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Showing posts with label Chinese/other Asian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chinese/other Asian. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Trader Joe's Gochujang

 

A few years ago, there was some big hullabaloo about a Philadelphia-area contest for best cheesesteak. I'm originally from the surrounding 'burbs, and there were chefs all competing...and putting things like bean sprouts in the cheesesteak. Lump crab. Swiss chard and aiolis and...well...you get the idea. As pretty much a staunch "Wiz wid" guy, I could only shake my head. 

Oh, how times changed. 

Perhaps the western side of the state perverted whatever idea I've had of what a cheesesteak is, as I made them for dinner last night. Not only did I use Mancini's and not Amoroso for the roll (gasp), when I needed something for a little spice for mine....I used Trader Joe's Gochujang.

Fermented red pepper with rice used as a base for this slightly grainy, fairly spicy, and a touch sweet paste...on a cheesesteak? I'm aghast at myself, almost.

Except, you know what? it worked, and worked pretty well. 

Gochujang is definitely a somewhat acquired taste. It's different than most spice, as its a touch deeper, with more depth and taste and subtlety. It's the fermentation that really brings it out. I've used powdered gochujang to add a kick to my own sauerkraut, and I've grown to love it. 

This particular TJ version isn't quite as potent, but still offers a lot of the same warmth and depth. It'll be welcome back on another cheesesteak, as well as any variety of dishes. Rice, veggies, on some meats, added to some soup or sauces, or whatever - sure thing. It'll be just my own, my lovely bride didn't seem interested and my kids weren't entirely up to the adventure.

Just a couple bucks for the lil tub. Worth a pickup. Didn't seem demonstrably different from similar condiments I've scored at Asian groceries around here, but I'll admit I'm not 100% attuned to its authenticity. I'll save that for cheesesteaks, but you know what? Innovation is just fine, if there's a good outcome. Still not sure about the bean sprouts, though.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gochujang: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, April 11, 2022

Trader Joe's Thai Banana Fritters

When Sonia and I lived in Los Angeles, we frequented a place called Vegan Glory. Sonia and I weren't vegan then, nor are we now, but their Thai food was so amazing that we went there regularly with friends, the vast majority of whom were not vegan. It was a small, simple, unassuming restaurant at the end of a strip mall, but it often attracted celebrities and high-profile customers because the cuisine was so consistently fantastic.

Our favorite dessert there was banana spring rolls (although the coconut ice cream was a close second) We had some on our latest visit to L.A. when we RV'd through SoCal in 2019. They were still ridiculously tasty. So of course we've been searching for something that could take the place of those spring rolls since we've been apart from that outstanding restaurant.

Enter: Trader Joe's Thai Banana Fritters. I won't say they're AS GOOD as those banana spring rolls, but they're pretty darn close. And of course, these are "fritters" as opposed to "spring rolls" but they're still a desserty banana-based vegan dish with crispiness on the outside...so very similar.


Six minutes in the air fryer and the smell just overwhelmed the kitchen. I snatched my three fritters out of the basket piping hot and ate them with my bare hands. I don't necessarily recommend consuming them that way, as they are quite oily on the outside. I think Sonia used a fork and ate hers from a plate. Either way, they were tasty.

Banana is the dominant flavor. But there's a nice blend of other essences like coconut milk and sesame. There's a good bit of added sugar, too—enough to appease the average sweet tooth at dessert time, I'd say. At least half of each bite is banana, but there's a significant amount of rice flour breading, as well. Texture-wise, there's a nice crispy crunch on the outside and soft, supple banana on the inside.


$3.79 for six fritters, found in the frozen section. We'd buy again. Four and a half stars from the beautiful wifey. Four stars from me for Trader Joe's Thai Banana Fritters.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Trader Joe's Tteok Bok Ki


 Here's another periodic reminder that I am a complete amatuer foodie-hack, not overly familiar with many great dishes and treats from around the globe, but always willing to try. 

So, Trader Joe's Tteok Bok Ki...can't say I've ever even heard of them before they plopped into my grocery cart. Thank goodness for the 'murican-'splained "Korean spicy stir-fried rice cakes" in the banner, because that, I can hold a concept of. 

These are, at first bite, interesting. There's a few ways to make them, I opted for what purported to be the crispiest option by inserting these oversized frozen rice poogs into the airfryer, while seperately simmering the almost glowing red sauce. I'm not sure if crispy is the right word, because there's still plenty of soft mochi-like chewiness to each bite, but the outside layer  did have a faint crispness, so there you go I guess. It's an unusual to my palate yet pretty fun bite. 


That sauce though...it never really thickened up the way I hoped it would despite following the instructions, far as I know. That being said, I almost didn't mind. It's vibrant and rich with plenty of red pepper and garlic kick. Man, if sold separately, I'd pour it over any number of things. Delicious stuff, and highly recommended as long as you can take some spice. 

Here's one of the times that TJ's really succeeds if looked at from a certain vantage point. Sure, I'm far from a tteok bok ki expert, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and wager that the TJ's version isn't the best in the world. Heck, how authentic it really is (or isn't) is above my pay grade here. But...now I know I'd stand a pretty excellent chance at enjoying the real deal, so if ever granted the opportunity, I'm gonna go for it without hesitation. That somewhat harkens back to the OG TJ's business plan of introducing new tastes and experiences to their customers. For me, it succeeds here. 

A good sized bag, enough for a big side dish or appetizer for two or more, was only around $3 or $4. Absolutely worthwhile in my opinion. If you got a more expert take than I do, fire away. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Tteok Bok Ki: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Trader Joe's Vegan Thai Green Curry


Well here's something I definitely can't heat in the air fryer. Looks like a tasty, convenient, work-friendly microwave meal, and fortunately, I have a hankerin' for some Thai today. Let's dive in.

Like I mentioned, this is a microwavable meal. No other heating options are given. And for the second time in a row, I'm looking at a product that took LESS time to heat than was suggested on the packaging. The instructions say to heat for 3 minutes, then stir, and then heat for 2-3 more minutes. At about the 5 minute mark, the product began to boil over the side of the tray and onto the microwave carousel lazy Susan thing. Our microwave is filthy at the moment. Will the wife even notice if I leave a few little pools of green curry in there?


The tray easily bends in the middle in case you want to try to simply fold the curry compartment onto the rice compartment. I was wary of spillage, so I mostly just flicked the curry over with my fork. Or you could be fancy and put the whole thing in an Asian-style bowl, of course.

It's a tasty product, for sure. If there's any difference between the curry they used here and the epic Thai Green Curry Simmer Sauce, neither Sonia nor I could detect it, flavor-wise, although I think this curry was a tad thinner in texture.

Swimming around in the curry were carrots, eggplant chunks, and tofu sheets. The tofu "sheets" are more like wads of tofu by the time they're heated, transferred to the rice, and scooped up by a fork or spoon. I've never tried tofu in this format before. It yields a less chewy texture by virtue of its thinness. I'm fine with it this way, while Sonia prefers tofu cubes. The veggies weren't chewy or rubbery or anything, so we were good with those, too.

99% of the flavor of this dish is coming from the curry. That's not a bad thing, because it's an outstanding complex, coconutty, salty, spicy, savory flavor. At $3.99 for the single serving, Sonia thinks it would be much wiser to grab a jar of the curry itself for half the price, heat up your own rice, and mix in whatever veggies or additions you choose. You're absolutely paying for the convenience factor here. Guess we can't punish it too harshly for that since that's apparently what TJ's is going for. You'll find it in the frozen section. Vegan.

So...something like three and a half stars a piece on this product.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Trader Joe's Sweet Cinnamon Filled Korean Pancakes


Bro...do you even hotteok?

Can't say I can, because I just learned the word tonight when prepping some Trader Joe's Sweet Cinnamon Filled Korean Pancakes. Lol..."Korean pancakes." Call 'em what they are, TJ's. Hotteok. Granted, yes, I along with likely 80% or more of shoppers wouldn't know what that means at first glance, but I'm always down for a little culinary education. Apparently hotteok is a popular Korean street food, filled with all sorts of stuff, in, well, more or less a pancake form. Never saw or heard of them before as I've never been to Korea and that's not much Korean influence around the 'burgh that'd make something even as tasty and tantalizing like this readily available. 

All that to say, heck yeah, these are pretty good.

Let's take another second to be clear here: I am not qualified in any way, shape or form to claim these as authentic or close to the real thing or for them to even be half as good. I'd actually be fairly and pleasantly surprised if they were. I'm judging these pancakes simply on their own merits, including costing $3ish bucks for 4 of them, and heating them from frozen on my stovetop for just a few minutes. So take as you will.

All that being said, yum. Let's start with the dough. It's delicious and pretty unique for my experience. Even heating right from frozen, with no butter or oil or anything used, the outside gets all browned and crispy and a touch greasy, just like a good comfort food should. Love it. Further in, it's not quite a mochi-esque bite, but in some ways it's close as it's a little chewy but also soft and moist and gooey and oozing out warmth. Looking over ingredients, there's all sorts of stuff in the dough - wheat, sweet potato, rice flour - that come together well into a soft, lightly sweet cake. 


The cinnamon reservoir is pretty fantastic too. I mean, it's a lot of cinnamon. Be careful that stuff is ridiculously hot and stays that way for longer than expected. The cinnamon adds a great spice bite that complements the dough really well, making these compact cakes have more punch than expected. 

Still, adding a little ice cream or whipped cream or something like that to just really fill it out? That'd be worthy of hashtagging a #chefskiss all over this. 

Delicious, We love 'em and I'm glad we got a second bag that I'm already looking forward to busting open. Authentic? Maybe, maybe not...if you know, tell me. But I'm glad that TJ's has introduced me to this particular chunk of the culinary world, and I know I'll be seeking out the real deal if I ever get the chance. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sweet Cinnamon Filled Korean Pancakes: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Trader Joe's Crispy Thai Chilies & Sesame Seeds


 In October 2006, Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green, after a particularly frustrating loss, unleashed one legendary postgame tirade with a phrase that I still think of often: "They ARE who we THOUGHT they WERE!" 

Sometimes, yup, it's just really that simple. 

But there's also the old, always applicable adage that appearances can be deceiving. If you're paying any sort of attention to the world around you, you likely know this is unassailable truth. 

And with Trader Joe's Crispy Thai Chilies & Sesame Seeds, we get a little bit of both at the same time.



Let's get coach to cool off by going his way first. Thai chili peppers and spices. Vibrant, flaming red. Overly aromatic. It's got that crispy, slightly greasy yet dry feel. Even the seeds help the whole spicy vibe, even though it's important to note they're sesame and not pepper seeds. Nonetheless, there's the undeniable impression before even one taste: this peppery snack is gonna be flamelickingly hot. And yup, it is as we thought it is: hot hot hot. lots of heat, towards the upper limit of my tolerance for easy consumption. I'm not sure of the Scovilles but it's up there. Even with that, there is a little flavor nuance with some garlic and whatnot, but oh yeah: hot. 

So there's that. But there's also the word "snack" as a descriptor, and truth be told, it doesn't look like much of a "snack." The peppers are really no more than little papery wisps without much of anything behind them, leaving the girth of the snack to the little clumps of sesame seeds. Kinda like bird food (not a recommended usage btw). Yet, after a few bites, that's how the chilies and seeds kinda come together, with a little sense of fullness behind them. Maybe it's a little of the heat, or the peppers getting some rehydrated while consumed, or some other sorcery, but it's a legit snack, albeit perhaps a lighter one.


There's other applications I could see. I'd love to mix some peppers and seeds up with some tempura chicken or sdauteed shrimp and serve with rice, or even just over some fried rice. Maybe a salad or some eggs too. I think it could work. Snack and condiment - why not?

Good stuff, and not a bad buy from the impulse islands near the checkout. I think a sack was only like $2 so if this sounds like your kinda thing, I'd give it a go and not just let it off the hook. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crispy Thai Chilies & Sesame Seeds: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, June 28, 2021

Trader Joe's Red Curry Thai Noodles


Time to break out something from the back of the pantry. Red curry Thai noodles. The name sounds appetizing enough. The packaging? Not so much. I've had some truly awful noodle offerings in big paper bowls that look very similar to this one. Hopefully it's just a trick of the eye and this will be on par with or better than the other instant curry options we've seen from Trader Joe's over the years.

After a quick glance at the heating instructions, something stands out to me: there's no mention of adding water. Huh? You mean these things are already full of their own moisture? Or maybe they'll have enough just from the sauce packet mentioned on the packaging..? Not adding water to this big bowl of noodles goes against my every instinct. But I'll be a good boy this time and follow the directions.


Preparation involves opening two big pouches, one full of noodles, one full of sauce and veggies. Then you simply nuke for 90 seconds. Simple enough. No water involved.

Things came out perfectly after following the heating instructions. I stirred the elements around a bit, since the noodles are so tightly packed from being smooshed in their vacuum sealed pouch for goodness knows how long.

The noodles are nice and thick, almost like udon. They've got some body to them. They're nothing like cheap ramen noodles. They're more like soba noodles in terms of thickness, though they're not as dark as buckwheat noodles. Although it's not apparent in the photo I took, there's the perfect amount of sauce to coat all the noodles, which is good because the noodles don't bring a whole lot to the table in terms of flavor just by themselves. There are peas in the mix and also bamboo shoots, which remind me of carrots in terms of texture and maybe even a little in terms of flavor.


The sauce steals the show. It's coconutty, sweet, spicy, and flavorful. I'll almost always want more heat in a product like this one, but I'm honestly surprised just how much spice there is in this bowl—more than enough to keep it interesting. I'm not saying I didn't crave a little more of that Thai red chili spice, but the amount I got was acceptable. I really expected this product to be bland and unappetizing, but I was pleasantly surprised.

I'd ask for more peas, bamboo shoots, and maybe some other veggies in the mix. A little more heat never hurts a dish like this. All in all, not a bad lunch for $2.49. Shelf-stable, pescatarian, easy to prepare, and surprisingly good as far as taste is concerned.

7.5 out of 10.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Trader Joe's Korean Inspired Bulgogi Beef Fried Rice with Kimchi


I've had bulgogi beef a couple times from some pretty legit Korean barbecue restaurants before. Granted, I haven't been to one in a number of years, but I still remember that bulgogi-style beef being among the best red meat I've ever consumed in my life. I'm not sure exactly what it was marinated in, but man, that stuff was tasty.

It'll be hard for any grocery store frozen product to compete. Also, I guess I'm on record on this blog saying I'm not really into the whole fermented vegetable thing, i.e. kimchi or even sauerkraut. However, I don't think this dish is full of the rotted cabbage that I'm familiar with—just scant bits of the stuff distributed throughout. There seem to be some green beans and maybe some scallions or green onions, vegetable-wise, too. I'm not sure if they're a type of kimchi as well. I know there are more kimchi varieties than just the cabbage one that's most famous. I'm always ready to give most foodstuffs a second chance. So kimchi, here we come.


Anyway, I cooked the bag of rice, from frozen, in a big pan that I insist on calling a "wok." Sonia always corrects me and tells me it's just a big saucepan. Hmmm. Looks like a wok to me. Although, I'm sure Sonia is technically right. In true Trader Joe's fashion, the heating time took nearly double the suggested 7 minutes listed on the instructions on the bag. But heat it did eventually, nice and evenly.

The kimchi flavors here are subtle. For that matter, the bulgogi flavors are subtle, too. I'd say there's a decent amount of beef in the product. There's not enough that you'll get a piece in every bite, but not so sparse that you'll run out before you finish, either. Some of the meat tidbits are gristly. One slab even appeared to have a large vein or artery sticking out of it. Gross. Most pieces are pleasant, though—not super chewy or tough—but as expected, they lack that melt-in-your-mouth quality that I remember from my previous encounters with Korean barbecue.

If anything, I'd probably want more of the green onions and green beans throughout the mixture. As it is, it's mostly just rice. And it begs for some soy sauce and/or sriracha. Fixins help it a lot. I even tried some K-Mex fusion, adding Cholula hot sauce in place of sriracha, yielding moderately agreeable results.

At $4.99, this dish is vastly more accessible price-wise than an authentic Korean restaurant meal. Those aren't usually cheap. Not surprisingly, the quality isn't quite on par with restaurant quality, though, either. We probably won't pick up this particular item again, but if Trader Joe's offers similar Korean meals in the future, we'll definitely sample those as well. Maybe some Korean folks can share their opinions here, or maybe they have some tips on what sauces and condiments they use to doctor this dish up.

I give it three out of five stars. Sonia gives it three and a half.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Trader Joe's Roasted Barley Tea

"Cheerios water."

For better, or for worse, or for whatever reason, those were the first words out of my mouth after my first sip of a new icy cool Trader Joe's Roasted Barley Tea.

"Ch...Cheerios water? What the heck are ya talking about, and how would you know what Cheerios water would taste like? You tryin' that out on you own time or sometime?"

"Heck no. But like...if I had a bowl of Cherrios, but instead of milk poured water over it, ate the Cheerios, then drank the water, I think this would taste like that."

"Okay, weirdo. It's..." pauses for another sip "...more like coffee. Like a really weak coffee, like what I'd imagine emergency ration coffee would be like, all watered down and everything...which I hope we won't find out what that'll be like..."

"Thanks for the stark assessment, love."

Well, there ya have it. There's a little slice of life between my lovely bride and I the other night, after making a quick stop at TJ's after a long hot day capped off with a family bike ride to try and save some of our collective sanity. Left us parched, and I figured no better time to give a new beverage a try.

For a first time tryer of boricha (the actual Korean name for this type of drink, though I make no claim to this TJ's version's authenticity), it's so simple a drink, yet one that leaves me intrigued. I mean, literally, it tastes like nothing but grain, kinda, and water. There's no sugar, no other flavors or spices or anything to "liven" it up. It's barley...and water. Part of me wants to be all wiseguy 'merican and say to add malt and hops and then we might really be on to something, but that's not what we have here.

It's light but not overtly crisp and I waver on calling it refreshing or not. I'm sure some folks could consider it that, but I'm not quite on board. It's not awful, by any stretch, and I definitely enjoyed it the more I drank it, but I didn't finish the bottle entirely overjoyed, either. Yet I wish to try it again, and for $1.19 a bottle it's a low priced gamble.

I just noticed on the bottle it said it the barley tea can be served hot or cold. If it ever cools down, I'll definitely have try a heated up version - honestly I think I'd enjoy it more that way, but not when it's in the mid 90s and I have no AC, thank you very much.

Not overly in love, but I'll try it again for sure. That warrants a three in my book, subject to change with further experience. Despite our exclusive to ourselves oddities, my wife shares in this assessment with a three of her own.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Roasted Barley Tea: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Trader Joe's Thai Green Curry Simmer Sauce

Some Trader Joe's products seem to get more than their fair share of marketing attention. They get ridiculous, lengthy, lavish titles. They're presented with artsy, colorful packages and placed front and center in the store, maybe on an end cap or at the checkout counter. I'd say more than half the time, these items are gone just months after they drop, and they're forgotten about by the vast majority of patrons that purchased them. 

And then there's a completely understated line of Trader Joe's brand items. They're products that have been around for quite a while, and they need no clever marketing to sell. They get by on the merits of their quality and flavor. No cutesy packaging. No goofy nicknames. It might be just an unassuming jar of sauce with a modest amount of copy on the front—items like this product.

The sauce is super flavorful, medium-thick, and coats whatever foods you mix with it. It's not a sweet curry. I've had some curry sauces so sweet they were almost dessert-like. Not this one.


It's full of lemon grass, garlic, and shallot flavor. It's obviously coconutty, too, but the taste isn't particularly coconut-forward despite the coconut milk base. It's spicy, savory, and it makes your kitchen smell like an authentic sit-down Thai restaurant.

Sonia and I had it with mahi mahi fish for lunch yesterday, and it was scrumptious. Served with veggies and rice, it was one of the most satisfying meals we've prepared ourselves in a long time. All you do is put the sauce on your food in the skillet and let it simmer. So good and so easy.

The sauce darkened a little bit from the time we poured it out of the jar to the end of the cooking process. I'm not good with specific shades of individual colors, but I'd say it went from something like a pea green to more of an olive green tan light brown by the end...? Anyway, it's not much to look at, but it tastes good enough you probably won't care.


You have my word we'll continue to review those brand new nonsense-laden gimmicky products as they're released, but we'd be remiss in our Trader Joe's brand food reviewing duties if we didn't tell you all about products like this one from time to time. Delicious. Apparently, this version has only been around for about a year and a half, but I'm hoping it'll stick around and stand the test of time. 

At $1.99 for the jar, it's a steal. Four and a half stars from me. Five from Sonia.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Trader Joe's Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings

Comfort.

What brings you comfort?

There's a lot of ways to answer this, of course, and there's even a few ways I can answer this right at the time of writing. I'm sipping on a cold beer, which almost always seems right, and listening to a Facebook Live concert from the lead singer of my favorite local band, called Good Brother Earl. I think I first saw them back in about 2003 or 2004 and, no lie, a few hundred times. Helps they used to play at the Pittsburgh Rock Bottom on Wednesday nights, no cover, with $2 beers and half price appetizers. Since corporate pulled the plug on their shows about 7 years ago, after at least a five year run, I haven't been back.

But anyways, through the many stages and changes in my life over the past 15-plus years, their music has been a constant. Jeff, the singer, has been a good friend as well. And in these times, I'm thankful that he and his band's music is continuing to be that constant that they have been.

Long, not entirely connected lead up to a review about the new Trader Joe's Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings, eh? Sorry, couldn't think of much better. It's that beer I'm telling you.

But food brings comfort, right? And what's more comfort-in-edible form than a warm soup dumpling? I can't think of much.  So there ya go.

Find 'em in the freezer section, bring 'em home, steam 'em up, chow 'em down. These dumplings are pretty darn good. There's the soft, typical noodle shell holding the whole thing together. Inside, of course, is a light broth and the pork/ginger/whatever else filling. The meat itself is mild, soft and a bit crumbly, like a meatball bent on falling apart. That's not a bad thing. There's not more than a mildly aggressive hit of ginger - there's nothing near the searing bite ginger is capable of. It's more a soft warmth feel, and is complemented nicely by a little soy and garlic.

It'd be great if it ended there. But nah.

Instead, right at the end, this sweetness kicks in. At first I thought maybe it was some soy sauce trickery, but no. It's too cloying. It's got to be added sugar. Why would you add sugar to this? Makes no sense to me, not with flavor profile. We're going for savory here. Why sugar? Can't be sugar. Nah. Let's just go check the ingredients, I'm making this up...

Nope. Added sugar. As confirmed by the ingredient list and nutrition label. WHY???

Fortunately all the good flavor business in the front makes up pretty well for the lame wannabe sweet party in the back, but still, it's a knock. Would be much better without IMHO.

Otherwise, great dumplings, bordering on being down right umamilicious. That's not a word but it shoukd be. Umami + delicious = umamilicious. Say it aloud. It's fun. There's absolutely a comfort element at work, and in these times that's not a bad thing at all. My lovely bride, our squad of shorties and I all enjoyed them pretty well, and will likely pick up again soon, even with my faint quibbles.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken Mochi Balls

I've said before I'm an eater, not a foodie. This means I'm not necessarily all that well educated in different food terms. Longtime readers of this blog probably know that already.

So...mochi?

As far as I knew, mochi was only a term for ice cream treats! You know what I mean - those little rice dough covered balls of frozen deliciousness. A little chewy and odd on the outside, creamy and delicious in the middle, and once accustomed to them they make an awesome snack. That's all what I ever knew mochi to be without ever having much reason to look into it further. I knew I liked mochi already.

So imagine my initial reaction when I heard of the new Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken Mochi Balls.

Intriguing? Yes! But...how are they gonna incorporate ice cream into that?

Obviously, there's no ice cream here. Mochi is just a general term, more or less, for the rice dough balls which can be served in a variety of ways. TIL.

But anyways on to the mochi - oh goodness.

I can say that in relation to a lot of different factors here. That rice dough? It's a marvel, especially when cooked in an air fryer! Dry, dusty, crusty on the the outer shell, but that's just so, so shallow a layer that somehow hold plenty of crisp with a little crunch. The flipside (the innards) is completely different - wet, doughy, moist. Yes, I hate that word too. But it all suggest a slight bit of almost sauciness - that's the wrong word, but I don't know what else to use - when interacting with the rest of the set up. More on that coming up next paragraph. But really, for so thin a shell, the mochi is AMAZING with two very different, very enjoyable experiences. I'd suggest to maximize it use an air fryer instead of oven if you have it - about 10 minutes at 400 made 'em just right.

And the filling? Wow. It's HOT.

As in spicy? Yes. Kung pao usually has a couple heat notches. All the spices and peppers and whatnot combine into a pretty potent punch. It won't be the spiciest thing you'll ever eat, but I don't feel as though they're for the faint of tongue, either.  Despite that, I can still taste the chicken and garlic too. I love when spice enhances and doesn't overpower other foods, and that seems the case here.

But it's also HOT in the physical sense. As in, not cold. Those mochi shells hold some heat! I cracked one open and tried to let it cool for a few minutes before eating - still burned my tongue a little. Have a glass of water nearby, or prepare to let us sit and cool for quite some time.

I love 'em. My only complaint is I wish there was a bit more filling as the package picture implies - however I'm glad it's also not that magenta glow either. So there's that. The kung pao mochi has a fair price point too I'd say - it's $3.49 for a pack of eight golf ball sized dumplin's. My lovely bride enjoys them too, and they ought to be in the regular Asian-inspired dinner rotation. 4.5 from me and a solid 4 from her.

Save the ice cream for after!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken Mochi Balls: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons




Friday, March 13, 2020

Trader Joe's Mandarin Style Orange Chicken Bowl


While Sonia and I were on the road, traveling almost every day sometimes for weeks on end, we'd often take advantage of Walmart parking lots for quick overnight stops. Most locations welcomed RVers with open arms for up to 24 hours. Many were adjacent to strip malls, mini malls, and occasionally classic indoor malls. And, of course, many of these malls had a Panda Express as part of their lineup of eateries and shops. 

At this point I should mention I've been referring to Panda Express as "Poison Panda" since college. No, I'm not racist against Asians. I have cute little nicknames for every fast food chain including Toxic Bell, Booger King, Pizza Butt, and Jack in the Crack. Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that, perhaps part of some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, not once but twice, Sonia and I fell ill after eating Poison Panda on the road. We had running water in our RV, but for those of you familiar with RVing, it's very limited. You can't take 30 minute long showers, use a gallon of water for each flush, and run the sink the whole time you brush your teeth. You have to dump your tanks and refill your fresh water often unless you're extremely frugal with your usage. All that to say, if you're sick in an RV, it's not fun, and I'm not a fan of Panda since. Maybe I should just stop calling them "Poison Panda," and I'll have better luck. Law of Attraction and all that.


Fortunately, now I can get my orange chicken fix without going to a restaurant. Yes, I know there are decent orange chicken offerings that come frozen in bags and can be made on the skillet, but if you're pressed for time or want a decent break room lunch-at-work type of deal, this selection is quite satisfying.

Prep is simple. 4-5 minutes in microwave, thaw sauce in warm water, mix, serve. It's pretty close to restaurant quality as far as taste, but it's pert near impossible to make any kind of breaded chicken come out perfectly in the microwave. It's on par with Poison Panda orange chicken after you reheat the leftovers. I was surprised how much food there was in the bowl. It was actually filled to the brim. Maybe it's because we eat way less meat these days, but we were also impressed with the plentiful amounts of chicken in the mix. I might ask for more carrots, peas, and broccoli in place of some of the rice, but it was still a decent ratio as it was.

The included orange ginger sauce alone is adequate as far as condiments are concerned. I wouldn't have minded a tad more of it, but there's enough in the packet to coat the pieces of chicken and even some of the veggies and rice. You could throw in some soy sauce or sriracha if you were so inclined. I added a clove of raw garlic to mine, because I LOVE me some garlic and it has tons of health benefits. Also, I hate vampires. Go Team Jacob.

$3.99 for the bowl. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Four from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Trader Joe's Furikake Japanese Multi-Purpose Seasoning

Over the years on the blog, I've referred to myself as an amateur-foodie hack on occasion. If memory serves me right, Nathan's the one who coined the phrase. I'm gonna take this opportunity to rebrand it, at least for my lovely bride and I, and say that instead of being actual foodies, we're really just eaters.

What's that mean?

If it's good, we'll eat it. Even if it's not "the best" or most acclaimed or authentic or true. Sure, we'll give that consideration and all, but at the end of the day, it's taste over everything else. Is Hattie B's the best, most authentic Nashville hot chicken joint in Tennessee? Nah, probably not....but danged if I don't still dream of them on occasion. To make a musical metaphor, is Imagine Dragons the best band around? Nah, far from it, but I can enjoy at least some of their catchy fun songs - "Zero" for instance, from Wreck-It Ralph 2 soundtrack. Yeah, we'll go to depths for our guilty pleasures. 

And (un)luckily for you, if it's a TJ's item I ate and have strong enough opinion on, you'll read about it here. Coming soon: another buddy and I are soon launching an Aldi's review site, so my goal of grocery world judging domination shall ever so slightly increase, muhahaha.

Sorry for the long windup for Trader Joe's Furikake Japanese Multi-Purpose Seasoning. But it's a great example of this. Do I know even the slightest thing, really, about furikake? Nope. I don't even know how to pronounce it - furry cake (can rewrite some really awful Twenty One Pilots lyrics, like our Facebook caption)? Foo-ree-kah-kay? Glad we're not doing the TJ's podcast at this time so you'd hear me butcher it as our producer buddy Marvo would slap his forehead in the background. We had such a long awkward conversation about how to pronounce "sriracha

But...I bought it at Trader Joe's. Cost only a few bucks. Looked like worth the shot. So I'm gonna go home and eat it. I'm an eater.

For such a fairly simply blend, there's a few different stages to the flavor which make this Japanese-inspired seasoning interesting. I think that's the right way to describe it instead of "complex" or "multi-leveled" as, if ingested just as a lonesome pinch or two, there's at first this funky seaweed taste, like straight up "whatever I just ingested was definitely floating in the ocean" type flavor, followed closely by toasted sesame and finally a good heavy dose of salt. Not sure if "savory" or "umami" really quite apply - more salty than anything - but it's a fun little mix...

So good to eat, but on what? Whatever, just go for it. I put some on some roasted green beans last night - much milder, but delicious. Eggs? Sure thing. I don't think it'd be much of a stretch to recommend on rice or fish or most sushi variants. Chicken? Heck yeah. Sandy dumped some atop her ramen noodles the other day, just to class them up a touch, and she's been raving about that since.

That is the one point: The furikake is mild enough that food flavor can overpower it and diminish it to little more than salt. Maybe that's why the pour opening is so huge - you can fit a penny through it - and a recommended serving is so much. I don't think I've come close to using that amount over several tastings.

Regardless, we'll eat it and try it on lots of different stuff. We're eaters now, ya know. If it tastes good, which I think the furikake would be on a high number of things, we'll do it.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Furikake Japanese Multi-Purpose Seasoning: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Trader Joe's Philly Cheesesteak Bao Buns

Happy Halloween everyone!

Hope yours is less rainy than here in the Pittsburgh area. Trick-or-treating got bumped back a few days. My lovely bride and I will probably have to figure out some fun evening plans for the kids to make up for not tramping around the neighborhood including up the hill to the "good street" where every house gives out full sized candy bars. I think we'll manage. Maybe we'll make some mummy hot dogs for the kiddos, but for us we're gonna need something else. Something spooky and seasonal...

Hrmm, maybe another box of the Trader Joe's Philly Cheesesteak Bao Buns.

 What? Huh? Seasonal and appropriate? How the heck is that?

Oh, you of little imagination. Just look at them.

Obviously, it's little cheesesteaks wearing ghost costumes! And maybe we'll get goofy and call them "boo buns" too.

These new TJ's snackitizers are definitely kinda interesting. On first impression, the bao buns sound like some crossover gimmicky food truck type deal - the crosscultural mixup of an American and Asian classic. Intriguing idea, for sure, but how does it work?

On one hand, surprisingly well. If you've had a true Philly cheesesteak - I'm talking a "wiz wid" versus  an "authentic Philadelphia-style steak-and-cheese" - it's been on an Amoroso roll. They're tough but doughy and chewy and perfectly made for holding meat, cheese and onions and whatever else. Obviously, there's nu such bun here, but the bao dough does a surprisingly decent job of mimicking the taste and feel. No, it's not spot on, but reminiscent enough, especially if steamed for a tad bit longer and browned.

On the other hand...out of all cheeses TJ's could have used, they chose AMERICAN? What the what? No. No no no. It's either Cheez Wiz or provolone, not American cheese. Also, bell peppers? Kinda weak. If you're gonna put peppers on your steak, they gotta be the spicy type.

Every thing else is decent enough. The meat is well seasoned and feels about right, being chipped and all. Bites that are more dough-heavy tend to be a little more towards bland, but the meaty bites are close with the exception of the wrong cheese and other fillings. There's a little onion and garlic and spices and whatnot.

All this being said, we liked 'em but there's something amiss. The cheesesteak bao buns seem to be two different things mixed into one without really being any of them, if that makes sense. Some key details are off for the cheesesteak, as already covered...but other than the form, what's the bao element here? A couple Asian spices could have spiced it up and made the crossover more apparent.

It's $3.49 for a box of four. Decent and filling, and a good enough buy. Sandy likes them a bit more than me, but she grew up right outside Pittsburgh and I grew up right outside Philly, so I'm a bit more of a cheesesteak snob than her. Four spoons from her, three from me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Philly Cheesesteak Bao Buns: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons 



Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Trader Joe's Organic Thai-Style Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup and Trader Joe's Turkey Apple Cheddar Sandwich

Soup and sandwich. Sandwich and soup. It's a classic lunch combo for a reason: it's nearly perfect. Can't argue with it.

Trader Joe's just so happens to have a new ready-to-grab sammich as well as a delicious looking new soup, which I just so happened to pick up and enjoy for lunch the other day, and since I don't really have enopugh to say about them seperately for a full out review of either, may as well make it a combo on here too.

Objections?

Didn't think so. Here we go...


First up: let's soup it up. Trader Joe's Organic Thai-Style Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup. It's in the refrigerated section, plastic tub, costs about $3.99 for a two serving container. Heat and eat, easy as that. And man, if you need a change up from some ol' can of the usual, here you go. It's legit good. There's a lot of flavor depth here, from sweetness from the coconut milk to a slight touch of heat from the red curry and spices, to a certian earthiness form the potatoes and carrots. Overall, it's smooth and not too thivk, with only small diced crrots in there. It's got kinda the overall texture of a decent tomato soup, but tastes way better. The spice does tend to ramp up but never to the point of unpleasantness, maybe registering a three overall on the mild-o-meter. It's warming and filling without being heavy like regfular potato soup, and could potentially be the rare soup that's worthy of all seasons. Solid, solid soup, and a great addition to the line-up, TJ's.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Thai-Style Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

And now it's sandwich time!


Yup, Trader Joe's Turkey Apple Cheddar Sandwich. That's a pretty apt and straightforward description for this sammie. And it works, precisely because it's so simple: couple slabs of smoked turkey, a slice of sharp cheddar, about a third to half an apple's worth of sweet wedges, a little arugula, small dab of dijon mayo, all served on a pretty earthy multigrain roll. Excuse me, it's "rustico"...whatever that means but it sounds good. There's nothing utterly standout about it, but it's just a tasty sandwich that costs $5. I'd gladly pay that for this precise item at like a little cafe somewhere, so it strikes me as a good deal. I wish there were a more definign characteristic for this sandwich to really hang its crust on, but alas. That being said, it'll be a glad rebuy at anytime.


Bottom line: Trader Joe's Turkey Apple Cheddar Sandwich: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Friday, September 20, 2019

Trader Joe's Spicy Shrimp Appetizer Duo

Ah, nothing says "fall" like spicy shrimp appetizers. In fact, I think we might have a Chinese New Year theme going on here. That was only back in February, over seven months ago...but it feels like yesterday, doesn't it? Anyway, I found these in the back of our tiny freezer, covered in frost, which probably served as camouflage for those many months, which might help explain why they weren't reviewed long ago.

I cleared the frost off of the packaging and thought, what the heck? I remembered we had some frozen appetizers hidden away, but for some strange reason, I was thinking they were chicken. Spicy Chicken Appetizer Duo. Weird, huh? Maybe Trader Joe's should offer a box of those, too.

Shrimp appetizer duo it is. So we tried them. And they're definitely worthy of review. I shrimply couldn't resist. I promise it has nothing to do with the fact that we are in desperate need of a TJ's run and haven't purchased any of the new fall items yet. <readers can't see that my fingers are crossed.> Apologies if this item is discontinued or out of stock. Hopefully they'll have them back for the next Chinese New Year season, a mere four months away.


Both items in the duo are quite tasty and high-quality. Let's start with the kung pao shrimp spring rolls. There's a decent bit of shrimp in them—more than I was expecting. There are also veggies, a light, crispy wrapper, and some spicy kung pao flavors. I wouldn't call either of these overly spicy. I wouldn't have minded a great deal more heat, but the overall effect is pleasantly garlicky, salty, and savory, with just a hint of an Asian spice kick.  

You can actually taste the lemongrass in the wontons. It's not over-the-top, though. The wonton bread is nice and thick, yet it's supple and flaky. The meaty insides of the wontons are soft, and they flaunt a fair amount of real shrimp, like their spring roll counterparts.


Other than the lack of heat, our biggest complaint is the lack of dipping sauce. There's a pic of sweet Thai chili or something on the cover art, and as is typical, the words "serving suggestion" are printed in a tiny font right next to it. We didn't have any sauces on hand, but we enjoyed them enough plain that they'll still get thumbs up from both Sonia and I. Fifteen minutes at 450 degrees. $4.99 for package of 12 appetizers. We're looking at four stars from Sonia and three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Trader Joe's Spicy Salmon Gyoza

Taking one for the team! It's what I do!

Seriously, as second out of four kids, I have classic middle child syndrome. Always had ever since my little sister was born. Remember minivans with only one side door and bench seats so there was that back corner spot? Who always volunteered for it, on the long road trips we'd take to New England as a kid? Me! Happily. Heck, one vacation up to my grandparent's old cabin, everyone realized we shorted ourselves a bed and blankets. So who volunteered to sleep in the van without complaint! Me! I was like 10. True story.

Kinda extends to the blog...except you're all like my TJ's siblings, and since this is where we all meet, I'm still in the middle. So if there's something a bid odd, a bit strange, a bit new looking, I'll happily volunteer to try it out...even if I'm a bit, well, apprehensive about it.

Such as it is with Trader Joe's Spicy Salmon Gyoza. TJ potstickers a common freezer staple, but those are like chicken, and pork, and stuff...salmon though. That's a different level. I like salmon just fine...but as a frozen dumpling? Errrr...well...I got it! I'll try it out! All for you all.

Pro tip: Don't bust them open while cooking, as I did. That's why I didn't take a pic of the actual product...because it looks, well, kinda gross. Smushed up salmon, some cabbage strands, some edamame, all in a pinkish hue...as a parent of small kids, there's a certain thing that came right ot mind that this resembled.

No matter, how it taste?!?!?! I think "interesting" is a good word. How to describe it? There's a certain fishiness to the salmon, a bit more than expected. It kinda leads off the flavor profile as dominant. Soon enough, there's some chili and sriracha and pepper that creeps in, and then lingers for a while. But there's still this fishiness that impedes it all. A cleaner tasting protein, whether it be salmon or chicken or pork, would have been a vast improvement.

Also, the salmon seems to be mushier than other gyoza in TJ's inventory. Not that any of them are overly firm, but there's at least a semblance of fleshiness to them. Not here. It's not completely unpleasant, but to that I'd say I'd have a hard time eating them if not sauteed a little bit first to get a little crispiness to the wrapper. A soggy steamed only outer shell just wouldn't work here, I don't think.

The instructions say to pair with your favorite sauce. There seems to be enough flavor here to not warrant too much more in terms of dipping dumplin's in a little sumpthin', but if that's your thing it could work. I'd suggest something mildish.

My receipt says the bag cost $4.99, but I swear the price tag on the freezer window said $4.19...regardless, it's not an awful price for an alright product. I guess the biggest thing to me is when I eat gyoza or dumplings or anything close to them, I crave more of a comfort vibe, and these seem more experimental. Good try though, and I applaud the overall effort. Chances are I'll finish the bag but it'll take me a bit to, especially if my beautiful bride continues to decide to sit them out as a non-salmon fan.

Middle kid gives these a middle score...can that keep everyone happy? Please?

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Spicy Salmon Gyoza: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Trader Joe's Gochujang Chop Salad Kit


I understand the whole Forrest Gump thing about life being like a box of chocolates. But I think life is more like a salad. 

In a box of chocolates, you're basically only experiencing one specific chocolate at a time. In a salad, there's a whole bunch of ingredients mingling around at once. I mean, sure, you could say that chocolates better capture the element of surprise that life throws at you sometimes, but with salads, just because you know what you're purchasing, you still can't be sure exactly what it will taste like when you put it in your mouth. 

That notion intensifies when one travels full time. We generally know where we're headed, but we never know what we'll experience when we get there. We were just in 70 degree weather in Nevada a week ago, and now, in April, we find ourselves dipping below freezing again here in Utah, experiencing snow showers, looking at enormous, majestic mountains out our living room windows, and seeing some sights we've wanted to see for a long time. We're not finding luck with traditional RV parks out west like we assumed we would. We're finding it even harder to purchase wine here than it was in Pennsylvania and South Jersey. Imagine that.


It's a mix-up of wonderful and frustrating experiences, kinda like this new salad kit from TJ's.

Sonia thinks the cabbage and lettuce were just shy of fresh here. I'm not sure it's apparent in the photo we took, but I can't disagree. There was just a slightly sad, soggy quality to the lettuce in our bag—something we seldom experience from Trader Joe's. It wasn't inedible. It was just...not the freshest lettuce/cabbage we've ever had. That's likely to vary greatly from bag to bag, region to region, and week to week. It was likely just a stroke of bad luck. And again, the greens weren't terrible. I almost didn't even mention it. But now I did and it already sounds like I'm complaining.

So I'll just get the rest of my complaints out of the way and then continue on to more positive stuff.

The puffed rice was an odd element to me. It was crunchy, which was nice, I guess. But I just can't shake the notion that it's cereal. I guess if I were forced to pick a cereal to put on a salad, this would be a more logical choice than, say, Count Chocula or Raisin Bran, but I generally wouldn't go putting cereal on my salads in the first place.

It needed more dressing. Sonia doesn't even like a ton of dressing usually, but she totally agreed, maybe because she absolutely loved this dressing. I liked it a lot, too. It's got a bit of spice to it. It's...I dunno...very Asian-tasting—like something you might pair with a Chinese chicken salad, except in this case, it's Korean. 

I must admit, this is my very first Gochujang rodeo. Russ and Sandy took a gander at some Gochujang almonds a while back, but Sonia and I never tried those. Sweet, spicy, and savory red chili paste. That's what I keep reading about it everywhere, and that sounds pretty accurate. This salad dressing was a "Gochujang vinaigrette." It was by far the best element of the mix in my humble opinion.

The black sesame seeds were interesting. They added a distinctive crunch to the mix, and flavor-wise, they lent a slight nuttiness when consumed en masse. They were so tiny, their flavor was nearly undetectable in the bites when only one or two wound up on our forks. Overall, we liked them.

$3.99 for the bag. Plenty of salad for two people. Not sure if we'll purchase it again. Three and a half stars from each of us.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.