven hour range noted, but it still "overnight"), the corners on two of the amanns unfurled, making it a flat rhombus that laid bare all the sugary delectability lurking in what should have been the doughy depths. The other two (which I did not mean to make but was forced to when I left them in the box on the counter overnight by mistake - hey, I worked til midnight, gimme a break) kept much better form.

Secondly, the directions state to bake for about 25 minutes, or "until quite dark. Do not underbake." I went for the "quite dark" mark, which wasn't far past the 25 minutes, but apparently it was just enough that the caramelized nether-regions got burnt and more or less unappealing. The amanns that were accidentally left in the box fared much better in this regard, but still...I'm just not completely impressed by them. At their bests, the outsides got crispy and buttery, the insides soft, melty and sugary, and the bottom hittimg of some caramel undertones, but kinda missed a little je ne sais quoi to really put them over the top or make them memorable. And much of what we ate was fall short of this standard, unfortunately, and I'm not sure all the blame falls on us.

Both Sandy and I feel kinda indifferent about them, with perhaps a little disappointment and regret. I mean, if you're gonna start your day with 13-gram-saturated-fat bombshell straight to the coronary pipework, it oughtta be for something more than a blasé bite, right? I'd say this is a doubtful repurchase for the $4 or so. We'll be slightly generous, though, and go with a two each.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's 4 Kouigns Amann: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Trader Joe's Lamb Koftas

"Kofta." Now that's a cool word. I've never heard it until stumbling across Trader Joe's Lamb Koftas on my latest trip. Basically, a kofta is a Middle Eastern/Indian/ Mediterranean meatball, with different variations from different regions. Sounds good, and I was interested.  My wife Sandy, though? My goodness. She's not usually not one to get too excited about most meats - she's on record on saying she'd be vegetarian if she only liked vegetables more, and I've seen her be indifferent towards bacon, of all things - but lamb anything she's all over it. "I've just never have had any bad lamb," she explains. Granted, me neither, but most of my exposure to the gastronomics of the wooliest of farm mammals has been limited to gyros at Greek food festivals and an occasional dish here or there from either TJ's or occasionally out. I recall us making lamb roast a year or two ago for Easter, and being relatively unimpressed but not overly dismayed by it. Regardless, since I said before we go in it was her turn to find something tasty for dinner, once these koftas were spotted, there was no question what was going on my dinner plate that night.

Like most of TJ's Indian-inspired dishes, the real highlight to me was the masala sauce. It comes frozen in a side packet that you swish the meatballs around in once they're heated up. It was so good - a little heat, a little creamy, but so much flavor - I think I got a hot dog bun out to grab every last drop I could. If you've had their masala sauce on other dishes before, you know what I'm talking about. It's gooooooooood. I think I could put it on anything.

As for the lamby balls themselves...to me, eh. Without the masala, they tasted like a meatier-but-still-tender sphere of gyro. That's not a bad thing, but it was kind of unexciting in of itself. Heating them was a cinch - a couple minutes on the stove top while steaming in a little water was all they really needed. Other times we've gotten frozen meatballs, I've had to cut them in half mid-cooking so the insides would thaw to a less than rock-solid state without blackening the outside. No such issue here. Neglected to take a picture of the finished product, but each kofta was a couple bites each, with ten in the package (so about 50 cents each), so it seemed like a decent value to me.

Sandy, though? Score this as another big winner for her, enough that she unequivocally gave them a perfect five. For me, I'm not as impressed, but when (not if, "when") these come back to my place for dinner again, I won't be disappointed. Sandy gets some more lamb, I get some more sauce, and we're both pretty darn happy then. Definitely a winner dinner.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Lamb Koftas: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Trader Joe's Organic Mini Cheese Sandwich Crackers

As a general rule, I don't write about (or even mention) my daughter much on here, but today, perhaps in honor of her recent second birthday, I am. You see...I love my girl to pieces, and I love spending as much time as I can with her. I find myself constantly learning how to enjoy her and my time with her, no matter her mood, how my day otherwise went, or what we're doing. Sometimes, it's the big fun family trips, like our recent overnighter to Ohio for a Reds/Pirates game and Columbus Zoo visit. Her highlight? Jumping on the bed at the hotel we stayed at in northern Kentucky (or as she calls it, "Kucky!!!"). Other times, it's the smaller, fun outings, like going to the pool or out for ice cream here (her favorite flavor of ice cream? "Blue."). Or, more times than not, it's the small, simple, everyday stuff that I just try to soak up. I love coming home after a nine or ten hour workday and snatching her up as she smiles (provided that she'll willingly part from an episode of Peppa Pig, of course) then going out to the kitchen and making dinner with her "help" and company as Sandy gets a few minutes to herself to recharge her batteries (seriously, she's tough, but everyone needs a breather). It's so much fun to be with her, talk about her day some, goof off, sing songs, do whatever...it all reminds of why I do what I do, all day every day. Then, of course, it's bath time, then jammie time, then brushing teeth and reading books and looking at pictures before I sing her to sleep - these days, I have to sing both "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" and "Come Thou Fount" as I snuggle her in for the night. I hope that somehow, some way, she'll remember all those small moments, and that'll they mean as much to her as they do to me.

What does all this have to do with Trader Joe's Organic Mini Cheese Sandwich Crackers? Besides the "cheese" factor, of course. Well, sometimes while whisking away to make dinner, or getting to sit down and be still, or to tide her over at a ballgame or in her stroller, like any toddler she needs a snack or she will be NOT HAPPY and will let you know. These cheesy crackers have been a key find recently to combat her little hunger monster on the go.

Truth be told, I can munch on these, and not notice much of a difference between the TJ's brand and a brand like Ritz. There's not anything fancy - generic, kinda fake cheese (you know the type) sandwiched between two crackers.  At least these are organic, so presumably a tad healthier, although I look at the fat, salt and calories and kinda wonder. Good thing my daughter is on the smaller side and eats a reasonably healthy and balanced diet, so I don't feel too too guilty about it. I mean, she loves peas, for goodness sake. About the only difference I can discern is perhaps the crackers are a slight bit heftier than Ritz's, but that could be me trying too hard and making things up in an effort to try to draw at least a small distinction. Crackers are crispy, buttery, and fairly light, the "cheese" is a salty, gritty variant of creamy, and they're easily twistable so if you (or your toddler) wants to rip apart, lick cheese off one cracker, then devour both dime-dimensioned discs like some diabolical snacker cracker monster, go right ahead.

For two-ish bucks, not a bad pickup. No offense to my beautiful wife, but I'm skipping her opinion this time and going straight to the expert: my two year old. I explained the concept of Golden Spoons to her and was met with blank stares. Then I asked her if the crackers were "yucky" or "yummy." "Yucky!" she exclaimed. I then pointed out the two fistfuls she was holding, with crumbs down her front and smeared around her mouth and asked her if she was sure. "Hummmmm....yummy!" she then squealed. Glad to get that cleared up. There's also, naturally, a peanut butter version which we haven't tried yet but will probably soon as our next trip - I thank God every day she has no PB allergies, because I love me some peanut butter. Seeing as though these snacks make up two of her favorite things - cheese and crackers - when she eventually told me a five for these guys, I'll believe her. If they only had baseball, ice cream and fireworks involved for her...I'm going with a 3.5 myself.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Mini Cheese Sandwich Crackers: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Trader Jacques' Shells with Brie and Asparagus

I'm not going to sit here and brag about how open-minded I am about new foods, because I've already done that plenty of times before on this blog. But I feel I must set that precedent before I say something controversial like, "I don't like anything with blue cheese" because otherwise people assume I'm a lame, close-minded 'Murican who only eats hamburgers and freedom fries. Sonia doesn't like blue cheese either. Do you know what the blue stuff is? It's mold. Aside from having a nasty mold allergy, I mean, that's just gross. If we were meant to eat mold, many of us here on the soggy east coast would have a never-ending food supply in our basements and crawl spaces. But no, we do what we can to get rid of that mold. We banish it. We send it back to the dark recesses of whatever sinister realm from whence it came. We don't eat it. But somehow if there's cheese surrounding it, it magically becomes ok. I don't get it.

You know what else I usually don't like? Brie. Now here's where Sonia and I differ. She loves it in all its glorious forms and in almost any context. Most people I know like brie. They gather around the hors d'oeuvres table to sing its praises at fancy shindigs and they stop talking to me when they find out I don't like it that much. Now why, you ask, would I buy a product that so prominently features brie if I'm not an avid fan? Honestly, I was thinking of my wife. On certain uncommon occasions, I am able to remove my head from my posterior and have thoughts that center around someone other than myself. That's what happened here I think. That, and sometimes I like to try things that I didn't like in the past just to see if my taste buds have changed or if my initial assessment may have been inaccurate.

So far, I have only had brie that sat well with my palate once: this TJ's dish. And I think that's because it was melted. I'm not saying I would have minded if it were mozzarella or cheddar or something less exotic, but brie worked here. It was amazingly creamy. And flavor-wise, brie goes really well with asparagus, apparently. And I've always liked asparagus. Who knew they worked well together?

The "conchiglie" pasta was fairly run-of-the-mill shells, but perhaps a bit on the larger side. The texture of the asparagus was excellent. Not stringy at all. Although, I must point out that we cooked this dish on the stove top, not in the microwave as indicated by the heating instructions. Our power was out during one of those freak storms we had last week so we decided to heat up some of the perishables before they got too thawed. I figured out that the ignition doesn't work on our stove top when the power is out, but we still get gas, so I have to turn on the gas and then ignite it with a lighter. I usually draw out a bit too much gas and lose a few eyelashes and a portion of my goatee in the process. But hey, with great risk comes great reward.

Sonia wishes this product came in a larger size. She gives it 4 stars. I liked it, but I'm still not a "brie guy" yet. So 3.5 stars from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Trader Joe's Five Seed Almond Bars

It's a pretty well established fact by now that the checkout displays at Trader Joe's sometimes giveth and sometimes taketh away. Generally, by that I mean they giveth something yummy for me to eat while they taketh my dollars. There's been a few tremendous finds, some fun combos, and very few duds. Nutritional value is occasionally very debatable at best.

But...what if something there could be healthy and taste good?

It was upon the checkout lane that I first discovered Trader Joe's Five Seed Almond Bars. Usually, they're nestled in some nether regions above frozen Asian food and below much flashier-looking cookies that I'd never really seen them around until they were a featured item. Indeed, I had to look around for a couple minutes to find them once more even after being told exactly where they were by an employee. Maybe if they wore a red-and-white beanie, goofy glasses, and a striped shirt they'd be easier to spot when only at their normal home.

Tell ya what: Regardless of where displayed, these almond bars should not be overlooked. They're that good. Each bar isn't that big - about an ounce, a little more than an inch wide, maybe three inches long, half an inch thick, maybe - but they pack a lot. Each bite is soft and inviting, yet chewy but still crumbly, with some seeds randomly interspersed that make the bars pretty fun to munch on. Indeed, I had to chomp on these a bit more than I usually chew my food. For taste, they're like an amazing hybrid between pumpkin pie and my grandmother's molasses cookies, even though there's no molasses in them. Must be the cinnamon and cloves, which really shine through. Each respective seed - flax, poppy, sunflower, sesame and pumpkin - adds even more flavor to the subtly nutty base. And yes, there's a fair amount of sugar, although it sure doesn't taste like it - these are more geared for grown-ups and not kids, it seems. Not a bad thing. If you're a morning yogurt person, I'd imagine some yogurt with a bar crumbled on top would be a fairly tasty treat.

Both Sandy and I are fans. They're soft, delicious, and surprisingly filling. One of these, an apple, and some coffee, and I'm set til lunch. As an added bonus the almond bars are pretty decently priced ($3.99 for a package of 8) and pack more nutrition than a regular ol' granola bar. It's just a good, honest bite that's pretty close to perfect for a busy, on-the-go day. Sandy gives them a four, I counter with a 4.5,

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Five Seed Almond Bars: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons   


Monday, July 14, 2014

Trader Joe's Spicy, Smoky, Peach Salsa

Neither spicy nor smoky in my humble opinion, this peach salsa doesn't live up to its name particularly well. But had its label proudly declared something about being "chunky" or "addictive," I'd go ahead and say, "mission accomplished."

The taste is great, especially if you like peaches. This salsa is full of huge chunks of actual fruit, plus tomatoes, peppers, and other more traditional salsa ingredients. The spice level is barely perceivable, with just the slightest hint of tongue-tingling heat creeping through the sweet peach and tangy tomato juices. And quite frankly, I was hoping there wasn't much in the way of "smokiness," because even just a little too much in that department is enough to make you feel like you're snacking on ashes. Fortunately, there's even less than I was expecting.

I'm a relative newcomer to the world of sweet salsas. For a long time, the idea of sweet fruit mixed with tomato sauce just weirded me out. Kinda like Hawaiian pizza—which I'm now a huge fan of. But so far Trader Joe's has offered us at least one other mostly successful sweet salsa, which we reviewed just last month. In the past, we saw Russ and Sandy muse over the strangely sweet Tomato-less Salsa, which Sonia and I tried shortly thereafter. Both houses were divided on that product: thumbs down from Russ, thumbs up from Sandy; thumbs down from Sonia, thumbs up from me.

I do have to mention at this point that two of the best sweet salsas I've ever had came from Target, surprisingly enough. And while this peach salsa and the aforementioned pineapple salsa are both great offerings from TJ's, they simply aren't quite as impressive as the Archer Farms Summer Fruits Salsa that I've come to adore. If given the choice between TJ's pineapple salsa and this, I think I'd take the pineapple since it's just a tad sweeter and its label makes no misleading claims about smokiness or spiciness, although I must say Sonia and I polished off this tiny jar in a single sitting—so there's plenty of good things going for this salsa. It has a great balance of sweet and savory flavors, it's extremely chunktastic, it goes well with white corn tortilla chips, and it's reasonably priced at $2.29. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Trader Ming's Five Spice Chicken and Asian Style Rice Noodle Salad

Another day, another dollar. Another day of uninspiring leftovers in a sparsely-filled refrigerator (we keep low stock when we're out of town often like we have been). Another day of TPS reports at the cubicle farm. Another day of being too cheap to order delivery from the cruddy area Chinese restaurants. So, to liven things up a bit...yep, another early morning TJ's run to try another salad and figure out if it's lunch-rotation worthy or not. Yeeeeeeeeehaw.

In the line-up this week: Trader Ming's Five Spice Chicken and Asian Style Rice Noodle Salad. Now that's a mouthful of a name. Know what there's not a mouthful of? The chicken. Okay, there's probably technically a literal full mouth's worth of grilled chicken strips, but once again, the infamous TJ chicken cheater strikes again. One respectable sized strip and few small munches (maybe adding up to another respectable sized strip) just isn't enough, no matter how tasty it is....which is too bad, because it is pretty darn good poultry.
Fresh, firm, gently spiced with some five spice (definite emphasis on the black pepper, but not offensively so) - it's some good bird. Too bad TJ's decided to flip a bird at us while doling it out.

Other than that, it's a decent enough bite. All the veggies  - cabbage, carrots, etc - kinda make a dry-ish coleslaw to go on top the rice noodles. Now, I'm not sure if I'm just really used to fried rice noodles, or overly cooked whimpy ones, because to describe these noodles as al dente is a bit of an understatement. They can probably double as fiber optic replacement strands. That's not necessarily a bad thing just...unexpected. I doubt I've had noodles as firm and vigorous as these fellas before, and like about that thing my wife mentioned the over night, if I don't remember it, it doesn't count. The chile lime dressing isn't too exciting one way or another, and one of the nice things is, there's more than enough that if you don't use all of it, you can save yourself some fat and calories without sacrificing too terribly much. It does strike me as an odd choice for an Asian-inspired salad (something sesame seems more appropriate to me), but, well, what do I know?

Sandy had one of these too a few weeks back, and while she doesn't distinctly remember too many details about it, she did recall that she liked it enough to get it again sometime if the need/opportunity arises. That's worthy of a four for her. For me...for the $4.49 I spent on it, I could have instead opted for a grilled chicken salad here from the work cafe which would have probably three times as much chicken on it. But then I'd want to get fries and cookies which then defeats the whole purpose of a salad. Consider the price point a draw, then. I too would get again, but I'll probably keep scoping out the salad options - anybody got a solid suggestion? Comment below!

Bottom line: Trader Ming's Five Spice Chicken and Asian Style Rice Noodle Salad: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons




Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Trader Joe's Apple + Banana and Apple + Mango Fruit Bars

This is the kind of product I'd like to see more of in the checkout zone at TJ's. They're far more healthy than treats like salted caramel or pb&j filled candy bars, and in my opinion they're way better tasting than chocolate covered jelly sticks. As I've mentioned before, we're coming to TJ's because we're pretending to be slightly more healthy than folks who shop at regular grocery stores. That whole philosophy comes unraveled if Big Joe tricks us into buying a basket full of chocolate bars before we leave the store.

But if Big Joe ensnares us with treats that look semi-indulgent, but are actually nothing but pressed fruit, well then, the guilt-factor disappears. I'm all for being tricked into eating healthier. And sometimes that's the only way I'll eat better. I mean, I realized there was fruit in these bars. But that's all there is. Similar to TJ's new cold pressed juices, there's nothing in these bars but fruit. But in this case, you only have to spend a buck to try the product. The apple banana bar has two ingredients: apples and bananas. The apple mango bar, likewise, has only two ingredients: apples and mangoes.

The bars are slightly chewy, and I think that's due to the fact that they're not too dry. They aren't the same as banana chips or dried apple slices. They're way more moist than either of those. But they're not dripping with juice like fresh fruit, either. They're really just bits of fruit bound together by their natural syrupy goodness. They're fairly filling for how small they are, probably due to the 2g-3g of natural fiber in them, although I certainly wouldn't have minded if they were a tad larger.

Flavor-wise, you can't expect much more than you'd expect from fresh fruit, although the juices of each ingredient do intertwine and commingle with one another, creating some interesting fruit-salad-esque taste combos not to be found in a lone piece of fresh fruit. I definitely liked the banana flavor slightly better than the mango flavor. I kept wishing the mango bar had chile powder on it. I guess I could have added it myself, but too much of it could have easily ruined the taste. Texture-wise, there were only very subtle differences between the two bars, and quite frankly, I don't even remember which bar we took a picture of to show texture. They both looked really similar. If I had to take a guess, I would say this is the mango bar in the photo. There were a couple of other flavors we haven't tried yet, so if you have any insights about those, please share in the comments below!

All in all, this is a TJ's checkout win. Sonia liked them even better than I did, giving them four stars each. I'm gonna go with four stars for banana and three and a half for mango.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Apple + Banana Fruit Bar: 8 out of 10.
                    Trader Joe's Apple + Mango Fruit Bar: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Trader Joe's 14 Shrimp Nuggets

Fourteen? That's what you're proud of and will advertise to the point of making it part of your product name? Fourteen? Really? Listen: that doesn't make much sense when it comes to Trader Joe's 14 Shrimp Nuggets. A flip to the backside and a quick glance at the nutritional label easily and readily shows why: a serving size is four nuggets, which is perfectly reasonable, but leaves me with a package of 3.5 servings if my third grade math isn't failing me now. With this, there are several options: a) Make whole box, eat seven nuggets, tell wife it's okay to eat seven nuggets. like I need any more help eating too much anyways. 2) Buy multiple boxes to even out serving sizes. Buying two wouldn't be enough - that leaves seven servings, an odd number (just me and the wife, the kiddo wouldn't touch these). I'd have to go buy four to make it even. It's this kind of serving shenanigans that was behind the whole hot dog/hot dog bun conundrum years back. Not cool. d) Buy one box, make eight, leaving six to split another night to eat alongside extremely mediocre Sam's Club frozen wings. Ladies and gentlemen, we went with option d. Here's an even better option: TJ's, throw two more nuggets in the box. Maybe "16" isn't as cool and trendy as "14" but we're adults here, let's be a little practical, shall we?

As far the shrimpy nuggets themselves: not bad at all. There's a lot of the greasy, fast-food-y type comfort food vibe going on here. Me gusta. As the name somewhat implies, these nuggets aren't a simple matter of breaded, battered shrimp. Instead, each nugget seems comprised of about two shrimp each, and as is most of TJ's shrimp, is reasonably fresh, decently firm, and definitely delicious like any good shrimp should be. And the batter is great: it crisps up nicely and evenly in the oven, and somehow, there's an almost buttermilk-y aspect to it. Not to go all Bubba on you, but TJ's has exceeded in giving us regular battered shrimp, shrimp on a stick, shrimp stirfry, heck, even shrimp in corn dog form before, so now they've mastered the nugget form.

That begs the question: how do they make the nuggets? Three words: Shrimp paste. Uggh. 

By this, I doubt they mean tiny glue sticks. Once I saw those words, it was like reading "Miley twerking" or seeing the new one-legged Speedo (Google image search at your own risk): immediate repulsion, and not something I could unsee or un-experience. I noticed there was a small amount of kinda slimey, kinda mealy, kinda salty, kinda shrimpy filler the first time we had these, but I didn't pay it much mind until I happened to read the description on the back while making the second batch a few nights later. It got cut off in my picture, but it absolutely says "bound together by shrimp paste." Uggh. When eating for the second time, all I could think was shrimppasteshrimppasteshrimppaste. Kinda ruined it for me, much like how a potentially delicious dessert got ruined for Nathan by a similar discovery. We're allowed our silly hang-ups, too.

  Regardless, Sandy seemed to really like them (see: greasy comfort food) and I enjoyed them enough the first time around, I suppose. Going forward I may just try to stick to regular battered shrimp, or whatever concoction TJ's comes up with next, like mini-shrimp enchiladas on a stick or whatever. Just hope it has an even number of servings and doesn't have any shrimp paste (uggh again!) in it.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's 14 Shrimp Nuggets: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Trader Joe's Vegetable Biryani

Up until Mr. Shelly's recent review of uttapam, it had been quite a while since we checked out any Indian food on this blog. So, to make up for lost time, here's a look at yet another Indian dish: Trader Joe's Vegetable Biryani. We saw it on the frozen section shelf, right next to the uttapam, and it looked too good to pass up. 

I've been to a handful of decent Indian restaurants, but I've never heard of biryani before I saw this dish. Maybe I just wasn't scouring the menu hard enough—I have a bad habit of sticking with my old standby's all the time: chicken tikka masala or some kind of tandoori. Although it often pays to venture outside of your comfort zone, you can never go wrong with the classics. So now my habit is to try the very inexpensive version of each new-to-me Indian dish at Trader Joe's, and then if it really wows me, I might dare order it when I'm out livin' large, spendin' G's at a fine dining establishment.

Note to self: order vegetable biryani next time you eat out at an Indian place.

Because this stuff is pretty awesome. For $2.49, we're looking at a dish that's in the same price range as a typical Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choice meal, with similar fat and caloric content, but with way more uniqueness, flavor, and satisfaction. This meal is super-filling—but not uncomfortably so. It's packed with beans, peas, basmati rice, and meatball-sized vegetable dumplings. The dumplings and rice have the perfect amount of flavorful Indian spices. Nothing's too dry, nothing's too hard. It even has plump raisins to give it a nice sweet zing. The textures and flavors blend together beautifully, and the veggie and bean content is hearty enough to make up for the lack of meat. This entree is vegetarian. Not sure why it's not vegan, but it doesn't have that happy little "V" on it like some other Indian products from Trader Joe's. I'll let you vegan peeps read through the ingredients and tell me why it's just "vegetarian."

This dish is special enough to garner double 4.5's from the Rodgers clan. We're fans. Unless you hate Indian for some strange reason, we can't imagine you won't like this. And for the price, there's not much lost if you don't.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.